The beach forecast is looking warm and sunny. You need your edu-reads. Here’s installment two!

When I was working for a state department of education, I had the chance on several occasions to meet with groups of award-winning teachers. In every case, I learned a great deal. Their thoughts on policy issues were always insightful and often different than the positions staked out by the reform crowd and unions. I was reminded of those experiences by this new report from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. It summarizes survey results of state and national teachers of the year; they hold forth on the professional experiences that most contributed to their impressive performance. Anyone interested in educator effectiveness ought to read it…and we all should think of ways to make more use of this organization in the future.

Several of my Bellwether colleagues have written a terrific report on the use of student surveys in teacher evaluations. This subject ended up in lots of headlines after the release of findings from the MET study and as states developed new rules for educator evaluations. But there’s been a paucity of reporting on what’s actually happening. No more! This report finds that the use of student surveys is still quite limited in districts and preparation programs, though a growing number of high-performing charter operators have adopted this approach (often at the...


It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry over the demand by U.S. college students for “trigger warnings” to alert them that something they’re about to read or see in one of their classes might traumatize them—apparently a new trend, according to the New York Times. Ditto for off-beat campus sculptures, placards displayed by protesters and more.

Poor dears. These are the same kids who would riot in the streets if their colleges asserted any form of in loco parentis when it comes to such old-fashioned concerns as inebriation and fornication. God forbid they should be treated as responsible, independent adults! After all, they’re old enough to vote, to drive, even (though it’s unlikely) to join the army.

Yet they want their professors to shield their precious eyes from anything potentially offensive. In the words of a course-syllabus guide produced by Oberlin College’s Sexual Offense Policy Task Force, that means flagging “all forms of violence” and examples of “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” Although the Oberlin faculty has temporarily tabled the document, the school’s Office of Equity Concerns already admonishes instructors to “take steps to make the classroom more inclusive for … individuals of all genders, gender identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations.”

Just how, aside from inviting all of one’s students to take their seats, is a teacher supposed to manage that? Does the history professor refrain from...


The Common Core is at a critical juncture. While many surveys show that support for the standards themselves remains strong, implementation has not been without major challenges.

State Accountability in the Transition to Common Core, a new policy brief from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, provides cautionary advice about what key policymakers and influentials in a handful of states now see as transition challenges. In August and September 2013, the research team at Fordham interviewed officials and policy advocates in five states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York) to glean how they are approaching accountability in the transition to the Common Core. While we found nuances in each state, four trends emerged.

  1. The accountability moratorium is here. Punitive consequences associated with accountability are largely being put on hold during the transition to the Common Core.
  2. Overall, states are treading carefully and strategically with assessments, since the quality of the forthcoming tests is still unknown.
  3. While state education agencies express conviction that teachers are being adequately prepared to teach the new standards, the quality and effectiveness of Common Core trainings and professional development is unclear.
  4. Though ESEA waivers were granted to give states additional flexibility, states are now finding themselves locked into a set of new, yet still restrictive federal policies.

Download the policy brief here....

Michael Goldstein

Here follows the first entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind.

Why do some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind? To begin to answer this question, let me pose a second. Among high-performing charter cities, why does Boston outperform other “good” charter cities (by a country mile)?

Hey, I get it. We Bostonians tend toward annoying self-promotion. Sox, Pats, Bruins, Celts for a while, Harvard, John Hancock, etc. Let me just concede up front that there’s an irritating quality to my question.

But look at the chart. Here are CREDO’s top cities, measured in “days of learning.”

The difference between Boston charters and, say, D.C. charters is bigger than the difference between D.C. charters and their district schools. If we’re to discover why the average charter in D.C. or New Orleans is so much better than the average one in, say, Detroit or Miami, I believe we need to answer the Boston question.

Let’s dispense with some theories of why Boston charters outperform these other cities, beginning with the obvious.

1. Is this a boutique story? It is true that Boston’s charters educate just under 9,000 students. Thus, one could say that even if...


With Memorial Day in our rearview mirror and Labor Day far over the horizon, miles and miles of beach-filled days stretch ahead of us. Nothing complements SPF 325 and drinks with umbrellas like some high-quality recent edu-reads.  Here’s the first installment of some good stuff I’ve come across; you’ll get tranche two tomorrow.

More to come as researchers’ keyboards allow and sunny days demand.

I recently wrote about my evolving thinking on the “public” in public education, especially as it relates to “local voice” and “system-wide coherence” in increasingly choice-based urban locales. If these issues interest you, I highly recommend a paper by Ashley Jochim and Michael DeArmond presented at a recent conference of the Association for Education Finance and Policy. They explore the influence that choice-based “fragmentation” has on “collective action.” Unlike too many conference papers, this one is not only informed by recent policy developments and current activities, it also has timely, actionable recommendations. Great stuff from the team at CRPE.

Andy Rotherham and Ashley LiBetti Mitchell, my colleagues at Bellwether, recently penned Genuine Progress, Greater Challenges: A Decade of Teacher Effectiveness Reforms, which captures and analyzes the major efforts to improve educator effectiveness over the last several decades. Readers will learn about the research findings and policies that predated today’s focus on growth scores, teacher evaluations, and preparation programs. The report also provides a list of sober recommendations for an area of work prone to bingeing.

