Fordham Institute report: Rebooting the education reform movement and other topics

Editor’s note: Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, offers this introduction to the Institute’s 2022 annual report. You can view the report here.

Lucy and the football.

Groundhog Day.

“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

Use whatever metaphor you like, but the pattern over the last several years has been clear: Just when we dare to believe we’ve escaped the pandemic, it grabs us once again, wreaking havoc in our lives, our schools, and the lives of our children.

But 2022 was the year that we finally reached escape velocity. With the beginning of the new school year this past fall, things finally felt back to normal. Quarantines were mostly over, and masks were mostly gone, and classes and extracurricular activities were mostly back in full force.

This fall was also when the education bill came due on America’s decision to shutter most schools for months on end as a cornerstone of our Covid policy. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, in two separate reports, documented the massive learning loss experienced by American students, enough to wipe out two decades’ worth of gains, and to widen our tragic achievement gaps into even larger chasms.

These two developments—the end of the pandemic and the accounting of just how much damage it did—led to the same conclusion: Now it’s time to push the pedal to the metal on student learning.

And that’s exactly what Fordham pressed for in 2022—nationally, in our home state of Ohio, and with the dozen charter schools we oversee.

The highlights of those efforts are explained in our Annual Report. They feature initiatives directly related to pandemic recovery, including a book I published with two colleagues, “Follow the Science to School: Evidence-based Practices for Elementary Education,” as well as broader efforts to reboot the education reform movement.

On that score, you’ll find details about Fordham’s latest research in our years-long study of charter schools, what makes them so effective, and how their expansion is also helping traditional public schools to improve. And you’ll read about our newer efforts to reimagine high schools, especially with an eye toward career readiness and upward mobility, and to ensure that advanced learners get what they need from their schools, too.

I’m proud also to note that 2022 also marked Fordham’s 25th anniversary. We’re not into hoopla and self-congratulation, so we didn’t make a fuss, but Checker (Finn) has been spending some time digging into the archives to plot our trajectory since 1997.

One important discovery is that we’ve stayed true to our policy North Star, despite all the changes of the past quarter-century. Our original “credo,” inherited from the Educational Excellence Network, had six “essential elements” for education reform:

·         The need for dramatically higher academic standards

·         An education system designed for and responsive to the needs of its users

·         Verifiable outcomes and accountability

·         Equality of opportunity

·         A solid core curriculum, taught by knowledgeable, expert instructors

·         Educational diversity, competition and choice

We might tweak a word or two today, but those elements remain just as important now as back when Google launched its search engine. And we will pursue them, yet again, in the year ahead.


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BY Special to NextSteps