Way back when you were young (i.e., 2003), the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation published a hard-hitting report titled Where Did Social Studies Go Wrong? It lamented the manifest failures of social-studies education, identified a number of culprits, and recommended a series of fundamental rethinks and reforms.

Among the shortcomings that we cited was “hostility on the part of many educators at all levels to the kinds of basic knowledge ordinary Americans think important for their children to learn.” Another was the displacement of discipline-based education in history, geography, politics, and science with something far more amorphous, touchy-feely, and non-substantive known as “social studies.” Recounting its emergence in our pages, Diane Ravitch wrote:

Educational theorists complained that teaching about heroes and history stories was nothing more than “daydreaming.” They wanted the schools to deal “realistically” with the problems of the world. They encouraged the schools to socialize their students by centering their activities on home, family, neighborhood, and community. They said that the schools should teach the present, not the past. One state after another began to eliminate history from the elementary grades and to replace it with expanding environments (home, neighborhood, community). The very idea that students would...


As the Trump Administration inches closer to a decision about what to do with a 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter sent by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, defenders of the Obama-era policy have ratcheted up the rhetoric. Because the document “simply gave further information about how [the law] relates to school discipline,” and just “encourages schools to reflect on whether its discipline practices are affected by racial bias,” rescinding it would “signal that discrimination is OK.”

Statements like these make me think that some proponents of the letter still don’t understand what’s in it, or why many of us (mostly but not entirely on the right) think it’s so bad for our schools. So in the spirit of public service, let me take a stab at delineating between the document’s innocuous, even helpful, parts, and the portions that need to be deleted.

If readers follow this link, they will find a version of the original letter with my edits in redline. I added one word and deleted 799, this out of a document that is more than 12,000 words long, including its appendix and footnotes. In other words, I believe that 94 percent of the...


Since its release, the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) recent report on discipline disparities has generated substantial heat, but no new light. Based on an analysis of the most recent discipline data collected by the Office of Civil Rights, it concludes that “Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined…in K–12 public schools.” But if that sentence contains any new information, it is well hidden. And as the report acknowledges, by themselves these disparities “do not establish whether unlawful discrimination has occurred.”

Using a generalized linear regression model—basically a more flexible version of ordinary linear regression—the authors of the report investigate the relationships between various school-level characteristics and discipline outcomes. However, as they acknowledge, their methodology has at least two important limitations.

First, because they don’t have student-level data, the authors can’t actually control for poverty and other factors at the student level. Thus, although the study finds that schools with more black students have higher suspensions rates—even after controlling for the number of poor kids—it doesn’t show that poor black students are more likely to be suspended than poor white students.

Second, as the authors once again acknowledge, “some variables that may be related to student behavior...


Although there is much research about “achievement gaps” between wealthy and poor students and the effects of “toxic stress” on academic outcomes, a recent study sought to examine the depth at which such issues as homelessness, domestic violence, neglect, and abuse can affect students in school, as well as the prevalence of the problem across schools and demographic groups.

Brian Jacob and Joseph Ryan conducted the study for the Brookings Institution. Matching school records collected from the Michigan Department of Education to child maltreatment information collected by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, the researchers focused on students in the third grade (Michigan administers a statewide test to all in children in this grade), as young children have higher rates of exposure to maltreatment and it has more harmful effects on younger children. The authors examined cases of both substantiated and unsubstantiated Child Protective Services (CPS) investigations, relying on the assumption that the existence of any complaint might point to some trauma, even in the unsubstantiated cases, where there was not enough evidence for a formal investigation to continue. They repeated their analysis using only substantiated CPS investigations, and came to the same pattern of results. Controlling for...

Timothy Daly

Editor’s note: This essay first appeared in a slightly different form on The 74.

Why don’t more low-income and minority students succeed in school? There is plenty of talk about bad schools, insufficient resources, turbulent neighborhoods, and the like. And, yes, lots of disadvantaged students start school behind their more advantaged peers—and, because of these myriad challenges, stay behind. But there are many others who demonstrate success in school, at least for stretches of their educational careers, but fall off along the way. Instead of resigning ourselves to these outcomes, we must instead ask: Why, specifically, does this happen? And how do we fix it?

At EdNavigator, of which I am a founding partner, we have spent the past two years providing sustained educational support to hundreds of families in and around New Orleans, in all types of schools. Each of them has been afforded access to a Navigator—someone with deep roots in their community and professional experience in teaching, counseling, or school leadership—who serves as their personal education adviser. Through this work, we have gained deep insight into the day-to-day interactions of families and schools and the obstacles they confront. Our experience has brought the questions above...


