Editor’s note: This article concludes our 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.

As described in our prior post, iCivics Drafting Board is an online essay-building tool for teachers seeking to help their pupils learn to write argumentative essays while exposing them to core civics and social-studies content. As with any online resource, however, it has both strengths and shortcomings.

What are iCivics Drafting Board’s greatest strengths?

Drafting Board is a unique online resource for improving students’ core literacy skills—namely, teaching them how to construct effective argumentative essays that are supported by evidence and reasoning. A major strength is its clear and simple breakdown of the writing process. The site’s use of user-friendly “game-like” graphics and instructions helps students at all levels to formulate ideas, organize arguments, and defend conclusions, while making the multistep writing process interactive and approachable (for example, text is supported through a glossary of potentially unfamiliar terms, such as “candidate,” “campaigns,” and “special interest groups”). Such embedded supports may be especially helpful for struggling students who are intimidated by long essays. Differentiating the level of...

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.

We are keenly aware of the challenge in encouraging teachers to work on writing instruction in subject areas other than English language arts (after all, one of us is curriculum director for a midsized K–12 school district). First, teachers need to appreciate that writing well is essential to the study of any subject. Then we must help teachers recognize that their pupils need strategies for learning how to write well within specific subject areas. Absent such strategies, students may be assigned writing yet not know how to get better at it.

Fortunately, tools such as iCivics Drafting Board can help with writing instruction across subjects, particularly when it comes to the important “argumentative essay.” If you teach social studies at the secondary level, we find Drafting Board well worth a look.

What is iCivics Drafting Board?

Founded by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to enhance civics education across the nation, iCivics is a website that has grown from...

This week, the U.S. Department of Education released the final version of regulations to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act’s accountability provisions. It incorporates feedback the agency received on its earlier draft, and reveals a number of changes. One of these is particularly praiseworthy: States can now create accountability systems that measure student achievement at multiple levels—not just “proficient”—using a performance index.

Despite the good intentions of No Child Left Behind, which ESSA replaced a year ago, it erred by encouraging states to focus almost exclusively on helping low-performing students achieve proficiency and graduate from high school. Consequently, many schools ignored pupils who would easily pass state reading and math tests and earn diplomas regardless of what happened in the classroom—a particularly pernicious problem for high-achieving poor and minority children, whose schools generally serve many struggling students. This may be why the United States has seen significant achievement growth and improved graduation rates for its lowest performers over the last twenty years but lesser gains for its top students.

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires the use of an academic achievement indicator that “measures proficiency on the statewide assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics.” There are, however,...

From the latest issue of the journal Economics in Education Review comes a fascinating paper in which author Metin Akyol creates mathematical models that simulate the effects of private school vouchers on the overall education system. It is not a study of an actual voucher program, but instead a thought experiment meant to test whether both universal and targeted voucher programs can increase the efficiency of the education system as a whole. As strange as this may seem to lay readers, there is in fact a long history of such econometric analyses—and their findings are often worthy of consideration.

Akyol’s complex model can’t be fully explained in this short review, but some features are worth noting. It incorporates the findings of empirical voucher studies to increase its reliability. It simplifies the real world in an effort to find the signal in the noise. Every household therefore has only one child, and the hypothetical school district has neither magnet schools nor charters. And one of its defining assumptions is that more efficient public school spending is an effective proxy for increased educational quality. In other words, it presumes that the money saved by greater efficiency can be reinvested in...

A new analysis conducted by a research team at Duke University examines the effects of two North Carolina early-childhood programs on students’ educational outcomes in elementary school.

The first, Smart Start (SS), is a state-funded early-childcare program focused on improving academic, social, and health outcomes from birth to age four. It’s open to all children in the state but, in practice, targets disadvantaged ones. The second, More at Four (MAF), is North Carolina’s state-funded pre-K program for at-risk four-year-olds, and aims to improve Kindergarten readiness.

Researchers analyzed state records and school enrollment data from North Carolina’s Education Research Data Center to estimate the impact of state funding for these programs on student outcomes through the end of elementary school (based on funding per county). Their sample was all children who attended a public school in the state between 1995 and 2012—really impressive in size. They also used a regression analysis and controlled for variables such as race, mother’s level of education, and prior test scores.

Outcomes of interest were math and reading scores based on end-of-grade standardized tests, special-education placements, and grade retention. Key questions were whether the program effects were positive, and whether they persisted or faded out by...

A year ago I made an informal study of the mission statements of the one hundred largest school systems in the United States. I was curious to see whether the public purpose of public education—preparing children for citizenship and self-government—is top of mind when those who run those systems ask themselves, “What exactly is our purpose here?”

