Ohio Policy

We know that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor impacting student performance—and that the variation in...
Politicians are wise to pay attention to public opinion data, but they are also responsible for crafting sound policies based on...
As students and teachers settle back into school routines, thousands of high schoolers are getting their first taste of classes...
College may not be for all , but it is the chosen path of nearly fifty thousand Ohio high school grads . Unfortunately, almost...
Ohio’s report card release showed a slight narrowing of the “ honesty gap ”—the difference between the state’s own proficiency...
School report cards offer important view of student achievement - c ritical that schools be given continuity moving forward The...
Today, the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) announced that it would release the $71 million Charter School Program (CSP)...
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump recently visited Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, a charter school educating...
There are emerging signs, as I’ve written , that Ohio’s charter law overhaul (HB 2) is working. Significant numbers of poorly...
Last week, several of my Fordham colleagues published a fantastic fifty-state review of accountability systems and how they...
How does teaching stack up to other occupations in terms of compensation? A recent analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (...
Although recent analyses show that the child poverty rate isn't as high as many people believe , the fact remains that millions...
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther is passionately outspoken about Columbus City Schools. He is an alumnus of the district, and his...
Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) epitomizes the relentlessness and vision necessary to close achievement gaps in urban education...
Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA) epitomizes the relentlessness and vision necessary to close achievement gaps in urban education...
Ohio has developed one of the nation’s best school report cards , packed with data and clear A–F ratings for schools and...
August 16 marked the first day of school for the thousands of children who attend the Dayton Public Schools (DPS). They returned...
Competency-based education has attracted attention as a “ disruptive innovation ” that could remake American schools. Under this...
Chronic absenteeism among students elicits serious concern for good reason. When pupils miss many days of school, they risk...
The new education law of the land—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—has been the talk of the town since President Obama...
Rabbi Eric "Yitz" Frank
This blog was originally posted on Education Next on July 24, 2016. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently released a study on...
Eighteen months ago, Ohio proved it was finally serious about cleaning up its charter sector, with Governor Kasich and the Ohio...
Shortly after Ohio lawmakers enacted a new voucher program in 2005, the state budget office wrote in its fiscal analysis, “The...

In May, a new organization called Learning Heroes released a survey with a startling finding: 90 percent of parents believe that their children are performing at “grade level” or higher in their schoolwork. Setting aside the debate over what “grade level” even means, by any reasonable definition many of these parents, if they are being frank with the pollsters and themselves, are sorely misinformed. In fact, only about a third of U.S. teenagers leave high school ready for credit-bearing college courses.

Providing a more honest assessment of student performance was one of the goals of the Common Core initiative and the new tests created and adopted by states meant to align to the new, higher standards. Those tests are much tougher than they used to be, with failure rates in many states approaching those reported on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Yet on the heels of their first administration in most states in the spring of 2015, and the reporting of results in the months following, parents seem to be as ill-informed as ever. (The 2016 Education Next poll indicates that lower proficiency rates haven’t shaken parents’ view that their schools deserve As and Bs, either.) Why might that be? And what could policymakers or entrepreneurs do to change that?

First, let’s acknowledge the challenge at hand. Plugged-in parents are constantly getting feedback about the academic performance of their children, almost all of it from teachers. We see worksheets and papers marked up on a daily or weekly basis; we receive report cards every quarter; and of course there’s the annual (or, if we’re lucky, semiannual) parent-teacher conference. If the message of most of this feedback is “your kid is doing fine!” then it’s going to be tough for a single “score report” from a distant state test administered months earlier to convince us otherwise. After all, who knows my kid better: his or her teacher, or a faceless test provider?

It’s also true that those score reports have typically been about as easy and appealing to read as auto repair manuals. But what if they were written in plain English, and supplemented by additional, engaging resources online? To their credit, some states have been testing this very proposition.

