Standards, Testing & Accountability

The data-driven edition

An education policy summit, school integration, 2015's Education Next poll, and higher education's effect on Hispanic and black wealth.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: William R. Emmons and Bryan J. Noeth, "Why Didn't Higher Education Protect Hispanic and Black Wealth?", Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Issue 12 (August 2015).

Mike Petrilli: Hello, this is your host Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute here at The Education Gadfly Show and online at Now please join me in welcoming my co-host, a man who is a citizen by birthright, Robert Pondiscio.

Robert Pondisico:    As opposed to an immigrant?

Mike :             I'm just saying that's in the news this week. Birthright citizenship up for grabs again.

Robert:           You've gone Trump on us.

Mike :             No, I haven't gone Trump. Trump has gone Trump. Scott Walker, it sounds like has gone Trump. What is going on? These are the days when I think to myself, well, look, we've had a rough go with the Common Core, but at least I'm not leading an organization that is working on immigration reform, because then I would have to poke my eyes out with two pencils instead of just with one.

Robert:           With a number two pencil.

Mike :             I mean, really? We're going to reconsider whether we're going to do birthright citizenship? We're going to repeal the fourteenth amendment? Somebody asked me today, "What would be the best thing that could happen for the cause of civic education in America?" My spontaneous answer was, "President Trump."

Robert:           Wow. What a hard civics lesson that would be. 

Mike :             Yeah. I just worry that by the time we came around to learning that lesson, that it would be too late. Let us be clear that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a non-person organization. We do not take positions on candidates. We do not endorse ... We are not without opinions. We have opinions. We're allowed to have opinions and express those opinions and that is what this show is about. Expressing opinions. Except for Amber's Research Minute which is about research. Our opinions.

Robert:           Totally fact-driven.

Mike :             Our evidence based opinions, Robert. At least mine are.

Robert:           Some on my better days.

Mike :             Yes. Let's get to it. Let's play pardon the Gadfly, the evidence based edition. Clara, go for it.

Clara :             Campbell Brown is hosting education policy themed GOP summit in New Hampshire this week. What are some of the themes you're hoping the candidates race?

Mike :             I'm glad you asked Clara. I happen to have six themes in mind for 2016. You see how that just rolls off the tongue?

Robert:           Not four, not five.

Mike :             Six for 2016.

Robert:           Oh, I see.

Mike :             Look, by the time folks are listening to this, the summit will be history and we'll certainly be following along, excited to hear what these six candidates have to say. I wish it were a real debate where they were up there on the stage together, but it won't be. It's one-on-one questions. Campbell Brown versus these various candidates. We do hope that they address some of these ideas that we put out this week. Fordham six teams for 2016 including ... Are you ready?

Robert:           I am.

Mike :             Number one. Educational reform is working.

Robert:           Stay the course, as a previous GOP candidate.

Mike :             Look, this one is something that we don't hear people saying enough, but we think is important. That we now feel like ... Look, you look at the evidence, you look at twenty years of data now and the trend lines are pointing the right direction. Not as fast as we'd like, not always broad as we'd like. Some of these candidates were former governors or are governors today. They can point in their own states where they've had some impressive progress. At a time when there are so many nay-sayers out there complaining about education reform, saying, "It's too hard, it's too this, it's too that." It's important I think to have the political leaders stand up and say, "Hey, you know what? This stuff is hard, but we are finally starting to see some results from testing and accountability and school choice and these other reforms we've put together. That is the number one idea. We don't have time for all six, so let's go down to number six. Robert, this is really your baby. Civic education.

Robert:           Yeah. There you go. Yeah. I think this is important. I've written a lot about this over the years. We're used to talking about education in terms of college and career readiness. I'm the guy who's always saying, "Hey, there's a third C. It's called citizenship." Or as I used to joke, "Horace Mann probably went to his grave never once having uttered the phrase, 'College and career ready.'" He had a different idea in mind for public education. It was preparation for citizenship. That's where we've gotten way way far away from this public idea.

Mike :             Yeah. It would be great to have the candidates talk about it. Which is not to say that they need to propose some kind of federal program to ban citizenship. At this stage in the campaign, at this stage in the political primary season, the point is just to have folks talking about important issues. They don't have to come out with specific policy proposals yet. When they do, I hope they tread lightly on most of these things. I mean, citizenship. You could do the NAEP’s Civics Exam more frequently, for example.

