Bill Honig

Michael Petrilli recently wrote an essay titled “Where Education Reform Goes From Here,” which garnered responses from Sandy Kress and Peter Cunningham, among others. These pieces include much that’s worthy of support, emphasis, and further discussion, as well as a few areas of disagreement.

Based on their collective comments, I think there is a good chance for reconciliation and a working consensus between “reformers” and those of us who have had major problems with reform policies, implementation, and assumptions. There seems to be a common emphasis on the following approaches to improving student and school performance: 

  • The centrality of curriculum and instruction
  • High-quality materials
  • Building the processes schools and districts (or CMO’s) use for school improvement, such as improving the capacity at each school for continuous growth
  • Attracting higher caliber teachers, improved induction, career ladders, and leadership, and a continued attention to improving performance for all
  • Alternate pathways for high school graduation, including career and technical education
  • Increased funding
  • Striking a balance between school and local control and district and state expectations and support
  • Avoiding the harsher anti-public-school and anti-teacher rhetoric
  • Looking to both traditional public schools and charter schools for models of high performance

These ideas...


I’ve long had a complicated relationship with screen time for my young sons, but have come to see its benefits, especially if the focus is on quality over quantity. This has inspired me to publish lists of my favorite TV shows for young kids and for families; a compilation of educational videos; and a list of recommended apps. Now for the next frontier: YouTube. My ten-year-old LOVES “Geography Now!” and “Extra History,” from which he’s learned at least ten times more social studies than he has from Montgomery County Public Schools. It feels like a miracle that there’s such good content being produced, and makes me wonder what else we should be sampling.

To that end, I had our Fordham Institute research interns take a spin around the yonders of YouTube, and I asked for help from our readers. Many thanks to those of you who responded.

Please note that I’m leaving off the list the channels for the major PBS shows—not because they aren’t worthwhile, but because there’s plenty of ways to access them beyond YouTube. Still, to be sure, if you’ve got young kids, check out ...


You’ve probably heard by now that basketball superstar LeBron James opened a school for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. Called I Promise School (IPS), it’s a joint effort between the I Promise Network, the LeBron James Family Foundation, and Akron Public Schools. The newly renovated building opened its doors on July 30 to 240 students in third and fourth grade, along with forty-three staff members. Though he’s taking his talents to Los Angeles, King James himself was on hand to dedicate the new school.

Just like students who are part of the I Promise Network that serves more than 1,300 children and their families across the district, IPS students were identified based on their reading achievement data. After identifying students who were a year or two behind grade level, administrators used a lottery to randomly select which children would be offered a spot at the new school. These students will receive free uniforms, transportation within two miles, tuition to the University of Akron when they graduate, a bicycle and helmet, and a variety of other resources. Their families will have access to GED classes, job placement assistance, and a food pantry.

James is being lavished with praise...

Barbara Davidson

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting a group of schools across the country distinguished by their embrace of high-quality curriculum. The tour was sponsored by the Knowledge Matters Campaign, which seeks to lift up the stories of schools that use knowledge-rich English language arts curriculum to promote educational excellence, provide equity, and inspire in students a passion for learning.

The campaign is particularly interested in drawing attention to schools and curricula that bring a joyous, knowledge-filled schooling experience to students of poverty, as they have been the ones particularly harmed by a skills-based approach that is arguably one of the most significant factors in reading scores remaining flat over the past twenty years (see this article published by the Campaign last month), to say nothing of driving out a love of learning in our young people.

Most of the schools we visited on the tour had adopted a curriculum highly rated by EdReports, the independent non-profit organization that, for the past four years, has served as something of a Consumer Reports on Common Core-aligned curriculum. Three key instructional shifts:...


Her name is Alexandra. She was a student in a school where I used to work and she was one of those kids who challenges you, causes her share of trouble, and comes to appreciate and love you deeply when you’ve earned her trust. Oh, she steals your heart too.

To this day, a letter she wrote me on my birthday in 2012 sits in the drawer of my nightstand. It said a lot but most importantly, she wanted me to know how much it meant to her that I believed in her. And given her a chance. And helped her to see that she had the power to make different—and better choices—as a student and as a young woman.

I think of Alexandra often, especially when I watch debates about school discipline unfold on Twitter or Facebook or wherever else education pundits and partisans are sparring over Obama-era discipline guidance.

The problem child

Alexandra’s mother was not in her life. Her father, an immigrant from Nigeria, was struggling to raise her and her brother and while her brother shined in school and in life, as Alexandra told it, she was the problem child.

