By Ed Jones

David Brooks's recent essay, “How We Are Ruining America,” has touched a nerve with a lot of people, Robert Pondiscio among them.

As Robert puts it:

There is a language of power. It is the language of privileged parents, affluent communities, and elite universities. It’s the language of David Brooks. But he’d do well to recognize that you don’t learn that language in those places. They don’t let you in until or unless you demonstrate command of it.

All good, and a dozen years ago, I'd have left it at that. The mission of education reform, I thought, is getting more poor kids and minorities into college, which offers first-generation access to the type of high-paying entry work I enjoyed at age twenty-two. It also brings political and cultural power.

Yet Robert also uses another term, the “language of upward mobility.” Getting that right, teaching more kids that language, is a different task today than it was in 2000.

Allow me to paint you a different picture of power.

As the summer temperatures climb, the outdoors beckon, and I find myself near waterside marinas. From the Cleveland-Toledo Lake Erie coast, to the Pittsburgh-to-Cincinnati Ohio River banks, to...

By Max Eden

Last week, Senator Lamar Alexander fired a shot across the bow of the U.S. Department of Education, suggesting that acting assistant secretary for elementary & secondary education Jason Botel “hasn’t read [The Every Student Succeeds Act] carefully.”

Alexander apparently decided to keep his powder dry a month ago after the Department released the “Feedback That Shook The World,” telling Delaware that its plan to use student performance on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams as a metric for college readiness was out of line, and declaring that the state’s goals for boosting proficiency rates were not “ambitious enough” to merit approval. AEI’s Rick Hess likened the Botel letter to an exercise in Soviet bureaucracy, and Fordham’s Mike Petrilli called it “mind boggling” given Secretary DeVos’s insistence that she’d allow states significant flexibility.

After the initial rumblings around its mid-June letters to Delaware, New Mexico, and Nevada, the Department appeared to back down. It issued a FAQ telling states that they didn’t necessarily have to make every change that Botel had demanded for their plans to be approved. And its next round of state feedback took on a different tone. The first three letters had been...

As the term implies, “personalized learning” (PL) tailors educational approaches to an individual student’s needs, strengths, interests, and aspirations. This may sound abstract to many, but a new report paints a clearer picture of personalized learning as used in practice. RAND Corporation analysts examine PL implementation and student outcomes across forty U.S. schools receiving a Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) grant. Most of these schools were less than three years old when RAND began its study in 2012, and thirty-one are charters. Together, the NGLC schools enroll roughly 10,600 students, primarily low income or minority. 

“In its ideal form,” RAND analysts write, “PL allows for greater variety in what students are working on at any moment, while still setting ambitious goals for each student’s progress.” Researchers explore the strengths and challenges of PL implementation—how schools are working to meet these ideals—mainly via surveys of educators and students in NGLC schools. As a point of comparison, analysts draw survey data from a national sample of non-NGLC schools. They organize their findings around four marks of PL implementation: the use of learner profiles, personalized learning paths, competency based progression, and flexible learning environments. Here are some of the main findings....

The Fordham Institute, among others, has long worried that the country’s focus on the “proficiency gap” is leading schools to ignore the “excellence gap”—the divide between white students and students of color at the highest levels of achievement. Now comes good news that this gap can in fact be narrowed. January’s issue of Gifted Child Quarterly features a 2016 longitudinal study by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius et al. that details the outcomes of Project Excite—a STEM enrichment program for “high-potential” black and Latino students in suburban Illinois.

This study addresses the general thrust of previous research that suggests black-white and Latino-white achievement gaps widen faster among high-achieving students, particularly in math and science. The authors indicate that these findings reflect the compounding nature of advantage and disadvantage. Think of compound interest: The further ahead you are, the faster you climb. Knowing this, Project Excite adopts an approach that financial advisors shout from the rooftops: Start early and invest consistently.

Between 2000 and 2013, researchers tracked the performances and outcomes of 361 Project Excite participants. Each cohort consists of third graders from five schools in a suburban Illinois school district. Acceptance into the program is based on math, non-verbal reasoning, reading skills, teacher...

Alex Medler

Focusing on specific challenges would improve today’s polarized fight over charter school oversight, in which name calling too often replaces the demanding work of understanding each other or solving shared problems. In previous rounds of charged conflict, I have found that shared work is the best remedy for ideological polarization.

Indeed, on the ground, the messy work of charter school policy and authorizing is rarely accomplished through strict adherence to ideology. Concepts and ideology considered without real-world applications tend to feel hollow. Most of the time, decisions are made by local people working to solve common problems. And whatever people choose, future work should stay messy and inclusive.

Consider recent debates about burdensome charter applications and overregulation. Two talking points have gotten plenty of air time: “We should get rid of five-hundred page charter applications”; and “We must reverse the reregulation of charters.” I nod in sympathy every time I hear them. But these notions also often lack detail and nuance. If, for example, a speaker intends them to mean we ought to reverse course on the past decades’ progress on authorizer rigor, students’ rights, or performance management, I stop nodding.

