My proposition is that illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time—more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare or homelessness because it drives everything else. Doing something about it is not just one more item on the American policy agenda, but should be at the top.”

In 1993, when the largely white and affluent readership of the Wall Street Journal read this editorial excerpt, the presumption was that the author must be referring to the unfortunate denizens of the urban ghetto. The face of illegitimacy then (and now) were low-income black and brown people incapable of delaying gratification.

Without urgent action, these impoverished people would continue to raise staggering numbers of children in single parent households. These poor souls would then perpetuate the pathologies that were figuratively and literally burning down their neighborhoods.

But the title of the essay was “The Coming White Underclass,” and the author was Charles Murray. Yes, this is the same Charles Murray who today is being apoplectically protested by college faculty and students who likely have never read this 1993 essay nor Coming Apart: The State of White America, which in 2012 foreshadowed the conditions that would...

Nine states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education to meet their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. And by May 3, seven more will likely do the same. These submissions describe how states will satisfy a number of ESSA’s requirements, including those concerning testing, accountability, and school improvement. This lattermost issue, which seeks to fix—or better yet replace—failing schools, is among the most important. Yet, in this area, these first plans are a very mixed bag.

Under the law, states must identify and take action on two types of troubled schools: those requiring “comprehensive support and improvement” (the lowest achieving 5 percent of Title I schools, plus high schools with low graduation rates), and those that need “targeted improvement” because they routinely fail a particular group such as low-income, minority, or special education students.

ESSA includes criteria states should use for placing schools in these two buckets, but it is intentionally silent on what they should do about them—even when schools require “rigorous intervention” because less substantial corrections, like counseling and professional development, haven’t lead to adequate improvement after a specified period of time (decided by...

A RAND report last year found that virtually every teacher in America—99 percent of elementary teachers; 96 percent of secondary school—draws upon “materials I developed and/or selected myself” in teaching English language arts. And where are they finding said materials? Mostly Google (94 percent) and Pinterest (87 percent). Thus it is hard to be anything other that cheered by a new RAND report that explores the use of math and ELA materials on EngageNY, “one of the first efforts to create coherent, standards-aligned Open Educational Resource curriculum materials.” Created by New York State, the site features full sets of Common Core-aligned ELA and math curricula for use in K–12 classrooms, all of it available for free.

Looking at usage patterns during the 2014–15 and 2015–16 school years, as well as survey results from the nationally representative American Teacher Panel survey, the authors of this case study want to know who is using EngageNY, which elements are the most popular, how it supports teaching and learning, and what explains the site’s “high uptake.” Unsurprisingly, EngageNY sees heavy use in New York State, however its math and ELA materials were accessed in every state, with particularly high traffic states that have adopted...

As we stress in our recent review of online instructional tools, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards seven years ago led to unprecedented levels of information and resource sharing across states. Technological advancements and a growing movement towards open-source educational resources have further contributed to a huge explosion of choice on the K–12 curricular marketplace. And while choice can be a good thing, many educators remain completely overwhelmed by the vast array of curricular and instructional resources now available.

A new Education Week special report released last month, comprising eight separate articles, aims to help educators “navigate [this] increasingly diverse marketplace of new—and often promising—curricular choices.”

The series kicks off with a helpful overview of several national organizations conducting independent reviews of curricular and instructional materials (such as EdReports, Learning List, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association). It highlights several recent state and district efforts to create curriculum from the ground up, such as Louisiana’s recent partnership with LearnZillion to create a new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum for the state, and weighs the relative advantages of online versus traditional print resources (such as real-time assessment and student data reporting features).


University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax has a provocative lead essay in the latest issue of National Affairs that warrants thoughtful attention by all concerned with boosting the educational opportunities of poor and minority youngsters. (Isn’t that just about everyone in education these days?)

She compares and contrasts the “no excuses” model of charter schools with sundry “diversity” initiatives—mainly socio-economic mixing à la Rick Kahlenberg—and finds the former possibly more effective and definitely more politically viable. “Educational efficacy,” she writes, “is not the only consideration in deciding which of these strategies should be favored and how much society should invest in each. In assessing the feasibility of these models, pragmatic and political considerations loom large.”

Professor Wax doesn’t overstate the results of no-excuses charters, candidly acknowledging the lack of long term data on such key measures as college completions. She also shares the surprising (at least to me) factoid that few graduates of Eva Moskowitz’s acclaimed no-excuses charter middle schools have gained admission to New York City’s selective-admission high schools. (None in 2014 or 2015, just six last year.) She admits that it’s hard to “scale” the no-excuses model, largely due to the paucity of capable, committed...

