By Charles Barone

Those not familiar with the history of the social esteem fad of the 1980’s should read Checker Finn’s brief and appropriately scathing review of it over at Education Week. Finn’s right on target in asserting that self-esteem, as a catalyst for improving children’s academic achievement and a remedy for social ills, such as crime and substance abuse, was at best oversold and at worst deliberately misrepresented, in terms du jour, as being “evidence-based.” Finn’s on more shaky ground, however, in attempting to draw a line between the self-esteem movement of the 1980’s and the current, increasingly prominent field of social-emotional learning (SEL).

The social esteem movement was centered around making children and young people feel better about themselves. It sounds nice, but it had insidious effects on attempts to boost academic achievement and build competent and high-functioning young adults. It, in effect, became an argument against delivering any news to students that they were anything but absolutely wonderful and perfect. It became better to find something nice to say about a student essay rather than point out spelling or grammatical errors, preferable to stress the effort a student made on a math problem rather than to point out that...

The national press jumped all over the news last week that the Office for Civil Rights in the Trump Department of Education will be taking a different tack on federal civil rights enforcement than it did under the Obama Administration. As Andy Rotherham wrote, “not surprisingly, with those words—Trump, civil rights, federal—in the same sentence, people are alarmed.” And sure enough, the mainstream media published articles with alarming headlines, like “Education Dept. Says It Will Scale Back Civil Rights Investigations.”

That sure sounds bad; after all, even the local-control crowd will generally acknowledge that there’s a legitimate federal role in ensuring students’ civil rights. Too many of our children and teenagers feel vulnerable today, for no other reason than their race, religion, or sexual orientation, and they deserve our protection.

But what journalists, education reformers, and everyone else should understand is that the Obama Administration turned almost everything into a potential civil rights violation. As I argued at the time, it was federal overreach on steroids. What acting OCR chief Candice Jackson is doing is simply returning OCR to the pre-Obama status quo ante. Whether that’s wise is worth debating. But surely it’s hyperbole...

More than forty states got waivers under the Obama Administration, in part to get around NCLB’s unrealistic expectation that all schools would be proficient by 2014, but the states had to promise aggressive reform efforts in return. Studies that examine the impacts of some of the key provisions of this policy are starting to trickle in—and one such study of Kentucky was conducted by Stanford’s Tom Dee and colleagues. Recall that under the waivers, the feds required that states identify schools where subgroups of students have the lowest achievement. These were to be known as “Focus Schools,” and were to implement “research based interventions.”

The Bluegrass State is interesting because it was the first state to adopt the Common Core, and it won $17 million in the federal Race to the Top competition. It was also among the first group of states to apply for a federal waiver from NCLB. It developed explicit guidance for Focus Schools (more on that below) and used a “super subgroup” measure that combined all traditionally low-performing subgroups—meaning those who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch, in special education, black, Hispanic, American Indian, and English language learners—into an umbrella group, which they called...

A recent survey in Ohio offers, from an educator’s point of view, insights on standards implementation that are applicable in the other forty-nine states and D.C. In spring 2016, researchers from the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL) surveyed 417 teachers along with 153 principals and administrators working in forty-two Ohio school districts. The survey explored three key questions: What are the most significant implementation challenges? What resources are needed to implement the standards? And are Ohio’s learning standards in math and English changing the focus of instruction?

Teachers cite time constraints as a significant implementation challenge. A majority of teachers (54 percent) say that insufficient class time is a moderate or major challenge, while 41 percent report a lack of planning time. Teachers view these time crunches as greater challenges than other organizational concerns, such as staff turnover, class sizes, or inadequate school resources. Meanwhile, principals view “inadequate lead time to prepare for implementation” as their biggest challenge. Both teachers and administrators note considerable challenges with the wide range of student abilities and the lack of parental involvement, though it’s less clear how exactly these relate to standards implementation.

When it comes to helpful materials,...

The Archbridge Institute has kicked off a three-part series that explores intergenerational economic mobility—i.e., how much people’s income differs from that of their parents. In the first installment, author Scott Winship attempts to make sense of what he calls an “explosion of mobility research.”

The report uses data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID), which has tracked the income of a nationally representative sample of adults and their children for nearly fifty years. Given income’s sensitivity to age and chance, assessing economic mobility is challenging. To address this, data are collected from over six hundred parents and their children starting at age forty (or as close as possible to it), the age that has been found to be most representative of lifetime income. Then, bi-yearly income averages for parents and their children are calculated between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-five.

Distributional analyses show that absolute intergenerational mobility is around 75 percent, meaning that about three out of four children will grow up to make more money (adjusted for cost of living) than their same-sex parent. Economic growth is encouraging but does not always translate to opportunity and access because it does not factor in “how well...

