Tabitha Pacheco

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

All curricula and supplemental tools have their pros and cons. In ThinkCERCA’s case, there are far more of the former than the latter (see my first post here for a description of ThinkCERCA).


One of the greatest strengths of this tool is the power it gives teachers to customize a student’s learning based on her abilities. All students are administered an initial leveling assessment to confirm their reading level (below, at grade, or above grade level). The program then generates custom reading passages for each student, based on his or her abilities, for use in the applied reading and writing tasks. This is a huge help to teachers because it saves them hours of time in administering reading-placement assessments and finding authentic leveled-reading material for each student. In addition to establishing a reading baseline, ThinkCERCA provides students with a baseline writing assessment, too—the results of which can be used to customize the ThinkCERCA rubrics used to grade all written work.

Another advantage...

Tabitha Pacheco

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms

Helping students become effective writers is a challenging task; teaching students to write persuasive argumentative essays can be downright daunting. ThinkCERCA is an English language arts (ELA) curriculum designed to meet the ELA Common Core State Standards, specifically those pertaining to language, listening and speaking, reading, and writing. It is described as a “personalized literacy platform” that emphasizes close reading and writing argumentative essays. For the uninitiated, close reading is defined as follows:

Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole (see...

Those of us at the Fordham Institute have long held that there’s no one best way to design a state accountability system. It’s not just that we can’t even agree amongst ourselves about the relative importance of measuring student growth vs. student proficiency (though that’s true). It’s also because we understand that, as with all policy endeavors, this one amounts to a series of trade-offs. Perhaps there are some wrong answers (such as relying exclusively on proficiency rates in reading and math to judge school quality, or measuring school spending and other inputs and calling it “accountability”) but mostly there are a whole bunch of right and partly-right answers, depending on policymakers’ goals and states’ idiosyncrasies. That’s why, nine months ago, when we hosted our ESSA Accountability Design Competition, we intentionally decided not to award a “winner.”

Still, we know that states are now putting pen to paper on their accountability plans and that many of them want advice about what to do. So no more hesitating or prevaricating. Here’s our attempt—just David and Mike, mind you, not Fordham at large—to lay out an ideal accountability system for states. Consistent with the guidelines for the original accountability...

Like most of you, I am in shock and more than a little worried. I can’t pretend to be a neutral policy analyst today; I made my deep concerns known about a Donald Trump presidency, and they haven’t gone away. His thin-skinned temperament, his bullying tendencies, his scapegoating of Mexican-Americans and Muslim-Americans, his misogyny,  his support from white nationalists, Breitbart and Vladimir Putin, his impulsive attacks on free speech and our allies around the world—none of that has evaporated in the light of day.

But as I told my young boys this morning, America will persevere. The nation will endure. We will support our president and give him a chance to show true leadership—to bring us together, as he promised in the wee hours last night. The emergence of a “unified” government means a possible end to gridlock and futility. We will trust—but we will also verify. If President Trump attacks our Constitution, or our fellow citizens, or our allies, we will push back. We will use the tools of our democracy—our independent media, our institutions of civil society—to resist when necessary. We will be OK.

As for what happened yesterday, we should be careful in how we interpret the...

While the rest of the nation was riveted by the final days of the presidential campaign, the education world was paying equally close attention to Massachusetts, where voters decided whether to allow more charter schools in their state. The ballot question, called Question 2, attracted millions of dollars of advertising from supporters and opponents alike, making it the most expensive ballot-question battle in the nation, according to the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

Election Day has come and gone, and 62 percent of Massachusetts voters rejected the expansion of charter schools.

Writing at the pro-reform website The 74, Richard Whitmire framed the issue as one of fairness and equity: “Will voters in Newton (median house listing price: $1.2 million) vote to help out voters in Roxbury (median list price: $479,000) looking for better school options?” he asked.

Now that we know the answer is no, don't point angry fingers at selfish Massachusetts voters: Blame falls equally upon a movement that has long been a bit too enamored of our own civil-rights-issue-of-our-time rhetoric to worry much about building a constituency among the middle class.

At a conference at the American Enterprise Institute last month, I listened to...

The Obama administration’s $4.35 billion competitive grant program, Race to the Top (RTT), intended to encourage reform and improve student outcomes in K–12 education by awarding competitive grants to states that agreed to implement certain policies and practices, including creating state data systems and adopting common standards. A new report from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) analyzes the implementation of RTT and evaluates its impact on student achievement. The study was conducted by Mathematica in partnership with American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Social Policy Research Associates (SPR).

The analysts collected information on state education policies and student achievement through phone interviews with state education agency representatives (conducted Spring 2013) and state-level test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress from 2003–15. They then compared these data amongst three types of states: Early RTT states which received Round 1 or Round 2 grants in 2010 (twelve states), later RTT states that received Round 3 grants in 2011 (seven states), and non-RTT states that did not receive grants (thirty-two states).

In Spring 2013, those states which received first or second round grants in 2010 reported using more RTT endorsed policies than non-RTT states in four...

“If schools continue to embrace the potential benefits that accompany surveillance technology,” assert the authors of a new report issued by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), “state policymakers must be prepared to confront, and potentially regulate, the privacy consequences of that surveillance.” And thus they define the fulcrum on which this seesaw of a report rests.

Authors J. William Tucker and Amelia Vance do not exaggerate the breadth of education technology that can be used for “surveillance,” either by design or incidentally, citing numerous examples that range from the commonplace to ideas that Big Brother would love. We are all familiar with cameras monitoring public areas in school buildings, but as police use of body cameras increases, school resource officers will likely be equipped with them as well. The authors note that a district in Iowa even issued body cameras to school administrators. (Our own Mike Petrilli wondered a few years about putting cameras in every classroom.)

Cameras have been commonplace inside and outside of school buses for years, but now student swipe cards and GPS bus tracking mean that comings and goings can be pinpointed with increasing accuracy. Web content filters...

Mike Pence was elected Vice President of the United States on November 9, 2016, alongside President-elect Donald Trump. Here are his views on education.

1. Charter schools: “We want to eliminate low income and location as barriers to receiving a quality education, and public charter schools are an essential element of achieving that objective.” July 2015.

2. Vouchers: “This is a school that has greatly benefited by our educational voucher program, opening doors of opportunity to kids that might not otherwise be able to enjoy the kind of education they have here. We've increased our investment in our traditional public schools, we've raised the foundation under our charter schools, and we've lifted the cap on our voucher program." (Said while visiting St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School.) May 2015.

3. School accountability: “We grade our children every week, and we can grade our schools every year, but those grades should fairly reflect the efforts of our students and teachers as we transition to higher standards and a new exam.” October 2015.

4. Indiana’s abandonment of the Common Core: “I believe when we reach the end of this process there are going to be many other states around the...

Wisconsin is the birthplace of the school-choice movement. In the pantheon of education reform shine names like Wisconsin State Representative Polly Williams, Dr. Howard Fuller, and Governor Tommy Thompson. These pioneers gained bipartisan support by providing a targeted, prudent solution for Wisconsin parents: the educational voucher. This tool has since helped tens of thousands of families take control of education and achieve their dreams. And in Wisconsin, it combines with two other parental choice programs to serve thirty-four thousand students.

Recently, however, some growing pains in the voucher program have knocked some of the shine off of the other two. The hippest policy wonks are enamored with a new set of ideas that are supposed to help parents get the best for their kids. It’s been a while since Wisconsin was on the cutting edge.

During a talk in Milwaukee last year on his book New and Better Schools, Michael McShane was put on the spot by an audience member who asked whether Wisconsin was still a leader in education reform. McShane found a graceful way to say “no.” He pointed to the growth of Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, tax credit scholarships in places like Florida, and the success in...

The most disadvantaged children in Massachusetts stand to benefit most if the state’s tight cap on charter schools is loosened—a policy decision that will face Bay State voters on Election Day. Charters serving poor kids significantly outperform their district-operated counterparts in Massachusetts, and their effects are strongest for students who need them most—low achievers, English language learners, minority youngsters, and special-education students.

Passed in 1993, Massachusetts’s charter school law was among the nation’s first. From day one, the state’s charter sector has had two defining characteristics. The first is high-quality schools. The second is tight limits on how many there can be and how many students can attend them. Partly because the charters are so good, and partly because their current district schools are so unsatisfactory, tens of thousands of Bay State kids are now on charter waiting lists. According to the most recent data, 75 of the state’s 82 charter schools had lists totaling more than 37,000 individual students—more than actually attend the schools today. 

When the need is so great, the demand so strong, and the supply so skimpy, why not allow more charter schools to serve more children? Why has the cap-loosening become...