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.

“If you don’t bring parents and families along with you, you’re building a sandcastle by the sea.”

Keri Rodrigues, Massachusetts Parents United

There are so many flaws in how we do education in America, but perhaps one of the most consistent mistakes we make at the school, district, and policy level is the way we ignore parents and deny them a seat at the table when their voices are so important and desperately needed.

Mike Petrilli’s recent piece “Where Education Reform Goes from Here”—which I liked very much—makes this same mistake. He lays out what policymakers and practitioners can and should do moving forward but fails to mention the important role that parents can—and must— play.

Parents are rarely education experts. We don’t usually know the size of the local school budget or the difference between “supplement” and “supplant,” and we certainly aren’t debating the Obama discipline guidance at our summer cookouts and in the stands at baseball games.

But parents are an...


In case you have a lot of time on your hands and have been following the recent exchange about civics education between the Brown Center team at Brookings and myself, allow me to set the record straight.

Although their rejoinder to my original critique of their 2018 report was polite—suggesting that civilized discourse may still be possible in the rude times in which we live—it was wrong on two counts.

The first is a minor matter of fact. They term their response “brief.” But its 938 words compares with the 659 in my original piece. That wouldn’t deserve mention save for the matter of facts. Facts is what they charge me with being obsessed about. And it’s true that I find in their report, as well as in the C3 social studies framework that undergirds it, a marked lack of enthusiasm for facts. So let me start with the fact that their “brief” response is not, in fact, brief. It’s almost half again longer than what I wrote! What does this say about them—and their grasp on what’s a fact and what’s not?

But enough wordplay. Their second—and major—error is to accuse me of Gradgrind-like worship of...

with Ann M. Duffett, Ph.D.

Since 2010, when most states adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has been committed to monitoring their implementation. One of our initial reports, written in 2013 by lead author Tim Shanahan, surveyed middle and high school English language arts (ELA) teachers and found broad support for the CCSS-ELA, yet highlighted several red flags.

Five years later, the CCSS (or close facsimiles) are still in place in most states. And given that high expectations only matter when reflected in classroom practice, we owe it to teachers to continue supporting their efforts to implement these more rigorous standards.

Accordingly, we’re back with another nationally representative survey of ELA teachers.

Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools, authored by Fordham’s senior research and policy associate David Griffith and FDR Group’s Ann Duffett, suggests real progress in implementing state ELA standards, but also—like the baseline 2013 report—real cause for concern. For example, middle and high school teachers are asking more text-dependent questions and report that students’ ability to accurately cite evidence from the text has improved—both of which are in line with the CCSS-ELA. Yet they have also become more likely to assign texts based on...

By Timothy Shanahan

Back in the 1930s, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney always seemed to be putting on a show. They were going to be sent to a farm to work for the summer in Babes in Arms, but they wanted to go to Broadway instead—and they did!

I love that whole idea of Judy and Mickey with their teenage backs to the wall, singing and dancing their way to success (and into our hearts). Younger folks might prefer a more recent analogy—like Footloose—but then I’d have to be a younger blogger who is less than six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.

I’m not the only one who appreciates the spunk and eventual success manifest in these films.

Just look at the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The idea was that American education was on the ropes, so let’s adopt high standards that will set college- and workplace-ready goals for U.S. schools and…

And hey, kids, let’s roll up those sleeves, dance and sing like crazy until the world is a better place and everyone can read and write well enough to learn and work and participate in our techno-centric civic and social life. Oh boy, I can’t wait for the...


“Have you ever heard of Michael Brown?” I have recently been posing this question to a range of people in various settings: from “woke” friends at intimate dinner parties, to well-informed researchers at education conferences, and to community leaders and elected officials dedicated to social justice.

The non-verbal response has usually been some combination of a pregnant pause, raised eyebrow, or facial expression conveying, “Duh, the answer is painfully obvious!!!”  The spoken replies include “Ferguson,” or “That’s the black kid killed by police,” or “Hands up, don’t shoot, right?”

Yes, of course. The most well known Michael Brown today is the eighteen-year-old, black male robbery suspect who in 2014 was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Although the official DOJ investigation concluded that the evidence did not support an indictment of the officer, Brown’s death has come to symbolize for many the ultimate exercise of racist state power.

But there is another Micheal Brown, and his is a story of triumph.


