Curriculum & Instruction

Are ELL's doing well?

On this week's podcast, Conor Williams, senior researcher at New America, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss the state of English language learners. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines teacher screening and hiring in Los Angeles public schools.

Amber’s Research Minute

Paul Bruno and Katharine O. Strunk, “Making the Cut: The Effectiveness of Teacher Screening and Hiring in the Los Angeles Unified School District,” Calder (January 2018).

Schools have long failed to cultivate the innate talents of many of their young people, particularly high-ability girls and boys from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds. This failure harms the economy, widens income gaps, arrests upward mobility, and exacerbates civic decay and political division.

To address these issues, researchers Christopher Yaluma and Adam Tyner examined the extent to which access to and participation in gifted programs vary for different groups of students nationally and in each state, particularly in high-poverty schools. Here’s what they found:
  • More than two-thirds of elementary and middle schools have gifted programs.
  • Overall, high-poverty schools are just as likely as low-poverty schools to have them.
  • Yet students in low-poverty schools are more than twice as likely to participate in such programs.
  • Even when black and Hispanic students have gifted programs in their elementary and middle schools, they participate at much lower rates than their peers. 
  • In schools with gifted programs, only Maryland, Kentucky, and New Hampshire enroll more than 10 percent of the state’s black and Hispanic students in those programs; in twenty-two states it’s less than 5 percent.

Increasing the participation of qualified yet underrepresented students in gifted programming...

America does not need 3 million curricula

On this week's podcast, Margaret Horn, an executive at CenterPoint Education Solutions, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss how policymakers and philanthropists can help educators implement high standards. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines public preferences for universal and targeted preschool.

Amber’s Research Minute

Erica H. Greenberg, “Public Preferences for Targeted and Universal Preschool," AERA Open (January-March 2018).

The politics of Teach For America

On this week's podcast, special guest Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO of Teach For America, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss whether TFA has moved to the left politically and educationally, and why that might be a problem. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the prevalence of good American jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

Amber’s Research Minute

Anthony Carnevale et al., “Good Jobs that Pay without a BA,” Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (November 2017).

A maverick's take on data

On this week's podcast, special guest Paige Kowalski, executive vice president for the Data Quality Campaign, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss how parents and teachers can get access to powerful student data. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines teacher mobility in Florida.

Amber’s Research Minute

Li Feng and Tim Sass, “Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility,” Education Finance and Policy (Summer 2017).

In early June, State Superintendent DeMaria shared with the state school board his recommendations for streamlining Ohio’s student testing regimen. Among the list of proposed cuts is the WorkKeys assessment, a job skills test that measures how well prepared students are for the workforce. Though other proposed cuts received more attention (and have since been finalized), the proposed elimination of WorkKeys has largely been ignored—perhaps because many Ohio policymakers aren’t sure what it is or even who takes it. Let’s take a look.

What is the WorkKeys assessment?

WorkKeys is an ACT-designed system that includes assessments, curriculum, and “skill profiles” for schools to use in building and measuring students’ workplace skills. Superintendent DeMaria specifically recommends the elimination of the assessment, of which there are three sections:

  1. Applied math: a 55-minute assessment with 34 items. This test measures mathematical critical thinking and problem-solving techniques that are commonly used in the workplace, including negative numbers, fractions, decimals, and money and time conversions.
  2. Graphic literacy: a 55-minute assessment with 38 items. This test measures how well an individual can read and interpret common workplace graphics such as diagrams, maps and floor plans, order forms, and flow
  3. ...

The student engagement edition

On this week's podcast, special guest Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss Fordham's new report What Teens Want From Their Schools: A National Survey of High School Engagement. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines early results from Joseph Waddington's and Mark Berends's ongoing study of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program.

Amber’s Research Minute

R. Joseph Waddington and Mark Berends, “Impact of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School,” Center for Research on Educational Opportunity, University of  Notre Dame (ongoing).

The longtime Democratic lawmaker John Vasconcellos is resting in peace since his death in 2014, but the educational disaster he laid on California in the 1980s is far from gone. Indeed, its likeness thrives today across a broad swath of America's K-12 schooling, supported by foundation grants, federal funding, and both nonprofit and for-profit advocacy groups. Only its name has changed—from self-esteem to social-emotional learning.

If only the trend had stayed in the Golden State.

Younger readers may not remember Vasconcellos, the late assemblyman and state senator whom one obituary described as a "titan of the human-potential movement." In 1986, Vasconcellos managed to persuade California's conservative GOP Gov. George Deukmejian to support a blue-ribbon task force to promote self-esteem and personal and social responsibility. The ensuing hoopla loosed a tsunami of enthusiasm for building self-esteem as a solution for almost everything that ails an individual, including low achievement in school.

The task force's final report, in 1990, ascribed (as I wrote at the time) "near-magical powers to self-esteem, characterizing it as 'something that empowers us to live responsibly and that inoculates us against the lures of crime, violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, child abuse, chronic welfare dependency, and...

Among high school students who consider dropping out, half cite lack of engagement with the school as a primary reason, and 42 percent report that they don’t see value in the schoolwork they are asked to do. In What Teens Want from Their Schools: A National Survey of High School Student Engagement, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Crux Research tackle the question of what truly motivates and engages students in high school.

Our nationally representative survey of over two thousand high schoolers in traditional public, charter, and private schools finds that nearly all students report being motivated to apply themselves academically, but they also primarily engage in school through different levers. Specifically, we identified six subgroups of students with varying engagement profiles: (Hover over each illustration to read their characteristics!)


Subject Lovers


Hand Raisers

In praise of ed tech

On this week's podcast, special guest David DeSchryver, a senior vice president at Whiteboard Advisors and OFOM (Old Friend of Mike’s), joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss the most promising developments in ed tech. During the Research Minute, David Griffith examines the effects of part-day absenteeism in high school.

Amber’s Research Minute

Camille R. Whitney and Jing Liu, “What We’re Missing: A Descriptive Analysis of Part-Day Absenteeism in Secondary School,” AERA Open (April 2017).