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:

Harlem Day is one of the oldest charter schools in New York City—and, historically, one of its most troubled. It has had nine principals in the nine years since its founding in 2001, and fewer than 25 percent of its students could read and do math at grade level. This was a case study for closure, but the school’s founder, Ben Lambert, made news when he proposed something radical to his authorizer, the State University of New York: He would step aside and replace his entire governing board just to keep the school alive and give his students a chance at salvation.

This compelling account comes courtesy of Public Impact, which has held up Harlem Day and a few other similarly positioned charter schools as paragons of what it calls the charter school “restart.” The restart is an alternative to closure—an alternative that Daniela Doyle and Tim Field at Public Impact say in their new report ushers in new leadership at problem-plagued charter schools but still manages to serve the same students.

It’s a good concept to promote but one that’s tough to pull off. The reason why Lambert’s move made headlines is because his act of self-sacrifice...

I liked Preston Smith from the very start.

We talked about sports and music, teased each other like high school friends, and bonded over stories of our young kids and smart, loving wives. We also shared a hardscrabble past and a set of small shoulder chips that produced in both of us a forward-leaning posture and an abiding passion for education reform.

But there’s so much more to Preston, the CEO and co-founder of Rocketship Education, maybe the hottest CMO in America. He made it out of a tough neighborhood, attended and excelled at a top-flight university, joined Teach For America, won awards for his extraordinary teaching, served as a founding principal in his early twenties, and then started the first Rocketship school—turning both into the highest performing schools in San Jose, CA.

He worked his way up through the organization, and when CEO John Danner resigned in early 2013, Preston, at only 33, took the organization’s helm and was charged with overseeing both its existing eight schools and audacious national growth plans.

I was lucky enough to be part of a two-year...

Earlier this month, Fordham released a brand-new report, What Parents Want, which looks at parent priorities and preferences in K–12 schools. We found that parents’ “must-haves” do not vary greatly, and that parents are more alike than they are different. (Chief among parents’ priorities: schools that have provide a strong core curriculum in reading and math and that emphasize science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.) But differences among parents also emerged, in six market-research “niches,” where parents prioritized individual school attributes or student goals that other parents viewed as less important.

So we know what all parents—and what parent “niches”—want in our schools. But do we have the schools that meet parents’ needs? Does Ohio’s supply of schools meet the demands of picky parents?

Not perfectly, of course. By all accounts, school, student, and parent don’t always mesh like a hand in glove. But, there is also evidence that public schools are increasingly designing curriculum and hiring staff to meet the demands of specific parental segments, while at the same time, holding to high academic standards. Looking across Ohio, we put together a short list of district and charter schools that, in some way or another, appear to...

Eric Holder's Justice Department recently announced it would not target states that had chosen to legalize marijuana due to its "limited prosecutorial resources." The Obama presidency has shown us that "insufficient funds" is an exceedingly unlikely reason for inaction. Instead, this appears to be yet another example of the Administration’s willingness to pick and choose which laws passed by Congress it will enforce. I suppose some will take the DOJ at its word but, nevertheless, it's interesting to note where the nation's chief law enforcement officials are spending our precious tax dollars.

If liberty were the Administration's priority, you sure wouldn't know it by their school-choice policies. Instead of reducing violent crime and keeping what it still classifies—rightly or wrongly—as a dangerous drug off the streets, government lawyers are working feverishly to overturn the will of both parents and their state elected officials by denying educational options to potentially thousands of Louisiana children.

Louisiana’s 2012 school-voucher law allows low-income families with children in failing schools to choose a higher-quality option. The DOJ, relying on decades-old desegregation orders in thirty-four districts, is working to deny parental choice in the name of keeping schools integrated. This is especially puzzling given that studies have shown...

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller recently published an opinion that should be good news for school-choice advocates who favor customized education for low-income students. He wrote this week that students opting for the state’s voucher program should also be allowed to receive special-education services, if eligible, at their local public school.

Photo from the Associated Press

This undoubtedly would anger two camps of school-choice opponents: 1) those who believe that private schools accepting voucher-bearing students must offer the same special-education services found at traditional public schools and 2) those who believe that once students leave the public school system, they give up everything it has to offer.

Of course, most choice opponents occupy both camps, and that goes for Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who this summer asked the attorney general a loaded question: Must a private school participating in the state’s voucher program offer special-education services to eligible students who qualify for both a voucher and a new special-education grant the state legislature approved this year?

Zoeller said no, writing in his opinion that private schools might refuse voucher students altogether if they have to administer special-education services...