In 1993, my Harvard Business School classmates and I often marveled at the caliber of remarkable black men we knew at Harvard’s graduate schools of business, law, politics, and education. Our collective presence...


With the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the most contentious issues within education policy may once again have its day in court. In the ongoing debate about religion and schools, Kavanaugh’s background suggests he believes in a more permeable relationship between public and private schools. Currently, there is a wall between the two in thirty-eight states that have provisions in their state constitutions known as Blaine Amendments, which forbid, with varying degrees of restrictions, government funding for religious schools.

EdChoice’s Mike McShane was the first out of the box on this issue immediately following the announcement. And like him I’m hoping that Kavanaugh’s nomination, coupled with the originalist shift of the court, means that Blaine Amendments will soon be relegated to the dustbin of history. There isn’t yet a high profile case on the issue, but it’s only a matter of time.

The most common policies for which Blaine Amendment challenges arise relate to private school choice, such as education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships, and school vouchers. A pair of 5-4 decisions in 2002 and 2011 upheld the constitutionality of private school choice, but did little to...


The Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings continues to issue annual reports on American education, but this year’s version leads one to rue the retirement of Tom Loveless and the exit of Russ Whitehurst (in his case to another berth at Brookings where he continues to churn out terrific stuff).

The 2018 report has three chapters that focus primarily on civics and social studies, which could have been a good thing because this part of the K–12 curriculum is in dreadful shape and so is student achievement in these disciplines. The problem is that the Brown Center team seems to have swallowed the popular view among social studies educators that “action civics” is what matters, not so much fundamental knowledge. They hail the awful “C3” framework of the National Council for the Social Studies, which is doing serious damage to the entire social studies curriculum, including history and geography, as well as civics. Then they judge state academic standards by their alignment with that framework. Yuck.

Okay, the report’s first chapter does supply some useful reanalysis of NAEP data on the achievement front (reading and math, too). NAEP infrequently tackles civics, resulting in...


From disproportionate incarceration to the stunning likelihood of downward social mobility, the news about black men in America is usually a bleak story of racism, inequality, and injustice. The statistics are undeniable, and the need for change is urgent. In a recent study, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) attempt a closer look at the flip side of the coin, asking what institutional and cultural forces do lead to economic success for black men in America today. The report highlights the connection between the 57 percent of black men who make it into the middle class or higher as adults and certain societal institutions: higher education, full-time work, the black church, the military, and marriage.

The report is part of the Home Economics Study, a joint effort from AEI and IFS. Researchers primarily use data from the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, in which a nationally representative sample is periodically interviewed about life events. The 1979 cohort began with 12,686 youths between the ages of fourteen and twenty-two, and in 2014 (the year of the most recent data used) retained 7,071 of the original cohort, now between the...


College completion rates have increased over time at both two- and four-year institutions, but they’re still too low. In a recent report, Harvard University Graduate School of Education professor Bridget Terry Long examines how completion rates vary by, among other things, institution type and student gender, and considers the high price both taxpayers and students pay for non-completion.

Professor Long used publicly available data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), an annual federal survey collecting information on enrollments, finances, completions, and other metrics from higher education institutions. “Institutional graduation rate” is calculated by examining how many students complete a degree at a school within 150 percent of the expected completion time, but does not reflect transfer students or those going part-time. To this Long added data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), which uses part- and full-time student records and links them across schools. She pulls from other studies and recent research on the topic of college completion to supplement her own inferences and analyses of the data.

Long finds that women had higher completion rates across all institutions types than men—be it two-year or four-year, public or private, non-profit or for-profit. The rate is particularly different at...

Sandy Kress

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.

Last week, I read two articles that so lifted my spirits I thought perhaps I had been transported to edu-heaven!

In the first, Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wrote compellingly on the future of education reform. He stresses the continued need for accountability and choice. And he advocates the case for inputs that are especially effective in triggering improvement and ways of making high schools work better.

In response, Peter Cunningham, executive director of Education Post, wrote a sympathetic blog, but he insists that we “go big.” Accountability must be rigorous, he asserts, but we also need to spend significantly more to achieve the results that befit the promise of education reform.

I liked both pieces because they speak of a fundamental idea that fueled education reform in its early years. Crucial to the gains of the ‘90s and the 2000s was, I believe, more accountability with more resources.

That combination was key to Governor Jim Hunt’s success in North...