Robert:           You could do it more frequently as down to just 8th grade. We never had state by state data on civics and we have no idea who the Massachusetts is of civics so to speak. The larger concern is if you think that we have a problem in this country in reading and math, well compare that to civics results. Which makes our reading and math performance look robust.

Mike :             Check all that out at You can find our six education themes for 2016 there. Topic number two.

Clara :             Both the Tampa Bay Times and This American Life are getting lots of kudos for doing hard hitting stories about cities giving up on school integration efforts. Is desegregation about to make a comeback? Should it?

Mike :             Robert, this is sometimes about the one-year anniversary of the Ferguson riots. There's also the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts riots. Giving people a lot of excuses like they need excuses. My sense is education reporters love writing about segregation. They love writing about this problem and certainly there's evidence that our neighborhoods, if you look metro areas as a whole, that the cities are getting more diverse. In other words, white people are starting to move back in again. Suburbs are getting more diverse as in minorities are moving out to the suburbs. If you look neighborhood by neighborhood, many of those neighborhoods are segregated as they've ever been.

Robert:           If not, more so. Folks listening to us are all across the country, but thanks to this thing called the World Wide Web you can go on and listen or read these stories. There was this withering piece in the Tampa Bay Times about Pinellas County Florida. This is just from memory but I think they profiled five schools which were fairly good schools ten years ago. Now, they are among the worst schools in the entire state. It's a withering indictment of local control frankly. We love local control as much as anybody.

Mike :             Not as much.

Robert:           Okay. Maybe there are some. However, it is absolute just indictment of the school board in this county just for willing desegregating their schools and turning these five schools in particular into, as they say, failure factory.

Mike :             What was it? Before that they had some sort of busing policy or that they had some polices in place to try to bring in more white students and those policies went away.

Robert:           I believe they were under a court order. Exactly. Once that was lifted, then they went back. Guess what they described what they were doing? They didn't say they were desegregating the schools. What did they say they were doing?

Mike :             Going to neighborhoods.

Robert:           Neighborhood schools, of course.

Mike :             Here's what's tricky, Robert, That is what parents, white, black, Latino. They always say they want neighborhood schools. Right.

Robert:           Sure.

Mike :             The busing thing was clearly a disaster in terms of the long-term consequences arguably led to white flight. Huge political ruckus. As much as I support the role of integration and I wrote a whole book about this and have been writing about this for many years. The evidence on school integration in terms of leading to student achievement gains is pretty weak. Now people out there are going to start screaming, "How dare you say that." When you go and you dig in, there are very few studies out there about school integration that can deal with selection bias.

                        Most of the studies out there say African-American kids or low-income kids that are in these more integrated settings, they do better. They score better. They do better long-term. Therefore, it must be because the school is integrated. Well, let me ask you this. Do you think there might be something different between African-American kids who find themselves in integrated schools and African-American kids who don't? Isn't is possible that the kids who find themselves in highly segregated schools, that their families are more disadvantaged. That there is coverages that we're not measuring in these.

                        We don't have random assignment studies that have been able to really look at this. I think that there are some like my friend Rick Kahlenberg who overstate the evidence that if only we could integrate our schools, we would erase the achievement gap or we would narrow it dramatically. I think if we integrated our schools it would be good for America. I don't have a clear idea about how to do it. Even if we did it, I think we have to be pretty humble about what we've seen through student achievement results.

Robert:           Of course. This is also not to say that a segregated school is de facto a poor school. Especially the charter sector. There's a lot of schools out there that serve almost exclusively low-income kids of color and do quite well by them. This is not axiomatic by any stretch of the imagination. It's just a heartbreaking account of ... You read this account of the Tampa Bay Times about these five schools. Another good argument for school choice, by the way. Give these kids something. Do not leave them in these schools.

Mike :             Again, what if their parents choice this? They'll say, "I want neighborhood ..."

Robert:           Sure, sure. That explained the move in 2007. Now there are parents in these schools screaming, "Please do something."

Mike :             Clara, do something and read question number three.

Clara :             The latest Ed Next poll was released this week. Should readers be surprised by any of findings, especially related to the opt-out movement in Common Core?

Mike :             Lots to dig into on this one. Our own Checker Finn wrote something up on the blog. Major findings support for Common Core has continued to go down. Those seem to have stabilized.

Robert:           Incrementally.

