“We should stop sentimentalizing the traditional public school and open ourselves to a different way of doing public education,” writes Ashley Rogers Berner in her invigorating and highly readable new book, Pluralism and American Public Education: No One Way to School. “There is nothing to fear and much to gain from doing so.”

Berner, the Deputy Director of the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins, where she is also an assistant professor, traces much our educational malaise to a pair of historical “wrong turns”: the nineteenth century decision to impose a uniform structure on American education, and the abandonment of a traditional academic curricula. As a result of these twin sins, the majority of our children attend geographically determined, state-run schools. And the majority of those aren’t very good.

The book’s strength is its systematic dismantling of the most common arguments against pluralism and the “political arrangement” that privileges state-run schools and entrenches mediocrity, particularly for our neediest students. Only state schools can create good citizens? Wrong. “Longstanding research suggests that private schools, particularly Catholic ones, often provide better civic preparation than public schools,” Berner counters. Private education worsens inequity? Nonsense. Non-public schools have shown more success than traditional...

There’s much lamenting about how high-quality research tends not to inform classroom practice and how to fix that problem. Enter the What Works Clearinghouse’s (WWC) “Educator’s Practice Guides.” The WWC has produced twenty-two such guides over the last nine years on sundry topics that should interest educators. Their most recent installment is Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively. As someone who once taught secondary students how to write (yes, it was a long time ago!), I was keenly interested in what it had to say. Unfortunately, it misses the mark.

First a bit on how the guides are developed: the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) identifies a topic and recruits a panel chair with national expertise in the topic. That chair, working with IES, selects expert panelists, which always includes two practitioners, to co-author the guide. Relevant studies are identified through panelist recommendations and a systematic literature search, and then reviewed against the WWC study design standards, which prioritize random assignment and rigorous quasi-experimental designs. Panelists write the practice guide that boils down takeaways from the culled research. Their findings are subject to peer review to ensure that the cited evidence supports the recommendations.

The panel for Teaching...

It’s become a cliché to say “good riddance to 2016,” what with its nasty presidential campaign, tragic world events, and general ill feelings of strife and conflict, here and abroad. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Father Time!

Before we close the books on this vexed year, however, it’s important to pause and begin to understand how we got to this place, if only to help us truly leave it behind. Education, as always, has a key role to play. (More on that in a bit.)

“This place” is an America where many of our fellow citizens and communities are hurting badly, and feel little hope for the future. This pain is particularly acute among the white working class, in vast stretches of the deindustrialized heartland. The election returns made that clear, but it can also be measured in shortened life expectancy, the burgeoning opioid epidemic, faltering civic institutions, and much more. As many have pointed out, the suffering endured by Donald Trump’s political base is hardly foreign to other members of our polity—many African Americans, especially—who have long dealt with social and economic challenges in their neighborhoods. But its depth and breadth feel new...

The two most important changes in American education policy over the past several decades have been the expansion of school choice and changes to school accountability. So far, they’ve generally been good for our country and our kids. Yet they’ve largely left Catholic schools behind—and the leaders of Catholic education haven’t tried very hard either to resist these changes or to take advantage of them.

Resistance, mind you, probably would have been futile, although Catholic educators could surely have done more to help shape these changes. But mostly they stood by while change happened. And while those changes were happening in public policy, Catholic schools, overall, seemed like victims of a slow but serious wasting disease.

The statistics are glum. Private school enrollments have declined overall in the past decade, but Catholic school enrollments have declined faster—and started declining earlier. School closures abound. The remaining schools are often located in places where few Catholics live. Many kids attending them, particularly in urban areas, are not themselves Catholic. A lot of Catholic parents no longer feel strongly that their children should attend parochial schools for purposes of religious formation. The economics of the schools have become extremely stressed. Their governance, management,...

Unlike the Common Core, we at Fordham have never been big fans of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and thus have urged states not to adopt them. But what about efforts to revise them?

Massachusetts did just that with new Science and Technology/Engineering learning standards last spring—adding to, editing, and removing certain NGSS content, while still allowing educators in the state to benefit from existing NGSS-aligned curriculum and instructional resources. A white paper released by the Pioneer Institute earlier this month examines whether those new standards contain rigorous and appropriate content, and how they stack up against NGSS and the state’s earlier 2006 science standards.

Academic standards are learning goals that define what students should know and be able to do by a given grade. They’re intended to drive what gets taught in classrooms. As authors Paul R. Gross (who also authored our NGSS review) and Ze’ev Wurman stress, standards should clearly identify “specific student knowledge or skills—that is, a performance requirement.” Unfortunately, the study finds that Massachusetts’ new science standards fall short of this goal and share several major issues and flaws with the NGSS Standards from which they were adapted. For one, several important...

