More schools need to host parent focus groups at the end of the year. Yes, those last couple months are busy, hectic, and uncomfortable. School staff and families see the light at the end of the tunnel, people are tired, and in many schools it’s uncomfortably hot. But asking for parent feedback is one of the most effective ways to understand how the year went for the students enrolled. It is a vital piece of “customer feedback,” and schools committed to the practice report that they make important changes based on what they learn during these meetings. And parent focus groups are quick and inexpensive.

My personal experience is illustrative.

I have three children, and this year the school network that two of them attend offered parent focus groups. It offered them at a variety of times—early morning, midday, and evening—to accommodate parents’ busy schedules. As a work-from-home mom with insanely busy evenings and weekends, I signed up for a 9:00 am weekday slot.

The questions were largely about communication and family engagement. The two administrators who ran the group, the principal and a dean, wanted to know what we did and did not like about the way information was...


I won’t lie: I was disappointed to see so many education-reform leaders and organizations sign onto a letter circulated by Educators for Excellence and the Discipline Revolution Project urging the administration to keep the Obama-era school discipline policy in place. But I remain optimistic that a commonsense resolution can be found—and implemented. That might sound naïve, given today’s deeply divided politics, but in this case it’s because the common ground is so capacious. Namely: Secretary DeVos and Attorney General Sessions should keep the bulk of the policy put forward by their predecessors but strike the language around “disparate impact theory.” (Here’s what that would look like.)

Such an approach would keep the feds on board with efforts to reduce the (over)use of out-of-school suspensions and the like, while steering away from quotas in the meting out of student discipline.

This approach won’t make either side entirely happy, but conservatives are never going to accept disparate impact theory, and liberals are never going to acknowledge that student behavior is a major factor driving discipline disparities. Yet we can make plenty of progress anyway.

Namely, the Administration should keep these parts of the Obama “Dear Colleague” letter:

  • Reminders
  • ...
Leila Walsh

Those of us who read Fordham’s Flypaper blog spend a lot of time thinking about how to boost student achievement, and we all have ideas about the best ways to improve America’s schools. But the state and district education leaders who are members of Chiefs for Change believe there’s a lever that deserves greater attention: curriculum. After all, if we want to help children learn, we should pay careful attention to what we put in front of them. We may think we know, but that’s not always true. 

A case in point is Baltimore City Public Schools. Shortly after joining the district, CEO Sonja Santelises wanted to find out what students were studying, the depth of their knowledge, and whether the content provided, as she says, “mirrors and windows.” In other words, could students see themselves in the content? And did it give them opportunities to discover new things while relating those lessons to their own interactions with the world?

To help answer those questions, Dr. Santelises partnered with several experts, including David Steiner and Ashley Berner at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. They conducted a district-wide curriculum audit that looked at what students would learn if...


In the waning days of June, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions advanced a bill that would reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. A similar bill passed the House over a year ago.

Career and technical education (CTE) enjoys broad bipartisan support, and reports say that the White House has already put its stamp of approval on the Senate version. Nothing is certain, but states could soon be implementing a new law that would meaningfully alter the CTE landscape. Based on the marked-up version of the Senate bill, here’s a broad overview of some of the biggest potential changes.

New terminology

It adds or updates the definitions of many terms, including career pathways, industry sector partnerships, recognized postsecondary credentials, and more. Some of this is meant to match the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2014. And some terms are particularly noteworthy, such as the bill’s definition of a “CTE concentrator” and a “CTE participant,” which are slightly different depending on whether the student is at the secondary or postsecondary level. At the secondary level, concentrators are students who...

Peter Cunningham

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.

Mike Petrilli’s next steps for the education reform movement essentially boil down to staying the course on choice and accountability, improving curriculum, and reworking the career track in high schools. There’s more nuance, of course, but in a nutshell that’s it.

I say go big. It’s time for a new civil rights movement with educational equity as the centerpiece.

We will never close achievement gaps under the current framework. Low-income kids will always start school further behind than their middle-class counterparts, they will always get shafted on funding, and they will never catch up in the vast majority of schools.

Setting aside politics for the moment, what is really needed to dramatically change outcomes is much more learning time and much more investment in teachers.

Start at the beginning—literally—with programs providing support for low-income kids from birth through preschool. There is no better investment than strong early learning programs. If we really want to make a difference, that’s the place to start.

Second, radically reduce...

Rob Kremer and Matt Wicks

There has been much debate in education policy circles of late about whether it’s appropriate for states and charter authorizers to base school-accountability actions solely upon the performance ratings derived from states’ ESSA accountability frameworks.