Mike :             Stabilized somewhat. There's some nuances. If you don't use the term Common Core, it does better. Interesting. If you describe it as being used to hold schools accountable, Republicans like it more and teachers like it less.

Robert:           We want high standards, just not those high standards.

Mike :             That's all very interesting. Not a lot of support for opting out which is surprising. Right?

Robert:           Those of us who live and word inside the edu bubble assume that this is this big thing. Maybe not so much.

Mike :             Right. Again, most parents haven't opted out, so maybe that's why. Support for things like charters and vouchers and tax credits and all the rest still high, but somewhat lower this year. They asked some new questions including, for example, on discipline. This is something that's been very interesting. People out there are generally not so excited about this idea of looking at the proportionality of discipline policies.

Robert:           So-called discipline impact.

Mike :             Right. What else? What else did you see is as cause for concern or excitement or ...

Robert:           Checker of course is dismissive in things.

Mike :             Drinking heavily.

Robert:           There's always room for that, Mike. Especially here in the podcast. Checker was a little bit acid in his take that basically the American public just doesn't know what they're talking about when it comes to schools.

Mike :             Then again, Checker Finn has always been an east coast elitist. He just generally thinks ...

Robert:           He went there. He went there.

Mike :             Checker has always basically believed that most Americans are stupid. That's why he's committed his life to education reform. He's trying to fix that problem.

Robert:           You can't fix stupid, Mike. Come on.

Mike :             It's true. We're going to explain that. It is true. People are terribly uninformed about things like how much we spend in our schools or pay teachers.

Robert:           That's true, but that's nothing new. Right? One of the questions ... I don't have the data in front of me. Ed Next basically determined that most people have no sense whatsoever not only what their schools pay per student but where that money comes from. Is it the feds, is it the state, etc. One of the things I found interesting ... I think this is new. You've been a long-time editor for Ed Next. I'm just a reader. There's some polling questions this year about curriculum which basically showed that parent want more reading and math. Teachers want more art and history. Nobody seems to want more sports.

                        I guess the message has gotten out there that our school emphasize things like sports a little bit too much. I'm the guy of course who's always saying, "Teach all these subjects." Teach them well because that is reading. That is literacy. I'm always pleased any time an organization like Ed Next or anybody is paying attention to what kids actually do all day in school. Because as I've said on the podcast, ad nauseam, we tend to focus on the structures around education. I'm the guy who says, "Hey, what are kids learning? Because that matters too."

Mike :             It does and it's good that there's support for teachers out there. Now all you got to do ... This is the big question. Robert and I talk about this all the time. Why do elementary school teachers in particular feel like they cannot teach history? They cannot teach science. They can't teach art and music. We're not going to answer that here, but the point is maybe there's more evidence that they really do want to teach those things and we want to tell those teachers ... The teachers that are listening today.

Robert:           Pleas teach things. Absolutely. Knowledge is literacy. All subjects.

Mike :             Okay. Thank you. That's all the time we've got for pardon the Gadfly. Now it's time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute. Welcome back to the show.

Amber :          Thank you, Mike.

Mike :             We have promised this to be an evidenced based Research Minute.

Amber :          I love that.

Mike :             We were saying earlier that we're mostly an opinion show, though evidence based opinions. When it comes to you, it is just the facts.

Amber :          I try to bring them every week. Sometimes I'm more successful than others.

Robert:           Amber, bring in the.

Amber :          All right. We've got a new study out by Center for Household Financial Stability. How's that one?

Robert:           Never heard of them.

Amber :          Never heard of them. Anyway, they some research on family savings and debt. Okay? It's a descriptive study, so keep that in mind. It's mainly just reporting on survey findings. There is not any fancy statistics here, but it's really interesting stuff. It's the survey of consumer finance. All right? It's some big national consumer survey.

Robert:           There's an education angle.

Amber :          There is. 2013 edition. The headline is the attainment of a college education does not appear to protect to the wealth of all American families equally. That's the big headline. All right. Here are the findings. Number one. College educated families. They define that as the head of the household has a college degree.

Robert:           Four-year?

Amber :          Four-year. Earns significantly higher income then those headed by someone without a college degree. No big surprise there.

Robert:           No big surprise there.

Amber :          The median income among all families headed by a college graduate is two point four times the median income among families headed by a non-college graduate. Okay? Finding number two. The median wealth of all families headed by college grads declined by twenty-four percent between 2007 and 2013. That was obviously during the recession.

