Melody Arabo

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

Many educators struggle with finding resources that can help educators teach reading skills in a comprehensive yet individualized way. In a typical elementary classroom of thirty or more students, children can range in ability so much that instruction must be drastically differentiated to meet each pupil’s needs. As a third-grade teacher, I am constantly on the hunt for tools that can minimize my preparation time and maximize instructional time with kids. Lexia Reading Core5 is a promising reading program that can help teachers meet those goals.


According to its website, Lexia Reading Core5 “supports educators in providing differentiated literacy instruction for students of all abilities in grades pre-K–5” (as defined by Carol Tomlinson, differentiated instruction is “an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms”). The site also includes embedded assessments that deliver “norm-referenced performance data and analysis without interrupting the flow of instruction to administer a test” (norm referenced is a type of test that reveals whether...

Lisette Paretlow

In a recent blog post on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog, writer Kay Hymowitz erroneously stated that “implicit bias—assuming there is such a thing, and that we know how to measure it—has no clear real-life consequences.”

Sorry, Ms. Hymowitz, but that is simply false. Implicit bias most certainly does exist, and it has some very significant and often severe real-life consequences.

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in psychology to have been exposed to the overwhelming evidence that implicit bias exists in our society. I would argue that just being an empathetic and observant person is enough to make implicit bias obvious in our day-to-day lives. In fact, one can simply turn to the front page of just about any newspaper to see implicit bias play out in instances of police brutality against communities of color and blatant Islamophobia plaguing communities throughout the country.

But aside from anecdotal evidence, there is also an abundance of hard data affirming the existence of implicit bias.

Ms. Hymowitz’s critique of implicit bias was based on a Yale study performed in preschool classrooms, in which they concluded that implicit bias led...

Kevin Hesla

A new article by Matthew Davis of the University of Pennsylvania and Blake Heller of Harvard University entitled “Raising More than Test Scores” looks at the long-term outcomes of attending the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago. Founded in 1999, Noble Street Charter School has since expanded to a network of sixteen high schools serving more than 11,000 students. Noble’s schools largely serve low-income and minority students: 98 percent of students are minorities and 89 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The authors set out to answer the following questions: Do “no excuses” charter high schools merely help students succeed on standardized tests? Or are their students more likely to succeed after they leave school behind? And are their results due to test prep or true learning?

Using experimental and nonexperimental approaches, the authors find that attending one of Noble’s schools has a significant and positive impact on ACT scores, high school graduation, college enrollment, college quality, and college persistence:

  • Noble students enter high school with slightly lower test performance than the average Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student. However, by eleventh grade, Noble students score markedly higher than the CPS average (and the charter average) on
  • ...
Sharif El-Mekki

I’m concerned about the growing backlash against what are referred to as “no excuses” schools. Too often, critics depict overly-rigid approaches to discipline that pave the road from school to prison.

I agree that too much rigidity can be problematic and can harm efforts to build community in a school. But I am also nervous that the pendulum will, as often happens in education, swing too far to the other extreme.

“No Excuses” Worked for Me

I have a slightly different opinion of both the origin and role of no-excuses policies in schools. As a student who attended a school that had a no-excuses policy, I benefitted from it tremendously, and so did my classmates.

We were taught to be self-disciplined, inspired by the Black Panthers and a long list of Freedom Fighters on whose shoulders we stood (Malcolm, Martin, Fannie, Huey, Sojourner, Ella—the list goes on). At a very early age, we knew these civil rights legends we dreamt of emulating didn’t make a ton of excuses.

Our teachers knew that the Black children in front of them needed to work twice as hard in order to gain any ground....

Jennifer Cross, Ph.D., and Stephen Schroth, Ph.D

Mastery-based learning, also called competency-based or proficiency-based learning, is a program of personalized, differentiated education where students’ progress is based on their successful achievement of learning objectives, rather than prescribed “seat time” in a specific grade level. Typically, these programs require students to demonstrate proficiency through frequent assessments before advancing to the next learning activity or objective. Several states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, are currently exploring the implementation of competency-based education programs in their districts, which will improve educational opportunities for gifted children in the regular classroom—but only if administered properly.

