Ten education policy areas that deserve more attention and resources

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Sandy Kress

Editor’s note: Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli recently published a long-form article titled, “Where Education Reform Goes from Here.” Others have responded to that essay, and this post furthers that conversation.

Last week, I read two articles that so lifted my spirits I thought perhaps I had been transported to edu-heaven!

In the first, Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wrote compellingly on the future of education reform. He stresses the continued need for accountability and choice. And he advocates the case for inputs that are especially effective in triggering improvement and ways of making high schools work better.

In response, Peter Cunningham, executive director of Education Post, wrote a sympathetic blog, but he insists that we “go big.” Accountability must be rigorous, he asserts, but we also need to spend significantly more to achieve the results that befit the promise of education reform.

I liked both pieces because they speak of a fundamental idea that fueled education reform in its early years. Crucial to the gains of the ‘90s and the 2000s was, I believe, more accountability with more resources.

That combination was key to Governor Jim Hunt’s success in North Carolina; it was, as well, to Governor Bush’s in Texas. In fact, it was at the core of the deal I helped President George W. Bush strike with Senator Ted Kennedy, Congressman George Miller, and Republican leaders to pass the No Child Left Behind Act.

So I agree with Peter Cunningham. Let’s build a new coalition around the idea of strengthening accountability, and accompany it with effective, additional resources.

One significant issue in taking this path will be: For what purposes do we propose to use the new spending?

Simply put, I believe that the expenditure of resources ought to be tied to those practices proven by solid research to move the needle most in improving student achievement.

As my contribution to the conversation, I want to list ten areas where I think we should “go big,” where we could most productively benefit from increased spending.

I’m not sure of the right amount, but I do believe that more resources used in these ways, along with strengthened accountability for results, would be a great next step in the education reform journey.

Here are my proposals:

1. We know that effective instructional materials have a very positive impact on student learning, so let’s spend more on measuring their effects, informing educators about effective examples, and incentivizing their use.

Effective curricula also have positive impacts.

2. We know that effective teachers have one positive effect after another on student learning, so let’s spend more on attracting more of them, evaluating for and rewarding more of them, and increasing the percentage of them in the classroom.

3. We know that certain pre-K successes have been demonstrated in specific circumstances by research on curricula and research on programs, so let’s spend more on pre-K education where solid research-proven, effective curricula and programs are implemented with the expectation of fidelity.  

4. We know that certain practices have been proven by solid research to be effective in reducing dropouts, so let’s spend more on their implementation with fidelity.

5. We know that certain practices have been proven by solid research to be effective in teaching secondary students to write better, so let’s spend more on their implementation with fidelity.

6. We know that certain practices have been proven by solid research to be effective in increasing proficiency in reading by the third grade, so let’s spend more on their implementation with fidelity.

7. We know that certain practices have been proven effective by solid research in improving adolescent literacy, so let’s spend more on their implementation with fidelity.

8. We know that certain practices have been proven effective by solid research in increasing English-language acquisition by elementary and middle school students, so let’s spend more on their implementation with fidelity.

9. We know that certain practices have been proven effective by solid research in providing help to students who struggle with mathematics, so let’s spend more on their implementation with fidelity.

10. We know that research has proven and showcased effective practice, but we don’t have enough research to guide practitioners and policymakers in all areas of need; nor, importantly, do we have enough solid research on how to properly and broadly scale implementation of research-proven practice in the field. So let’s spend money on more quality research, with special attention to issues that arise as to the effective implementation of research in schools.

Sandy Kress has served for almost twenty-five years at the invitation of Lieutenant Governor Bullock, Governors Bush and Perry, and numerous Commissioners of Education on multiple state panels and committees to build and improve Texas's nationally recognized education accountability system.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.