This is the third article in a series that looks at a recent AEI paper by Colin Hitt, Michael Q. McShane, and Patrick J. Wolf, “Do Impacts on Test Scores Even Matter? Lessons from Long-Run Outcomes in School Choice Research.” The first and second essays are respectively titled “How to think about short-term test score changes and long-term student outcomes,” and  “When looking only at school choice programs, both short-term test scores and long-term outcomes are overwhelmingly positive.”

Yesterday, I argued that Hitt, McShane, and Wolf erred in including programs in their review of “school choice” studies that were only incidentally related to school choice or that have idiosyncratic designs that would lead one to expect a mismatch between test score gains and long-term impacts (early college high schools, selective enrollment high schools, and career and technical education initiatives). If you take those studies out of the sample, the findings for true school choice programs are overwhelmingly positive for both short- and long-term outcomes.

Today I’ll take up another problem with their study: They set an unreasonably high bar for a study to show a match between test score changes and attainment. Let me quote the authors...


In December, Education Next published an article by Rick Hess called “Three Cheers for Imposter Syndrome” that, in part, argues that experts in education would be wise to be more humble. “And, since authentic humility seems to be in pretty short supply these days,” he writes, “I'll happily accept impostor syndrome as a useful facsimile.”

Impostor syndrome is “the fear that you'll be found out at any moment as an impostor who doesn't belong in your job or can't do an important task.” Conventional wisdom would tell us that the “impostor” is someone whose pedigree, depth of knowledge, and/or confidence doesn’t mesh with those of his or her peers. That certainly seemed to be what Hess was feeling when he himself felt like one as he waited to take his Graduate Record Examination.

“Listening to the knowing chatter of the students around me, I was filled with self-doubt,” he recalls. “The room seemed full of budding experts. I wondered how they could know so much and how I would ever keep up.”

But If we take a step back and look specifically at the world of education policy and reform, those who tend to suffer from impostor syndrome...


This is the second article in a series that looks at a recent AEI paper by Colin Hitt, Michael Q. McShane, and Patrick J. Wolf, “Do Impacts on Test Scores Even Matter? Lessons from Long-Run Outcomes in School Choice Research.” The first essay is titled “How to think about short-term test score changes and long-term student outcomes.”

The AEI paper focuses on a specific question: Is there is a disconnect for school choice programs when it comes to their impact on student test scores versus their impact on student attainment outcomes, namely high school graduation, college entrance, and college graduation rates?

It claims to find such a disconnect. As the authors put it, “A school choice program’s impact on test scores is a weak predictor of its impacts on longer-term outcomes.” But read the fine print because this conclusion follows from two big decisions the authors made, both of which are highly debatable. Had they gone the other way, the results would show an overwhelmingly positive relationship between short-term test score changes and long-term outcomes.

What were those decisions?

  1. The authors included programs in the review that are only tangentially related to school choice and that drove
  2. ...

Last month, the American Enterprise Institute published a paper by Colin Hitt, Michael Q. McShane, and Patrick J. Wolf that reviewed every rigorous school-choice study with data on both student achievement and student attainment—high school graduation, college enrollment, and/or college graduation. They contend that the evidence points to a mismatch, specifically that “a school choice program’s impact on test scores is a weak predictor of its impacts on longer-term outcomes.”

This week, I plan to write a series of commentaries on the paper, which I believe is fundamentally flawed. I have several concerns, including:

  1. The authors included programs in the review that are only tangentially related to school choice and that drove the alleged mismatch, namely early-college high schools, selective-admission exam schools, and career and technical education initiatives.
  2. Their coding system—which they admit is “rigid”—sets an unfairly high standard because it requires both the direction and statistical significance of the short- and long-term findings to line up.
  3. In their conclusions, they extrapolated from their findings on school choice programs and inappropriately applied them to schools.

That’s a lot to unpack, so I’m going to do this over several posts. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

First, though,...

Natalie Wexler

Education reform has come under attack lately, and not just from the usual suspects. Some of the critics are reformers themselves. Others have responded that reform is working just fine. But few on either side are acknowledging the three basic mistakes that have undermined the success of the reform movement from its inception.

The recent criticism has been spurred by reports that the soaring graduation rate in Washington, D.C.—a city long hailed as a national model for education reform—hid the fact that many students had been promoted from grade to grade when they shouldn’t have been. An investigation revealed that over a third of last year’s D.C. public school graduates weren’t entitled to receive diplomas—and, according to at least one teacher, some were unable to read and write.

D.C., it seems, is not an isolated case. Similar scandals have emerged elsewhere, and teachers around the country have reported pressure to pass students who flunked their classes or simply didn’t show up. All of this has led some education reformers to charge that the successes that have been celebrated by the movement for years are largely a mirage.

In response, defenders like Arne...