The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), for example, worked with communications professionals to develop its score report—used by most participating states—and it’s a big step up from the mind-numbing obscurities of the previous generation. Straightforward language, intuitive symbols, and pleasing colors invite parents to take in key information about their child’s performance. A companion web site, UnderstandTheScore.org, allows them to dig deeper.

Some nonprofit organizations are trying to help parents make sense of their children’s test scores, too. GreatSchools.org, through its GreatKids initiative, offers a Test Guide for Parents that walks families through score reports, what the results mean, and how they can help their kids do better.

As promising as these new score reports and web sites are, however, they are still just works in progress. They all have a tendency to soft-pedal the bad news to parents. The resources for elementary and middle school students and parents only go so far, saying that kids aren’t ready for “further study” or “the next grade level,” not that they aren’t on track for college (or for getting out of their parents’ basements). They also could be a lot more user-friendly. The PARCC report, for instance, provides an overwhelming, confusing amount of information. Elegant simplicity must be the coin of the realm.

Clearer, more courageous language would be a step in the right direction. But so would making it real. Surveys show that almost all American kids aspire to attend college. Why not say explicitly whether they are on track to achieve that goal?

Several states already provide “predictive analytics” to teachers and school leaders regarding students’ likelihood of future success. In Ohio, for instance, educators can see a prediction for the eventual ACT scores of their 6th-grade pupils, based on their annual standardized test results. (Of course, “college readiness” entails much more than standardized test scores, but they are key components.) Why not include such predictions on the score reports themselves, and list the kinds of colleges the student is (or is not) on track to attend? Another idea for entrepreneurs: build a web site where students or their parents can enter their test scores themselves, and provide a prediction for the types of colleges where they are likely to gain acceptance. If enough families see that their child’s likely future includes remedial education, then maybe they will start pushing their K‒12 schools to do more to help prepare their kids for success at the postsecondary level.

And what if these parents do get the message that their kids aren’t doing well? What should—what can—they actually do about it? Understand the Score and GreatKids offer some ideas, as does Learning Heroes via its “readiness roadmap.” But, once again, these suggestions tend to be soft and fuzzy. Nobody wants to tell parents to grab a pitchfork and march down to their school demanding an explanation for the lofty-yet-false grades their kids have gotten for years on end. Maybe they should.

One constructive approach comes from the College Board, which forged a partnership with Khan Academy to provide free tutoring to students linked to their PSAT results. When kids get their PSAT scores, they can instantaneously link to Khan Academy modules that target areas where they need additional help. More than one million teenagers have taken advantage of the offering so far. Why couldn’t states (or districts) do the same? Parents may be more likely to take bad news seriously—and take action—if it’s accompanied by resources to help their children improve.

Still, it may be that test-score results will never convince parents that their kids need to step it up, at least until schools stop handing out As and Bs to students who aren’t on track for success. Maybe what’s needed is a full-court press to reform teachers’ grading toward candor and honesty rather than inflation and good feelings. An idea worth considering, though one that might take some time to take root.

Right now, we have higher standards and tougher tests in most states. Shouldn’t we at least try to use them for one of their intended purposes: to close the gap between college aspirations and college readiness? It just seems like common sense.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in Education Next

Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Newsela text sets

Although Newsela’s news articles and resource library are in high demand with educators struggling to meet the Common Core’s recommended balance of fiction and nonfiction texts, perhaps Newsela’s most distinctive feature is its text sets: collections of articles that focus on a similar topic, theme, or standard. This can be an effective way to build students’ background knowledge and vocabulary, which are both linked to increased reading comprehension (for more on text sets and their use, see here).

Newsela’s free text sets consist of articles, primary documents, and biographies focused on a specific topic. The site includes featured text sets, text sets for specific subjects, and paired texts, among other resources. The site allows teachers to save text sets, edit text sets by either adding or deleting articles, and create their own text sets by selecting from Newsela’s library of articles, biographies, speeches, and historical documents.

