Lauren Gill, Nirvani Budhram, and Amber Oliver

Imagine a classroom environment designed to build students’ background knowledge and vocabulary (in other words, content-rich), with high standards for every child, and structured to meet the needs of students when, where, and how they need it most. Now imagine that this classroom is also using the power of technology to help differentiate learning and bring content to life.

High-quality curricula united with personalized learning*: This is a vision we have presented before. But, as in any marriage, compromise and flexibility are essential.

Thus, as we begin to test and operationalize the vision, we seek to find out: How can we create a new approach to unlock something even more powerful and still maintain what makes each strategy successful? 

Below we explore this question in two areas: time and pace, where we have some idea of what a content-rich approach and personalization fusion might look like; and data and assessments, where the idea is less clear.

Time and pace

A high quality curriculum is one of the most cost-effective ways of improving achievement and increasing equity, partly because it demands synchronization across a clear scope and sequence. When units and lessons are organized around topics and designed to provide...


It’s never been cool to be a racist, but now may be the easiest time, at least in my memory, to be one in America. The pungent mix of social media flippancy and a shift in the nation’s politics toward two largely white constituencies (the Rust Belt’s disaffected and dislocated, and the coastal progressive elite) has wrecked the walls that used to keep hate, fear, distrust, and malice against minority folks at least tolerably private.

Go for a cookout, a Stanford employee calls the cops on you. Go to sleep in your dorm, and a Yale grad student hits up the campus police. It seems like racial animus that used to express itself as angry sidelong glances has metastasized into something wholly other. These are dark days for race relations in America, for sure.

Which is why it’s so interesting that many on the political left and the progressive left—and the progressive anti-charter-and-choice left in particular—are going all in for school integration at this moment in time. In an era of college campus safe spaces, Twitter pile-ons for real and perceived racial insensitivity, and social and political mores that are ever more fragile, one wonders why...

Mitch Pearlstein

In most public policy discussions and debates regarding elementary and secondary education, critically important ideas are routinely downplayed to the point of dismissal because they are intrinsically elusive. And because such ideas are largely ignored, a lot of young people who could be better served and educated are not. Or, more specifically in this instance, a lot of kids who might benefit from attending a Catholic school don’t have the opportunity.

As for such elusive ideas and (one would hope) corresponding behaviors, Paul Tough, a New York Times reporter, in 2013, wrote a New York Times bestseller called How Children Succeed, which argued that “grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character” were key to learning. It’s a compelling book.

Three years later in 2016, psychologist Angela Duckworth wrote Grit, which argued that for “anyone striving to succeed,” be they parents, students, educators, athletes, business people, or whomever, “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence” that she calls “grit.” Her book also was a New York Times bestseller.

Predating both books, psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and journalist John Tierney, in 2011, wrote Willpower, with “willpower” described as the “greatest human strength.”...


In seventeen short years, Moctar Fall’s journey took him from Senegal, through homeless shelters in the Bronx until, last Thursday afternoon, he strode across a stage in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center to collect his high school diploma. His next stop will be the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—on a full scholarship. Young Mr. Fall’s academic-rags-to-riches story suggests that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s impulse to make admission to Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and the city’s other selective high schools more racially equitable, while laudable, is anachronistic and unnecessary. Fall is one of sixteen young black and brown New Yorkers in the inaugural graduating class at Success Academy, the city’s largest network of public charter schools. And there are many just like him.

The primary rationale for widening the on-ramp to New York City’s selective-admission public high schools is to increase the number of low-income students of color who are on track to attend selective colleges and universities. But this important work is already being done by the city’s charter schools, and done in numbers that dwarf the capacity of Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, even under the rosiest scenarios proposed by the Mayor.

Uncommon Schools, which operates twenty-three charters in...


A big surprise—and mountain of confusion—is coming to everyone who cares about educating poor kids, not to mention every policy wonk in the K–12 realm. The definition of “poor” and “disadvantaged” is in flux for the first time in my decades of engagement with K–12 education, and the outcome is going to be a prolonged period of instability and inconsistency. This was noted two years ago by the ever-vigilant Matt Chingos, but the implications haven’t yet sunk in.

For as long as I can remember, the primary gauge of poverty in the education system has been how many students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) via the federally-funded National School Lunch Program. Eligibility has forever been based on a formula that considers family size and income.

This began—under Harry Truman—with lunch and now often includes school-provided breakfasts so long as one’s school participates in the programs, which are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They’re entitlement programs, currently costing around $16 billion per annum.

Operationalizing this has always involved a lot of paperwork. Families have to fill out forms. Schools have to distribute, retrieve, and tabulate those forms. There’s some (though not a lot) of...