Instead, I believe that the charter application process could...

We are ruining America, notes dour New York Times columnist David Brooks, suddenly and considerably alarmed by a standard feature of American life, if not human nature—the tendency of the privileged and powerful to guard jealously every advantage they have been handed or earned. Brooks takes up his pen to offer a stinging rebuke: Members of the college-educated class, he writes, “have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.”

Brooks focuses his concern on the parenting style of privileged Americans, coining a brilliant neologism in the process, “pediacracy,” by which he means the determination of affluent parents to give their kids a leg up. “As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids,” he writes. Next come zoning laws that keep the poor and poorly educated out of well-off neighborhoods and excellent schools. Finally there’s access to elite colleges that cement the grip of top quintile families on the brass ring of their advantage.

Brooks, I think, confuses effects for causes. Mating, motherhood, and Middlebury are not the...

A recent report from the Brookings Institution explores the pros and cons of online education.

Online classes have the potential to bring otherwise unavailable educational opportunities to a broad range of students, tailoring courses’ content and pacing to each individual learner’s needs. For example, the report’s authors point to the latest “intelligent” tutoring systems, which can assess students’ weaknesses, diagnose why they are making these errors, and adjust the coursework accordingly.

Despite these promises, however, many of today’s online courses may be causing more harm than good, especially for low-performing students. This report reconfirms yet again what numerous studies have previously shown—that online schools consistently underperform the brick-and-mortar variety.

The Brookings report analyzes an online college, but many of its lessons apply to K–12 education, as well. Authors use data from DeVry University, a for-profit college at which every class is offered online and in-person. The average student takes two-thirds of her courses online, and online and in-person versions of a given classes are mostly identical, as “both follow the same syllabus and use the same textbook; class sizes are approximately the same; [and] both use the same assignments, quizzes, tests, and grading rubrics.”

The authors find that taking...

It’s no secret that “selfie-stick wielding, ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians’-watching,” Millennials have gotten a bad rap. But has their stereotyped self-indulgence resulted in poor life outcomes? This new report from IES, Early Millennials: The Sophomore Class of 2002 a Decade Later, tracks a cohort of over 13,000 students who were high school sophomores in 2002. Over ten years, this cohort was surveyed three times about various life milestones, such as finishing school, starting a job, leaving home, getting married, and having children. Most respondents were twenty-six years old at the time of the last survey, in 2012.

Recall that this is the cohort that was just entering high school during the dot-com bubble of the late 90’s. They were sophomores during the September 11 terrorist attacks, and in their early twenties when the Great Recession hit in 2007. They also saw the cost of college increase exponentially during their entry into postsecondary education. The nearly three-hundred-page report is chock full of noteworthy findings. Here are a quick baker’s dozen:

  1. An astonishing 96 percent completed high school either through earning a diploma or through the GED or other equivalency;
  2. Eighty-four percent enrolled in postsecondary education; just one half had
  3. ...
Butch Trusty

Many education and philanthropic leaders in America’s cities understand the interdependencies between schools, talent, policy, and community engagement in transforming local education systems to meet the needs of more students and families. But few leaders have thought deeply about the true potential of focusing on multiple pathways for high-quality school-seat creation as a strategic approach to accelerating the growth and improvement of great public schools.

With great respect for the challenge and complexity involved in systems-level change, we at Education Cities have observed that, historically, leaders across the country have missed opportunities to reach their goals faster and more sustainably by not pursuing a variety of seat-creation paths.

To name this common problem and to hopefully encourage leaders to widen their view of what is possible, we wrote Pathways to Success: Providing More Children Access to Great Public Schools. In addition to describing six seat creation pathways we believe have the most likelihood for success, we also touched on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each, and made the case for the benefits associated with not emphasizing any one pathway too heavily.

The abridged version of the paper is straightforward. The basic pathways pursued by most cities include:

  • Replication:
  • ...
Austin Estes and Kate Kreamer

In the last few weeks, the first-round submissions of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans have gotten a lot of attention from national organizations and the federal government. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Advance CTE and Education Strategy Group joined efforts to write Mapping Career Readiness in State ESSA Plans—Round 1, a review of how states addressed or prioritized career readiness.

Career Technical Education (CTE) can be a powerful platform for student success during and after high school, and in recent years states have made incredible investments in—and commitments to—expanding the quality of and access to CTE and career pathways. Moreover, many provisions within ESSA open the door for, if not flat out encourage, states to integrate CTE into their career readiness metrics.

Given this, in reading through each of the first seventeen plans that have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, we were cautiously optimistic that career (and college) readiness would play a prominent role in states’ ESSA plans. Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly the case:

  • Eleven out of the first seventeen submitted plans identified at least one measure of career readiness in their accountability systems.
  • ...