Not all teachers struggle from the start
Not all teachers struggle from the start.
Photo by cybrarian77

Among organizations that don’t give me a paycheck, TNTP may be my favorite.

They do two things really, really well. First, they take part in on-the-ground, let’s-solve-this-problem human-capital activities. In partner cities across the nation, they train and certify teachers, develop and implement new evaluation systems, help administrators improve observations, and much more.

Chances are, if you’re hearing about interesting, innovative teacher or leader work in an urban area, TNTP is involved.

The second is that they put out these superb little reports. They’re always short and punchy, visually pleasing, terribly informative, and, in one way or another, unexpected. Teacher Evaluation 2.0 was a valuable how-to guide for discriminating policymakers, The Irreplaceables was a teacher-retention wake-up call, and, of course, The Widget Effect was a game-changer.

The organization is at its influential-powerful best when it combines its smarts and muscle—when it can use its research and analysis to inform the field and then help implement the change. For example, TNTP’s findings on the appalling state of teacher evaluations helped shape the Race to the Top application, precipitated a wave of state-level statutory changes, and kicked off some of TNTP’s most meaningful partnerships with states and...


A Nation At Risk: 30 Years Later

A Nation At Risk: 30 Years Later

Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results.

Due in large part to this report, we now judge a school by whether its students are learning rather than how much money is going into it, what its programs look like, or its earnest intentions. Education reform today is serious about standards, quality, assessment, accountability and benchmarking—by school, district, state and nation. This is new since 1983 and it’s very important.

Yet we still have many miles to traverse before we sleep. Our students still need to learn far more and our schools need to become far more effective.

To recall the impact of A Nation at Risk these past three decades and to reflect on what lies ahead, watch this short retrospective developed by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the American Enterprise Institute: A Nation at Risk: Thirty Years Later.

Wisdom from the land of ten thousand slushy lakes

Mike and MinnCAN’s Daniel Sellers talk Pearson, Common Core dustups, and the President’s pre-K proposal. Amber highlights funding disparities between district and charter schools.

Amber's Research Minute

Education’s Fiscal Cliff, Real or Perceived? by Larry Maloney, Meagan Batdorff, Jay May, and Michelle Terrell (University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, April 2013)

If you asked me that question fifteen years ago, I would have given a pat answer: incentives, or the lack thereof. In our bureaucratic education system, described most accurately as a public monopoly, nobody faced strong incentives to look for ways to build a better mousetrap. And if that mousetrap was threatening to anyone (as mousetraps tend to be), forget about it; the status quo ruled.

Why don't schools extend the reach of great teachers?
Why don't schools extend the reach of great teachers, as recommended by Public Impact?

Change the incentives and watch schools embrace change, I would have argued. Hold superintendents, principals, and teachers to account for raising test scores. Subject them to real competition. Then voila: They would spend night and day looking for promising innovations to improve achievement and better serve families.

Well, we know how that’s turned out. We’ve put a lot of those incentives in place, and schools (and educators) still don’t seem to embrace good ideas, even the non-controversial, inexpensive kind. Take, for instance, the following:

  • Bring “departmentalization” to elementary schools by asking strong math teachers to teach math and strong reading teachers to teach reading. Don’t ask anybody to do both.

Clearing the air

Dara and Daniela fume over the RNC’s Common Core action, consider the implications of Alabama’s move to the ACT, and clear the air over Florida’s teacher-evaluation mess. Amber probes Caroline Hoxby’s plan to close the college-admissions information gap facing high-achieving, low-income youngsters.

Amber's Research Minute

Expanding College Opportunities for High-Achieving, Low Income Students by Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner (Stanford, CA: Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 2013).

GadflyThe National Education Association is suing Florida for its teacher-evaluation policy; specifically, the fact that the Sunshine State engages in the shady practice of evaluating teachers based on students or subjects that they don’t teach. Florida state superintendent Tony Bennett noted that there is currently a law under consideration that would call for “evaluating teachers only on the students and subjects they teach”; this should certainly pass.

Tennessee governor Bill Haslam, for the second time in as many years, killed his own voucher proposal when it became clear that his state’s legislators were interested in taking it to scale. The Wall Street Journal, in a scathing rebuke, accused Haslam of cynically trying to “appease unions while claiming to support school choice.” That’s about right—and as foolish a move by a Republican official to throttle choice as is the RNC’s assault on standards.

On Tuesday, New York students completed their first day of new Common Core–aligned tests, after controversy over whether they had been taught the necessary content (a legitimate beef) and a blitz of advertisements from the NYC education department forewarning parents about lower test scores to come. That last action made sense; too bad the ads are misleading about the Common Core’s intent.

After the GED was redesigned to reflect the Common Core standards, it had double the passing points (one to...