Mike :             Wealth.

Amber :          Wealth, not income. Wealth. That's right. That means their assets, their house, their car, their everything.

Robert:           Okay. We had a big asset dip around 2008.

Amber :          Wealth. We did. The decline among families without college degrees was forty-eight percent. Next finding. Higher education appears to protect wealth during turbulent economic times, but mostly just among white and Asian families, is one of their findings which seemed a little odd. Here was their factoid. Specifically over the long-term, so this was 1990 to 2013, the median net worth of families differed by race. The net worth of white families led by college completers, rose about eight-six percent over these two decades. While the net worth of Asians rose ninety percent. Yet, the median net worth of black families led by college completers, dropped nearly fifty-six percent. A comparable figure for Hispanic families was twenty-seven percent.

Robert:           They attempt to diagnose what?

Amber :          They do. I'm getting to that. It was then examined the typical debt to income ratio for families in 2007. This was right before the Great Depression. They looked at their debt to income ratio. All right. DIT. Okay? The DIT ratios among college educated Hispanics and black families were far higher than for Asians or whites. For example, the typical DTI for a college educated black family was a hundred and forty percentage points higher than the typical DTI ratio of non-college educated black families. We're comparing black family college educated household to black family not led by a college educated head of household. Comparable figure for Hispanics is hundred points. For whites, fifty-four points. All right.

                        Then, they get into some more interesting stuff. Then, they start talking about, try to get to the why question, Robert. They say the housing boom between 2007 and 2013, it basically went extra bust on minority families. Because they started looking at declines in the average values of homes. Those values of homes among college educated Hispanics and blacks was forty-five and fifty-one percent decline respectively among those two groups. The decline in the average home value was twenty-five percent among college educated white families. They posit that ... Then, they look at actually whether the trends in income and wealth mirror each other. In come cases they don't. The trend lines are going different ways.

Robert:           Housing.

Amber :          Housing . They said they think that it's the financial choices that are driving some of these trends more than income fluctuations. This is obviously very complicated. It's complex. This is a lot rooted in a bunch of different things. One takeaway seemed clear to them which is borrowing too much either for college or to buy a home could very well chip away at the likelihood of you maintaining the American dream.

Robert:           I'm not a housing expert, but is it now also true that you'll see more fluctuation in housing heavily minority neighborhoods? I mean this society for generations.

Amber :          I have heard that.

Mike :             The education angle here is this idea that the college degree did not protect minority families as.

Robert:           Student loan is a larger percentage of income.

Mike :             I think that can be part of it. This was in the New York Times. Some of the spin was a) maybe college isn't as good at upper mobility as we thought. I think we have to be careful here. There's still tons of evidence that you're better off ...

Amber :          With a college degree.

Mike :             The majority of minority is poor and you can get a four-year college degree, you are in general better off. That's looking at income. That's getting you out of poverty. That doesn't mean that you're going to catch up to other wealthier groups. The wealth thing is obviously something passed down from generation to generation. There's a huge difference between whites and Asians on one hand and many African-Americans. You know what I'm saying? In terms of what people are inheriting.

Robert:           The time frame 2007 to 2013 had that huge anomaly of the great recession that you're alluded to as well. If you look at the large time horizon, then maybe some of that's mitigated.

Amber :          Yeah. I think that's right, Mike. They talk about that a little bit in the report and in the news, that was the spin on it too. There's some data I think that actually document that wealth is passed down through being able to afford college tuition obviously. You leave your house to your kids or whatever. That makes a real difference relative to this intergenerational trends that we see.

Mike :             The other one, last lesson for us is I certainly remember the mid-2000s of the Bush administration. As have been the case of left and right for many years, was pushing very hard on trying to close the gap in home ownership. The racial gaps in home ownership. Make it possible for more minorities to own their homes. The impulse was sound, made sense. Problem was that mean that there were some people that were applying for loans that they really couldn't afford. Now we understand that. We understand that a lot of the mortgage companies and such weren't being terribly honest. We have this thing. We have that same concern about the education bubble today. We want to close those gaps and college going or college completion. If minority kids as a whole are not as well prepared, are not as likely to therefore get pass remedial education. Is encouraging them to go to college and take on a lot of debt, to do so, really the smartest thing? I think there's some clear parallels here.

