Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform

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America’s fragmented, decentralized, politicized, and bureaucratic system of education governance is a major impediment to school reform. In Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century: Overcoming the Structural Barriers to School Reform, a number of leading education scholars, analysts, and practitioners show that understanding the impact of specific policy changes in areas such as standards, testing, teachers, or school choice requires careful analysis of the broader governing arrangements that influence their content, implementation, and impact.

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Education Governance for the Twenty-First Century comprehensively assesses the strengths and weaknesses of what remains of the old in education governance, scrutinizes how traditional governance forms are changing, and suggests how governing arrangements might be further altered to produce better educational outcomes for children.

Paul Manna, Patrick McGuinn, and their colleagues provide the analysis and alternatives that will inform attempts to adapt nineteenth and twentieth century governance structures to the new demands and opportunities of today.

*Copublished with the Brookings Institution and the Center for American Progress

Table of Contents

1. Education Governance in America: Who Leads When Everyone is in Charge?, Patrick McGuinn and Paul Manna

Part I.  The Problem
2. The Failures of U.S. Education Governance Today, Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli
3. How Current Education Governance Distorts Financial Decisionmaking, Marguerite Roza
4. Governance Challenges to Innovators within the System, Michelle R. Davis
5. Governance Challenges to Innovators outside the System, Steven F. Wilson

Part II.  Traditional Institutions in Flux
6. Rethinking District Governance, Frederick M. Hess and Olivia M. Meeks
7. Interstate Governance of Standards and Testing, Kathryn A. McDermott
8. Education Governance in Performance-Based Federalism, Kenneth K. Wong
9. The Rise of Education Executives in the White House, State House, and Mayor's Office, Jeffrey R. Henig

Part III.  Lessons from Other Nations and Sectors
10. English Perspectives on Education Governance and Delivery, Michael Barber
11. Education Governance in Canada and the United States, Sandra Vergari
12. Education Governance in Comparative Perspective, Michael Mintrom and Richard Walley
13. Governance Lessons from the Health Care and Environment Sectors, Barry G. Rabe
Part IV.  Paths Forward
14. Toward a Coherent and Fair Funding System, Cynthia G. Brown
15. Picturing a Different Governance Structure for Public Education, Paul T. Hill
16. From Theory to Results in Governance Reform, Kenneth J. Meier
17. The Tall Task of Education Governance Reform, Paul Manna and Patrick McGuinn


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Needles in a Haystack

Lessons from Ohio's High-Performing Urban High Schools

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“Nobody is satisfied with the educational performance of Ohio’s poor, urban, and minority youngsters—or the schools that serve them.” This was how we opened our 2010 report Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s High-Performing, High-Need Urban Schools, which examined high-flying elementary schools. That sentiment is just as true for the high schools in 2012 as it was two years ago for the grade schools we examined. Yet there are high schools in the Buckeye State that buck the bleak trends facing too many of our urban students. This report examines six of them -- urban high schools that are making good on promises of academic excellence; specifically, schools that work for low-income and minority students. These high schools make serious efforts not to leave anyone behind.

2011-12 Ohio Report Card Analysis

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Fordham's annual analysis of school academic performance relies on the Ohio Department of Education's 2011-12 preliminary Report Card data as well as other ODE data sources. Our analysis of Ohio's public schools (district and charter) answers the following questions (among others):

  • How many students attend a charter school in Ohio's urban areas?
  • How do charter schools, as a group, perform compared to traditional public schools?
  • Has the performance of charter and district schools improved over time?
  • How many students attend high-performing schools versus failing schools?
  • How far will the pass rate on standardized tests fall when Ohio moves to the Common Core?


This year's analysis also examines how Ohio's move to the Common Core and the PARCC exams in English language arts and math will impact the pass rates on standardized tests. The fall in pass rates is likely to be dramatic in 2014-15, and could stall the implementation of the Common Core. Despite this initial fall in test scores--and the shock that may ensue--Ohio must remain faithful to implementing these higher academic standards and more challenging exams, in order to ready all of its students for success in career and college. 

Strategies for Smarter Budgets and Smarter Schools

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This policy brief by Nathan Levenson, Managing Director at the District Management Council and former superintendent of the Arlington (MA) Public Schools, offers informed advice to school districts seeking to provide a well-rounded, quality education to all children in a time of strained budgets. Levenson recommends three strategies:

1.     Prioritize both achievement and cost-efficiency.

Allocating scarce resources effectively means funding what works and obtaining ample information before making funding decisions, including information about what drives achievement—and drives  it cost-effectively.

2.     Make staffing decisions based on student needs, not adult preferences.

Districts should establish guidelines for what constitutes a full and fair workload for staff members, then staff accordingly. This may include “trading down” to less-expensive services of equivalent quality,  considering alternatives to maintaining class sizes, and closely monitoring insurance eligibility.

3.     Manage special education spending for better outcomes and greater cost-effectiveness.

How money is spent matters more than how much is spent; that’s true for special education, too. Districts can reduce their special-education costs by ensuring that all children read at grade level; hiring a few behaviorists in lieu of many paraprofessionals; and staffing according to service hours, rather than numbers of students served.

To learn more, download and read the full policy brief.

Moving Up: Fordham's 2011-12 Sponsorship Accountability Report

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"Moving Up" is The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation's charter school sponsorship accountability report for 2011-12. Through it, we hope to help readers understand the complexities of charter schools and better appreciate the hard work of the teachers, school leaders, and board members who serve not only the schools we sponsor but also the schools around the state and nation that are working to make a difference in the lives of children. This year's report features an in-depth look at the struggles of two Fordham-sponsored schools in Dayton; it is researched and written by former Dayton Daily News reporter and editor Ellen Belcher.

