This post is the second in a series of articles leading up to the release of new NAEP results on April 10. See the first post here. Future posts will examine state and local trends and identify the key questions that new NAEP scores will potentially answer.

The 2017 NAEP results will be released in April and will provide policymakers and analysts important data with which to track America’s academic progress or lack thereof.

To help us prepare, here’s a look at recent national trends, sliced and diced several different ways. In our view, the most helpful analyses:

  1. Look at subgroup performance. If we examine national trends alone, we conflate changes in educational progress with fluctuations in the student population. As our schools serve greater numbers of Hispanic students and fewer whites, for example, we should expect achievement to decline somewhat because Hispanic students, who are more likely to live in poverty, tend to perform at lower levels, on average, than whites. Splitting out the trends for the major racial subgroups helps to overcome this problem.
  2. Follow trends over a long period of time. Obsessing about gains or declines over a two-year period doesn’t tell us much. Long-term changes
  3. ...

“You can’t handle the truth.” I’m beginning to think there was great wisdom in these five words uttered by Colonel Jessup, the character played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film “A Few Good Men.” While he was totally wrong in the context of the film, his words seem quite right when applied to America in 2018. Our politics have become so polarized that people avoid asking all the hard questions about the Parkland shooting, unwilling to accept that even a small part of the truth may not align with their preferred narrative.

The powerful pro-gun lobby, with the NRA as its leader, has done everything in its power to shut down research on gun violence for fear that it may lead to increased gun control. But how can we have an honest debate about gun violence if we can’t even study the issue?

Similarly, since 2013, schools have been under enormous pressure—for good reason—to lower their suspension, expulsion, and student arrest numbers. Broward County was part of the PROMISE program (Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports & Education), which was intended, according to the website, “to safeguard the student from entering the judicial system.” Sounds good to...


Liberal arts degrees get a bad rap. They’ve been called worthless and inferior, and some have even suggested that it may be wiser to get no college degree at all. Yet do not fear, all you liberal arts graduates, there’s welcome news for you in Mark Schneider’s and Matthew Sigelman’s latest report, Saving the Liberal Arts: Making the Bachelor’s Degree a Better Path to Labor Market Success. The duo from the American Institutes for Research examines whether students graduating with liberal arts degrees are getting a good return on their investment, and how they might maximize those degrees by incorporating other skills.

They use data from Burning Glass Technologies, which, according to their website, is an analytics software company that is “powered by the world’s largest and most sophisticated database of jobs and talent, [delivering] real-time data and breakthrough planning tools that inform careers, define academic programs, and shape workforces.” The BGT database has over 150 million unique job postings dating back to 2007, and over 78 million resumes. Their technology extracts information from roughly 50,000 online job boards, newspapers, and employer websites daily. They claim to capture, at minimum, 80–90 percent of job postings that organizations...


A January study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) examines academic “resilience”—the capacity of disadvantaged students to succeed despite adverse circumstances—in more than seventy education systems that participated in the 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2015 iterations of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Authors sought to determine the role that school environment and academic resources play in resiliency, and examined differences in rates of resilience in participating countries over time.

The study defines “resilient students” as those in the lowest socioeconomic quartile in their own country who achieve at or above Level 3 (out of 6) on all of PISA’s three subjects—reading, math, and science. “Level 3 corresponds, in each subject, to the highest level achieved by at least 50 percent of students across OECD countries on average,” explain the authors. They characterized school environment using the OECD’s survey data on truancy—how many students skipped a whole day in the last two weeks—and the frequency of classroom disruptions—insubordination, excess noise, etc. And the study measured school resources with an index comprising three variables: the availability of computers per student, the number of extracurricular activities offered, and the average class size of each school.

The study’s main...

John Legg and Travis Pillow

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Every year in state capitals, higher education and business advocacy groups argue that high school graduates are not prepared and require an extensive amount of remediation when they arrive at colleges.

They have a point. Currently, over one-third of incoming freshmen need some form of remediation, and less than 50 percent of those who do graduate college will do so in less than six years. 

The result is a perennial debate about graduation requirements. Should we require algebra 2 or physics to ensure graduates can succeed in STEM majors when they get to college? Should we ease some of those course requirements to set more realistic expectations and increase the graduation rate? Should we add more career and technical programs? Should students in those programs have the same academic? Should we have "honors" diplomas and "standard" diplomas?