Amber :          Yeah. What a bummer. Honestly, just personal. My sister did not finish college, but she still had that college loan to pay back for many years. That does not go away when you don't finish college. They don't go, "Oh well, you didn't finish. No problem."

Robert:           Yep. You don't get the benefit. You do get the burden.

Amber :          Yeah. That's right.

Mike :             All right. Thank you, Amber. Thank you, Robert. That is all the time we've got for this week. Until next week.

Robert:           I'm Robert Pondiscio.

Mike :             I'm Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off. 




The poll results that Education Next released yesterday carry mildly glum news for just about every education reformer in the land, as public support has diminished at least a bit for most initiatives on their agendas: merit pay, charter schools, vouchers, and tax credits, Common Core, and even ending teacher tenure. That dimming enthusiasm for change is apt to dominate coverage of the survey findings and the debates that follow.

Yet two other big-picture tendencies are also visible in these data, and it strikes me that they matter more over the long run than any one year’s blips around particular reform ideas.

First, when it comes to fundamental principles and practices regarding K–12 education, the American public is generally pretty sensible and steadfast. More on this below.

Second, when it comes to important basic facts regarding that very same K–12 education system, the American public is stunningly ignorant. This is especially true on the fiscal side. Poll respondents underestimated by half how much money is spent per pupil in their local...

Though it might be hard to believe, the first primary of the 2016 election season is still six months away. But the “ideas primary” is in full swing. Here’s what we hope to hear from candidates on both sides of the aisle. (Note to campaigns: These ideas and the related infographics are all open-source. Please steal them!)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the number-one domestic issue facing our country today: How to improve our schools so that every child has an opportunity to use their God-given talents to the max, contribute to society, and live the American Dream.

In a few minutes, I’m going to talk about what’s wrong with our education system. That’s appropriate, because bad schools continue to steal opportunities away from too many of our young people.

But before we get to that, how about some good news for a change? American schools, on the whole, are getting better. A lot better. Test scores are up—especially in math, and especially for our lowest-performing, low-income, and minority children. Graduation rates are at all-time highs. The college completion rate is inching upward. Things are heading in the right direction.


On Wednesday, Campbell Brown and the American Federation for Children will host an education policy summit in New Hampshire with six of the seventeen GOP presidential contenders. (A similar forum among Democratic candidates is scheduled for October in Iowa.) Here we present six education policy themes—and associated infographics—that we hope the candidates embrace. We've also written a speech that we encourage contenders to emulate. All of these are open-source. Please steal them!

1. Education reform is working. Don’t stop now.


2. College is not the only ticket to upward mobility in America.


3. School choice is growing—and changing lives.


4. America’s best and brightest need attention too.


5. School discipline is under attack—that’s shortsighted and foolish.


6. Preparing children for citizenship is an important goal of schools. Let’s restore civic education. 


Joe Anderson and Kelly James

As we move into the 2015–16 school year, the standards and assessments landscape is continuing to shift. State legislative and executive actions over the past year have resulted in changes to how, when, and—in some cases—if districts and schools will implement Common Core standards and aligned assessments. Education First’s Common Core and Assessments Status Maps detail these changes, looking back over the last year and forward to the next.

The good news: An overwhelming majority of states (forty-four, plus the District of Columbia) will continue to implement Common Core next year—this despite dozens of bills in nearly thirty states to delay or repeal it. Policymakers are sticking with higher expectations for all kids because educators, parents, and students tell them that the standards are improving instruction in classrooms across the nation. Yes, ten states are reviewing their standards (a best practice that was in place well before Common Core); but as we know from Indiana’s experience, most of them will continue with either the Core or standards that closely resemble it. States from Louisiana to New Jersey are finding that their reviews help them build on the standards rather than tearing them apart. Only Oklahoma is determined to go it alone. With so much...

Recently, ACT disaggregated its 2014 test results and college retention rates in order to get a closer look at the college aspirations and preparation levels of ACT-takers who reported a family income of less than $36,000 (the poorest 24 percent of test-takers). An astonishing 96 percent of these students reported plans to enroll in college. Despite their aspirations, however, only 11 percent met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, which include English, reading, math, and science. Even more troubling, a whopping 50 percent of low-income students failed to meet a single benchmark.

