Max Eden

Last week here in Flypaper, I critiqued the RAND Corporation for selectively emphasizing positive and de-emphasizing negative findings of its first-ever randomized control trial of restorative justice.

A few days later on the RAND Blog, the authors defended the presentation of their findings:

Although not mentioned by our critic, we did highlight the presence of negative findings in our reports. We emphasized negative findings in our research brief that was directed to the media, in the executive summary of our larger research report, and in the findings posted on our internet page.

If RAND were a conventional think tank, this matter would be of limited interest. But RAND has earned an august place for its neutral and disinterested analysis, and as such, policymakers are inclined to provide them with a greater presumption of bipartisan deference on a policy initiative such as restorative justice. It is, therefore, important to assess whether that deference is due in this case.

For the reader’s ready reference, here is a bullet-point list of the restorative justice study’s major findings, organized by their appearance in the executive summary/research brief of the RAND report:

1. “Strategies to build program were successful”...


Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a piece in this space arguing that education reformers had “overplayed our hand, overstated our expertise, and outspent our moral authority by a considerable margin” as the movement morphed from idealism to policymaking over the past two decades. The way to get back on track, I suggested, is to refocus ed reform’s considerable energies on improving classroom practice, rather than continue to make the blithe assumption that schools and districts need only to be properly incentivized or kicked in the britches in order to do right by kids.

So it’s gratifying to see my colleague Mike Petrilli take this idea and run with it in a series of blog posts heralding the “Golden Age of Educational Practice.” The encouraging notes he’s received from state and district-level officials suggests this is a rich vein of ore to be mined. But I’d like to suggest tapping the brakes before rushing headlong into Ed Reform 2.0, to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes that have dulled ed reform’s impact and undermined its credibility—particularly among frontline teachers and administrators, who are invariably tasked with bringing our grand plans to fruition in classrooms.


Jeremy Noonan

Fordham’s big 2018 study of high school grade inflation illuminated the prevalence and consequences of this practice, and should motivate policymakers to find ways to clean it up. One promising approach could take the form of accrediting organizations, which exist to ensure quality and academic integrity in our schools. As I’ve written before, just as accreditors are well-positioned to crack down on fraudulent practices in the online credit recovery space, they’re also well-suited to discipline schools that use grades to misrepresent what students know. Indeed, they have an obligation to do this, if only for the sake of their own credibility.

Education is a public trust and the public ought to be able to trust the credentials that our schools confer. Grade inflation erodes that trust by signaling to stakeholders—parents, universities, employers, etc.—that students have learned more than they actually have. Schools that have succumbed to this practice lack integrity and, thus, credibility, especially regarding the credentials they award, which are largely acquired by earning passing grades in a sufficient number of courses. If grades cannot be trusted, neither can diplomas.

In Georgia, my home state, in response to a big expose of school systems’...


If this era is to become a Golden Age of Educational Practice, we need successful, evidence-based practices—to the extent that they actually exist—to spread far and wide. Many ideas for how to get educators to use such practices are inherently top-down or “supply side” approaches—build tools or products or school models on top of the evidence base, and then market them to schools. Focus a lot on the fidelity of implementation, which also implies engineering solutions that can be implemented in the real world, with real teachers, without making the instructor’s job even harder than today. I will explore all of that in future posts.

But there’s another take on the challenge, one that’s bottom-up and focused on the “demand side.” It’s intuitively appealing, as it builds teacher buy-in from the get-go: It’s about developing a “culture of improvement” in a school or school system.

The basic notion is simple, if tough to actuate: Rather than start with answers—like a new curriculum, or assessment system, or digital learning program—begin with questions. Develop systems and processes that encourage educators to ask: How can we get better at our craft? How can we solve a specific problem that we...


A 2017 report by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that 30 million “good jobs” nationwide were held by the “middle”—workers who have less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school diploma. More than half of states have responded to the demand for this emerging workforce by including a new accountability measure in their ESSA plans: industry credentials, which can include short- and long-term certificates, licensures, badges, and more. But with accountability expectations at stake (not to mention the funds that go with it!), how can we ensure states and schools are incentivizing students to only participate in high-value industry-based credentials?

In response to this question, Education Strategy Group, alongside the Council of Chief State School Officers and Advance CTE, assembled a Career Readiness Expert Workgroup, comprising researchers and state and industry leaders. They focused on, among other things, how states can inspire and support students’ attainment of high-value credentials, incentivize schools and districts to prioritize them, and recognize and emphasize their importance.

Identifying industry-recognized credentials as high value is not enough to ensure student participation, say the report’s authors. States must also eliminate barriers to attainment and establish pathways rewarding students for participation....


