Jeremy Noonan

Through their Strategic Waiver School System (SWSS) initiative, Georgia's Department of Education (GaDoE) is leading the way in empowering local districts to own responsibility for educational reform. The terms of the five-year SWSS contract are that the system receives a waiver from the GaDoE for a host of state regulations, and in exchange for this flexibility, the system submits to accountability for increased student performance. 

This strategy is laudable for its intentions, namely to facilitate an attitude change among local leaders from a compliance mindset to an achievement mindset. By removing regulatory strictures, it aims to empower those leaders to innovate to raise student achievement in a way that is appropriate for local contexts. The strategy shows how Georgia takes seriously the principle of local control.

With less “top-down” accountability for compliance with regulations, “local efforts [to ensure that districts make proper educational decisions] are now more important than ever,” according to Louis Erste, the associate state superintendent who oversees SWSS contract implementation. But is such “bottom-up” local accountability strong enough to fill the void?

For these local efforts to be effective, stakeholders need a high degree of transparency from local systems. Yet this may be hard to...

Catherine Little

Each year, I have the opportunity to work with preservice teachers to provide a little bit of information for them about gifted education. During that workshop, someone always brings up the idea that one great way to work with advanced learners—particularly the teacher pleasers and “fast finishers” among them—is to have them help the other kids with their work. These developing professionals, along with some of the practicing teachers with whom they work, are secure in their belief that this approach is a win for everyone. Students are kept busy, the struggling student has individual support, and surely the gifted learner will benefit because “we all learn something better when we have to teach it to others.”

And yet when this idea comes up with gifted education professionals, their eyes roll and sighs are audible because “it is not a solution to giving both students an appropriate challenge”. Gifted education professionals, gifted students, and parents of gifted students raise their own concerns about this practice and the degree to which it provides benefits for the learners involved. The practice reflects implicit assumptions about educational benefits that are not necessarily well supported, and although some gifted students may enjoy it,...

Marc Tucker

I was at a party last night with some friends. One of them, an impressively smart, well-informed woman from Boston, wanted to talk education. She was not three sentences into her question when I realized that she, like so many others, was assuming that standardized testing is public enemy number one and needs, like the offending serpent of yore, to be crushed under the public boot. She was stunned when I told her that I do not agree. So, I told her the following story.

I began by asking her whether her rage about standardized testing was directed at "Common Core testing." "Oh, yes," she said brightly, "Of course."

"Well," I said, "the Common Core State Standards was an initiative of the states, not the federal government." The commissioners of education—that's what they call the chief state school officer in Massachusetts—did not want the federal government involved because they were afraid of what would happen if it were perceived as a federal government initiative. But Arne Duncan, President Obama's Secretary of Education, paid no attention to their warnings, very visibly embraced the Common Core Standards and then conditioned the award of special federal government funds to the states during the...


Eight years ago, the vast majority of states adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Shortly thereafter, we published Common Core in the Schools: A First Look at Reading Assignments, by Tim Shanahan and Ann Duffett, which highlighted the results of a first-of-its-kind survey of ELA teachers in grades four through ten. We wanted to know how classroom implementation was progressing and where educators might need support in teaching these more rigorous expectations.

Overall, the results suggested broad support among teachers for the Common Core standards. But they also highlighted several areas of concern. Most notably, many teachers said they organized their instruction around discrete skills rather than texts, and they assigned texts based on students’ reading levels rather than their grade levels—the opposite of what the standards encourage.

Since that initial survey, the CCSS (or a close facsimile) are still in place in most states, and research has shown tentative signs of progress, at least when it comes to content coverage and instructional materials aligned to the standards. Those studies are useful for identifying broad implementation issues, yet they fall short when it comes to informing professional practice. We...

Doug Tuthill

Maybe it’s all the sugar sand and palm trees, but I often feel disconnected from the gloomy national commentary on efforts to improve public education. Mike Petrilli’s recent lament, well-articulated as it was, is the latest example. Mike bemoaned a “lost decade” of achievement, “glum” policymakers and philanthropists, and “much friction, fractiousness, and furor” in the wake of failed reform.

Mike! You need a mojito! Education reform may be in a funk across America, but not in Florida. Not for education reformers who believe that expanding educational options, and giving both parents and teachers more power and freedom, is the linchpin to lasting progress.

In Florida, the past few years have been especially sunny. School choice continues to evolve into the new normal. A growing army of choice parents and teachers is increasingly visible and vocal. Policymakers continue to mash the pedal. At the same time, the evidence about academic outcomes keeps getting better.

The Florida experience suggests that putting more emphasis on accountability through choice, rather than through regulations only, will get us down the reform road further and faster. We certainly have enormous challenges in the Sunshine State, but the biggest one may be managing the pace...