Teachers new to this instructional strategy can find a text set “toolkit” in Newsela’s learning and support center. The toolkit includes an introduction to Newsela’s text sets; lessons on creating and editing them; instructions on how to find, share, and customize them; and a video that reviews all aspects of the toolkit. The toolkit also includes lesson plans that give teachers ideas on how to use text sets in their classrooms.

Featured text sets—created by educators and Newsela staff—are ready made for use as is or can be customized to meet the needs of a specific class. For example, one designed for fourth grade, entitled Math in the Real World, focuses on the applications of math in daily life. It includes articles on how math is used in sports (“Baseball Players Pick up a Bat, Then a Pencil”), science (“Average Height in U.S. Stays the Same, While Others Grow Taller”), and even art (“An Art Mystery is Solved”).

Newsela has also created subject-specific text sets that are focused on science, literature, and social studies. Those for science include articles from different realms of science, technology, and engineering that are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards’s core ideas. Literature text sets are focused on single novels and include articles on characters and themes related to the book. The social-studies text sets focus on history, civics, and geography but integrate articles from all categories of the Newsela Library.

Newsela has also developed “paired texts,” consisting of two articles related to a single topic or theme, followed by a writing prompt that requires students to use evidence from both sources. As the site notes, “These prompts align nicely with any Common Core–based rubrics that require students to cite and explain evidence in a written response.” For example, in a paired text on drones, one prompt asks, “Each article presents a different perspective on drones. Overall, do you think drones are more helpful or harmful to the world’s population? Use evidence from both articles to support your answer.”

A particularly helpful feature is that Newsela also provides tools for teachers to create their own text sets. This allows teachers to search for and create a set for a specific unit or series of lessons to complement their current instruction.

How can teachers use Newsela in their classrooms?

There are countless ways for teachers to use Newsela in the classroom.

News articles and text sets can provide students with background knowledge in preparation for classroom activities and discussions. For example, if a teacher is introducing the science concept of adaptation, she could create a text set of articles on the subject and assign them to students. It is easy and quick. Thoughtfully assembled text sets can provide students with real-world examples of adaptation while also exposing them to key vocabulary. This background knowledge helps students access the science content and better comprehend the concept of adaptation.

Newsela articles can supplement a novel or other literature by providing additional information on a subject or providing context on a historical period. For example, for students reading I Am Malala, teachers can use Newsela to provide background knowledge on Pakistan and current issues facing the country.

Newsela is also a good resource for integrating current events into the classroom. Whether teachers are focusing on the five w’s (who, what, where, when, and why) of a news article or asking students to identify the main idea, students are learning about events happening in the world around them. Teachers could also ask students to select an article and explain it to the class, which would promote both reading comprehension and speaking skills.

Newsela can also be used to help students doing background research for projects or reports. As highlighted previously, one of the challenges that teachers face is finding nonfiction text written for students. When younger students are conducting research on a topic, they often have difficulties reading the information that they find. With Newsela, the articles are adapted to students’ reading levels.

Newsela also provides articles that discuss both sides of controversial issues. Pro/con articles can be found on topics such as labeling genetically modified food, using nuclear power to combat global warming, and the use of self-driving cars. These provide students with background knowledge and can also be used as a basis for persuasive and opinion writing, discussions and debates, and for students to practice comparing and contrasting.

What are Newsela’s greatest strengths?

A particular strength of Newsela is its selection of high-quality nonfiction texts and text sets for teachers and students. With the transition to the Common Core, finding quality nonfiction texts has been a real challenge for many educators. Newsela offers teachers and students nonfiction text sets designed around a topic, theme, or standard, which can build students’ background knowledge and vocabulary to increase reading comprehension. It also provides news articles from trusted media sources, which helps students to remain current on local and global events.

Another strength is Newsela’s adaptivity. Each article is available at five different reading levels, enabling students with varying reading abilities to access the same content. Finding relevant texts written at various reading levels is a huge challenge for teachers, so this is a big time saver. Newsela also continuously adjusts students’ reading levels based on their performance on each assessment.

