Shannon Garrison

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

With the transition to the Common Core, one of the biggest challenges teachers face is finding high-quality, relevant, nonfiction texts. Many of the traditional reading programs do not have the balance of fiction and nonfiction for which the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call, and as a result, a lot of teachers struggle to find the resources they need to effectively prepare students.

As a teacher, I have spent countless hours trying to find appropriate nonfiction texts that I can use with a classroom of diverse learners. I have struggled to find engaging articles that could be read by my English-language learners and still challenge those students who are reading above grade level. Thankfully, last year, I found Newsela.

Newsela overview is an education website focused on building student reading comprehension by providing high-quality news articles and real-time assessments for students in grades 2–12. The site offers both a free version and a more extensive paid version called Newsela PRO. As many...

Shannon Garrison

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

The shift to the Common Core State Standards has ushered in a renewed focus on effective instructional techniques for reading instruction. As Common Core’s reading standards state, “To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students must read widely and deeply from among a broad range of high-quality, increasingly challenging literary and informational texts.” In this vein, teachers are seeking how best to engage their students in text analysis, ways to develop and utilize text-dependent questions and methods for integrating more complex texts, and for other effective strategies to strengthen students’ reading comprehension.

One promising instructional strategy, developed based on reading-comprehension research showing the importance of background knowledge and vocabulary, is text sets. Text sets are collections of texts tightly focused on a specific topic. They may include varied genres (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and so forth) and media (such as blogs, maps, photographs, art, primary-source documents, and audio recordings).

Text sets can be organized in many different ways. Although all high-quality text...

Three recent experiences have served to remind me how much I miss—and how much the country and the cause of better education were diminished by the loss of—the late Albert Shanker, who passed away in 1997.

While writing our new book on charter schooling, Bruno Manno and Brandon Wright and I were urged by our expert editor at Harvard Education Press to recall the origins of this reform and explain what its founders had in mind. Which drew us back not only to Ray Budde and Ted Kolderie and Ember Reichgott and the other Minnesotans but also to Al’s seminal National Press Club speech on March 31, 1988, and the New York Times column that followed a few months later. Titled “A Charter for Change,” it set forth a vision of new teacher-created schools or schools-within-schools with many of the characteristics that mark today’s charter sector. Although Al was never able—on this issue as on many other reforms that he knew were needed—to get the AFT’s state and local affiliates to embrace his visionary thinking, his restlessness with the status quo, his boundless creativity, and his statesman-stature in the education field cause him legitimately to be viewed...

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been a long-time, energetic, enthusiastic defender of the Common Core standards. That’s because those of us at the Fordham Institute believe these academic standards to be much stronger, in a variety of ways, than what preceded them in most states. They aren’t perfect, but they represent an ambitious, good-faith effort to identify the knowledge and skills kids need in order to be on track—from kindergarten through high school—for college and/or a remunerative career. And when it comes to math, the standards in the early grades are particularly strong, focused as they are on basic arithmetic and “math facts.”

That said, certain elements of the standards have been driving parents crazy.

So it was probably only a matter of time until my karma caught up with me. And so it happened the other day: My third-grader came home from his (Common Core-teaching) public school and asked, with eight-year-old exasperation, “Why do I have to explain my answer in math class? I just know it.”

I decided to turn to the Google gods for an answer—a suggestion of a script I might use to help him understand why it’s important to...

Summer learning loss affects all children, but low-income students, who don’t have the same access to enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers, tend to fall further behind during these months, widening the already yawning achievement gaps. Voluntary summer learning programs are one way to combat this slide.

A new study from the Wallace Foundation and RAND Corporation takes a look at five such programs in different urban school districts around the U.S. (Boston, MA; Rochester, NY; Pittsburg, PA; Dallas, TX; and Duval County, FL) and determines what factors were most likely to produce successful results. While the district’s programs may have varied in their approaches, there were several consistent factors among them. All were full-day, five-day-a-week, free-of-charge voluntary programs that lasted a minimum of five weeks. They all also provided three hours of academic instruction a day from certified teachers in small classes no larger than fifteen students. They even offered free transportation and meals, along with various enrichment activities such as art, music, and sports.

The study included 5,637 rising fourth graders, 3,192 of whom were randomly selected to partake in the programs for two consecutive summers (the treatment group), while the rest, who were not selected, were...

“As policies are debated, we often have to rely on research that is ill-suited to the task. Its methodology is frequently too weak to form a firm foundation for policy,” write Sarah Cohodes and Susan Dynarski in this Brookings brief on Massachusetts’s ballot proposal to lift the state’s charter cap. “This is not one of those times.” To the contrary, they note, “it is hard to think of an education policy for which the evidence is more clear.”

Well, thanks for clearing that up.