When broken down by subject, low-income students performed best in English (45 percent met the benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students). In the three remaining subjects, however, they posted far lower numbers. Twenty-six percent met the reading benchmark (compared to 44 percent of all students), 23 percent were deemed college-ready in math (compared to 43 percent of all students), and only 18 percent were proficient in science (compared to 37 percent of all students). Unsurprisingly, the number of benchmarks attained rose along with family income. Students from families with incomes over $100,000 were twice as likely to meet the benchmark in nearly every...

Recently, ACT disaggregated its 2014 test results and college retention rates in order to get a closer look at the college aspirations and preparation levels of ACT-takers who reported a family income of less than $36,000 (approximately 24 percent of test-takers.) Overall, 96 percent of low-income students who took the ACT reported plans to enroll in college. 33 percent of these students wanted to obtain a graduate or professional degree, 51 percent wanted to obtain a bachelor’s degree, and 13 percent wanted to obtain an associate’s degree. Despite these aspirations, however, only 11 percent of low-income students met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, which include English, reading, math, and science. Even more troubling, a whopping 50 percent of low-income students failed to meet even one benchmark.

When broken down by subject, low-income students performed best in English (45 percent met the benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students). In the three remaining subjects, however, low-income students posted far lower numbers. 26 percent met the reading benchmark (compared to 44 percent of all students), 23 percent met the math benchmark (compared to 43 percent of all students), and 18 percent met the science benchmark (compared to...

  • You know how the old ditty goes: Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Chris Christie gotta churlishly analogize all political conflict to a bar fight. In an interview this week, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked the New Jersey governor which political adversary he’d most like to “punch in the face”; without reframing the question, he launched into one of his trademark diatribes against teachers’ unions. Everyone knows that Christie’s a combative politician who has struggled mightily to get his state’s public employee pension system under control. And Fordham yields to no one in our antipathy for union excess and overreach. But viable leaders can’t allow themselves to be baited into silly threats against political constituencies that aren’t going away. Teachers’ unions are to be curbed, cajoled, prodded, persuaded, and challenged. Not cold-cocked.
  • We’re not sure if it has anything to do with those infamous cooling towers, but something strange must be behind a wave of uncomfortable honesty overtaking New York City. First, a recent graduate of Queens’s William Cullen Bryant High School wrote a letter to the New York Post claiming that she hadn’t actually earned the credits counting toward her diploma. The eighteen-year-old skipped class,
  • ...
  • “Irony is often amusing,” writes Calhoun School Headmaster Steve Nelson in his new philippic against rigor in early childhood education, proving once again that he lacks even a basic understanding of what that word means. It’s not totally clear what gets taught at Nelson’s $45,000-per-year academy, but the Gadfly’s definition of irony is this: when the half-million-dollar mouthpiece of one of the ritziest schools on the Upper West Side descends from Olympus to admonish teachers of impoverished students against actually trying to teach them anything. “Play-based,” content-free learning might be fine for the children of hedge fund managers, who will have lots of opportunities to screw up before easing into careers as progressive school principals. But it’s not cutting it for kids from low-income families, who often arrive at school with huge skills deficits and consequently have to, you know, learn something. Now it’s time for Nelson to learn a lesson of his own: Stick to finger painting in the Imagination Station, and quit lecturing those who are actually trying to help the poor.
  • In other Big Apple news: Bill de Blasio is beginning to get a reputation—and not just for chronic dawdling and eating
  • ...

As ESEA reauthorization heads to conference committee, debate is certain to center on whether federal law should require states to intervene if certain subgroups are falling behind in otherwise satisfactory schools. Civil rights groups tend to favor mandatory intervention. Conservatives (and the teachers’ unions) want states to decide how to craft their school ratings systems, and when and how to take action if schools don’t measure up. The Obama administration is siding with the civil rights groups; a recent White House release, clearly timed to influence the ESEA debate, notes that we “know that disadvantaged students often fall behind in higher-performing schools.”

But in how many cases do otherwise adequate schools leave their neediest students behind? Are there enough schools of this variety to justify a federal mandate? Fortunately, we have data—and the data show this type of school to be virtually nonexistent.

In a recent post, I looked at school-level results from Fordham’s home state of Ohio. That analysis uncovered very few high-performing schools in which low-achieving students made weak gains. (“Low-achieving” is defined as the lowest-performing fifth of students statewide.) Just seven schools (in a universe of more than 2,300) clearly performed well as a whole while allowing their...