Each of those questions is valid. But they ignore a more fundamental question: Should we rethink the structure of secondary education...

James Bishop

One of the most illuminating presentations that I attended on the subject of giftedness was given by Dr. Linda Silverman of Colorado’s Gifted Development Center. The talk on perfectionism was the keynote of a regional symposium on giftedness in North Texas. In her presentation, Dr. Silverman took the position that perfectionism, when properly managed, can be a healthy attribute for gifted people. Her position was unsettling to a number of educators in the audience, many of whom held the growing viewpoint that perfectionism is inherently unhealthy.

In one particularly memorable exchange, an audience member took exception to the idea that perfection could be a healthy pursuit or that anything could be perfect. He challenged her with a question, asking if she felt her book, Counseling the Gifted and Talented, achieved perfection. She looked the audience member straight in the eye, and without a moment’s hesitation and with absolute conviction in her voice, replied, “Yes. My book was perfect.” She exemplified, on a personal level, the epitome of healthy perfectionism.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the striving for achievement or production that is without flaw or error. As a disorder, perfectionism is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental...

Lane Wright

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

In light of the graduation scandals in D.C. Public Schools, Maryland, and other places, we have a new chance to ask ourselves an old question: What do we want to do differently?

How do we address the pressure school and district leaders feel to graduate kids that aren’t meeting requirements? (Finger-wagging and firing people certainly isn’t a complete solution.) And, most importantly, what do we want high school graduation to mean anyway?

This last question is essential if we’re going to get at what graduation requirements should be, so let me start there.

Here’s a multiple-choice question to kick it off: What does a high school diploma signify to you?

  1. The graduate is ready for college
  2. The graduate is ready to start a technical career
  3. The student has demonstrated the ability to accomplish something
  4. All of the above
  5. None of the above

There’s no wrong answer here. The point is we don’t all agree on what...

Nicholas Zill and W. Bradford Wilcox

When it comes to today’s children, we often think about “privilege” in terms of the access to education, income, and good neighborhoods that some children benefit from and others do not. Certainly, these three forms of privilege matter for children’s welfare and for their shot at the American Dream, as Richard Reeves reminds us in Dream Hoarders.

But there is another form of “privilege” that is often overlooked in contemporary debates about children’s welfare and futures: that of growing up in a stable two-parent family—loving and being loved by one’s two parents, who are also committed to one another and to the integrity of their family. We know that children who grow up in such a stable, married family are more likely to flourish educationally, socially, and economically.

So how many of today’s young people experience this stable family structure throughout childhood?

The answer is about one in two, according to our new analysis of survey data files recently released by the U.S. Department of Education.1 This figure is based on the proportion of seventeen- and eighteen-year-old high school students who were reported to be living with both their married birth mothers and biological fathers in 2016.2 The...

Jeremy Noonan

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2018 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts whether our graduation requirements need to change, in light of diploma scandals in D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere. Other entries can be found here.

Whenever I run across my former students in town, I am eager to find out what they are up to. Chris was a senior when I had him in my “e2020” class—a sham online credit recovery program that was being used to jack-up graduation rates. I don’t know how many credits he got from the program, but just weeks before graduating he was working on four courses from scratch. When I saw him recently at the local mall, he told me he was working in construction, continuing a job he had started in high school. He recognized that he did not need his diploma to get this job, and added, “they [the administration] did not care about us; they only cared about getting us out.”

They indeed got them out, and with great efficiency. In the year following the elimination of any kind of external graduation test requirements from the state of Georgia, the district’s graduation rate...


Two weeks ago I spent a couple of hours hunched over a cafeteria table, helping one of the eighth grade students I mentor outline her research paper. It brought back some fond memories of my time as a high school English teacher. But it also reminded me of one of the most frustrating aspects of teaching writing: When you’re a full-time educator teaching dozens of students, there is never enough time to provide every single student with the kind of detailed and consistent feedback that will truly transform their writing.

Maybe that’s why I was so thrilled when a few days later I came across the news that The Graide Network (TGN) had successfully raised over $1 million to expand its reach to more schools. For those who are unfamiliar, TGN is an organization that connects K–12 teachers with teaching assistants who grade and provide feedback on student writing through an online platform. Assistants, known as “Graiders,” work remotely and are undergraduate or graduate students who are enrolled in, or preparing to enroll in, teacher preparation programs.

The process works like this: Teachers post detailed information about an assignment, including a rubric and grading instructions, and are matched...