In a previous post, we looked at Fordham’s recently-updated interactive map of the nation’s schools to compare private school options in Milwaukee, a city with the nation’s oldest private school voucher program, with those in Minneapolis-St. Paul. In contrast to the Twin Cities, which lack such programs, in Milwaukee, we found a number of private schooling options located in some of the high-poverty areas lacking charter schools, areas we have been calling “charter school deserts.”

In recent years, new voucher or tax credit scholarship programs have been proposed in a few key states, only to face defeat. In deeply blue New York, a proposal for a tax credit scholarship program died in 2015 despite a diverse, bipartisan coalition of lawmakers and community activists—including the state’s Democrat governor—supporting the programs.

Meanwhile, in deeply red Texas, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed both a tax credit scholarship and an ESA for special needs students only to have the Republican-controlled House refuse to consider either bill. And in Colorado, local politics led to the demise of the Douglas County voucher program as voters elected several anti-voucher school board members in 2017.

To see how private school choice programs could have impacted...


A national commission convened by the Aspen Institute just released a report titled, “From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope,” with the hope (pun intended) that it will gain as much traction as the seminal report it pays homage to. Two years in the making, the Aspen report features six macro-level recommendations—all generally unobjectionable—for states to better integrate social, emotional, and academic learning into their schools and communities. These days, a lot is riding on SEL, especially among funders who are feeling once bitten, twice shy since Common Core launched in 2010.

The pursuit of collaboration and consensus was clearly top of mind among the report’s authors. Let’s come together on what unites us (“a shared vision for the future prosperity and well-being of our children”) rather than focusing myopically on what divides us (“divisive policy arguments”). In today’s polarized era, efforts like Aspen’s to find common ground is something we need more of, and their investment in what should be an integral part of every young person’s experience is worth commending. But notwithstanding the luminary status of those who signed onto the report’s conclusions, there are five potentially problematic elements that could prevent...


As I’ve embarked on my weeks-long discussion of how to usher in a Golden Age of Educational Practice, I have heard—often on Twitter, sometimes via email—a clear and compelling message:


To which I say: I hear you, my friends, I really do. And I whole-heartedly agree that we need to approach the topic of evidence-based practice with an enormous amount of humility.

That’s largely because of what Dylan Wiliam likes to say: “Everything works somewhere; nothing works everywhere.” He’s right, of course—the contexts of our schools really do vary dramatically, making the use of evidence an inherently complex and fraught challenge. Plus, in a field where implementation is everything, the only way “doing what works” can be effective is with teacher buy-in and engagement. They call it “winning hearts and minds” for a reason; we can’t expect that evidence alone will win the day.

But perhaps the strongest argument for humility here...


The long-awaited report of the National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development is now out and will doubtless make some waves within education’s chattering classes and more broadly among practitioners. But will anyone else notice or care?

Let me state up front that—aside from its abominably ungrammatical, if slightly clever, title—it’s a solid, respectable product, the sort of thing one rightly expects from the Aspen Institute, the blue-ribbon panel that produced it, and the eminent foundations that paid for it. It’s worth paying attention to. But I will also admit to a fairly serious case of déjà vu.

For the Commission’s central message is not new. It’s basically about “educating the whole child,” as we’ve been told to do at least since Dewey, since Montessori, since Rousseau, arguably since Aristotle. We’re admonished, once again, not to settle for the Three R’s, not to treat test scores as the only legitimate markers of school success, not to succumb to the cramped view that schools’ only job is to develop one’s cognitive faculties. So much more is needed…

Yes, it’s needed, and there’s no harm in being reminded of that once again. As Tim Shriver and Rick Hess write,...


Education Week opened the year with a second annual special issue titled “10 Big Ideas” with, wrote editor Elizabeth Rich, “the potential to define—or redefine—education in the year ahead.” Each includes a staff-written essay accompanied by a commentary penned by an outside researcher, practitioner, or advocate.

Some of the “Big Ideas” are fairly predictable. Colleges will keep striving to diversity their enrollments and to devise new ways of gauging applicants’ readiness. Annual testing will remain contentious. Students will continue to be frustrated by the seeming irrelevance of their classroom work to the “real world” outside. Effective school desegregation—and the narrowing of achievement gaps—remains a tangled web. Bilingual education continues to expand, boosted by the newish “Seal of Biliteracy,” but controversy continues around it and the proliferation of native languages spoken by kids in U.S. schools makes it next to impossible to universalize. And inevitably, in the #MeToo era, schools are being urged to “teach consent as a life skill.”

Three of the other topics caught my eye for different reasons.

Associate editor Christina Samuels pondered whether the absurdly overdue reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) might lead to some rethinking of special ed, but she didn’t...