Upward Mobility

Nationally and in Ohio, we work to promote policies and practices that help children born into poverty transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults, with a particular focus on what role our schools can play. Through publications, events, and commentary, we advocate for proven paths to the middle class, including high-quality career and technical education, a focus on high-achieving disadvantaged students, and the "Success Sequence."


Our many upward-mobility-related blog posts are listed below.

Fordham’s upward mobility experts:

With popular, bipartisan support, career-and-technical education (CTE) is being embraced by policymakers across the nation. It’s no different in Ohio where newly elected Governor DeWine has promised to make CTE a priority during his term. There’s good reason for the increased focus. If done well, CTE allows students to accumulate technical skills—and certifications verifying attainment—that can help them secure rewarding jobs.

Given the growing attention, it’s important to describe the state of CTE in Ohio. This post will look at the basic question of how many students currently avail themselves of CTE opportunities, and in what fields. Meanwhile, a follow-up piece will explore what we know about the outcomes of CTE students, including their graduation and industry certification rates.

One might think counting the number of CTE students would be easy, but there’s more to it than initially meets the eye. Part of the challenge lies in determining what a “CTE student” is. In fact, there are two official definitions in use.

First, there are CTE participants who have earned credit in at least one CTE course. This is a very low threshold; for instance, passing just one introductory business or information technology course likely...


During his inauguration in early January, Governor Mike DeWine spoke of his desire to use education to improve Ohio. “Education is the key to equality and the key to opportunity,” he said. “Everyone—everyone—deserves a chance to succeed, to get a good-paying job, to raise a family comfortably.”

Although DeWine’s inauguration signaled the start of new state leadership, his focus on increasing educational opportunities and improving outcomes isn’t new. Under former Governor John Kasich, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE), and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation jointly acknowledged that Ohio was facing a “looming crisis” in educational attainment. Research from 2013 showed that 64 percent of Ohio jobs in 2020 would require post-secondary education. But only 43.2 percent of working-age adults had a post-secondary degree or certificate as of 2016. More worrisome, Ohio students weren’t earning degrees and certificates at a fast enough rate to close the gap. To meet the needs of employers, Ohio would need to produce approximately 1.3 million more adults with high quality post-secondary certificates. 

In response to these disheartening numbers, state leaders announced in 2016 that they would pursue “Ohio Attainment Goal 2025”—a statewide...

Susan Rhodes

In December 2003, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Daniel Golden interviewed me about the identification and admissions policies of our district’s gifted program. I served as the gifted coordinator of a district with fifteen thousand students in pre-K through twelfth grade. I was instrumental in the movement to create the district’s first gifted magnet school for students in first through fifth grade, that opened in the year 2000. Our team had done extensive research on developing an identification process that would closely reflect the demographics of the entire district. The conversation with Mr. Golden was focused on admissions of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the impact of No Child Left Behind. The conversation began with the mechanics of our district’s identification system and federal mandates and ended with forever changing the course of one family.

I described to Mr. Golden our district’s identification process of administering the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test to all kindergarten students at the end of January each year. In March, students receiving a score of 1.5 standard deviations above the group norm were then invited to learn more about the gifted magnet school. Teachers and parents could also nominate students who demonstrated achievement at one grade...


One of the key tenets of the American Dream is the opportunity for children to grow up to earn more than their parents. Although millions of Americans aspire to get ahead, there are considerable challenges—such as poverty and racial barriers—that can get in the way. For the approximately 60 million people living in rural America, a prevalence of additional obstacles like declining populations, limited job options, and the opioid epidemic make it even harder. 

To identify solutions to these unique challenges, the National 4-H Council and The Bridgespan Group collaborated to release a field report highlighting rural communities that are leading the way in social mobility. The report is based on four main sources of information: 1) interviews with experts from the public, private, and social sectors; 2) site visits to nineteen towns in ten rural counties that included focus groups with over one hundred youth and over 120 nonprofit, business, and civic leaders; 3) county level analysis of demographic, economic, and outcomes data that was used to hypothesize about upward mobility trends; and 4) discussions and focus groups with local leaders in an additional six rural counties in four states to field test initial findings.

Results from...


In Ohio’s great graduation debate, we at Fordham have warned that lowering the bar is tantamount to the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” Weakened standards, such as those pushed by the State Board of Education, imply that many low-income pupils need alternative routes to diplomas because they’re unable of reaching the state’s academic or career-technical requirements. Yet as this piece discusses, lowering our sights won’t just hurt poor students, it’ll also ask much less of our young men, especially Ohio’s young men of color.

Consider the four-year graduation rates for the class of 2017, the most recent available, displayed in the figures below. This was the final cohort subject to Ohio’s “old” graduation requirements, which included passage of the low-level Ohio Graduation Tests (OGTs). Figure 1 shows average graduation rates across Ohio’s district typologies, classifications developed by ODE to group districts with similar socio-economic and geographic characteristics. You’ll notice that graduation rates for males trail behind their female counterparts across all typologies, suggesting that high-school completion for young men should be a widespread concern. The disparities are most visible in Ohio’s high-poverty urban areas that include big- and small-city districts, and some inner-ring suburbs.



