The always-terrific Center for Reinventing Public Education continues to lead when it comes to thinking about and cataloguing the changing nature of urban K–12 delivery. Their latest update to the “portfolio implementation snapshot tool” is eye-opening and will help you keep apprised of one of the most important developments in systemic reform. Something to consider: of the top three entities, two are nontraditional districts, and the other may very well be on the verge of a 180 because of politics. Fascinating stuff.

Democrats for Education Reform is out with a quick, smart, snarky report. If you’re a reform-friendly Dem, it’ll make you snicker. If you’re a reform-oriented GOPer, it’ll probably sting. The gist is this: the proposal to grow the federal charter schools program puts Republicans in a tough position—keep federal spending down and reduce Uncle Sam’s role in K–12 or support a highly successful program that has greatly advanced school choice?

Philanthropy Roundtable’s K–12 program does superb work. They bring together donors and the best individuals and organizations in the field to solve our most challenging problems. The director position is open. Check it out. You’ll be able to make a big difference, engage with ed-reform and philanthropic leaders, and stay up to date on the newest, most innovative, and most promising developments.

Speaking of job opportunities with terrific organizations, CEE-Trust has several openings that you might want to consider. The nation’s umbrella and support group for the emerging and extraordinarily...


Back in January, a Bloomberg News ranking of the world’s most innovative countries punctured the theory that low U.S. test scores are acceptable because U.S. students are happier and more creative than their overseas counterparts. Those (undeniably fuzzy) metrics don’t prove that high-ranking countries like South Korea and Japan produce more innovative students, but they certainly cast a shadow over this romantic, goofball justification of U.S. underperformance, which we’ve seen from multiple sources including (of course) Diane Ravitch and Alfie Kohn.

Well, now there’s more. And the news is still bad for the low-score apologists.

OECD just released the results of a 2012 assessment designed to measure students’ creative problem-solving skills, devoid of curricular knowledge and conventional academic skills.

Two findings are important.[1] First, there turns out to be a strong, positive correlation between creative problem-solving performance and straightforward, traditional, familiar (if often bleak) math, science, and reading scores.[2] Rather than a tradeoff, subject scores seem to buttress problem-solving skills—or at least to originate from the same source, sort of like twins.

Second, two of the countries with the best creative problem solvers in the world are South Korea and Japan—the same two countries that ranked first and fourth on Bloomberg’s innovation index, albeit nations that, perversely, are often criticized for robbing their students of the very thing at which they now appear to be the best.

Moreover, not only do South...

A few weeks ago, Slate published an article by Mike that argued that reformers’ obsession with college was blinding us to other valid routes to the middle class. The reaction was swift and sweeping: 31,000 shares on Facebook, 1,200 tweets, and nearly 1,000 comments. It also sparked several responses in the edu-blogosphere and in a private email chain that Mike moderated. Here’s a selection of some of the feedback—and pushback—organized by major themes.

Reaction #1: Students need to be ready for college and career, not one or the other

This was by far the most common response from the education-reform community: on college-ready versus career-ready, we need “both/and,” not “either/or.” Here are some comments along that vein:

Kate Blosveren, National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium:

Ultimately, I believe that this piece fails to put forward the right message parents need and want to hear. If over 90 percent of parents want their children to go to “college,” it doesn't really do CTE any good to frame itself as being the option other than college, but rather a pathway to a broader set of college options (since upwards of 75 percent of CTE concentrators go on to some postsecondary education within two years). By perpetuating the dichotomy of CTE vs. college, it still keeps CTE as “lesser than” rather than an equally viable (and more reliable) option.
It all comes down to redefining what college is—and getting parents, policymakers and others to see the high value...


Dallas Independent School District (DISD) superintendent Mike Miles has been on the job in Texas less than two years and he hasn't always had easy sledding there.

But he hasn't hunkered down or blown with the gale-level political winds of a city that's had eleven superintendents in the past quarter century.

In particular, he has incubated and refined the pioneering teacher-evaluation-and-compensation plan that brought Dr. Miles to national attention in his previous post in Harrison, CO.

In my experience, what Miles developed in the shadow of the Rockies and now seeks to adapt and apply in the Lone Star State embodies the most sophisticated approach that the U.S. has seen (sorry, MET project!) to combining the multiple elements of a teacher's performance that deserve consideration with a thoughtful yet affordable structure for compensating that teacher in a way that's fair but also performance-linked. (Actually, the fundamental structure of this plan is compatible with the MET findings about the best ways to gauge teacher effectiveness.)

Dallas is a much larger school district than Harrison—and much pricklier for all sorts of reasons. But Miles has persevered, and in the next few weeks, the DISD school board is expected to adopt his “Teacher Excellence Initiative.”

I can't count votes on the DISD board, but I do know this: the plan makes sense, the kids will benefit (and Lord knows Dallas kids have nowhere to go but up), and...


The opt-out-of-state-testing movement has notched more wins lately. “Thousands,” we read, are refusing to take the tests in New York alone. And tons more interest and attention are being devoted to this topic in states and communities far and wide.

Tough questions urgently arise: Is it legal to opt your child out of state tests? Should it be legal? And if it’s not—and ought not be—legal, is it a legitimate act of civil disobedience to refuse to obey such a law?

The recent surge of activity has more than one source. Partly it’s a response to broad concerns about too much testing and disquiet over curricular narrowing and test-prep overkill. Partly it’s a reaction against the Common Core standards, which have lately become controversial. And partly it’s just old-fashioned Rousseauian romanticism about the ends of education and the proper metrics by which to determine whether the right ends are being attained.

Yes, it’s understandable. But is it acceptable?