Unsurprisingly, it's not. About 60 percent of those big districts, collectively responsible for more than eleven million children, made no mention whatsoever of civics or citizenship. But it got a lot worse: The words “America” and “American” appeared zero times in one hundred school mission statements. Neither did “patriotic” or “patriotism.” However, “global” appears in the statements of twenty-eight districts—usually in phrases like “global society,” “global economy” or “global citizens.” What are we to make of that?

The public mission of education in America's schools (as distinct from the private and personal ends of college and career readiness) seems suddenly relevant. Writing in The Atlantic, Rick Kahlenberg asks whether the election of Donald Trump represents a “Sputnik moment” for civic education, forcing us to confront how badly we have failed “at what the nation's founders saw as education's most basic purpose,”...

By the time I was running down Forty-Sixth Street to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City this past Friday night, I’d been consuming all things “Hamilton” for months.

I had the book. I’d watched every performance, documentary and interview available online. I’d shouted “LAFAYETTE” at least weekly while listening to the soundtrack in my office. I was so excited that I signed my away message A-Dot Schwenk that day.

But when I saw the block-long line for a bag check, an ambulance, a couple of SUVs and an armored truck (an easy-enough-to-ID motorcade for a D.C. resident), I knew that I was in for a particularly unique experience.

The lobby of the theater was jammed with people and rumors; by the time I’d grabbed a drink and a snack, I knew beyond a doubt that Vice President-elect Mike Pence was also in the house.

The elephant in the room

There’s not much that prepares you for playing a small part in one of the strangest, most made-for-Twitter controversies of 2016.

My friend and I quickly agreed that we hoped Pence, with his alarmingly anachronistic record on basic social policies, was being open-minded and was there...

Back in September, with the presidential election and Freddie Gray’s death as backdrops, my sister organization MarylandCAN hosted 50CAN’s annual summit in Baltimore, which included a dinner at the church of one of its board members. The city’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, where Gray lived and where I grew up many years ago, had been on my mind a lot during the days leading up to the trip, and I felt distant as we boarded the bus and started our ride to the church from downtown.

Baltimore is a distinct city, and it is a deeply familiar place if you have lived there. But as the bus turned onto Calhoun Street, I realized that it was familiar not because we were driving through Baltimore but because we were driving through my old neighborhood. Down the very streets I used to walk. On one side, there was the staccato of boarded-up row houses and the occasional stoop with small kids playing. On the other, the first school I attended; then the corner where I rode my bike. And, just out of sight, the little red house of my childhood—now an empty and collapsing husk.

I mentioned this, quietly, to...

Reading the tea leaves of presidential appointments is always a fun spectator sport in the swamp that is Washington, DC, but more so this year, with a President-Elect whose campaign was light on policy details, and especially on education, where Donald Trump uttered hardly more than a slogan or two.

So—after a well-earned and much-deserved hearty congratulations to her—let the speed-reading begin, now that Betsy DeVos has accepted the position as Trump’s Secretary of Education.

One thing seems clear from this pick: Trump is serious about doing something on school choice. That’s been DeVos’s passion for years, most recently in her role as Chairman of the American Federation for Children. But that won’t make Republican lawmakers as happy as you might think, because of the GOP’s longstanding internal conflict between pursuing reform from Washington and abiding by its federalist, small-government principles. No less a school choice fan than Cato’s Neal McCluskey wrote just yesterday that “the feds have no constitutional authority to promote school choice. Nor should we want them to.”

I suspect Trump will also come to appreciate DeVos’s political savvy—something that comes in handy for all cabinet secretaries. She was one of the first people in ed-reform...

On Wednesday, November 23, President-elect Donald Trump named Betsy DeVos as his pick for U.S. Secretary of Education.

DeVos is a philanthropist based in Michigan, where she has chaired the Republican party and influenced many of the state’s education policy decisions, including the expansion of vouchers and the passage of Michigan’s charter school law in 1993. She has also served as the chairman of the board of the American Federation for Children, as well as a board member of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Education Freedom Fund.

Here, in her own words, are some of Betsy DeVos’s thoughts on education:

1. On being picked for education secretary: “I am very excited to get to work and to talk about my thoughts and ideas on making American education great again. The status quo is not acceptable. I am committed to transforming our education system into the best in the world. However, out of respect for the United States Senate, it is most appropriate for me to defer expounding on specifics until they begin their confirmation process.” 2016.

2. What we should strive for in American education: “I believe every child, no...