Standards-Based Reforms

Nationally and in Ohio, we press for the full suite of standards-based reforms across the academic curriculum and throughout the K–12 system, including (but not limited to) careful implementation of the Common Core standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics as well as rigorous, aligned state assessments and forceful accountability mechanisms at every level.


Our many standards-based blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s experts on standards-based reforms:

Ashley Berner

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

American policymakers haven’t usually viewed the curriculum as a serious lever for change. This is unfortunate, since a growing body of research suggests that a high-quality curriculum, implemented with fidelity, can make a huge difference in student learning. In 2017, StandardsWork commissioned the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and its Center for Research and Reform in Education to undertake an extensive review of research on the curriculum effect, and what we found about a high-quality curriculum is compelling and persuasive (see here for a summary of the findings).

A few examples from the research record include:

  • High-quality textbooks. Numerous, recent studies (links here, here, here, and here) suggest that switching from a low- to a high-quality textbook can boost student achievement more than other, more popular interventions such as expanding preschool programs, decreasing class sizes, or offering merit pay to teachers. It is also cost effective. One study by Harvard’s Thomas Kane found that the effect upon student test scores of a high-quality math textbook as opposed to an average-quality textbook amounted to an extra eight
  • ...
Van Schoales

“Choice, first and foremost, should be about having a great school in your neighborhood and making sure all of our schools serve all of our kids.”—Tom Boasberg, NPR Ed, 2017

I’ve been an active observer of Denver Public Schools (DPS) for twenty years, through the vantage point of consultant, funder, researcher, charter school operator, critic, and advocate. When I met Tom Boasberg in his role as DPS’s chief operating officer, my first impression was that he was a thoughtful urban education newbie both committed to improving the quality of public education and skeptical of the notion of “one best district system.”

Under his tenure over the past decade, Denver Public Schools has had a remarkable trajectory. He has shepherded a long list of reforms that have elevated DPS from one of the worst large urban school systems to now having academic performance levels on par with Colorado’s average scores. High school graduation, college admittance, and school enrollment have dramatically grown under his leadership.

Through the years he established himself as a thoughtful technocrat—someone far more interesting in person than his khakis, blue button-downs, and Timex runner watches would suggest. He commutes thirty miles each day from...


Over the past two years, Fordham has been an outspoken critic of some of the efforts to modify Ohio’s graduation requirements. It’s not that we think the current graduation requirements are perfect. Heck, we’ve even offered a variety of ideas to modify the current framework. It’s that the “solutions” being offered create pathways where students can receive diplomas without any objective demonstration of academic competency. To us, this is a problem and ignores the very real reason that graduation requirements were made more rigorous in the first place. Namely, too few students have been graduating from high school with the skills to either go to college or enter the workforce.

In early May, the Akron Beacon Journal wrote an important story detailing how the modified graduation requirements for the class of 2018 (students who can’t pass state assessments or earn industry credentials can receive a diploma by completing two of nine other pathways) are playing out in Akron. This is the first large school district where we could see the impact of the modified graduation requirements.

The data raised many concerns for me, and I wrote an op-ed that was published on May 17 in the Beacon Journal....

Matthew A. Kraft

Nine years, $575 million dollars, and 500-plus pages later, what have we learned about the Gates Foundation’s ambitious efforts to improve teacher effectiveness through evaluation and human capital reforms? The headlines about the RAND Corporation’s recently released final report have focused on the lack of any consistent effects on student outcomes, but the real story here is the many insights about implementation—what actually happened on the ground—based on rich qualitative and survey data. Here are some of my key takeaways from the report.

The study evaluated the Gates’s Intensive Partnership initiative with three school districts and four charter management organizations, which lasted from 2009 to 2015 and provided $575 million in total funding ($800–$3,500 per pupil). In exchange, participating districts/CMOs committed to implementing major reforms to their teacher recruitment, screening, evaluation, and compensation systems.

In many ways this initiative should be viewed as a proof of concept. The participating districts/CMOs were specifically selected because of their strong commitment to the reforms, and they had unprecedented financial support. Their efforts provide a rare window into whether evaluation and human capital reforms work under very favorable circumstances—a truer test of the reforms themselves.

Despite the strong initial buy-in and generous funding,...

Alex Hernandez

Some of us were in the mode, ‘Fix it, fix it! Fix it tomorrow!’ You know when you feel nauseated and you just want it to stop. Our Chief Academic Officer, Tracy Epp, did a good job of slowing us down and saying, ‘I’m not going to take forever, but this is important enough that we are going to take a few months to figure this out. And we are going to bring our team together to generate all kinds of ideas and then we’re going to make our bets.’ And I think she slowed us down and brought more people on board to try to get the bets right.