Newsela’s assessments for each article include both multiple-choice items and writing prompts. Students receive immediate feedback on their multiple-choice assessments and can review questions that they missed. The assessments appear on the screen next to the article, allowing students to go back to the text to find evidence (an important skill emphasized in the Common Core). The writing prompts are also evidence based and promote higher-order thinking.

A further strength is Newsela’s comprehensive learning and support center, which can be accessed by clicking on the question mark in the corner of the page. The site provides excellent professional development on a variety of topics using short articles, videos, and live webinars. Teachers can find quick-start guides, videos, and articles on everything from signing up students to scoring writing prompts.

Newsela generally provides an engaging, interactive experience for students, who can read online, interact with the text, assess their comprehension, and actively track their progress on quizzes. Students are also able to read any article on Newsela, which allows them to seek out articles of personal interest and expand their knowledge base.

How might Newsela be improved?

Although the free version of Newsela provides teachers and students with many great resources, it does not give teachers access to student-level data. This is a major drawback of the free version, as is the inability of teachers using the free version to see student responses to the writing prompts. Though these assessments are great resources, they are meaningless to teachers if they cannot access them to assess performance, growth, and student needs.

Newsela’s text sets are generally excellent, but some revisions would make them even stronger. For example, there are general lesson plans and writing prompts available for a few text sets, but most lack such plans and suggested classroom activities. The text sets are also not presented in any particular order, so teachers must read each article and consider text complexity, vocabulary, and students’ prior knowledge to determine the most suitable order themselves. This can be challenging and time consuming. In addition, the text sets are not accompanied by assessments. Each article has its own assessment, but there is no assessment requiring students to integrate knowledge from multiple sources, although that’s an important requirement of the Common Core.


Overall, Newsela is an excellent resource for classroom teachers. Its articles are interesting, gathered from trusted media sources, and presented at multiple levels of complexity so that students with varying reading skills can access the text. The site is easy to use, and (in my experience) students find it engaging. The articles also cover myriad topics, so no matter what subject you teach, you are apt to find something relevant to your class. I hope the resources work as well for others as they have for me.

Shannon Garrison is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher in California with two decades of teaching experience. She holds a National Board Certification, serves on the National Assessment Governing Board, and was also recently selected as a Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year.

A new NBER paper examines whether student coaching can be implemented just as effectively through technology as it can be in person. Specifically, it looks at helping coaches foster students’ motivation, effort, good study habits, and time management skills—and whether all of this can be done just as effectively through automated texts and emails as it can be done through real people. How might this affect grades and credit accumulation?

This study utilizes a sample of over four thousand undergraduate students from a large Canadian university who registered for first-year economics classes in the fall of 2015. Analysts randomly assigned them into a control group or into three treatments meant to help promote the aforementioned skills (management, study habits, etc.): (1) a one-time online exercise where they explored their values and goals for the current year and for their future and how they intend to meet them; (2) a text-messaging campaign that provided them with mostly automated advice about academics and that motivated them to do their best (contact was not initiated with individual students nor were emails presented as coming from a real person—just from a program); and (3) a personal coaching service in which students were matched with upper-year undergraduates coaches who are encouraged to initiate contact and build relationships with students over time, both in person and through texts.

Analysts found no effect from either the online exercise or the text-messaging campaign across the general population or student subgroups. Yet there were large and significant effects from coaching, which increased average course grades by 5 percentage points and grade point average by 0.35 standard deviations over one year. These impacts also strengthened over the semesters of the year. And coached students failed fewer credits and earned more credits on average. The in-person coaches had small groups to coach (no more than five students) because that component was randomly administered to a subset of the group (no more than twenty-five students) that did the online exercise, which meant that coaches could spend more time with their assigned students, averaging seven hours total per week in coaching services. But the high-touch approach carried a high cost. Analysts estimate it cost at least $13,000 to service their small group of coached students; the online cost was negligible; and the text-messaging cost $1,200 for all 1,500 students. They think proactively reaching out to students and building trust were key differences that made the in-person coaching more effective and are now trying to bake that into “virtual coaches.”