This study compares the practices of Michigan charter schools to those of neighboring district schools based on a survey of administrators in both sectors that was conducted in fall 2013. (Note that the study does not consider outcomes, only practices.) The survey was sent to the leaders of every Michigan charter school that was open during the 2012–13 and 2013–14 school years, as well as whichever district schools the plurality of each charter school’s students would have attended based on their neighborhood. Eighty-five percent of charter school leaders and 76 percent of district school leaders responded to the survey, meaning that 435 schools (226 charters and 209 district schools) are represented in the study.

Overall, the results reveal many similarities between the two sectors. For example, district and charter schools offer similar amounts of instructional time, and have similar academic calendars. They’re also equally likely to assign kids to reading classes based on their ability (though charters are slightly more likely to stream in math).

More surprising, principals in both sectors report incorporating a “no excuses” approach to education. For example, 82 percent of charter schools and 67 percent of district schools require that students sign behavioral contracts. Similarly, 81...

A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) examines the quality of 875 undergraduate preparation programs for elementary teachers. While some gains are visible since NCTQ’s 2014 report, teachers emerging from most of these programs are still ill-prepared to enter the classroom.

Reviewers scrutinized programs in 396 public and 479 private colleges and universities in D.C. and all fifty states, programs enrolling anywhere from a handful of prospective teachers to 1,700. They used an A–F grading system to rank programs based on three criteria: admissions (selection criteria), knowledge (coverage of early reading, math, and other content), and practice (student teaching, with a focus on classroom management). They also analyzed each program’s foundational materials, including syllabi, course textbooks, and observation forms. And they employed additional research, international comparisons, and consultation from experts on teaching practice.

Reviewers find that programs are somewhat more selective than they were in 2014. NCTQ has shown before a correlation between program selectivity and teacher effectiveness. Yet only 26 percent of programs draw most of their applicants from the top-half of the college-bound population (based on the GPA or SAT/ACT score required by the program to enroll). And a measly 13 percent...

2016 has been, in many ways, one for the history books. From Michael Phelps’ final Olympic tear to Donald Trump’s improbable electoral victory, from the Cubs’ 108-years-in-the-making World Series win to a continued—and provocative—discussion around race in America, the past year has been a whirlwind of events and discussions that cut to the core of what it means to be America and American. Those shifts—as well as more specific changes to education policy—similarly dominated conversation on our blogs.

The two lists that follow comprise fifteen of our most-read articles and, together, are a look at the tumultuous year that was. The first ten articles come from Fordham staff members, and the last five were written by guests.

The top ten Fordham-authored posts of 2016

1. President-elect Donald Trump quotes about education By Brandon Wright

We originally published this post in 2015 when Donald Trump announced his candidacy, but we updated it regularly throughout 2016 as the campaign progressed. Viewed approximately 75,000 times in 2016, perhaps the post’s popularity should have clued us in that something was resonating with Mr. Trump’s campaign.

2. The Left's drive to push conservatives out of education reform By Robert Pondiscio

Tying into broader conversations

Victoria McDougald, David Griffith, Kaitlin Pennington, and Sara Mead

Teacher evaluation was one of President Obama’s signature policies, and a controversial element of education reform during his tenure. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which does not require states and districts to implement performance-based teacher evaluations like No Child Left Behind waivers did, teacher evaluation policy has largely fallen out of the public narrative. But that does not mean states or districts know how they are going to proceed with teacher evaluation policy—in fact, its future remains unclear in this new era of lessened federal oversight.

In December 2016, Bellwether Education Partners and The Thomas B. Fordham Institute independently released two reports centered on teacher evaluation and its consequences. Bellwether’s report summarizes the teacher evaluation policy landscape and points out potential risks for teacher evaluation in the wake of the passage of ESSA. The Fordham Institute’s report studies twenty-five districts to determine if those districts can terminate veteran teachers once evaluation systems have deemed them ineffective.

Both reports offer a glimpse into ongoing challenges and opportunities with teacher evaluation reform, but they have very different analyses. To understand our different approaches and the places where we might overlap on teacher evaluation policy, Bellwether and Fordham hosted an...

Every once in a while, American K–12 education is overwhelmed by the conviction that its basic design is obsolete and that it needs somehow to reinvent schooling. One hears statements such as “If Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today from a century-long slumber, the only institutions he’d recognize would be schools and cemeteries.” We hear of education being stuck in an “industrial model.” And we observe educators, policymakers, and philanthropists scurrying to replace the schools of their childhoods with something different for their children and grandchildren to attend. We always seem to be, in the memorable phrase of Larry Cuban and the late David Tyack, “Tinkering Toward Utopia”—although those engaged in what generally ends up resembling tinkering actually fancy themselves to be bold revolutionaries.

We went through a phase of this a century ago when educators and policymakers sought to apply Frederick Taylor’s principles of “scientific management” to our disorderly collection of locally devised schools.

We went through a further round in the 1920s and ‘30s as notions of child-centered education and “social efficiency” permeated the schools.

We went through another round in the 1960s and 70s as “open classrooms” proliferated, schools were desegregated and detracked, and sundry curricular...