While mastery-based learning is more likely to be considered for secondary school students, with the proper supports, schools at all levels can successfully put mastery-based learning programs in place. Important considerations include:

  • Students in mastery-based programs should receive differentiation according to their individual learning needs.
  • Assessments that demonstrate degree of mastery must be grounded in the disciplines that they measure—not other skills, such as teacher-pleasing behaviors.
  • Technology may be used as the platform for student learning (online courses) and for the assessment of student progress, but not exclusively; students still require teacher interaction and guidance.
  • The program offers a continuum of services to gifted children as they
  • ...

Find out why Fordham’s Mike Petrilli might have his school-reformer card repealed. Watch this two minute clip, from a Progressive Policy Institute panel on ESSA accountability, about why expecting all students to attain college and career readiness would be a big mistake.

View the entire event here

Melody Arabo

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.

Curriculet is tagged as “the best independent reading program available. Period.” But does it live it up to its promise? Let’s take a look at its key strengths and weaknesses.

Organization and content

Curriculet’s content is organized logically and is well written and clear, for students and teachers alike. However, though there is a basic search function to locate book titles, it could be greatly improved by enhanced sorting and refining options (such as filtering by individual grade and cost simultaneously).

Because the books come from reputable publishers, I found all of them to be high quality and age appropriate (they are digital versions of the same books that can be bought in bookstores). There are a wide range of text types, as called for by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and the questions and tasks are very text dependent (that is, they require students to refer back to the text to answer). Unfortunately, Curriculet does not currently provide questions, videos, and...

Melody Arabo

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.

It’s October and you’re finally settling in to the school year. You’ve gotten to know your students, assessed their reading levels, and planned diligently for instruction. Now you just need the right tools—more specifically, a range of text that can meet their needs. Enter Curriculet.

Curriculet is an online digital library of books and news articles intended to be used as independent reading to supplement any curriculum. According to its website, “More than 1,000,000 students and teachers in 10,000 schools love to learn and read on Curriculet,” and its resources are accessible on all devices. With books and articles geared toward grades 3–12, Curriculet strengthens a classroom library by offering online books and texts that teachers can individually or collectively assign to students. (Note: Curriculet was recently acquired by the Waterford Research Institute, a nonprofit edtech and research center. While all resources are still currently available, future plans for the site are forthcoming.)

Curriculet’s website has a clean and professional feel, with...

Regular readers know that I’m something of an apologist for “screen time,” at least within limits. That’s because there are lots of great shows, documentaries, and apps out there that can engage young minds, build critical content knowledge, and even help to create connections across the many chasms so prevalent in America today. That’s why, in the past, I’ve offered a list of the best children’s TV shows, created a collection of educational videos available for streaming, and put forward some of my favorite educational apps. (Traditionalists, fear not: I’ve also compiled a list of 100 great children’s books, The Kindergarten Canon.)

But it struck me recently that I’ve never weighed in with a list of television shows to watch as a family. That’s on my mind, as my boys are now six and nine, and thus old enough to enjoy shows that I might like too—programs that don’t make me want to poke my eyes out. (Dora, I’m looking at you.)

So this summer I reached out to friends and colleagues, and looked around on the Internet, for input on what other parents with school-age kids like to watch with their children...

A new study by the Learning Policy Institute examines past and current trends in the teacher workforce to predict future educator supply levels. The study also examines motivations behind teacher attrition and suggests several policy options to mitigate the effects of teacher shortages.

The report pulls from several databases to analyze the current teaching job market. Using data from 2011–12 and 2012–13, it predicts trends in teacher supply and demand levels through the year 2025 and argues that shortages will sharply increase over the next ten years. While LPI’s study provides valuable information, the authors caution that their predictions cannot take into account future policy decisions, changes in the economy, or other unforeseeable events.

During the Great Recession, demand for teachers decreased as class sizes expanded and teaching vacancies went unfilled due to large cuts in school budgets. By 2014, however, demand quickly began to rise—schools started to return to pre-recession teacher-pupil ratios, programs cut during the recession were restored, and student enrollment levels were predicted to grow after remaining stagnant for several years. Since then, districts have struggled to find enough teachers to staff their schools. Rural schools as well as schools with high-minority and high-poverty student populations...