Student Nomads: Mobility in Ohio's Schools

A school level anlysis of student mobility in Ohio

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Student mobility happens when kids change schools for reasons other than customary promotions. The change of schools may occur for any one of a multitude of reasons--anything from a simple change of address, to seeking out a nicer school or neighborhood, or due to family turmoil. These school changes can happen during the school year or over the summer.

This pioneering and comprehensive study investigates the phenomenon of student mobility in over 3,000 Ohio public school buildings (traditional district and charter). This is first-of-its-kind research, since as far as we know, there has never before been a statewide analysis of student mobility. In order to do this, we sorted through over 5 million student records over two school years (October 2009 to May 2011), relying on the Ohio Department of Education's database.

The result of this work is a fascinating picture of student mobility in Ohio, which we present through maps, tables, and charts. We urge you to dig into our work. You'll find in-depth analyses of mobility in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, and Toledo. And additional school building mobility data, presented in spreadsheet format, can be accessed through website of Community Research Partners, the study's lead researcher:

The research was made possible through the support of a diverse set of funders: Thomas B. Fordham Institute, The Siemer Institute for Family Stability, The Nord Family Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, KnowledgeWorks,, American Federation of Teachers/Ohio Federation of Teachers, School Choice Ohio, United Way of Central Ohio, United Way of Greater Toledo, and The Columbus Foundation.

How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison

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This timely study represents the most comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions’ strength ever conducted, ranking all fifty states and the District of Columbia according to the power and influence of their state-level unions. To assess union strength, the Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now examined thirty-seven different variables across five realms:

The strength of teacher unions in the U.S.

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1) Resources and Membership

2) Involvement in Politics

3) Scope of Bargaining

4) State Policies

5) Perceived Influence

The study analyzed factors ranging from union membership and revenue to state bargaining laws to campaign contributions, and included such measures such as the alignment between specific state policies and traditional union interests and a unique stakeholder survey. The report sorts the fifty-one jurisdictions into five tiers, ranking their teacher unions from strongest to weakest and providing in-depth profiles of each.



Download the state profiles (Click your state to download):


Tier 1 Strongest

Tier 2 Strong

Tier 3 Average

Tier 4 Weak

Tier 5 Weakest

Hawaii 1 Vermont 11 Massachusetts 21 Kansas 32 Louisiana 42
Oregon 2 Ohio 12 Maine 22 District of Columbia 33 Oklahoma 43
Montana 3 West Virginia 13 Maryland 23 South Dakota 34 Texas 44
Pennsylvania 4 Minnesota 14 North Dakota 24 Colorado 35 Georgia 45
Rhode Island 5 Alaska 15 Nevada 25 Idaho 36 Mississippi 46
California 6 Michigan 16 Nebraska 26 New Mexico 37 Virginia 47
New Jersey 7 Connecticut 17 Iowa 27 Missouri 38 Arkansas 48
Illinois 8 Wisconsin 18 Kentucky 28 Utah 39 South Carolina 49
New York 9 Delaware 19 Wyoming 29 North Carolina 40 Florida 50
Washington 10 Alabama 20 New Hampshire 30 Tennessee 41 Arizona 51
        Indiana 31        


The Diverse Schools Dilemma

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Many of today’s parents yearn to live in or near the lively, culturally vibrant heart of the city—in diverse, walkable neighborhoods full of music and theater, accessible to museums and stores, awash in ethnic eateries, and radiating a true sense of community. This is a major shift from recent generations that saw middle class families trading urban centers for suburbs with lawns, malls, parks, and good schools.

But good schools still matter. And standing in the way of many parents’ urban aspirations is the question: Will the public schools in the city provide a strong education for my kids?

To be sure, lots of parents favor sending their sons and daughters to diverse schools with children from a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. But can such schools successfully meet the educational needs of all those different kids? How do middle class children fare in these environments? Is there enough challenge and stimulation in schools that also struggle to help poor and immigrant children reach basic standards? Is there too much focus on test scores? And why is it so hard to find diverse public schools with a progressive, child-centered approach to education?

These quandaries and more are addressed in this groundbreaking book by Michael J. Petrilli, one of America’s most trusted education experts and a father who himself is struggling with the Diverse Schools Dilemma.

The book is now available for purchase from Amazon, in print or as an eBook.



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Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio

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Special education is a maze of complexity, highly bureaucratic and compliance driven, often a point of contention between educators and parents, frequently litigious, and the single fastest growing portion of spending on public education. It has been largely impervious to change or improvement efforts. Worse, despite the spending children in special education programs are not making gains academically. 

Can special education be done better while controlling its growth? This is the question we posed to Nathan Levenson, one of the country’s leading thinkers on doing more with fewer resources in special education and whose District Management Council has done extensive work with local school districts here in the Buckeye State.

The result is a thought-provoking policy paper, Applying Systems Thinking to Improve Special Education in Ohio. In it, Levenson suggests three major opportunities, along with concrete examples, for making special education more efficient and better for Ohio’s students.

Boosting the Quality and Efficiency of Special Education

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Special education consumes a growing share of increasingly tight district budgets but academic achievement among students with special needs continues to lag. How are districts spending their special education dollars? Does spending more translate to better results for their students with special needs? In this groundbreaking study, the District Management Council’s Nate Levenson uses the largest database of information on special education spending and staffing ever assembled to uncover significant variance in how districts staff for special education. Levenson concludes that if the high-spending districts studied reduce their staffing in this area to the national median the public could save $10 billion and offers clear recommendations for improving special-education quality and efficiency. Download the study to learn more.

In the Media

September 11, 2012
Education Week
October 05, 2012
The Heartland Institute