My adopted home in the Mile High City has cultivated a darling reputation unlike any urban center with regard to education reform. When its steadfast leader, Tom Boasberg, announced his departure last month, the news was at once startling and anticlimactic. The former because it’s hard to imagine Denver without him, and the latter because depending on whom you talk to, the writing had been on the wall for some time.

Finding a worthy successor will be of paramount importance for the district’s school board, one that may feel unfamiliar, as none of the current board members were in office when Boasberg was unanimously elevated to the top job nearly ten years ago. After gathering public input, there will undoubtedly be a laundry list of desired characteristics. Sure to be at or near the top of the docket: the ability to effectively engage the community. As with Denver, community relations have featured prominently in other recent high-profile departures from the superintendency.

With some signs indicating that Denver may select a local as a replacement (which would be a milestone as the district hasn’t chosen an internal candidate in twenty years), this got me thinking about...

By Van Schoales

Many on the right and left believe that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision will significantly reduce teachers unions’ political power and role in public education—and could even cause their demise. It won’t.

The case overturned the Court’s 1997 holding in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that public unions could collect regular dues called “agency fees” from non-members, reasoning that all workers who benefit from unions’ negotiated contracts can be forced to pay for those efforts. Before Janus, the collection of such fees was common practice in twenty-two states. Now they’ll be in none, with the Count pointing, in part, to how difficult it is to separate a union’s work negotiating contracts from its participation in political activities.

In the short term, this it will reduce unions’ finances and political support. (See, for example, mounting lawsuits in California and New York.) But over time the decision will lead to unions that better serve their members and more effectively organize to achieve their ends. Here’s why:

  1. The growing blue wave: The political landscape is shifting dramatically because of growing inequality, political polarization, and the rise of Trump. Many unions are capitalizing on the increasing number of workers who
  2. ...
Ashley Berner

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on CenterPoint Education Solutions’ blog.

American policymakers haven’t usually viewed the curriculum as a serious lever for change. This is unfortunate, since a growing body of research suggests that a high-quality curriculum, implemented with fidelity, can make a huge difference in student learning. In 2017, StandardsWork commissioned the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and its Center for Research and Reform in Education to undertake an extensive review of research on the curriculum effect, and what we found about a high-quality curriculum is compelling and persuasive (see here for a summary of the findings).

A few examples from the research record include:

  • High-quality textbooks. Numerous, recent studies (links here, here, here, and here) suggest that switching from a low- to a high-quality textbook can boost student achievement more than other, more popular interventions such as expanding preschool programs, decreasing class sizes, or offering merit pay to teachers. It is also cost effective. One study by Harvard’s Thomas Kane found that the effect upon student test scores of a high-quality math textbook as opposed to an average-quality textbook amounted to an extra eight
  • ...

Many of us who view ourselves as civic-education advocates spend lots of time writing earnest op-eds and columns, attending conferences, and speaking on panels to remind our fellow citizens that the founding purpose of public education in America was not to advance the private end of college and career preparation, but the public purpose of ensuring that the nation’s children would be able to participate fully and knowledgeably in civic life as adults. Collectively, we have spilled gallons of ink urging states, school districts, and teachers to return public education to its roots.

Well, to hell with all that jawboning, says Michael Rebell, in effect. He’s going to force the issue by making a federal case out of it. Literally.

An attorney and Columbia professor, Rebell has been quietly working with a group of law school students to prepare a federal lawsuit to be filed next month, arguing that our public schools are not adequately preparing children for citizenship. His ultimate goal is to prod the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize a constitutional right to an adequate education nationwide, despite the fact that the word “education” appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution.

Before you write this off...


At first blush, high school would seem to be the part of K–12 education where choice should work best—and do the most good. Students are older, more mobile, more independent, with ideas of their own, often beginning to think about the directions they may take in life as adults. High school, moreover, is where it makes the most sense for schools to differ from one another, with college prep here, career and technical education there, an early college high school across town, an “exam school” not too far away, an International Baccalaureate school just a couple of miles distant, and more.

High school also tends to be where districts are most amenable to choice. Look at New York City, where every one of the 400+ high school programs enrolls students by choice, and where every eighth grader is expected to rank-order his or her choices among those programs.

Look also at this from a study of choice in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS): “[M]any CPS high school students opt to attend a school other than their default neighborhood high school. In 2002, the first year of our data, 51 percent of first-time ninth-grade students opted out of their attendance-area...

Carey Swanson

My colleagues and I often ask educators to reflect on their practice since the rollout of the Common Core, or their state’s version of college- and career-ready (CCR) standards. New CCR standards like the Common Core call for teachers to align their practice to six overarching “Shifts” (three in math and three in English language arts [ELA]/literacy), so we’ll ask, “When adopting the Shifts, where have you seen or experienced the most success? Where have you seen or experienced the biggest challenges?”

