Boredom. We’ve all experienced it many times. Though we tend to think of it as unpleasant but endurable and harmless tedium, some research now suggests boredom may be harmful to our health—it is potentially linked to everything from weight gain, to depression, to physical pain—even to cheating on one’s spouse!

Boredom may exist in elementary or middle school, but it is endemic to high school. Indeed, it’s practically a rite of adolescent passage to profess one’s perennial state of ennui—as if no one or nothing is cool enough to sustain the interest of a sixteen-year-old.

What educators need to take seriously is the distinction between typical teenage whining and signs that students are actually disengaging from their formal education. Such disengagement is a portent of trouble, and not just because student engagement is closely linked to academic achievement.[i] Among high school students who consider dropping out, half cite lack of engagement with the school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the schoolwork they are asked to do.[ii]

Teachers, of course, play a central role in engaging students in learning. A...

Rekha Balu and Barbara Condliffe

With the expansion of school choice systems, policymakers and researchers are increasingly focused on making the school choice process accessible and clear for families. From prekindergarten to high school selection, school districts and third-party organizations have revamped their school-finder websites to introduce more graphic displays of information and changed the kinds of information they present to include factors beyond academics (such as travel times).[1]

Essentially, school district offices of enrollment and outreach are acting as “choice architects” for parents and students: those who design the environment or organize the context in which people make decisions. This brief offers guidance for current and aspiring school choice architects, including school districts and external support organizations that help families with the school selection process. It draws on insights from MDRC’s extensive work with nearly thirty government agencies, nonprofits, and educational institutions around the country testing different choice architectures—the presentation and framing of choices—and distills key lessons for school choice.

1. Present school choice as a sequence of decisions

School choice is not just one choice. It is a multistep process that requires families to move through increasingly complex decisions: (1) when and how to start the process, (2) where...

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...