Speaking of educator-effectiveness...


I’m a huge believer in high-quality charter authorizing. My view is that many of the strengths of chartering today are attributable to good authorizing and that many of chartering’s weaknesses are the result of bad authorizing.

I know from firsthand experience how tough it is to run a great authorizing shop. I oversaw the NJDOE’s authorizing office, the only authorizer in the state, and became intimately acquainted with the challenges of staffing, the difficulties of building the right practices, the competing factors involved in renewal decisions, the regularity of lawsuits, and more.

I’m particularly excited (and concerned) about authorizing because I believe that all urban public schools, including district-run schools, should have contracts with authorizers. I also believe that private schools participating in public scholarship or tax-credit programs should have performance contracts with authorizers.

I think it’s essential to have an accountability body separate from the school itself and the school’s operator. If we’re to adopt this model across two or three sectors, we need to make sure authorizers are ready for the promotion.

NACSA’s sixth annual survey of authorizers is a must-read for anyone trying to become familiar with the ins and outs of authorizing, as well as those interested in seeing big gains in authorizer quality.

The report doesn’t diverge much from previous editions, but the basic descriptive statistics are important, especially as they relate to NACSA’s “12 Essential Practices.” ...



It strikes us at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that the CREDO studies of the last few years provide pretty good evidence of what we’ve always suspected: charters in some cities and states are performing much better than their traditional district counterparts, at least as measured by value-added on standardized tests, while others are performing worse. (At the top of the performance heap are charters in Boston, New Orleans, Rhode Island, and D.C.; at the bottom are charters in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Ohio, and Texas.)

The question is, why?

This is hardly hypothetical; for reformers in real places (like our team in Dayton, Ohio), the question of how to create a high-quality charter sector is at the heart of our work. While we understand that nobody can claim definitively (with causal evidence) which policies and practices explain the relatively high or low performance of charter sectors in different cities and states, we still think it’s worth trying to collect some wisdom based on the best available data.

To that end, we have asked a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind. Possible explanations include the following:

  • Cities and states with caps (now or in the past) tend to have higher-performing charters because authorizers were more careful in handing out charters.
  • Cities and states
  • ...

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 dinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolutionearthquakes and volcanoesAncient Asian Culturesearly American civilizationsAncient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary War; the American founders; the Lewis and Clark expeditionmovie adaptations of classic children’s books, and American folk heroes.

Understanding outer space is, quite literally, a huge undertaking. Thankfully, Netflix and the other streaming sites are here to help explorers young and old, with tons of great content about this fascinating subject. To infinity—and beyond!

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

Best videos on outer space

The Planets

1. The Planets

This documentary series examines cutting-edge discoveries about the planets, explores the origin of the sun, considers life on other worlds and more.

Length: Eight 50-minute episodes

Rating: TV-G

Provider: Netflix

How the Universe Works

2. How the Universe Works

Join host Mike Rowe for a...


Renaissance Learning’s annual look at what books students choose when they read for pleasure found high school students reading “far fewer words” than younger students and middle and high school students choosing books that are below grade level.

That first finding might well be troubling, but it will surprise no one who interacts with adolescents (or who has ever been one themselves)—the thinner, bigger-font book seems to reach out and grab us rather than the other way around.

But students may unwittingly be getting help from their teachers when it comes to picking below grade-level books.

In a national survey of English, language arts, and reading teachers released last year by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the subgroup of teachers who said they do not assign novels for the whole class to read were asked, “When you help individual students pick a novel to read, which of these are you more likely to consider: a student’s reading level or the grade level of the class?” The vast majority of elementary school teachers (83 percent), a majority of middle school teachers (57 percent), and more than one-third of high school teachers (36 percent) picked the former; barely handfuls (between 3 and 7 percent) said they mostly rely on “the grade level of the class.”

This is not to say that teachers don’t care about grade level. Larger numbers of middle and high school teachers chose the “something else” category, which included a combination of both ability and appropriate grade level, as...


Just because some criticisms of Common Core standards are over the top and dripping with misinformation doesn’t make them all so. Plenty of valid concerns exist, and the estimable Peggy Noonan recently homed in on several of them. She acknowledges “that Core proponents’ overall objective—to get schools teaching more necessary and important things, and to encourage intellectual coherence in what is taught—is not bad, but good.” But she raised a lot of questions for “eggheads” like us who have pushed for these ambitious new academic standards:

Proponents are now talking about problems with the rollout. Well, yes, and where have we heard that before? One gets the impression they didn’t think this through, that they held symposia and declared the need, with charts and bullet points, for something to be done—and something must be done, because American public education is falling behind the world—and then left it to somebody, or 10,000 somebodies, to make it all work….How was implementation of the overall scheme supposed to work?

Did we think this through? A major reason we support the Common Core is because we’re confident that it will bring greater “intellectual coherence,” in Noonan’s words, to America’s curricular and instructional approaches. That’s sorely needed because the textbooks and other materials that most schools use are dreadful and have been for decades.

Why so bad? Partly it’s due to the textbook oligopoly. (As behemoth Pearson has purchased many of its competitors in recent years, it’s approaching an outright monopoly.) Partly...