I get lots of emails from aspiring ed-policy wonks, so this first bullet is for that wayward crew. Understanding the annual federal-budget dance is key to your decent into wonkery. The pre-release, behind-the-scenes process is really quite interesting—e.g., negotiations between the Department, White House, OMB, and other associated agencies. That culminates in a series of documents (from formal congressional submissions to accessible fact sheets) that provide a picture of the administration’s priorities, or at least what the administration wants to public convey as its priorities. (This is just Phase 1; Congress takes over from here.) You might want to spend 30 minutes familiarizing yourself with these products and their contents—you can get your feet wet on this annual ritual and impress your friends at dinner parties! (“Once again, ED’s trying to make a go of TLIF, huh?”)

Per the budget request itself, the initial documents are generally purposely gauzy and vague; this is, after all, partially a public-relations exercise. So there’s only so much we can know until all of the gory details are released. But here are some quick thoughts: More for i3? Quietly chugging along but very interesting ARPA angle. Money for charter replications? Great, but how about the DCOSP? High school redesign? Start new schools, don’t remake old ones. Flat-line-formula grant programs (Title I, IDEA)? Meh. Another push for TLIF? I’m a TIF fan, and these changes are generally good with me. More turnaround money for dysfunctional districts? Egad.

I met the...


GadflyThe Obama administration’s budget proposal was late to the party and is mostly a big yawn—at least when it comes to K–12 education. The big-ticket items, such as they are: level-funding for Title I and IDEA; new efforts to promote STEM education and tweak American high schools; and a Race to the Top for higher education. The real firepower is reserved for the President’s well-designed Pre-K plan, which would be the biggest federal expansion into early childhood since the creation of Head Start, to be financed by a huge increase in cigarette taxes. Were it not for Congressional realities, it might even be something to get excited about.

After changing part of the exam it uses to determine which four-year-olds are eligible for the coveted gifted-and-talented slots in its public schools, New York City has (very slightly) reduced the number of children who qualify. Yet most of the high scorers still came from the city’s richer areas—a problem, given that they altered the test precisely in order to combat the influence of income-related factors, such as test-prep programs. And (at the risk of sounding like a broken record) there still aren’t enough suitable options for gifted children.

Researchers from Yale, MIT, USC, and Stanford, with a little pocket change (i.e., a $10 million grant) from the National Science Foundation, are experimentally placing...

Olivia London

Last week, Terry and I wrote about Teach For America and its potential to improve inner-city public education in Ohio. We cite a couple examples of TFA alum who are transforming education in our nation's cities--and in the following article, we spotlight Sam Franklin, a TFA alum who is working to improve public education in Pittsburgh. As a graduate of Kenyon College, Franklin has ties to Ohio. We hope you'll be inspired by his story. - Aaron Churchill

This article originally appeared in Carnegie Mellon Today. It is reprinted with permission. 

Profound speech in hand, Samuel Franklin walked into his classroom of underprivileged sixth-graders for his first day in Teach for America. He planned to emphasize how they would team up to beat the odds, proving their critics wrong. But as the words came out of his mouth, he realized how silly he sounded. The students were waiting for him to start teaching.

Franklin, who had noticed inequalities in the public education system throughout his own time in school, had no doubt in his mind that he wanted to join Teach for America after finishing his undergraduate studies at Ohio’s Kenyon College. Teach for America recruits graduates to teach for two years in underprivileged public schools.

Franklin began his assignment in the Oakland, California school believing that with proper support and motivation, every student can succeed. His school’s student population was made up entirely of minority students from low-income families. After that first day, Franklin always went...


For those of us who support academic standards, testing and accountability as strategies to improve public education, the Atlanta cheating indictments are sobering. Here was a system where dozens of employees, over the course of almost a decade, racketeered to rig results (or so it is alleged).

And while one can hope that Atlanta was an outlier in terms of the scope and longevity of its cheating conspiracy, it’s hardly an isolated case, as examples from El Paso, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and other locales demonstrate.

As expected, test critics are having a field day, using Atlanta as evidence of why all this must go. They yearn to throw the accountability baby out with the testing bathwater. But they’re wrong. The better approach is to “mend it, not end it.”

Try this thought experiment: What would happen if U.S. schools ceased all standardized testing—and related consequences? No more annual assessments, no more grading schools based on the results, no more interventions in low-performing schools, no more teacher evaluations tied to test scores, no more “merit pay” for high performing teachers or job jeopardy for low performers.

The result: In our most affluent communities, little would change. Schools would continue to drive toward the real-world standard of college acceptance at elite universities, via Advanced Placement exams and high SAT scores.

At schools serving both rich and poor kids, we would probably see a return to the 1990s, when achievement gaps were overlooked, wealthy students were guided toward rigorous coursework and “college readiness,”...