Quality Choices

Nationally and in Ohio, we strive to develop policies and practices leading to a lively, accessible marketplace of high-quality education options for every young American (including charter schools, magnet schools, voucher programs, and online courses), as well as families empowered and informed so that they can successfully engage with that marketplace.


Our many choice-related blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s choice experts:

STEM education is, by design, integrative. It strives to emulate the real-world work of engineers within a teaching environment. Traditional science and math concepts merge with hands-on design-and-build work using technology, often through “design challenges.” Team dynamics, learning by failure and revision, and analytical thinking all factor in as well. It’s a big lift, but such efforts are vital for schools to attempt as demand for STEM—from parents, employers, the military, and colleges—increases. Traditional education models may not readily adapt to the hands-on demands of STEM, nor can many practitioners turn on a dime to accommodate a tech-heavy pedagogy. A new report from Michigan Technological University sheds light on some of these complexities that teachers face bringing STEM education into their practice.

Authors Emily Dare, Joshua Ellis, and Gillian Roehrig use observation and interview data to assess the first-time STEM integration efforts of teachers in nine physical science classrooms in different, unnamed middle schools in the United States. The researchers posit that a lack of consensus over best practices and a lack of professional development contribute to the difficulties. Both classroom observation and teacher reflection data for these nine case studies of teachers attempting STEM integration with little...


The recent closing of the ten Jubilee Schools in Memphis has rumbled through the Catholic schools world like an earthquake.

Those who fear the worst about the future of urban Catholic education now believe they are right. Those who felt we had turned a corner were shaken free of any illusions that incremental change will be enough. Everyone has been left on edge. We know that the next few years may well be our last chance to ensure we can continue providing high-quality educational opportunities for generations of students to come.

One of the things that has been so painful about the Jubilee news is that there is no doubt that these schools are worth saving. The “Catholic School Advantage” has been proven time and again, and it’s as strong today as it has been over the past two-hundred years.

But the harsh truth is that results aren’t enough. If we want to preserve urban Catholic education—particularly in states where we are still fighting for school choice—we need not only great, faith-filled educators, but also savvy fiscal experts and business leaders who can help build sustainable institutions in a fiercely competitive environment.

We have...

Susan Pendergrass

NOTE: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute occasionally publishes guest commentaries on its blogs. The views expressed by guest authors do not necessarily reflect those of Fordham.

In addition to fielding questions about what a charter school is, and whether charters are private or public schools, I’m often asked: Aren’t charter schools intended for failing urban districts serving low-income students of color? They do serve those communities well, but let’s talk about who else they serve.

While it’s true that over half of all charter schools are in urban districts, in the 2015–16 school year there were nearly 1,800 suburban charter schools and over 1,200 in small towns and rural communities.

It turns out that curriculum really matters to middle-income parents, and many gravitate to charter schools because they offer educational models that aren’t available in traditional public schools. Some of these models are more rigorous, some are more open and creative, and some offer unique programs. There are hundreds of examples of outstanding suburban and rural charter schools, but I’ll offer just a few to ponder.

Take the BASIS charter schools: In the 2017 US News rankings of the top 10 public high schools, nine...


In case you missed the headlines, D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson recently resigned. Though a few scandals have plagued the district as of late, the one that spurred Wilson’s resignation was personal. He bypassed the citywide school lottery system to enroll his daughter in a high-performing school.

Wilson’s actions must be condemned as a misuse of power and a violation of public trust. He should not have circumvented district policies for his family’s benefit, and his resignation is warranted.

That being said, it’s not hard to understand why he did it. Based on media reports, the school that his daughter initially enrolled in—an arts magnet school—turned out to be a bad fit. Rather than keeping her in a school that didn’t work for her, Wilson did what most parents would do: He searched for a better option. Unfortunately, this meant using his power and connections to transfer his daughter into a high-performing school. Given these facts, it’s clear that he wanted his daughter to attend an academically strong school that was also a good fit for her. 

Wilson’s situation isn’t unique. Whether it’s a low-performing school, a school that isn’t the right fit, or both, tens...


For over twenty-five years, center-left and center-right policymakers and advocates in Washington, D.C., and in many states and communities, have worked together to create and grow charter schools that are improving the life outcomes of students, especially those from low-income and minority families.

That remarkable bipartisan alliance—a rarity in Washington today—was threatened in 2017 by wide-ranging criticisms rightly aimed at the new administration on a variety of K–12 reform issues by many thoughtful, progressive, center-left reformers.

The good news is that this fragile coalition seems once again to be on firm ground, though the partnership remains precarious.

The criticisms began with the nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education, focusing largely on how her home state of Michigan epitomized charter schools gone awry. Pundits and reporters jumped to conclusions, as in the New York Times story “Michigan Gambled on Charter Schools: Its Children Lost.” No doubt some criticisms by those on the center-left were well placed, especially regarding how charter schools are authorized in Michigan, and—not surprisingly—were shared by some on the center-right.