What might K–12 learn from this study? Here’s one idea: Ninth grade is historically a tough transition time for students leaving middle school. What if upper classmen in high school chose to spend a few hours a week coaching them so as to pave their smooth transition? Happily, some schools are already ahead of the game

SOURCE: Philip Oreopoulos and Uros Petronijevic, "Student Coaching: How Far Can Technology Go?," NBER (September 2016).

Twenty-five years into the American charter school movement there remains little research on the impact of charter authorizers, yet these entities are responsible for key decisions in the lives of charter schools, including whether they can open, and when they must close.

A new policy brief from Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance seeks to shed some light on authorizer impact in post-Katrina New Orleans, specifically does the process by which applications are reviewed help to produce effective charter schools? And after those schools have been initially authorized, does that process also shed light on which types of charter schools get renewed?

It merits repeating that the authorizing environment in New Orleans was unlike anywhere else in the country: Louisiana had given control of almost all New Orleans public schools to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the Recovery School District (RSD). Independent review of charter applications was mandated in state law, and tons of organizations applied to open new charters.

To facilitate the application process, BESE hired the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). NACSA reviewed and rated applications, and in most cases BESE followed those recommendations. As the authors point out, NACSA is the largest evaluator of charter applications in the country and the extent of its work in New Orleans provides some insights regarding the potential impact of authorizer decisions.

First, NACSA examined much more than the charter application alone, including information gleaned via interviews and site visits. The authors found that the only factor that predicted both charter approval and renewal is a school’s rating from NACSA. Interestingly, the authors also found a number of application factors that had no effect on application approval or renewal, including: number of board members with backgrounds in education, whether partners (vendors providing services such as curricular materials, tutoring, college advising, social services, etc.) were for-profit or non-profit, whether a national charter management company (CMO) was involved, whether a principal had been identified at the time of the application, and the amount of instructional time and professional development proposed.

Second, there does not appear to be a link between these application factors and future school performance. However, it did appear that applicants with non-profit partners showed lower state performance scores, lower overall enrollment, and lower enrollment growth than those without such partners.

In terms of charter renewal, it appears that School Performance Scores (the SPS includes indicators of assessment, readiness, graduation, diploma strength and progress) and value added (growth) are strong predictors of charter renewal (in addition to the initial NACSA rating). And while charter schools with higher enrollment growth were more likely to be renewed, enrollment levels themselves were not a factor in renewal decisions.

The takeaway for authorizers is that past performance is the best predictor of future success, and that the answers to some of the questions we typically include in applications (e.g., about board members, partners, school leader) really aren’t predictive of anything. Looking at a paper application simply isn’t enough. Authorizers must also examine qualitative data (such as interviewing school leaders and references, and making detailed site visits).

The study acknowledges a few of its limitations: lack of a clear scientific basis for determining which application factors to measure; the ability to only observe the future performance of schools with the strongest applications (the worst applications didn’t make the cut); and, importantly, the fact that many authorizers (nationally, not just in Louisiana) simply have not had enough applications and renewals to make a comprehensive study possible.

But fear not: Those of us at Fordham have our own study in the works to look at this question in four states. Stay tuned!

SOURCE: Whitney Bross and Douglas N. Harris, "The Ultimate Choice: How Charter Authorizers Approve and Renew Schools in Post-Katrina New Orleans," Education Research Alliance (September 2016).

On this week’s podcast, Mike Petrilli, Alyssa Schwenk, and David Griffith discuss whether teachers should be giving As and Bs to students who aren't on track for success. During the research minute, Amber Northern examines whether sixth graders fare better when they aren't the youngest students in the school.

SIGN UP for updates from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute