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...

Just when they were starting to hit their stride, the new team at the Department of Education made a big unforced error this week. The good news is that it’s almost certain to be corrected, thanks to pressure from Capitol Hill.

The issue is the wonky but important feedback that Jason Botel, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, provided Tuesday to three states regarding their ESSA plans. (Eventually the Department will provide feedback on every state’s plan, but these are the first.) Much of it is boring bureaucratic minutia—pointing out areas where Delaware, Nevada, and New Mexico need to supply additional information in order to be compliant with the federal law. That’s fine and unexceptional.

However, Botel and company demanded changes to Delaware’s plan on grounds that several of its provisions are not allowed under ESSA. I think the DeVos team is misreading the law, the substantive issues, and the politics, especially after the Secretary has repeatedly promised to provide states wide latitude in implementing ESSA.

At issue are two aspects of Delaware’s proposal:

  1. Its long-term goals for boosting student achievement
  2. Its inclusion of student performance on Advanced Placement and
  3. ...

A new paper examines how schools failing to make “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind affected student attendance and behavior. Overall, it finds that the “accountability pressure” associated with No Child Left Behind encourages students to show up at school and to do so on time, but also leads to increases in misbehavior. Specifically, the authors estimate that being labelled as failing causes schools to post a 30−40 percent decline in reported absences, a 20–30 percent decline in reported tardies, and a 15–20 percent increase in reported suspensions in the following school year. As the authors note, it’s impossible to know to what extent these findings reflect changes in student behavior as opposed to changes in how that behavior is reported or addressed. But in their view, “the correct interpretation is probably some combination of both.”

Interestingly, while schools found ways to reduce absences and tardies for all performance subgroups, there were telling differences when it came to behavior, where the authors note “a u-shaped pattern—with only students at the bottom and the top of the test score distribution exhibiting notable increases in misbehavior.” Specifically, students in the lowest quartile of student performance exhibited larger increases than those...

A recent report from the Manhattan Institute seeks to demonstrate that “cream-skimming”—sorting students to favor smarter, harder-working pupils—is not the reason charter schools outperform traditional public schools on standardized tests. Author Marcus A. Winters points out that critics who use this argument ignore the fact that not all traditional public schools are open enrollment.

The report compares the English and math test scores of ninety-eight selective non-charter middle schools whose students have to pass entrance exams to be admitted, with those of seventy-three charter middle schools whose students are admitted by lottery and are often underprivileged minorities. All of the schools are located in New York City.

Winters reasons that if admitting students with better academic credentials does indeed result in higher test scores, traditional selective middle schools would fare significantly better than lottery-based charter schools. That is not, however, the case.

The report finds that the charter school students did better in math (38.3 percent proficient) than their peers at selective middle schools (34.7 percent proficient); but worse in English language arts (24.6 percent at charters compared to 32.2 percent at selective middle schools). Yet, when Winters adjusted for student demographics, the difference in ELA proficiency shrunk to a...

A recent study in the Social Science Research journal investigated teacher bias and its profound effects on student achievement. Many scholars have tackled this topic in various ways, but this study looks at subject-specific teacher bias, which manifests itself in terms of teacher perceptions and beliefs of student ability in math and English. It asks the question: How do math and English teacher perceptions of their students’ academic abilities vary by student race and ethnicity? Additionally, the study looks at teacher underestimations of student ability and its impact on students’ own expectations and achievement. Is there a significant causal-effect relationship between teachers’ low expectation of students and students’ own expectations and achievement? If so, do they vary by race or ethnicity of student?

The study uses data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS: 2002), a “nationally representative, longitudinal study of 10th graders in 2002 and 12th graders in 2004.” Selecting approximately twenty-six students from each high school, the study used a combined sample size of 12,500 students. To determine how teacher perceptions affected student outcomes, researchers used a propensity score matching method: For each student in the treatment group, there was a student in the control sample...

Eva Moskowitz is on a nice little roll. On Friday, the State Supreme Court handed her network of Success Academy charter schools a victory—and $720,000—ruling that New York City overstepped its authority trying to impose its pre-K contract on Success. On Monday, she was in Washington, D.C., to accept the Broad Prize, which goes each year to a charter school operator who demonstrates “outstanding academic outcomes among low-income students and students of color.” Success, with forty-one schools educating 14,000 mostly low-income New York City children, was nominated for the same award last year. The validation from her charter school peers is fortuitous timing for Moskowitz and Success Academy, which today unveils its “Ed Institute,” an online collection of free curriculum, tools, and training resources that are “the foundation of Success Academy’s school design.”

Attention must be paid. Moskowitz remains a deeply polarizing figure in education. But as the Broad honor suggests, whether enthusiastically or begrudgingly, one has to respect what she has brought to the families she serves. Success Academy students continue doing to state tests what Aaron Judge does to baseballs at Yankee Stadium, hitting them high, far, and with authority. The poorest performing Success Academy pushed 90% of...