A few weeks from now, my wife and I will pack our only child and all her gear into the back of our rapidly aging Ford Escape with a big new college decal on the back window. We will drive her across five states and 500 miles to Chapel Hill, N.C. Interstate 95 will henceforth be known in our home as the Trail of Tears.

There is nothing novel about my family’s bittersweet road trip. And despite how anachronistic and inefficient college has become, I expect and hope that the sight of cars packed to the windows with bedding, clothes, and the trappings of teenage life will remain a late summer fixture on America’s highways for generations to come.

Few spheres of American life are more ripe for disruption by technology and price pressures than our higher education system. College can be difficult to defend in the face of runaway tuition, crushing debt, and educational outcomes of questionable value. Undergraduate teaching is too often treated as an afterthought at major research universities. The next scandal with big-time college sports is never far away. Good jobs requiring technical skills go unfilled while philosophy majors make cappuccinos at Starbucks. Students still pile...

Erika Sanzi

It’s no secret that principals are pretty stoked when students who transfer into their schools have a history of high scores on required annual tests. School leaders feel great pressure to perform in the public eye, and having a few more kids to bump those numbers up is certainly a welcome surprise.

It’s usually light hearted and all in good fun when they say, “ooh, we’ll gladly take her,” knowing that with each academically strong test taker, their overall school profile is likely to at least hold steady and hopefully even improve. The more 4s and 5s their students get on PARCC or Smarter Balanced, the better they look to district and state leaders, as well as parents, reporters, prospective home buyers, and the community at large.

I have no problem with a school leader wanting to land a good headline for performing well in every way, including on mandated tests. Who wouldn’t want a new kid coming in who scored double 5s on PARCC last year?

But this relationship needs to be a reciprocal one in which all parties get what they need. And in far too many schools, that symbiosis is missing.

The high achieving test...

As readers may recall, I’m in the middle of a series of posts about ways we can improve our schools beyond changing public policy. If this is only mildly familiar, it might be because of the hiatus since my last contribution, which is due to my procrastinating. And for good reason, I believe: I have very mixed feelings about the argument I’m about to make.

The argument is simple: If we want to improve our schools and school systems, we need to do much better at recruiting, developing, placing, and supporting effective leaders. That much is plain common sense, and not very controversial. Various strains of “effective schools” research going back decades find that leadership is essential for excellence.

Where I get hung up, though, is with the idea that great leaders can make schools—and especially school districts—work well, given the dysfunction of the larger system within which they must work, and the Gordian knot that’s been tied by decades of contradictory, often compromising, laws and regulations, not to mention the impossible politics often created by unruly elected school boards. (A knot that reform—especially charter schooling—has tried to cut.)

Strong leaders are surely better...

Frank C. Worrell and Rena F. Subotnik

Every instructional strategy, from direct instruction to the flipped classroom, elicits both negative and positive outcomes depending on when, where, and how it is employed. When it comes to using competition, however, schools tend to favor cooperative learning as the preferred approach for inter-student activities designed to increase learning and motivation.

Negative views of competition stem from early research purporting that its use in most contexts led to undermined motivation, negative self-concept, and anxiety on the part of participants.  However, research on resiliency highlights the fact that adverse conditions do not universally lead to despair; they may, in fact, fuel motivation for high levels of achievement. Failure to achieve valued goals (e.g., winning a competition) may hurt, but the result does not have to be debilitating. In fact, experiences with competition during youth present opportunities to fail under safe conditions. In doing so, they provide lessons on how to manage the range of emotions and possible behavioral responses to setbacks, particularly for those who have been sheltered from such experiences. Thus, participating in competitions also facilitates teaching about coping skills in the face of disappointment.

Another important benefit of competition is deriving feedback that leads to self-reflection and improvement. If...

When it comes to reform for urban school systems, effective community organizing is crucial. Community Organizing for Stronger Schools: Strategies and Successes takes an in-depth look at the practice and how it affects schools.

The authors conducted a six-year longitudinal study on eight groups across the United States, all of which had been in existence for at least five years: the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, Oakland Community Organizations, Chicago ACORN, Austin Interfaith, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope, People Acting for Community Together, Community Coalition, and the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project. The data sources included: archival documents, adult member survey, youth survey, observations, interviews, teacher survey, public administration data, and media coverage. Dating back to 2003, the study is one of the largest ever to examine the relationship between community organizing and educational outcomes.

Across the sites studied, community organizing was shown to increase awareness of the needs of low-income parents and youth of color. This organizing was characterized by frequent meetings and interactions between organizers and education leaders that typically included discussions around joint reform efforts and implementation.

More district resources were also allocated for low-performing, high-poverty schools, and new policy initiatives echoed the proposals of community organizers. For...