And in many ways,...


My adopted home in the Mile High City has cultivated a darling reputation unlike any urban center with regard to education reform. When its steadfast leader, Tom Boasberg, announced his departure last month, the news was at once startling and anticlimactic. The former because it’s hard to imagine Denver without him, and the latter because depending on whom you talk to, the writing had been on the wall for some time.

Finding a worthy successor will be of paramount importance for the district’s school board, one that may feel unfamiliar, as none of the current board members were in office when Boasberg was unanimously elevated to the top job nearly ten years ago. After gathering public input, there will undoubtedly be a laundry list of desired characteristics. Sure to be at or near the top of the docket: the ability to effectively engage the community. As with Denver, community relations have featured prominently in other recent high-profile departures from the superintendency.

With some signs indicating that Denver may select a local as a replacement (which would be a milestone as the district hasn’t chosen an internal candidate in twenty years), this got me thinking about...

By Van Schoales

Many on the right and left believe that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision will significantly reduce teachers unions’ political power and role in public education—and could even cause their demise. It won’t.

The case overturned the Court’s 1997 holding in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public unions could collect regular dues called “agency fees” from non-members, reasoning that all workers who benefit from unions’ negotiated contracts can be forced to pay for those efforts. Before Janus, the collection of such fees was common practice in twenty-two states. Now they’ll be in none, with the Count pointing, in part, to how difficult it is to separate a union’s work negotiating contracts from its participation in political activities.

In the short term, this it will reduce unions’ finances and political support. (See, for example, mounting lawsuits in California and New York.) But over time the decision will lead to unions that better serve their members and more effectively organize to achieve their ends. Here’s why:

  1. The growing blue wave: The political landscape is shifting dramatically because of growing inequality, political polarization, and the rise of Trump. Many unions are capitalizing on the increasing number of workers who
  2. ...
Ashley Berner

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

American policymakers haven’t usually viewed the curriculum as a serious lever for change. This is unfortunate, since a growing body of research suggests that a high-quality curriculum, implemented with fidelity, can make a huge difference in student learning. In 2017, StandardsWork commissioned the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and its Center for Research and Reform in Education to undertake an extensive review of research on the curriculum effect, and what we found about a high-quality curriculum is compelling and persuasive (see here for a summary of the findings).

A few examples from the research record include:

  • High-quality textbooks. Numerous, recent studies (links here, here, here, and here) suggest that switching from a low- to a high-quality textbook can boost student achievement more than other, more popular interventions such as expanding preschool programs, decreasing class sizes, or offering merit pay to teachers. It is also cost effective. One study by Harvard’s Thomas Kane found that the effect upon student test scores of a high-quality math textbook as opposed to an average-quality textbook amounted to an extra eight
  • ...

Many of us who view ourselves as civic-education advocates spend lots of time writing earnest op-eds and columns, attending conferences, and speaking on panels to remind our fellow citizens that the founding purpose of public education in America was not to advance the private end of college and career preparation, but the public purpose of ensuring that the nation’s children would be able to participate fully and knowledgeably in civic life as adults. Collectively, we have spilled gallons of ink urging states, school districts, and teachers to return public education to its roots.

Well, to hell with all that jawboning, says Michael Rebell, in effect. He’s going to force the issue by making a federal case out of it. Literally.

An attorney and Columbia professor, Rebell has been quietly working with a group of law school students to prepare a federal lawsuit to be filed next month, arguing that our public schools are not adequately preparing children for citizenship. His ultimate goal is to prod the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize a constitutional right to an adequate education nationwide, despite the fact that the word “education” appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution.

Before you write this off...


At first blush, high school would seem to be the part of K–12 education where choice should work best—and do the most good. Students are older, more mobile, more independent, with ideas of their own, often beginning to think about the directions they may take in life as adults. High school, moreover, is where it makes the most sense for schools to differ from one another, with college prep here, career and technical education there, an early college high school across town, an “exam school” not too far away, an International Baccalaureate school just a couple of miles distant, and more.

High school also tends to be where districts are most amenable to choice. Look at New York City, where every one of the 400+ high school programs enrolls students by choice, and where every eighth grader is expected to rank-order his or her choices among those programs.

Look also at this from a study of choice in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS): “[M]any CPS high school students opt to attend a school other than their default neighborhood high school. In 2002, the first year of our data, 51 percent of first-time ninth-grade students opted out of their attendance-area...