Timothy Shanahan

Teacher question:

E.D. Hirsch makes a compelling argument for the systematic teaching of essential knowledge in elementary school as the best way to close the achievement gap. Daisy Daidalou in her book, Seven Myths of Education, makes a similar argument for building a broad, but not necessarily deep, knowledge base in assumed knowledge to improve reading comprehension. First, is there a solid research base for their claims? Second, what are the implications for a middle school, especially one with many students who are lacking strong background knowledge? Thank you.


Research over the past forty years or so has made it clear that the knowledge that students bring to a text—any text—will have an impact on what is comprehended or learned from that text. The more you know, the better your comprehension tends to be.

Studies have shown that prior knowledge influences comprehension in many ways. Most obviously it reduces the learning load. The more you already know about what an author is telling you, the less new information that you have to learn. That makes the reading task an easier one. (Of course, that can also lead us to overstate what it is that prior knowledge provides,...

Some smart education reformers just made two thirds of a very dumb mistake. In Charting a New Course: The Case for Freedom, Flexibility & Opportunity Through Charter Schools, Jeanne Allen, Max Eden and others (including Mike McShane, Ben Lindquist, Derrell Bradford and Jay Greene) offer several solid suggestions for state policy makers, such as encouraging more small one-off charters, having more than one authorizer in a given locale, systematically auditing the regulatory burden on charter schools, and giving them latitude to hire the teachers of their choice.

That’s the one third that’s smart and timely. But the main thrust of this new volume from the Center on Education Reform is to abolish results-based accountability for charter schools and scrap careful vetting of would-be charter operators. Instead, they would rely on a marketplace free-for-all in which pretty much anyone can start a school and authorizers don’t shut (or non-renew) a school just because nobody is learning anything in it. “Standardized testing” is damned over and over again in these pages as if it were the root of all evil in today’s charter sphere.

This is a version of the familiar libertarian stance on charters (and school choice more broadly): the...

By Kathleen Casper, J.D.

As gifted education continues to evolve and practitioners learn more about the neurology and social emotional needs of gifted children, it is increasingly important that schools identify social emotional goals and work closely with parents and other team members to create learning experiences for gifted students reflective of the needs of the whole child. In their book, Promoting Social and Emotion Learning, Maurice J. Elias et al. define social emotional competence as:

...the ability to understand, manage, and express the social and emotional aspects of one’s life in ways that enable the successful management of life tasks such as learning, forming relationships, solving everyday problems, and adapting to the complex demands of growth and development. It includes self-awareness, control of impulsivity, working cooperatively, and caring about oneself and others.

With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the national push for improved test performance, teachers are at risk of putting students’ social emotional needs on the back burner. In general, the lack of specific social emotional skills can hinder students throughout their K–12 educations and beyond, particularly for gifted students. Because they often do well on tests and quickly master academic tasks or gravitate to other...

It’s a common misconception that the traditional summer break is a holdover from the time when America was largely agrarian. According to PBS, the summer break actually arose around 1900 as increasing numbers of “middle-class urbanites … [wanted to] flee the city’s heat.” With the advent of air conditioning, however, such migration is no longer as common or necessary, but few schools have readjusted. More should.

Consider, for example, Barcroft Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia, my first alma mater. It modified its school calendar back in 2002, when I was in 3rd grade, by redistributing half of our eight-week-long summer break to other times throughout the regular school year, adding two weeks in October and extending Spring Break by couple weeks. These new vacation blocks were call “intersessions,” and their creation had at least three potential benefits:

  • Reduced summer slide
  • More access to enrichment
  • Better vacations

The loss of learning that typically occurs over a long summer break is so prevalent that it has its own name, “the summer slide.” While the term may sound like a playground, it isn’t any fun, especially for low-income students who suffer the steepest decline in skills and knowledge. Psychologist Harris Cooper...

Karen Morse

In Growing Up Creative, author Teresa Amabile explains that fostering a creative environment helps children engage in abstract and analytical thinking, sharpen their visual-spatial acuity, and become more receptive to out-of-the-box thinking. Creative thinkers are more able to suspend judgment about people and circumstances and avoid gender stereotyping. They have high degrees of autonomy and demonstrate self-discipline in matters regarding work. They are able to delay gratification, tolerate ambiguity, and demonstrate high levels of self-control.

Creative learners are big-picture global thinkers with a willingness to take risks and strive for excellence. With your guidance, your gifted child can become a global thinker and make connections to real life experiences through the arts. This can lead to a lifetime of creative thinking, future problem solving.

“I’m painting a tiger pretending to be a lion,” exclaimed five-year-old Ben as he added a mane to his crude picture of a striped cat. Soon after that, he bounded off with a dry paintbrush-turned-sword and announced that he was Captain Hook pretending to be Peter Pan.

Children like Ben—who flow with unusual, humorous ideas—demonstrate creative thinking. Creativity requires original thought, which in turn requires clarity and a deep enough understanding of a concept that...