The Fordham Institute recently asked educators to do this on a large scale. The result was a report, Reading and Writing Instruction in America’s Schools. The report itself is full of not only data from teachers about their experiences in the field, but also data about best practices and supports for educators. The report recommends seven “Literacy Lifelines,” tips to help improve instruction and address persistent classroom challenges.

These Lifelines reflect the four main takeaways the report’s authors uncovered when looking at survey data from more than 1,200 public school ELA teachers. I’d like to focus on one of these takeaways: “If we want teachers to assign texts based on students’ grade levels—rather than their...


A new study examines the impact of New Orleans’s market-based education reforms on a wide range of academic outcomes. Overall, the authors—Douglas Harris and Matthew Larsen, of Tulane University and Lafayette College, respectively—estimate that these reforms increased English language arts and math achievement by 11–16 percentiles, in addition to boosting the high school graduation rate by 3–9 percentage points. Similarly, they estimate that the reforms boosted college entry (by 8–15 percentage points), persistence (by 4–7 percentage points), and graduation (by 3–5 percentage points).

Practically speaking, these are large impacts. For example, a 15-percentage-point increase in the college entry rate is roughly equivalent to a 67 percent increase. However, as the authors acknowledge, there is considerable uncertainty associated with their estimates.

Because of its unique circumstances, New Orleans presents an unusual number challenges for researchers. Consequently, Harris and Larsen take two approaches to analyzing the data: First, they conduct a “returnees-only analysis,” which considers only those students who returned to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Second, they conduct a “cross-cohort analysis,” which allows them to consider a wider range of outcomes, but does not allow them to track the progress of individual students before and after the storm.

Notably, the returnees-only...


During the six-plus decades since the College Board took over the Advanced Placement program, it has ballooned from just 12,000 students in a hundred schools to 2.8 million students taking some 5 million exams in over 22,000 schools, including many poor and minority youngsters. Such growth has become a major point of pride for the College Board and represents a transformation from its long-time ties to elite public and private high schools.

A new analysis by Suneal Kolluri, a Ph.D. student in the University of Southern California School of Education, examines whether AP has sustained its rigor and maintained its effectiveness as it has come to serve large numbers of disadvantaged students. He undertook a vast review of the research literature from the last twenty-five years, with particular attention to whether authors examined the challenges of equity and/or effectiveness of the program.

Despite AP’s inclusion of many more kids from traditionally underserved populations, significant gaps persist in student access: White and Asian students are overrepresented in the exam-taking population when compared to black and Hispanic pupils. They also take more AP exams per student while in high school, and the differences are even more pronounced in STEM subjects.

These gaps...

Van Schoales

“Choice, first and foremost, should be about having a great school in your neighborhood and making sure all of our schools serve all of our kids.”—Tom Boasberg, NPR Ed, 2017

I’ve been an active observer of Denver Public Schools (DPS) for twenty years, through the vantage point of consultant, funder, researcher, charter school operator, critic, and advocate. When I met Tom Boasberg in his role as DPS’s chief operating officer, my first impression was that he was a thoughtful urban education newbie both committed to improving the quality of public education and skeptical of the notion of “one best district system.”

Under his tenure over the past decade, Denver Public Schools has had a remarkable trajectory. He has shepherded a long list of reforms that have elevated DPS from one of the worst large urban school systems to now having academic performance levels on par with Colorado’s average scores. High school graduation, college admittance, and school enrollment have dramatically grown under his leadership.

Through the years he established himself as a thoughtful technocrat—someone far more interesting in person than his khakis, blue button-downs, and Timex runner watches would suggest. He commutes thirty miles each day from...

Jeremy Noonan

Through their Strategic Waiver School System (SWSS) initiative, Georgia's Department of Education (GaDoE) is leading the way in empowering local districts to own responsibility for educational reform. The terms of the five-year SWSS contract are that the system receives a waiver from the GaDoE for a host of state regulations, and in exchange for this flexibility, the system submits to accountability for increased student performance. 

This strategy is laudable for its intentions, namely to facilitate an attitude change among local leaders from a compliance mindset to an achievement mindset. By removing regulatory strictures, it aims to empower those leaders to innovate to raise student achievement in a way that is appropriate for local contexts. The strategy shows how Georgia takes seriously the principle of local control.

With less “top-down” accountability for compliance with regulations, “local efforts [to ensure that districts make proper educational decisions] are now more important than ever,” according to Louis Erste, the associate state superintendent who oversees SWSS contract implementation. But is such “bottom-up” local accountability strong enough to fill the void?

For these local efforts to be effective, stakeholders need a high degree of transparency from local systems. Yet this may be hard to...