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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 Culturesearly American civilizations; Ancient GreeceAncient RomeNative American culturesChristopher Columbus and the Age of DiscoveryColonial America and the Revolutionary War; the American foundersmovie adaptations of classic children’s booksAmerican folk heroesdinosaursaquatic lifeinsectsfrogs and other amphibiansreptilesbirdsmammalshuman evolution; and earthquakes and volcanoes.

As spring leans toward summer, many of us start dreaming of vacations to come, perhaps adventures into the wilderness or expeditions out West. It’s fitting, then, to remember one of the most famous expeditions of all: that led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, launched in the middle of May 1804. There’s so much for boys and girls of all ages to love about this epic journey: the strong characters (Lewis and Clark, of course, but also Sacagawea and Thomas Jefferson, among others), the rugged terrain, the stories of heroism and near-death, the tense interactions between the explorers and the Native Americans, and more....

In creating a new Course and Exam Description for the revamped Advanced Placement US History test (coming in the 2014–15 academic year), the College Board’s writers faced a notable challenge. On the one hand, any such guide must seek to specify essential knowledge and concepts that will be covered on the AP exam. On the other, it needs to be compatible with any and all state standards (from the ludicrously vague to the solidly specific), any local guidelines, and teachers’ own individual plans. The College Board explicitly denies any intention of imposing detailed course standards or curricula. Yet the AP exam is uniform across the nation and must judge all students against a single assessment standard; the Board must, therefore, lay out the core material for which all tested students are responsible. Such a document straddles a difficult line: specifying core content without dictating curricula.

How do you help teachers prepare students for the AP exam, while recognizing that you can’t specify curriculum in the process and that the very best teachers, the ones you most want teaching AP classes, do not want to be told exactly what to teach? The key mission of the document is to make...

Managing in a fishbowl

Mike and Nina Rees take on the federal charter-school bill that passed in the House last week, what traditional public schools can learn from charters, and the pros and cons of KIPP’s character-education model. Amber wades into teacher-evaluation research.

Amber's Research Minute

Evaluating Teachers with Classroom Observations: Lessons Learned in Four Districts by Grover J. Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos, and Katharine M. Lindquist, (Washington, D.C.: Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, May 2014).

  • We’ve been covering the efforts of schools and districts around the state to meet the requirements of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, mostly with a lot of optimism and positivity. That optimism and positivity seems seriously lacking in Akron, even while the work is actually getting done. It could be that teachers and administrators have given their all and don’t know what else to do, but I do credit the ABJ for noting that third graders in the district will have been given up to six chances to pass the test when all is said and done. That’s a ton of effort for the district to be proud of; no matter the number of kids who don’t make it, it’s got to be better than the status quo from previous years. (Akron Beacon Journal)
  • Districts in the Cincinnati area may not be serving gifted students to the fullest extent. (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  • There’s a joke about beans to be made here, but I’m not one to laugh in the face of success. The food service chief of Lima City Schools testified before Congress this week on
  • ...

State Education Agencies: The Smaller the Better?

Fordham LIVE: State Education Agencies: The Smaller the Better?

In the era of Race to the Top, waivers, and waivers of waivers, the role of state education agencies (SEAs) has increased dramatically: taking on school turnarounds, teacher-evaluation systems, and now Common Core implementation. Many argue that SEAs need "more capacity" to do these new jobs successfully. But what if we are asking departments of education not only to do too much but also to do things that they weren't built to do—and probably cannot do well? Should we shrink the SEA and its role and empower other entities to lead state-level reform instead?

Join the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for a discussion on the role of state education agencies and their leaders in the education-reform ecosystem.

Deborah A. Gist - Commissioner, Rhode Island Department of Education
Mark Murphy - Secretary of Education, Delaware Department of Education
Andy Smarick - Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow, Thomas B. Fordham Institute & Partner, Bellwether Education Partners

Chester E. Finn, Jr. - President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education was born in response to A Nation at Risk, and in a 1991 report, it pointed the way toward the Bay State's much-praised 1993 education-reform act. What happened thereafter is widely known: with an entire suite of reforms in place, the “Massachusetts Miracle” propelled that state to a level of educational performance that rivaled leading nations elsewhere on the globe. The past few years, however, have seen some stagnation and backsliding on the ed-reform front in the Bay State, and the MBAE recognized that the time has come for a new kick in the pants. So they engaged Sir Michael Barber and his Brightlines colleague, Simon Day, to prepare the present report, a status update and road map to the future. Even a jaded report reader might fairly term the result thrilling. It acknowledges the stagnation problem and depicts six gaps as the main challenges facing Massachusetts: the employability gap (the dearth of needed skills for success in the modern economy); the knowledge gap (a lack of crucial Hirsch-style content); the achievement gap (similar to NCLB concerns); the opportunity gap (i.e., poor kids don’t get a fair shake); the global gap (the state will...

All eyes are on the “extraordinary authority districts” in Louisiana (the RSD), Tennessee, (the ASD), and Michigan (the EAA). And for good reason, because as this excellent Hechinger Report article demonstrates, old-style state takeovers almost always disappoint. The article highlights cases in the Magnolia State where districts have improved modestly under state direction but have then fallen back down when returned to local control—a logical outcome when a suite of reforms does not accompany the takeover.

Over the weekend, the Times wrote up the Too Small the Fail initiative, which is working with low-income parents to encourage them to talk to their babies and toddlers more. Hillary Clinton is among its founders. Here’s hoping it works; anything that gets disadvantaged kids off to a stronger start is worth pursuing. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t note that initiatives such as these are explicitly working to change the culture and behavior of low-income communities; Paul Ryan would probably be called a racist if he proposed such an idea.

The headline “Indiana Drops Common Core” has splashed across the national media all week. A more accurate headline might read,...

Now Look What You’ve Done

Mike and Michelle acknowledge that school board members, for better and sometimes worse, affect student outcomes in their districts. But they don’t have to accept the misleading headlines on Indiana’s standards debacle (a case study in the hazards of politicization if there ever was one), nor must they wholeheartedly back Arizona’s ESA program. Amber wonders if high-flyers maintain their altitude—and has déjà vu all over again.

Amber's Research Minute

The Icarus Syndrome: Why Do Some High Flyers Soar While Others Fall?” by Eric Parsons, Working Paper, July 2013.