This post is the fourth in a series of commentaries leading up to the release of new NAEP results on April 10. The first post discussed the value of the NAEP; the second looked at recent national trends; and the third examined state-by-state trends.

For the past fifteen years, a set of large urban districts have agreed to participate in what’s still called the “Trial Urban District Assessment,” or TUDA, as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. New TUDA scores will come out next month, just as they will for the nation and the states.

To help us prepare, Fordham’s research interns and I dug into NAEP data to see which district-level trends are worth watching. As I’ve argued before, we don’t want to over-interpret short-term changes, so it’s better to look at trends that span four years or more, i.e., trends that are based on at least three test iterations. Here’s a look, then, at statistically significant changes from 2011–15 for every participating district.

Cells that are empty indicate that there were no statistically significant changes, and the numbers represent statistically significant scale score changes from 2011 to 2015. Since districts, rather than cities,...


Personalized learning (PL) is becoming cause célèbre in education circles, drawing support from important outside influencers like RAND and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. It has the potential to revolutionize classroom practice. And a new analysis from KnowledgeWorks indicates that PL has strong support across the country, at least according to state ESSA plans. Researchers looked at all the plans submitted to the U.S. Department of Education—some of which have been approved, and some of which are still under consideration—to identify nationwide trends related to PL.

With the definition of PL an unsettled matter, KnowledgeWorks sets forth their own criteria: instruction aligned to rigorous academic standards and social-emotional skills students need to be ready for what’s next after high school; customized instruction allowing each student to design personalized learning experiences aligned to his or her interests; varied pacing of instruction based on individual student needs, which allows students to accelerate or take additional time based on their level of mastery; real-time differentiation of instruction, supports, and interventions based on data from formative assessments and student feedback; and access to clear, transferable learning objectives and assessment results so students and families understand what is expected for mastery and advancement....


Yesterday, Texas became the thirty-fourth state (in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) to receive approval for its plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The rubber-stamping of these documents has become so routine that even the education trade press doesn’t bother to write more than a few paragraphs about each occasion.

But as with everything about Texas, this approval is a big, big deal. That’s because buried inside Texas’s plan is a hidden treasure for charter schools, one that has the potential to significantly increase the amount of federal money going into charter startups and replications.

On pages thirty-one and thirty-two of its plan, Texas describes how it intends to spend its 7 percent Title I set-aside for school improvement. Note in particular the items that I’ve bolded for emphasis.

A portion of the seven percent set aside will be distributed to LEAs with comprehensive or targeted schools via a series of competitive grant programs. These grant programs will require the applicants submit their district- and campus-level improvement plans, which will outline the use of evidence-based strategies. TEA will give priority points to LEA applications that ensure the identified campuses have the...


If you have forty seconds, please indulge me for a brief brain experiment. Watch the first half minute of the embedded video of college students playing in a circle. Your task? Count how many times the students wearing white shirts pass the basketball.

If you guessed fifteen passes, you win!

But did you see the gorilla?!?

For two decades, in multiple countries and contexts, as part of repeated research studies, thousands of audiences from diverse backgrounds have watched this video for the first time. A stunning 50 percent become so distracted trying to count the passes that they completely miss something extraordinary. As the researchers, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, note, “Halfway through the video, a female student wearing a full-body gorilla suit, walked into the scene, stopped in the middle of the players, thumped her chest, and then walked off, spending about nine seconds on-screen.”

Don’t believe me? Watch again.

In the world of neuroscience, this phenomenon of being oblivious to the obvious is called “inattentional blindness.” This occurs any time we as human beings fail to notice a fully visible but unexpected object because our attention was on another...


STEM education is, by design, integrative. It strives to emulate the real-world work of engineers within a teaching environment. Traditional science and math concepts merge with hands-on design-and-build work using technology, often through “design challenges.” Team dynamics, learning by failure and revision, and analytical thinking all factor in as well. It’s a big lift, but such efforts are vital for schools to attempt as demand for STEM—from parents, employers, the military, and colleges—increases. Traditional education models may not readily adapt to the hands-on demands of STEM, nor can many practitioners turn on a dime to accommodate a tech-heavy pedagogy. A new report from Michigan Technological University sheds light on some of these complexities that teachers face bringing STEM education into their practice.

Authors Emily Dare, Joshua Ellis, and Gillian Roehrig use observation and interview data to assess the first-time STEM integration efforts of teachers in nine physical science classrooms in different, unnamed middle schools in the United States. The researchers posit that a lack of consensus over best practices and a lack of professional development contribute to the difficulties. Both classroom observation and teacher reflection data for these nine case studies of teachers attempting STEM integration with little...


