Natalie Wexler is a name you should know, if you don’t already. A long-time education journalist, she has tirelessly championed essential work, serving as the board chair for Judith Hochman’s The Writing Revolution, and writing extensively and persuasively about the benefits of content-rich curriculum, our shared education passion. I’m eagerly awaiting her forthcoming book, The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America's Broken Education System—and How to Fix It. I expect it will top the best education books of 2019. Wexler’s is an essential voice and an authority.

That said, I’ve got a small bone to pick with my esteemed colleague. In a column at Forbes, she characterized a recent dust-up over school choice between me and Diane Ravitch, which took place at last month’s Washington Post Live education event. I favor school choice; Ravitch opposes it, even though we both benefitted from it.

It was “good theater,” Wexler wrote, “but it obscures the fact that the vast majority of schools—especially at the elementary level—offer the same dangerously flawed approach,” the kind of content-free, “skills-and-strategies” reading instruction that Wexler and I both routinely decry. “And,” she added, “the systems the government has put in...


In education, 2018 brought some worthy new beginnings. Policymakers, wonks, and teachers alike realized that large-scale education reform is waning, and that a renewed focus on instruction and practice is needed. This reckoning runs through our most-read posts of the year, which discuss high quality curricula, teacher policies and preparation, classroom instruction, literacy education, the systemic flaws that allow these classroom-level problems to persist, and more. The first seven articles comprise our top posts written by Fordham staff, and the last three include our most-read guest-authored pieces.

The top seven Fordham-authored posts of 2018

1. Direct Instruction: The Rodney Dangerfield of curriculum, by Robert Pondiscio

In response to a meta-analysis on Direct Instruction, Robert Pondiscio examines why this curriculum—which research has proven effective for fifty years—gets no respect. This article was also number one on “The Top 10 Education Next Blog Entries of 2018.”

2. An open letter to my ed school dean, by Robert Pondiscio

Robert writes to his education school dean—modeled after a letter from Patricia C. James to her dean at Arkansas State University—lamenting how poorly his teacher preparation program prepared him to teach reading. This inspired further commentary from Chalkbeat, Eva Moskowitz...


Prior survey studies have found that providing adults with accurate information can alter their perceptions or actions. Recall how Americans think teachers are underpaid until they’re told the actual salaries of teachers. This study by Albert Cheng and Paul Peterson in the Journal of Higher Education takes a similar tact. It examines whether providing adults with information about college costs and college returns (i.e., earnings) changes their future post-secondary aspirations for their child.

Analysts conduct a survey experiment using a nationally representative sample of around 4,200 U.S. adults and estimate how additional information impacts whether they prefer a four-year degree, two-year degree, or no further education for their child. “Other adults” in the survey are those without children or with children older than eighteen, and they are asked about a hypothetical child. They divide the sample into four groups of similar sizes and randomly assign them to one control and three treatment groups such that differences across groups should be attributable to differences in the amount and/or type of information received. The four groups are as follows: 1) a control group without the information intervention; 2) a group that receives information on both the net costs and returns...


One of America’s wealthiest jurisdictions, Montgomery County, Maryland, is experiencing rapid demographic changes. The D.C. suburb’s Latino population has nearly doubled since 2000, and now comprises almost 40 percent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) students. In light of these changes, University of Maryland researchers Andrew Conway and Amy Lewin recently examined the lives and future expectations of these new pupils.

They compiled data from a variety of local and national sources to present a fuller picture of MCPS’s Latino students and how their experiences compare to peers across the country. They also partnered with Identity, a Montgomery County non-profit that offers academic support and other counseling services to local Latino students and young adults. Identity administered a survey to its own members, written to explore the prevalence of these national patterns in the lives of these kids. The results paint a worrying portrait.

Much of the report is set in terms of students’ expectations. Having “hopeful and positive expectations for one’s own future” is correlated with a number of positive academic and social-emotional outcomes, the authors explain. However, Latino pupils are less likely to report such expectations as other demographic groups, and that hope tends to decrease with age....

Andy Smarick

2018 revealed that the education-reform gas tank was empty. This turned out, however, to be not such a big deal because the “movement” didn’t have a destination in mind either. So the travelers pulled over, jumped out of the car, and yelled at one another as the rest of the world passed by.

Surveying the field over the last year, I realized the annual conference circuit, once marked by boundless energy and optimism, seemed depleted. Policy papers and organizational stances, once brimming with inventive ideas, seemed dusty. The heady days of choice innovation, teacher-evaluation reform, and No Child Left Behind were barely recognizable in the rearview mirror.

