Lisa Graham Keegan

In my home state of Arizona, our students have benefitted from an emphasis on different aspects of choice and accountability at different times and for different reasons. Usually, changes are made in reaction to whatever policies were most recently in place.

Nevertheless, I agree with and applaud recent comments from Checker Finn regarding the need for publicly transparent and sound information about school quality. Over the past decade, we have found Arizona’s A–F school grades—which rely heavily on academic growth—to be critically important to authorizers, board members, legislators, and hopefully also parents. These ratings inform choices and inform the opening and closures of schools. In other words, Arizona is not a “live and let lousy live” charter school state, and our state assessments and the National Assessments of Education Progress prove it, as recounted here by Dr. Matt Ladner.

But before we had school grades, and before our state authorizing board developed its own strict performance requirements, we had pretty massive growth in choices. Many called us the “wild west” and claimed we gave out charters like candy. I'd say we started with a lot to learn and allowed more than we prevented. That has led to some...

Alli Aldis

I despised history, until I took AP U.S. History. From my elementary and middle school years, there remains a paper trail of get-to-know-you surveys for which I indicated that history bored me to tears, and doodles on notes of the Monroe Doctrine that subtly communicate the same reaction.

The U.S. history class I took in eighth grade is a perfect example. Almost every day consisted of hurriedly copying notes from a dim image projected on the board as the teacher read aloud the words we were inscribing. There were no lectures of substance; we were spoon-fed worksheets pulled from the dry pages of a textbook. The tests were a contest that determined who could regurgitate the highest percentage of memorized facts. Little to no analysis was ever done. We never focused on comprehending the cause and effect of critical movements or comparing past time periods to the modern era. Apparently, it was far more important to know the names of all the generals in the Civil War.

On the occasion that our daily work did not entail unhelpful note taking or memory-based testing, we took part in such educational activities as watching National Treasure or working on a slightly more...

Thomas W. Carroll

As the Senate continues to attempt a fix of Obamacare, debate continues on the contours of a sweeping federal tax reform to be acted upon once health care is put to bed. The idea of a national K–12 scholarship tax credit continues to gain steam as a key aspect of overall tax reform and as a measure that would put a human face on an otherwise arcane bill. But important disputes remain over what a national K–12 scholarship tax credit might look like. The two key areas to be decided are faith and federalism.


Bills recently re-introduced by Representative Todd Rokita (R-IN) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) include a key provision that has inflamed much of the faith community. Under their bills (H.R. 895 and S. 148), faith-based scholarship organizations would be placed in the untenable position of only being able to participate if they agreed to award scholarships to students attending any private school, regardless of its religious affiliation or lack-thereof.

The bills specifically prohibit scholarship organizations from limiting their scholarships to being redeemed in a “group of schools.” Every collection of religious schools is by definition a “group of schools.” Thus, religious scholarship groups would face the...

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...