This report from Civic Enterprises and Hart Research Associates provides a trove of data on students experiencing homelessness—a dramatically underreported and underserved demographic, according to the U.S. Department of Education—and makes policy recommendations (some more actionable than others) to help states, schools, and communities better serve students facing this disruptive life event.

To glean the information, researchers conducted surveys of homeless youth and homeless liaisons (school staff funded by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act who have the most in-depth knowledge regarding students facing homelessness), as well as telephone focus groups and in-depth interviews with homeless youth around the country. The findings are sobering.

  • In 2013–141.3 million students experienced homelessness—a 100 percent increase from 2006–07. The figure is still likely understated given the stigma associated with self-reporting and the highly fluid nature of homelessness. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, homelessness includes not just living “on the streets” but also residing with other families, living out of a motel or shelter, and facing the imminent loss of housing (eviction) without resources to obtain other permanent housing. Almost seven in ten formerly homeless youth reported feeling uncomfortable talking with school staff about their housing situation. Homeless students often don’t describe themselves as such and
  • ...

A new Mathematica study examines whether principal evaluations are accurate predictors of principal effectiveness as measured by student achievement. Researchers have done some research on the validity of teacher evaluation measures, but principal measures are less studied.

The authors examine a principal evaluation measure called the “Framework for Leadership” (FLL), which was developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as part of a mandated revision of the state’s principal evaluation process. Superintendents and other district supervisors use the tool to assess principals, and it includes twenty leadership practices grouped into four domains. These domains comprise practices that, when employed by principals, the state believes can raise student achievement. The four domains are strategic/cultural leadership, systems leadership, leadership for learning, and professional and community leadership (more on some of these later).

The study uses data from the pilot implementation of the FLL—which had no consequences for principals who participated—during the 2013–14 school year. The study focuses on 305 of the 517 principals in the pilot for whom the analysts had suitable administrative data. It included state test scores for all Pennsylvania students who were administered state math and reading tests from 2006–07 to 2013–14, in grades 3–8 and the eleventh grade....

Late July might be famous for potato chips and trips to the beach. But it’s also the time when America’s inequality, like the hot summer sun, is at its zenith, particularly for our children. Affluent kids are spending their days (and often their nights) at camp or traveling the world with their families, picking up knowledge, skills, and social connections that will help them thrive at school and beyond. Needless to say, these experiences are seldom accessible to their less affluent peers.

As Robert Putnam argued in his landmark book Our Kids—and again in his recent report, Closing the Opportunity Gap—there is a growing class gulf in spending on children’s enrichment and extracurricular activities (things like sports, summer camps, piano lessons, and trips to the zoo). As the upper-middle class grows larger and richer, it is spending extraordinary sums to enhance its kids’ experience and education; meanwhile, other children must make do with far less. (Putnam got the data for his chart from this study.)

Source: Kornrich, S. & Furstenberg, F. (2013), Investing in children: changes in parental spending on children, 1972-2007

More critically, that...

Janette Boazman

We hear parents, teachers, and students use the word hope every day. But what exactly does it mean? When we read or hear the word, we might think of a positive outlook or desire, yet its true definition is nebulous. It implies that something will automatically or magically occur without effort. Even though having an optimistic outlook is important to overall well-being, a person with an unstructured and immeasurable concept of hope is prey to vague expectations—as if he is a passive bystander waiting for an outcome to come about.

What happens when it is instead viewed as an active construct? Studies have found that hope, when used in a proactive manner, can become a useful framework to help achieve goals and contribute to personal and psychological health.

Positive Psychology: A Strengths Approach

Historically, psychologists have approached the study of psychological well-being from a deficit perspective, focusing on treating and alleviating pathologies. Over time, they have taken an increasingly proactive and positive approach to the study and development of individuals and their happiness. Positive psychologists focus on developing personal strengths, fostering the growth of positive responses to adversity, and strengthening social and emotional foundations in patient’s lives. They study well-being, contentment, and...

Tim Kaine, the junior United States senator from Virginia, is the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, running alongside Hillary Clinton. The duo will face off in November against the Republication Party’s Donald Trump and Mike Pence and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and William Weld.

Education issues are familiar to Kaine. He was the governor of Virginia before becoming a U.S. senator, and his wife, Anne Holton, has served as Virginia’s secretary of education. Here are some of his views:

1. The Every Student Succeeds Act: “I’m pleased to report that Congress passed a bipartisan education reform bill in December 2015 called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This bill replaces the long-expired and broken legislation known as No Child Left Behind. It will make changes that educators and families support, like decreasing the emphasis on standardized testing and giving states the flexibility to close achievement gaps.” July 2016.

2. Free college: “We will make college debt-free for everybody.” July 2016.

3. Importance of education: “Education was the key to everything we wanted to achieve as a state [when I was governor of Virginia], and it’s the key to everything we want to...