Expanding universal pre-K is high on the list of many education advocates, despite the fact that evidence of its impact is based on “thin empirical gruel.” If we’re going to forge ahead anyway, a new study in the Economics of Education Review addresses a key question: What type of curriculum works best in these settings?

Analysts use experimental data to determine which preschool curricula are most effective in pre-K classrooms, which spanned public preschools, private childcare, and Head Start programs primarily serving low-income families. The study pooled data from the Preschool Curriculum Evaluation Research Initiative Study, which began in 2003 and required evaluations of fourteen early-childhood-education curricula in preschool centers. Each of those grantees was responsible for collecting various data for independent evaluations, but this is the first time that those data have been pooled across all of the single evaluations, with a sample comprising roughly 2,000 children.

Each grantee randomly assigned whole schools or classrooms within schools to either treatment or control curricula. There were three broad types of curricula to which they assigned. First is the whole-child curricula, defined as what most Head Start centers use, which is based on child-centered active learning...

Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D.

A disappointingly flawed Education Week story on San Francisco initiatives to reduce advanced learning opportunities in middle school math has garnered lots of attention. It’s called “A Bold Effort to End Algebra Tracking Shows Promise,” and was written by Stephen Sawchuk, who has a well-deserved reputation for being an excellent reporter. I was out of the country when it appeared, and I assumed it would burn itself out by now. But alas, Ed Week continues to circulate the article, and people continue to talk about it.

Advocates for advanced learning can learn a lot from the piece, both about how the media tends to cover topics related to advanced learning and how educators often justify anti-excellence policies. In rereading the article, my attention was drawn to Sawchuk’s many anti-intellectual dog whistles more than underlying problems with the district’s policies. Others have noted those problems—perhaps none better than Kurt Vonnegut in his short story “Harrison Bergeron”—so I’ll focus on the dog whistles.

1. The headline

Journalists usually don’t write the headlines that accompany their piece, but there’s nothing “bold” about the policy change described in the story. As I discuss below, the city’s “effort to end algebra tracking” is...

Hanna Skandera and Kira Orange Jones

Editor’s note: Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli recently published a long-form article titled, “Where Education Reform Goes from Here.” Others have responded to that essay, and this post furthers that conversation.

In his recent post, Mike Petrilli gets a lot right. By asking, "Where does education reform go from here?" he poses a crucial question that's been on our minds for a while. Education reform, as we've come to know it, is at a critical juncture.

Originally founded by a bipartisan coalition on common ground of equity, accountability, choice, and autonomy, new fissures have emerged. Our increasingly polarized politics have highlighted and expanded divisions in what was always a collective of strange bedfellows.

While we agree that "this is no time to declare defeat or embrace defeatism," we find Mike's suggestions don’t go far enough. We call for more audacious ideas to fuel faster progress. And we call on courageous leaders to ignite and coalesce the next phase of the education reform movement, building on the hard lessons learned over the past two decades.

Naturally, we honor the path that's gotten us this far. Through increased transparency and accountability, we now have more information...

Bill Jackson

Editor’s note: Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli recently published a long-form article titled, “Where Education Reform Goes from Here.” Others have responded to that essay, and this post furthers that conversation.

In his recent essay, “Where Education Reform Goes From Here,” Mike Petrilli offers a solid menu of ideas for state and local policymakers who want to stay the course on school choice and accountability, improve teaching, and radically redesign high school. Personally, I find many of his ideas compelling. If I were a state policymaker, I’d be tempted to go big or go home, as Peter Cunningham suggested, and I’d be poring through Sandy Kress’ evidence about what works.

And yet I think something important is missing from Mike’s perspective: Looking ahead, I think we need to look much more at the how of education reform. For example, which of Mike’s ideas might be implemented by whom, and why?

The big, successful change efforts in American history have started with grassroots personal and spiritual change, continued to gain life in local institutions, and then and only then reshaped state and national policies. The abolition of slavery, the growth of universal primary and...


A couple of years ago, I had the honor of interviewing for a vacancy on my local school board. Working at an education think tank, especially one that supports school choice, leads many to assume I’m not supportive of traditional public schools. They are mistaken. My three kids have all attended their neighborhood schools, and my school district is a critical part of my community. So serving on the board seemed like an amazing opportunity to give back to that community and learn more about the challenges school boards face.

I didn’t anticipate receiving, and ultimately didn’t get, the position, but the interview process was positive and educational. Being a school board member is clearly hard work. Most members have full-time jobs, but they still spend a significant amount of time participating in and preparing for full board and committee meetings, attending other community-related obligations, and representing the board at school-sponsored events. And that’s only part of the work. Members also play an important role in contract negotiations and spearheading efforts to pass school levies—and do it all for shockingly little pay. School board service is not for the faint of heart.

My short-lived candidacy, and day job as an...