—Dacia Toll, co-CEO of Achievement First

Achievement First’s deep dive into its academic programs led to the following conclusions:

Key lessons learned

  • Picture of instruction: Our instruction was overly-scaffolded for students. We needed to focus more on student thinking. Students needed to do more heavy lifting and struggle more.
  • Curriculum: Curriculum matters—a lot. It needs to be unapologetically rigorous. You need to buy best-in-class resources or have a robust process for internal and external vetting of what you create.
  • Adult learning: Student thinking will only be as good
  • ...

Achievement gaps between poor and minority students and their peers are well documented and persistent. For years, data indicate that these students have generally been making slow but steady progress. But now results from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) cast doubt on whether they remain on an upward trajectory. Nationally, the most recent trends have been flat to downwards for both black and Hispanic students, as well as for those in the bottom 10 percent in achievement.

Does Ohio follow the national trends? In this post, we’ll take a look at the NAEP data for Ohio’s low-income pupils and black students. Though not discussed here, average achievement among Hispanic students also lags behind their peers (their NAEP performance can be seen here). In contrast to Ohio’s state tests, which have changed in recent years, NAEP’s math and reading exams have remained largely consistent and provide a big-picture sense of the direction achievement is moving in Ohio. Keep in mind that NAEP takes “snapshots” of different students every two years; hence, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about what’s causing changes seen in the data. The shift to tablet assessments in 2017 may...


Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education released data from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Given every two years to fourth and eighth graders in math and reading (and other grades and subjects though sometimes on a less frequent basis), NAEP is an important check on how Ohio students achieve against rigorous national standards and compare to their peers in other states. The big takeaway is that student achievement is stuck in neutral across much of the nation. But there’s more to unpack, especially here in Ohio.

Note that the NAEP data are simply descriptive—they give us information about achievement at face value. They can’t tell us with any certainty what’s causing these patterns and trends, including how the shift to tablet-based assessments, economic or demographic trends, and other dynamics that may influence achievement are affecting results. Moreover, other excellent analyses of NAEP data are already out, including a demographically adjusted look at the 2017 results by state. In the days ahead, we’ll take closer looks at  “cohort gains” in Ohio compared to other states—i.e., examining fourth graders results in 2013 and comparing them to 2017 eighth grade results—as well as dig...


Ohio’s State Board of Education recently voted in favor of recommending that the legislature extend softer graduation requirements to the classes of 2019 and 2020. Such a move would be seriously misguided, since these expectations don’t require students to demonstrate academic mastery or readiness for college or career. Instead, the board suggests that students receive diplomas when they complete various non-academic options, including meeting attendance requirements or accruing a certain number of volunteer or internship hours.

An argument could certainly be made that the state should stick with the graduation requirements currently enshrined in law, which permit students to graduate if they have: achieved a passing cumulative score on seven end-of-course exams, achieved a “remediation-free” ACT or SAT score, or completed career and technical education requirements that include earning an industry recognized credential. After all, more than three-fourths of students in the class of 2018 are on track to graduate, even with these rigorous expectations in place.

However, if the General Assembly decides to make a change, they should consider other options aside from the proposal from the state board. One possibility is the model recently adopted by Indiana, beginning with its class of 2023. In order...


The state board of education voted today to recommend that the General Assembly extend previously-relaxed graduation requirements for the class of 2018 to the classes of 2019 and 2020.

“Despite consistent feedback that too many Ohio high school graduates aren’t ready for credit bearing college courses and don’t possess the skills necessary to enter the workforce, the state board of education is once again recommending that the legislature walk back the requirements for high school graduation,” said Chad L. Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “What’s most disappointing is that this change is being recommended even though a significant majority of Ohio students have met the more rigorous graduation requirements.”

The most recent data released by the Ohio Department of Education projects that almost 77 percent of students in the class of 2018 are on track to meet graduation requirements.

Rather than earning a diploma by successfully passing end-of-course exams, achieving remediation-free scores on the ACT or SAT, or attaining an industry credential and demonstrating workforce skills, students in the classes of 2019 and 2020 would be able to graduate by completing two of nine tasks from a list which includes...


In case you missed it during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, Ohio recently announced how students can earn a new endorsement on their high school diplomas. It’s known as the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal, and it’s intended to communicate to businesses that a student possesses the professional skills needed for employment.

To earn the seal, students must be deemed proficient[1] in fifteen professional skills, which include punctuality, teamwork and collaboration, and critical thinking and problem solving. Proficiency is determined by three mentors, who must complete and sign the validation form. Students choose their own mentors, but they must include adults from at least two of three state-prescribed areas: school, work, and community. Examples include teachers, coaches, work supervisors, or faith-based leaders.

The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) has a ton of information about the seal online, including this informational guide for teachers, students, and families. It’s in this document that ODE explains the rationale behind it: “Ohio businesses are seeking talented workers who have solid academic skills such as reading, writing and mathematics, as well as the professional skills required for success in the workplace.”

They are certainly correct about the importance of...