The legal status of testing opt-out is a bit murky. “Required by state law but not consistently enforced” seems to be the rule in most places. Colorado statutes, for instance, declare that “Every student enrolled in a public school is required to take the assessments in the grade level in which the student is enrolled.” New York requires participation in the tests but also has an administrative procedure in place for those who refuse....


When it comes to SIG, my mind is obviously made up. So I’d forgive you for skipping anything I write about it; you have every reason to think I’m going to be bearish. That goes double for a post about a new federal study finding different but still discouraging SIG results.

Another opportunity for Smarick to beat up on this federal program? Pass.”

But if you’re still with me, please stay for a few more minutes. Yes, the new federal IES report A Focused Look at Rural Schools Receiving School Improvement Grants offers additional reasons to rue our decision to spend billions on “turnarounds.” But that’s not the big takeaway—at least not for me.

Over the last year or so, as my colleagues at Bellwether and I have worked on a large project related to rural K–12, I’ve become more attuned to the particular needs of rural communities and schools and how these needs differ from those of urban America. (In full disclosure: I have a personal interest in this subject, as one side of my family comes from a small working farm in a rural area.)

This study takes an in-depth look at the experience of nine rural schools that received School Improvement Grants; its goal is to understand how the schools’ rural location influenced efforts to improve student performance. The brief has limitations: it does not look at student achievement, and the nine schools are neither a representative...


Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on Ancient Asian Cultures; the early American civilizations; Ancient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary Warthe American founders;  movie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptiles; and birds.

Over the course of this year’s exploration of educational videos available on Netflix and other streaming services, one fact has become clear: science is easier to cover than history. That’s surely true when it comes to videos on mammals; our cup runneth over. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, as mammals are fascinating—particularly since we are mammals, and we love to learn about ourselves. What follows barely scratches the surfaces of what’s available, but it’s some of the best. Enjoy!

Special thanks to research interns Andrew McDonnell, Elisabeth Hoyson, and Liz McInerney for helping to compile these lists.

Best videos on mammals

1. The Life of Mammals

Life of Mammals

David Attenborough hosts this in-depth examination of mammals, from the smallest shrew to the biggest whales and the...


The mainstream media has been hyping bills lately (one passed in Indiana and one pending in Oklahoma) that would demand a review of the Common Core State Standards. The typical story features a headline declaring Common Core “repealed” in Indiana, while the rest of the article details why that’s not necessarily the case. In short, these laws do not prevent the state from adopting the Common Core or something substantially similar. But an amendment slipped into the state budget last night by the Kansas Senate would repeal the Common Core...and replace it with nothing.

First, some background. The Kansas Supreme Court recently ruled that the states funding formula is flawed and disproportionately sends funds to property-rich areas of the state at the expense of the property-poor ones. To remedy that situation, and with its legislative session quickly coming to a close, the legislature is scrambling to find about $129 million to put into aid for schools.

During this process, however, Senator Forrest Knox from Altoona introduced a provision that would prevent the state and local school districts from expending any state funds, “to implement the common core standards or any portion of such standards, including any assessments affiliated with common core standards unless the legislature expressly consents to the use of the common core standards.” The amendment passed 27–12.

Unlike bills in other states that call for review and maybe some tweaks to the standards, this provision is clear: Common Core would be no more in Kansas (at least until the legislature assented). The key provision...


Today, New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) announced that longtime CEO Neerav Kingsland will transition out of the organization this summer.

NSNO is one of my favorite organizations in this business, and Neerav is one of my very favorite people. I’m excited for him and his successors—Maggie Runyan-Shefa and Michael Stone will jointly head NSNO—but, selfishly, I’m even more excited for our field.

After eight years of helping make New Orleans the most exciting American city for K–12 education, Neerav is going to focus on bringing NOLA-style reform to other cities. The potential of seeing the urban school system of the future take off in additional locations is thrilling, and Neerav has the brains and experience to get it done.

In case you don’t know much about NSNO, here’s the story in brief. It was founded by Sarah Usdin in April 2006 (the storms hit in 2005), and it initially focused on educator recruitment and charter incubation. Its first cohort of incubated schools started in 2008; more recently, it shifted to investing in CMOs.

NSNO won a federal i3 grant in 2010 and in 2012 began co-managing a $25 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. It has played a central role in a number of human-capital efforts, such as TeachNOLA, MATCH teacher coaching, the Center for Transformative Teacher Training, and Relay GSE.

In short, NSNO is in the business of growing high-quality seats (its schools...


Findings from a fascinating new report on school boards are unintuitive for two big reasons. First, the study finds that, among other things, boards can have a meaningful influence on student performance, even enabling district kids’ ability to “beat the odds.” Second, the report is from Fordham(!)—a group that, like me, is generally skeptical of today’s current governance arrangements. The most interesting part is that board-member characteristics (political ideology, prior employment as an educator, level of professional development, when and how elected) can help predict the board’s effectiveness. Score one for interesting research and one for effective school boards.

Speaking of school boards, this proposed legislation in Louisiana would essentially do what Paul Hill recommended 20 years ago: stop school boards from operating schools and give schools lots of autonomy. Here, the district superintendent would function much like an authorizer. This is a step on the way to The Urban School System of the Future. But, in my humble opinion, its basic flaw is it tries to get what we want by changing what we have, instead of starting anew. I don’t trust that school boards, superintendents, and district central offices can fundamentally alter what they’ve done for 100 years. And are most of today’s principals ready to suddenly take control of just about everything the district used to do? I’ll admit to being too critical; if this legislation is adopted, have no doubt, it’ll advance systemic reform of urban school systems...