Lyall Swim

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series that will outline some foundational principles for successful adoption of innovative education reforms. The next post will explain the role of patience in effective innovation.

When was the last time you heard a corporation, university, government agency, or school champion the idea that innovation is overrated? I’m guessing that you might have an easier time trying to locate the Loch Ness monster. Even if you could find some company or school that actually believed innovation was overrated, odds are they’d never openly admit it.

In today’s world, being innovative is equated with success and progress. As a result, everyone wants to be innovative. But what does that really mean? I’m reminded of the classic scene from The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya turns to his boss, Vizzini, who has just used the word “inconceivable” for the umpteenth time and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The purpose of this series of blog posts is to make the case that creating great policy ideas, even identifying disruptive education innovations, is not enough if we really want to bring about real...

When (and how) should gifted education teachers apply general teaching principles vs. specialized instruction in their gifted education classrooms? In what circumstances are gifted learners like all others in classrooms around the world and when are they uniquely different? These questions plague the field with many implications regarding access, equity, and educational values. A new publication, Top twenty principles from psychology for pre-K–12 creative, talented, and gifted Students’ teaching and learning, published by the Center for Psychology in Schools and Education at the American Psychological Association in collaboration with scholars in our field, aims to help educators answer these questions.

Organized around a set of twenty research-based principles of learning, the synthesis introduces readers to each principle, how it is relevant to teachers, and provides a list of actions that teachers can take to incorporate these principles into their gifted education classroom to promote learning and development.

This document expands on a version that was originally developed for the broader education community by specifically targeting the K–12 education experiences of gifted and talented students. Research syntheses such as this one help practitioners make sure that they are applying effective practices in their classrooms.

Organized around five themes, the...

M. René Islas and Marc Webb

In school systems across our nation, high achievers are often invisible. The movie Gifted peers into the complicated process of educating, you guessed it, gifted children. The film is a hopeful reminder that we must not only see these children, but must understand, teach, and challenge young gifted minds for their sake and not ours.

Gifted tells the story of the struggles gifted children and their caregivers encounter when they lack access to gifted programs in their neighborhoods.

Mary Adler, the protagonist in Gifted, is a first-grader who vents her frustration when she has to sit through content she already knows. When her teacher asks, “What is three plus three,” Mary’s response is pure boredom, “Everyone knows that… What kind of school is this!?!” While Mary is fictitious, research shows that gifted children know nearly 50 percent of early elementary school material on the first day of class, meaning there are many children like Mary in our nation’s classrooms.

Fortunately, Mary’s teacher quickly understands that she is extraordinarily gifted and thrives on challenge and stimulation. Mary was fortunate to be in a classroom with a teacher who recognized her gifts and helped push for appropriate services.

Gifted children have...

The New York State Board of Regents this week refused to approve early renewals recommended by their authorizer for ten Success Academy charter schools. Among the ten were two National Blue Ribbon schools that placed among the top five in the entire state on last year’s annual math test. The lowest performing of the ten brought 75 percent of its students to proficiency or above on last year’s state reading test.

No matter. The Regents, “striking a firm tone when it comes to charter school oversight,” according to Chalkbeat reporter Monica Disare, kicked the early renewals back to SUNY as “premature.” This, mind you, was the considered judgment of the very same body that last month voted to make teaching a “literacy optional” profession in New York.

Is there any place in the nation where education reform has left the rails as quickly and completely as New York? Once a bright spot on the national reform landscape and a magnet for talent and innovation, New York has, with bewildering and humbling speed, become nearly the opposite. Stellar results posted by high-performing charters are dismissed, while New York City mayor Bill de Blasio invests hundreds of millions of dollars...

“Structural” education reformers—the kind who worry about school governance, choice, standards, accountability, ESSA, universal pre-K, graduation rates, collective bargaining, etc.—have long been faulted by “inside the classroom” educators for neglecting pedagogy and curriculum. When Hoover’s Koret Task Force was active, for example, Don Hirsch and (the former) Diane Ravitch regularly noted that fellow members such as Paul Hill, Paul Peterson, Rick Hanushek, and myself were obsessed with policy and structure and all but oblivious to what really matters in the education of children, namely what and how they are taught.

I was only 90 percent guilty, as I’ve been a Hirsch fan since the early 80’s, an admirer of his Core Knowledge curriculum and—more recently—a board member of his foundation. Diane and I co-authored a book in 1987 (What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?) that was primarily a plea for greater content knowledge, and I co-authored a 1999 book with Bill Bennett and John Cribb (The Educated Child) that brimmed with Core Knowledge-style content, as well as skills. In other words, I’m a true believer in the centrality of a first-rate, content-rich curriculum—and it’s topmost in what I look for as I help our kids navigate their kids’ schooling options.