The Washington Post (and many others) roundly decried the Department of Justice’s petition to disallow Louisiana from awarding vouchers to students in public schools under federal desegregation orders. Surely it’s folly to block students (mainly black and all poor) from escaping failing schools to which they would otherwise be condemned—and it’s outrageous to claim that this is good for civil rights. As 90 percent of the kids benefiting from Louisiana’s voucher program are African American, Gadfly cannot help but suspect political motives. We join the chorus: Shame on the Department of Justice for standing between disadvantaged children and their education dreams.

Massachusetts, with the nation’s highest-performing school system, models the power of comprehensive standards-based reform. As noted by the New York Times, the Bay State’s standards—like the Common Core—refrain from prescribing curriculum and pedagogy, meaning that teachers decide how to get their pupils across the finish line. There’s far more to the Massachusetts story, of course, including a higher bar, more money, charter schools, individual student-level accountability and tougher requirements to enter teaching. But it’s a story worth telling and retelling.

As the time...

Common Core

When I’m asked if I support the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I give an emphatic “yes.” They constitute the first multi-state plan to give substance and coherence to what is taught in the public schools. They encourage the systematic development of knowledge in K–5. They break the craven silence about the critical importance of specific content in the early grades. They offer an example (the human body) of how knowledge ought to be built systematically across grades. They state,

By reading texts in history/social studies, science, and other disciplines, students build a foundation of knowledge in these fields that will also give them the background to be better readers in all content areas. Students can only gain this foundation when the curriculum is intentionally and coherently structured to develop rich content knowledge within and across grades.

That principle of building coherent, cumulative content animates the most effective school systems in the world, and for good reason: The systematic development of student knowledge from the earliest grades in history, literature, science, and the arts is essential to...


It has always puzzled me why the Rev. H.K. Matthews hasn’t drawn more attention for his support for private school choice. His name may not carry the weight of King, Randolph, or Rustin, but it’s doubtful that the civil-rights movement would have quickened in Florida at the pace it did without the sacrifices Matthews made.

Chief among those sacrifices was Matthews’ freedom: When he was president of the Pensacola Council of Ministers in the 1960s, he led sit-ins at segregated lunch counters throughout Northwest Florida that led to his arrest—thirty-five times. He was gassed and beaten by police on the march with Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery, and he was blacklisted from jobs after protesting police brutality in the Florida panhandle. More recently, Matthews helped to lead protesters who bemoaned the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial.

So when Matthews calls school choice an extension of the civil rights movement, that assertion ought to at least merit a few high-profile headlines.

At least the Birmingham News recognized the allure of Matthews’s position. This week, the News published commentary from Matthews supporting the new Alabama tax-credit-scholarship program and reprimanding the Southern Poverty Law Center...

The dominant approach to public education for most of our nation’s history was for local districts to offer standard-issue schools, mainly neighborhood-based and essentially identical, that reflected some version of the community’s general preferences and values. Because those preferences differed somewhat from place to place, public schools differed somewhat, too. Schools might be a bit more “traditional” in more conservative suburbs and rural communities, a tad more “progressive” in liberal urban locales. But in any given community, there was usually just one flavor for everybody. (Even the exceptions were broadly standardized. For example, there might be a “vocational high school” in the community.) If you didn’t like it, you chose a private school or you moved—kind of like Henry Ford’s approach to car colors.

Today, however, families across much of the country can choose among multiple public-school options. These may include charter schools; magnet schools with various specialized or advanced programs; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) schools; career or college-preparatory academies; other neighborhood schools (via intra- and sometimes inter-district choice); and even virtual schools. Some cities—New Orleans and Denver may be the best examples—are pursuing “portfolio” approaches, offering a variety of school options throughout their communities. And...

The Justice Department may be the last major American institution that values racial integration for the sake of integration. Its lawyers have worked to encase aging federal school-desegregation orders in cast iron while families—both white and black—have sought more flexibility, quality schools, and choices as to where their children will attend.

DOJ attorneys may tolerate some flexible plans aimed at voluntary desegregation, such as magnet schools and other forms of public-school choice, but there’s one form of choice it seems the Obama Administration and its legal beagles will not accept: private-school vouchers.

Late last week, lawyers with the department’s Civil Rights Division petitioned a federal judge in Louisiana to stop the Bayou State’s new voucher program from spreading throughout the thirty-plus districts operating under federal desegregation orders.  During the 2012-13 school year, Louisiana awarded vouchers to nearly 600 students from these districts, and DOJ asserts that their exit caused thirty-four public schools in thirteen districts to stray from “the desired degree of student racial diversity.”

To regain that “desired degree,” the department wants vouchers prohibited in court-supervised districts, unless the cognizant judge grants permission. That may be in keeping with the Obama Administration’s hostility to private-school choice, but...