But none of this is meant as criticism or elegy. It’s just a recognition of the natural life cycle of reform. We’ve simply reached the end of a quarter-century run. It’s time to refresh.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, movies like “Lean on Me” and “Stand and Deliver” captured society’s fear and frustration about the lack of educational opportunities being presented to America’s underserved kids and the courage of impatient leaders pushing for change. It’s no coincidence that charter schooling, vouchers, and Teach For America launched at that same time or...


The year-end wind-down means new legislative sessions are just around the corner. From early childhood and teacher pay to funding formulas and career readiness, there are many fights to be had, and advocates will invariably end up duking it out over their share from states’ coffers. While the impending bustle under the domes belies the feeling that our movement has become stuck in a rut, the lack of political appetite for big policy ideas nationally doesn’t mean state lawmakers aren’t still hungry.

Some of my friends have recommended a focus on evidence-based practice as a productive way to weather education’s policy winter, and I agree that there’s much to be said about cracking the code of what happens in classrooms across the country. But I’m not sure this is enough to whet the appetites within statehouses, where conservative groups have already started lining up to build upon the momentum from this summer’s Janus ruling. While the focus of these efforts is on boosting workers’ rights and lessening union influence, there could be a related opportunity here to tackle the thorny issue of collective bargaining.

A union keystone, collective bargaining is the process by which employees...


It’s easy for those of us who opine on education to think about—and talk about—school choice as a policy, a concept, and an issue worth pushing in Washington and state legislatures. But school choice is really about parents, children, and the very personal stories that drive people to look beyond their traditional neighborhood public schools.

From issues of bullying, to weak academics, to the inability—or unwillingness—of a school to teach their child to read, parents are on the front lines. Whether it’s the mom of a son with autism who knows he has been written off by his school, of a daughter with dyslexia whose reading struggles refuse to wane, or of a kid who would simply do better elsewhere, there is pain, guilt, uncertainty, and a mama-bear instinct that drives them to say, “That’s enough. We need to make a change.”

I know this because I am one of these moms, and I want to get more of these stories out there. To that end, I’ll be conducting a series of interviews called “Moms and choice” with other mothers who have dealt with issues like these and, because of them, chosen a different school for their sons and daughters....


One of the key tenets of the American Dream is the opportunity for children to grow up to earn more than their parents. Although millions of Americans aspire to get ahead, there are considerable challenges—such as poverty and racial barriers—that can get in the way. For the approximately 60 million people living in rural America, a prevalence of additional obstacles like declining populations, limited job options, and the opioid epidemic make it even harder. 

To identify solutions to these unique challenges, the National 4-H Council and The Bridgespan Group collaborated to release a field report highlighting rural communities that are leading the way in social mobility. The report is based on four main sources of information: 1) interviews with experts from the public, private, and social sectors; 2) site visits to nineteen towns in ten rural counties that included focus groups with over one hundred youth and over 120 nonprofit, business, and civic leaders; 3) county level analysis of demographic, economic, and outcomes data that was used to hypothesize about upward mobility trends; and 4) discussions and focus groups with local leaders in an additional six rural counties in four states to field test initial findings.

Results from...

Lauren Morando Rhim

In a recent commentary on this blog, I expressed concern regarding the growth of specialized charter schools: that is, schools designed solely or primarily to educate students with disabilities. Regrettably, my commentary failed to convey the nuance this complex and important topic deserves. The National Center for Special Education Charter Schools (NCSECS), and I as its founding executive director, support the creation of a wide range of high-quality educational environments for students with disabilities. And many of the specialized charter schools currently operating across the country are providing excellent and legally compliant educational options to students.

While I support the concept of specialized charter schools, I do so in ways that are highly context-specific, and with an awareness of the risks these schools can create. Continued authorization and growth of specialized charter schools requires care and precision given the potential unintended consequences, which could include: limiting choices for students, driving students into unnecessarily restrictive settings, and decreasing accountability and expectations. Each of these risks is elaborated more fully below along with a few examples of why these apprehensions require consideration.

Limitation of choice

Growth of specialized charter schools designed to provide parents with choice could have the unintended consequence...


EdNavigator’s new report, Muddled, describes how schools are providing confusing information to parents, and makes recommendations for how parents can be provided with better information. But while the report focuses on activities at the school level, we got to wondering: Is there a potential role for states in helping to improve communication to parents? We think the answer is yes—and we have some ideas for how states might play a constructive role in solving this problem.

In thinking about the right role for states in this work, we are keenly aware of Rick Hess’s admonition that policy can make people do things, but it can’t make them do those things well—and communicating with parents already suffers from being a box schools have to check. So whether or not we’re really at the end of education policy, we’re not at a point where policy is the solution to this problem. But this problem is not best solved by dozens or hundreds of districts in a state going it alone.

State boards of education and chief state school officers have substantial power to place focus and attention on issues that matter. In some states, task forces have been used...