Another criticism—again, not without merit—had to do with the Trump administration’s proposal to cut $9.2 billion, or 13.5 percent, for K–12 education from the...


Louisiana gets a ton of education-related attention, most of it focused on the Recovery School District and the proliferation of charter schools in New Orleans. While these reforms are certainly worth a close look, it’s the state’s quieter efforts on curriculum that may be truly changing the game for students and teachers.

My colleague Robert Pondiscio wrote an in-depth analysis of these initiatives that’s definitely worth a read. The upshot is that education leaders in Louisiana recognized the transformative power of high-quality curriculum and took action. They started by reviewing the curricula that schools used in order to determine rigor, coherency, and alignment to state standards. After identifying the best curricula, Louisiana created incentives for districts to select those materials rather than others. The state also evaluated professional development providers and recommended to schools only the providers who offered trainings specific to the best curricula rather than broad and general strategies. 

So far, these efforts seem to be paying off: Louisiana students have shown improvements on state tests, the ACT, and  AP exams. In addition, the state saw upticks on the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in fourth-grade math and reading. By most measures,...


Education Week just released its 22nd annual report and rankings of state education systems. Faster than we can read the report or its accompanying coverage—which this year includes a worthwhile look at “five common traits of top school systems” and “five hurdles” standing in the way of improvement—alarmed observations about Ohio’s rankings “drop” have begun to emerge. They point out that Ohio was ranked 5th in 2010, 23rd in 2016, and 22nd in both 2017 and 2018, largely to score political points suggesting that the current administration has been asleep at the wheel.

We’ve been down this path before, but let’s revisit two significant problems with this interpretation. Last year when the ratings were released, I dove into an analysis exploring some of the likely causes for Ohio’s near twenty-slot fall in the relative rankings since 2010.

The rating system changed

Education Week undertook a significant overhaul of its rating system between 2014 and 2015, prohibiting meaningful comparisons of overall rankings over time. They eliminated three categories and now only include the following components:  Chance for Success, an index with thirteen indicators examining the role that education plays from early childhood into college and the...


After losing its sponsorship, ECOT, the largest e-school in Ohio, appears to be on the brink of closure. Districts and other e-schools are bracing for the possible flood of new students, preparing to hire new teachers, manage students’ transcripts, and get them up to speed mid-year. Not surprisingly, politicians are squeezing the situation for every last drop. Taking hardline stances on charter schools in Ohio is like a free campaign booster shot, with this particular situation offering extra potency. Meanwhile, families of some 12,000 students are dealing with the nightmare of impromptu school shopping.

Much is being said about ECOT right now. This shouldn’t surprise, given its status as the largest and most maligned charter school in Ohio and the role of its founder among the old guard of widely reviled campaign contributors in laying the groundwork for a very partisan charter landscape in Ohio. Each development toward ECOT’s downfall has sharpened new arrows in the quiver from which to take aim against charter schools broadly—a serious portion of which deserve never to be mentioned in the same breath as the near-fallen giant. What, if anything, can be learned and applied from this?...


As reported by the Dispatch last week, Columbus City Schools has unveiled plans to expand selective admission among its magnet schools next year. This is a positive step in an often criticized district—an effort that should be applauded and helped to grow.

Twenty-five years of school choice in Ohio have largely laid to rest the archaic notion that a home address will determine what schools children will attend from Kindergarten through high school. Interdistrict open enrollment, charter schools, private school scholarships, home schooling, virtual schooling, and independent STEM schools render district boundaries all but irrelevant to parents who are able to navigate these options. Even within districts, specialized schools, programs that look like schools, and lottery-based magnet schools have proliferated, further eroding address-based school assignments and rigid feeder patterns. This is all for the good.

A lesser-known addendum to that list is selective admission, whereby certain schools are allowed to prioritize a percentage of their seats for students who meet particular criteria. Ohio has allowed selective admission—with some important caveats—since 1990, and Columbus City Schools was the first district in the state to make use of this option. Today, five of the district’s magnet...


You don’t have to look far to find cogent rebuttals to a recent Associated Press story on charter schools and segregation. That analysis—which blames charter schools for intensifying segregation in public schools—is reminiscent of a political campaign where, running from a suspect track record, an incumbent blames the challenger for something he himself has done.

In this case, in a country that is deeply segregated, and whose public schools are deeply segregated both because of changing demographics and the precondition of residential assignment that pervades the public system, charter schools are being scapegoated for creating the racially divided and isolated world that the public schools themselves have given us. It’s the sort of pablum only a politico could offer.

The arguments many have made to counter this are spot-on, in particular about the difference between being assigned to racial isolation versus minorities making affirmative choices to be with people who share their skin color and, perhaps, their values. But there’s a piece that’s missing, and so much turns on understanding it that we gloss over it at our own peril.

The truth is, the attack on charters and their perceived role in segregation reveals a...