Like many states, Massachusetts sets a cap on the number of charter schools, as well as the share of district funds that can be spent on charters. A “smart cap” established in 2010 prioritizes applications from charter operators with a proven track record that wish to expand in low-performing districts. At present, there are seventy-eight charter schools in Massachusetts, while tens of thousands of students languish on waiting lists. The ballot initiative would raise the cap, allowing twelve new charters to be approved and opened each year.

If improving outcomes for underserved kids is your goal, voting to raise the cap would appear to be a no-brainer. Massachusetts is home to some of the nation’s highest...

What happens to talented students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds? American education reform has focused on students reaching minimal levels of proficiency, but it has failed to engage and support the most promising children from overlooked communities. The result is an incalculable injustice to our kids and our nation.

On Wednesday, September 7, the Institute for Education Policy, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and the Ingenuity Project hosted a conversation in Baltimore on why the “excellence gap” is worthy of attention from educators, policy makers, and the civil rights community.

Participants included:

  • Jonathan A. Plucker, Julian C. Stanley Professor of Talent Development, School of Education and Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University
  • James L. Moore, III, EHE Distinguished Professor of Urban Education and Executive Director of the Todd Anthony Bell National Resource Center on the African American Male, The Ohio State University
  • Mike Petrilli, President, Thomas B. Fordham Institute; and Executive Editor, Education Next
  • Ariel Bowers, Integration and Test Engineer, James Webb Space Telescope; and Ingenuity Project, Class of 2009
  • David Steiner, Executive Director, Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy

The discussion was anchored in Jonathan Plucker’s latest book, Excellence Gaps in Education: Expanding Opportunities for Talented Students,...

Last October, we lamented New York City’s neglect of high-ability students, particularly in its low-income neighborhoods. Since then, the district and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have taken steps to mitigate the problem.

Unfortunately, their efforts fall way short.

We surfaced multiple problems in Gotham’s approach to gifted-and-talented education, beginning with the once-a-year entrance exams that determine admission to the city’s skimpy and badly distributed supply of such opportunities for primary and middle school students.

Scored with a single citywide cutoff level, it’s a disaster for poor kids. In parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, for example, just 14 percent of test-takers passed the January 2016 test. In parts of the South Bronx, it was 15 percent. Yet on Manhattan’s Upper East and West Sides, a whopping 46 percent reached the threshold.

These wealth-correlated pass rates mirror the city’s supply of gifted-education opportunities. Four of the poorest of Gotham’s thirty-two school districts have no gifted program to speak of, and many others have too few and do little to get the word out about those they’ve got.

This summer, Fariña and company launched an experimental program to make these programs more inclusive by targeting ill-served neighborhoods, such as those mentioned above and...

By Jonathan Plucker, Matthew Makel, Karen Rambo-Hernandez, Michael Matthews, and Scott Peters

Nearly all aspects of America’s schools are built upon age-based grade levels and corresponding grade-level expectations: standards, instruction, curriculum, and assessment, among others. This reinforces the implicit message that performing on grade level is the primary purpose of schooling. Yet it also ignores an important question: How many students already perform one or more years above grade level on their first day of school?

The answer to this question has profound implications for American education policy and for the organization of schools. If a mere 2 percent of students perform above grade level, for example, the present obsession with grade-level proficiency might make sense. But what if it were a far larger proportion? If one in every five students has surpassed that criterion before the school year even starts, policymakers would need to re-think the merits of an age-based, grade-level focus.

In a recent policy brief, four colleagues addressed this question and found that very large percentages of students (between 15 percent and 45 percent) are performing above grade level—and that these percentages represent staggeringly large numbers of students. In California alone, for example, this group comprises more than 1.4 million pupils.

To reach these conclusions, we examined five...

In a searing exposé, reminiscent of Upton Sinclair and the heyday of journalistic muckraking, the Houston Chronicle has assembled persuasive evidence that Texas has placed a de facto cap of 8.5 percent on the number of kids who can be placed in special education. Assuming it’s true—state officials seemed to waffle, fiddle, and redefine when asked tough questions by the reporter—this would go a long way toward explaining why the Lone Star State has for years had a rate of special-ed placements below just about everyplace else in the union, and far below a handful of jurisdictions (such as Massachusetts) that are pushing 20 percent. The national figure is about 13 percent, but the state-to-state variability is wide—although Texas, along with California and a handful of others, has long been a low-end outlier.

The protestations, lamentations, and handwringing that swiftly followed were to be expected—Matt Ladner weighed in (on Jay Greene’s blog) within hours, for example, terming Texas “nothing short of disgraceful” and urging that it try Florida-style special-ed vouchers—and the feds will surely look into whether Texas has violated the Individuals...