The most recent rankings from U.S. News & World Report once again have Massachusetts at the top in pre-K—12 education. For the vast majority of pundits and analysts, this should come as no surprise. Bay State students have excelled on the national and international stage for years. But what may surprise some is the state’s success with a particular type of schooling—career and technical education (CTE).

The most recent Perkins data show Massachusetts’s positive results on measures like technical-skill attainment, school completion, and graduation rates. A 2015 report from Achieve highlighted its transformation into a CTE leader, as well as some particularly successful programs. Another report showed that participating in one of the state’s high-quality CTE programs raised the probability of on-time high school graduation by 3–5 percentage points for higher-income students and 7 percentage points for their lower-income peers. And 2016 survey data showed high levels of satisfaction from both students and parents. In short, much of the data indicate that Bay State CTE programs are on par with the quality of the rest of their pre-K—12 offerings.

It could be argued that the Massachusetts’s vocational education laws and policies...


This post is the third in a series of commentaries leading up to the release of new NAEP results on April 10. The first post discussed the value of the NAEP; the second looked at recent national trends.

Since 2002, federal law has conditioned Title I funding on states’ participation in the biannual administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in math and reading in grades four and eight. This is a boon to us policy wonks because we can study the progress (or lack thereof) of individual states and use sophisticated research methodologies to relate score changes to differences in education policies or practices. That’s the approach that allowed Tom Dee and Brian Jacob, for example, to inform us that NCLB-style accountability likely boosted math achievement in the 2000s.

Over the years, NAEP has also made stars out of leading states and their governors or education leaders, and has galvanized reformers to try to learn from their successes. It started with North Carolina and Texas, which saw stratospheric increases in the 1990s, especially in math, and across all racial groups. Then it was Jeb Bush’s moment in the sun, as Florida’s scores climbed...


In this study, Ian Kingsbury of the University of Arkansas uses data from 394 charter applications in seven states to argue that “stringent regulatory environments impose barriers to aspiring minority candidates and to standalone charter schools.” However, the real story seems to be the disappointing relationship between candidates of color and education and charter management organizations (EMOs and CMOs).

According to Kingsbury, barriers to entering the charter market might manifest in two ways. “First, cumbersome or daunting application processes could deter would-be applicants from applying in the first place…Second, greater regulation could induce authorizers to prefer applications from White applicants and CMO/EMO-affiliated entities.”

Because no data exist for would-be applicants who were deterred, Kingsbury uses the share of applicants affiliated with an EMO or CMO as a proxy for the first form of deterrence. But this is problematic for a number of reasons. (For example, EMOs and CMOs may avoid states that are inhospitable to charters.) Somewhat more plausibly, he uses states’ NACSA scores (which reflect that organization’s opinion of their laws on authorizing) as a proxy for their regulatory environments. But of course, this too can be questioned, as it makes “regulation” unidimensional when in reality it is far...


The underrepresentation of high-poverty and minority populations in gifted programs has troubled education analysts and reformers for decades. One finding in this winter’s Fordham report on gifted programming gaps was that although high-poverty schools are as likely as low-poverty schools to have gifted programs, students there are less than half as likely to participate in them. This is complemented by a recent University of Connecticut finding that school poverty has a negative relationship with the percentage of students identified as gifted.

Researchers used student-level data from three state departments of education, supplemented by data from NCES, for the cohort of students who entered third grade in 2011 and completed fifth grade in 2014. The data spanned pupils from 4,546 schools in 367 districts. They used free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligibility as a proxy for poverty, and compared FRL eligibility, gifted identification, and performance on reading and math tests at the student, school, and district levels.

Their results confirmed existing knowledge about low rates of identification for low-income students, even after controlling for student performance on standardized tests and school and district demographics. In one state, in an average school and district, a non-FRL student was 3.33 times more...


In Fordham’s fifth annual Wonkathon, policy experts submitted twenty-three entries—a Wonkathon record—addressing whether our high school graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere:

A recent investigation revealed that several high schools in Washington, D.C., skirted district rules to graduate large numbers of their students who didn’t meet the standards for earning diplomas. As Erica Green of the New York Times and others have argued, this type of malfeasance isn’t limited to the nation’s capital. It happened in neighboring Prince George’s County, Maryland, and there are reasons to believe it’s happening in plenty of other places.

It’s not hard to understand why. For a decade now, federal policy has required states to measure graduation rates uniformly, to set ambitious goals for raising those rates, and to hold high schools accountable for meeting such goals. But the same local administrators who have been charged with getting more students across the graduation stage also have considerable leeway—via course grades, credit recovery programs, and shadier practices—in determining whether students have earned the privilege.

Given how many children enter American high schools far below grade level, and noting how many states...