A recent federally funded evaluation examines the impacts of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Overall, its authors estimate that participating in the program for two years reduced students’ achievement by about 10 percentile points in math and about 3.8 percentile points in English language arts, though the latter estimate isn’t statistically significant. However, the program did positively impact parents’ and students’ perceptions of school safety.

In general, these results are highly consistent with the results of a similar evaluation published last year, which found that program participation reduced math and reading achievement by 7.3 and 4.9 percentile points, respectively, after one year. And because these estimates are based on the results of a program-wide lottery, there’s not much to quibble with methodologically.

Conceivably, the latest negative achievement estimates could still reflect the “transition costs” associated with switching to a new school. But the consistency between the first- and second-year estimates doesn’t bode well for this hypothesis. The more likely explanation is that the performance of D.C.’s public schools—including both its district schools and its many charters—has improved to the point where at least some private schools are struggling to compete. (After all, D.C. boasts one of the...


Every two years, educational researchers eagerly await scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), eager to dive into the results and hypothesize reasons for changes—or lack thereof—in the data. But what NAEP actually reveals about education across the fifty states is more complex than simple score comparisons. In a recent report from the Brookings Institution, Matthew Chingos follows NAEP cohorts from fourth to eighth grade, finding that students in some states make gains at both levels, while others lose early gains by eighth grade or, conversely, catch up despite a slow start.

NAEP analyses typically compare students in the same grade across years. Instead, Chingos tracks cohort four-year growth from 2003 to 2017 (for example, comparing 2013 fourth grade scores to 2017 eighth grade scores). Rather than using raw NAEP scores, the report uses demographically adjusted scores calculated by Chingos and his colleagues at the Urban Institute. These adjustments use restricted-use student-level data to account for demographic differences across states, controlling for race, English language learner status, free or reduced-price lunch eligibility, birth month and year, frequency with which a language other than English is spoken in the home, and Individualized Education Plan status. NAEP tests different...

By Dr. Thomas Burnford

To anyone who has attended or sent their children to a Catholic school, or worked in one, the findings of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s study Self-Discipline and Catholic Schools: Evidence from Two National Cohorts are no surprise. Catholic schools are dedicated to educating the whole child—mind, body and spirit—with a focus on the development of intellect, personhood, and relationships. Those foci are evident in the study’s major findings: Catholic school students exhibit more self-control and self-discipline and are less likely to act out or be disruptive than students in other private or public schools.

Why do Catholic school students attain more self-discipline than their peers at other schools? There are several reasons:

  1. The transmission of the Catholic understandings of freedom, happiness, and moral objectivity are taught to children at a young age. Happiness, Catholics believe, is the fruit of living with the personal freedom that is the foundation for the pursuit of virtue-guided morality. Catholics believe that teaching morality in accordance with Gospel values enables all members in a Catholic school community to show self-discipline and respect for oneself, for others, and for all of creation. Judeo-Christian virtues such as kindness, humility, and diligence are not only explicitly
  2. ...

Two years ago, JPMorgan Chase & Co. launched a $75 million five-year initiative called New Skills for Youth (NSFY). The goal was to expand access to high-quality career and technical education programs that can lead students to postsecondary degrees, credentials, and well-paying jobs.

As part of the initiative, the company partnered with the Council of Chief State School Officers, Advance CTE, and Education Strategy Group to run a multi-year grant competition for states interested in strengthening their CTE sectors. In 2016, twenty-four states and Washington, D.C., were awarded grants worth $100,000 as part of phase one, which required states to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and develop a three-year action plan. In early 2017, phase two began after ten states were awarded $2 million apiece to expand and improve career pathways for high school students over the course of three years. These states include Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

The first year of phase two is now complete, and a recently released 2017 snapshot outlines the “notable progress” that selected states made in designing, enhancing, and scaling high-quality career pathways. Here’s a look at how a few of...

J. Jacob Kirksey

Catholic schools are the largest provider of private education in the United States, yet most of the research on their performance has ignored what may be the biggest reason that parents (or guardians) send their children to Catholic schools—namely, self-discipline.

In a new report I coauthored with Michael Gottfried for the Fordham Institute, Catholic Education and Self-Discipline: Evidence from Two National Cohorts, we address this gap in the literature by examining the “noncognitive skills” of Catholic students in two nationally representative cohorts of elementary students to see if attending a Catholic school is associated with greater self-discipline. Although prior studies have considered outcomes that are plausibly related to this skill (such as graduation and voting), to our knowledge our study is the first to examine Catholic students’ self-discipline directly (and the first consider their behavior in elementary school).

In the study, we gauge students’ “self-discipline” by externalizing behavior problems (lower likelihood of arguing, getting angry, fighting, etc.) and self-control (higher likelihood of controlling one’s temper, respecting others’ property, and handling peer pressure, among other things). Overall, we found that students attending Catholic schools exhibited better self-discipline than comparable students in other private or public schools, as measured by both...