We—and our organization—strongly favor the framework-based approach. States should take care, however, to ensure that their frameworks accurately measure the performance of all types of schools. Research recently conducted at Pearson indicates that accountability framework gauges can be inaccurate when applied to schools with high levels of student mobility.

How come? It’s due to the well documented "school switching" phenomenon. When students move to new schools, they often experience a one- to three-year dip in academic achievement simply because of the school change.  

That’s why studies of school choice programs tend to show short-term performance declines, then positive effects starting around the third year. It takes a while to overcome the negative academic impact that is often caused by switching to a different school. Data from the Connections Academy virtual schools supported by Pearson confirm this effect: Student performance on state assessments improves with each successive year after the student enrolls.

It's not hard to see why the school-switching...


Since 2012, Tennessee has taken a unique approach to intervening in struggling schools. With the goal of turning around the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the state (known as priority schools), officials introduced two separate models: the Achievement School District (ASD) and Innovation Zones (iZones). The ASD is a state-run district that directly manages some priority schools and turns others over to select charter management organizations. iZones, on the other hand, are subsets of priority schools that remain under district control but are granted greater autonomy and financial support to implement interventions. There are four districts that contain iZones: Shelby County Schools (Memphis), Metro-Nashville Public Schools, Hamilton County Schools (Chattanooga), and Knox County Schools (Knoxville). The remaining priority schools weren’t included in either of these initiatives, effectively creating a comparison group.

Research teams from Vanderbilt University and the University of Kentucky have kept a close eye on both initiatives. In 2015, they published an evaluation of the ASD and iZone schools after three years of implementation. They found that, while ASD schools did not improve any more or less than other priority schools, iZone schools produced moderate to large positive effects on student test scores. A separate ...

Rudy Crew

The world is getting more flooded by issues of disproportionality whether in education, politics, or opportunities to vote. A myriad of examples exist in the form of policies that pit people against each other rather than cause the steady increase in overall opportunities which comes with raising the bar for everyone.

In education, creating the proverbial level playing field that enables minority and low-income students to be identified and served in gifted education programs is critical. There are lots of children, children of color, children whose first language is not English, children living in poverty, who do not get access to gifted programs for all kinds of reasons. Either they never learn about these programs or they are not looked at as kids who ultimately could benefit from them. Many of these children have undeveloped abilities that may never be realized.

As M. René Islas, executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children, recently said, this really is a “social justice issue…children living in poverty, and from racial and ethnic and language minorities, are not getting a fair shake at getting access to gifted services.”

A study by the National Center for Research on Gifted Education found that...


The recent Janus ruling was one of the most significant by the Supreme Court in years, especially with regard to education. I thought it was the right outcome, though I’d urge caution to fellow conservatives who may be celebrating the unions’ demise. The high court’s decision to strike down agency fees will surely result in fewer members and less money, but unions will still have collective bargaining rights and, as a result, continued influence in education politics at the local level.

This is important to note because, though Janus will surely tilt the scales toward reform when it comes to state policy, it’s not going to do much to help school districts run more efficiently or effectively. To do that, you need to limit collective bargaining, which is either mandated or permissible in all but seven states. Collective bargaining agreements (CBA) cover a remarkably broad range of items, though the arcane nature of what’s inside many of them contributes to the lack of nuance in the larger arguments at play about the pros and cons of public-sector unions.

To get a better sense of this, I thought it might be helpful to provide a behind-the-scenes look into collective...


If you’re looking for ideas about the future of the education system, there is no shortage on YouTube, where scholars and charlatans alike seek to redpill you with ideas of often dubious merit. Brilliant ones really do exist, though, and my personal favorite is by the former dean of the University of Oklahoma Honors College, David Ray. (Full disclosure: I attended the University of Oklahoma for a couple of years and had a class with Dr. Ray, although they would have never let me near the Honors College.)

Dr. Ray’s lecture raises important questions about the value of education, the structural changes happening in the economy, recent social and cultural trends, and how these all interact. His concluding thoughts are refreshingly unsatisfying, and at the beginning of the talk he warns the audience, “You will be annoyed.” Bare of the hubris of the typical self-proclaimed “thought leader,” Dr. Ray’s TedTalk offers a lot of wisdom, but it is what he says about education technology and student motivation that I keep going back to.

Dr. Ray reflects frankly on his nearly forty years of experience teaching undergraduates with a range of motivation, and his take on the importance of student...