Research tells us what works to serve gifted and talented students, including how best to identify these students and how to use acceleration strategies appropriately. A new resource, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject, offers direction and clarity to school districts on gifted education practices, guidance many practitioners lack today.

Gifted and talented children need and deserve appropriate levels of challenge and stimulation as they reach for their personal best. Unfortunately, far too many children experience low expectations in their classrooms. Recent research by Dr. Scott Peters and others reveals that up to 10 percent of children perform four or more grade levels above the grade level standards used in their classrooms.

Acceleration strategies—such as advancing students an entire grade level or in specific subjects—are one of the most effective approaches to help ensure all children who demonstrate readiness for more advanced instruction receive quality gifted and talented programming. They allow students to access curriculum content, skills, and understandings before their expected age or grade level. Rather than requiring gifted children to endure repetitive work with content they have already mastered, educators can use a variety of acceleration strategies to challenge these learners...


Ohio’s news outlets have covered the debate over graduation requirements as if it were a burning problem that policymakers need to urgently “fix.” For instance, the local NPR affiliate headlined an article, “Ohio education panel still crafting long-term fix on graduation standards.” The Dayton Daily News ran a piece titled, “State school board backs long-term graduation changes, weighs emergency fix.”

Such headlines are likely inspired by public officials who have raised alarms over the past two years that Ohio’s new graduation standards would withhold diplomas from too many students. In fact, one former State Board of Education member predicted that graduation rates would fall sharply to 60 percent for the class of 2018, the first cohort subject to the state’s updated requirements that include exam-based and career-technical pathways. Based on these concerns, state lawmakers approved softball alternatives that this cohort could meet to receive high school diplomas. Various policymakers have expressed interest in extending less demanding options to future graduating classes.

Now that much of the class of 2018 has moved onto bigger and better things, it’s a good time to step back and see how these students fared in terms of meeting...


A few weeks ago, officials at ACT released a report that breaks down the ACT test results of the 2018 graduating class. It examines participation and performance overall, as well as data based on college and career readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science that indicate whether students are prepared to succeed in first-year college courses. 

At the national level, the results are disheartening. The data—which account for more than 1.9 million graduates, or 55 percent of students in the 2018 national graduating class—show that the average composite score dropped from 21 to 20.8. Average scores in all four subjects also slid compared to last year (though only between 0.1 and 0.3 points).

As for the benchmarks, readiness in both math and English has been steadily declining since 2014. This year was no exception: 40 percent of graduates met the math benchmark, the lowest percentage in fourteen years, and 60 percent met the benchmark in English, the lowest level since the benchmarks were first introduced. Reading and science readiness levels were both down by 1 percentage point compared to the year prior, but generally show flat long-term trends.

In Ohio, the declines were larger. The table below...


Editor’s Note: As Ohioans prepare to elect a new governor this November, and as state leaders look to build upon past education successes, we at the Fordham Institute are developing a set of policy proposals that we believe can lead to increased achievement and greater opportunities for Ohio students. This is the sixth in our series, under the umbrella of ensuring seamless transitions to college or career. You can access all of the entries in the series to date here.

Proposal: Create a tax-credit program that allows employers to reduce their state tax liabilities based on the number of students who complete a state-registered apprenticeship at their worksite.

Background: In contrast to traditional career and technical programs, where training is delivered entirely by K–12 schools, apprenticeships include paid on-the-job training provided by employers or professional associations in addition to formal education. American high school students rarely participate in apprenticeships, though their counterparts in countries like Germany and Switzerland are far more likely to do so. Apprenticeships are slowly gaining traction in other states, including Georgia, Maryland, and Wisconsin, which have devised apprenticeship programs geared toward high school students. In Ohio, students aged sixteen or older can participate in one...


NOTE: On September 14, 2018, Chad Aldis was invited to provide testimony to the Ohio Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The meeting, held in Cleveland, examined civil rights as it relates to education funding in Ohio. The big question in front of the committee was “whether the state’s school funding system contributes to a disparate impact on educational outcomes for student groups protected under federal law.” The following is a summary of Chad’s remarks compiled from his notes.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s long-term focus on school quality and student achievement makes us very appreciative of the work of this advisory committee. Any aspect of the education system that could be contributing to the racial achievement gap must be identified and corrected.

Today, I’ll provide information in a variety of areas that are likely to be relevant to the analysis this committee will conduct, including student achievement, funding data, the relationship between funding and academic achievement, and data related to charter schools. Finally, I’ll identify a few areas where Ohio can improve its funding system and offer a few final thoughts.

Achievement gap data

Using data from the 2016–17 school year, compiled by the...