As I’ve embarked on my weeks-long discussion of how to usher in a Golden Age of Educational Practice, I have heard—often on Twitter, sometimes via email—a clear and compelling message:


To which I say: I hear you, my friends, I really do. And I whole-heartedly agree that we need to approach the topic of evidence-based practice with an enormous amount of humility.

That’s largely because of what Dylan Wiliam likes to say: “Everything works somewhere; nothing works everywhere.” He’s right, of course—the contexts of our schools really do vary dramatically, making the use of evidence an inherently complex and fraught challenge. Plus, in a field where implementation is everything, the only way “doing what works” can be effective is with teacher buy-in and engagement. They call it “winning hearts and minds” for a reason; we can’t expect that evidence alone will win the day.

But perhaps the strongest argument for humility here...


The long-awaited report of the National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development is now out and will doubtless make some waves within education’s chattering classes and more broadly among practitioners. But will anyone else notice or care?

Let me state up front that—aside from its abominably ungrammatical, if slightly clever, title—it’s a solid, respectable product, the sort of thing one rightly expects from the Aspen Institute, the blue-ribbon panel that produced it, and the eminent foundations that paid for it. It’s worth paying attention to. But I will also admit to a fairly serious case of déjà vu.

For the Commission’s central message is not new. It’s basically about “educating the whole child,” as we’ve been told to do at least since Dewey, since Montessori, since Rousseau, arguably since Aristotle. We’re admonished, once again, not to settle for the Three R’s, not to treat test scores as the only legitimate markers of school success, not to succumb to the cramped view that schools’ only job is to develop one’s cognitive faculties. So much more is needed…

Yes, it’s needed, and there’s no harm in being reminded of that once again. As Tim Shriver and Rick Hess write,...


Education Week opened the year with a second annual special issue titled “10 Big Ideas” with, wrote editor Elizabeth Rich, “the potential to define—or redefine—education in the year ahead.” Each includes a staff-written essay accompanied by a commentary penned by an outside researcher, practitioner, or advocate.

Some of the “Big Ideas” are fairly predictable. Colleges will keep striving to diversity their enrollments and to devise new ways of gauging applicants’ readiness. Annual testing will remain contentious. Students will continue to be frustrated by the seeming irrelevance of their classroom work to the “real world” outside. Effective school desegregation—and the narrowing of achievement gaps—remains a tangled web. Bilingual education continues to expand, boosted by the newish “Seal of Biliteracy,” but controversy continues around it and the proliferation of native languages spoken by kids in U.S. schools makes it next to impossible to universalize. And inevitably, in the #MeToo era, schools are being urged to “teach consent as a life skill.”

Three of the other topics caught my eye for different reasons.

Associate editor Christina Samuels pondered whether the absurdly overdue reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) might lead to some rethinking of special ed, but she didn’t...


One of the longest running debates about early childhood education is how much emphasis teachers should place on academic content. Thanks to changing perceptions, the standards-based reform movement, and accountability policies that have changed early grade instruction, kindergarten classrooms are increasingly focused on academic content and skill development.

These changes have garnered mixed reactions. Those in favor of the increased academic focus cite studies showing that exposure to advanced content is associated with higher student achievement. Opponents, meanwhile, have raised questions about whether kindergartners are developmentally ready for academics, and whether focusing on more advanced skills reduces play opportunities and leads to poorer social-emotional (SE) development.

To address these concerns, a new study examines the relationship between advanced content in kindergarten and children’s academic achievement and social-emotional outcomes. The study’s authors used the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of Kindergartners in 2010 (ECLS), a nationally representative study of kindergarteners enrolled during the 2010–11 school year. ECLS included approximately 18,200 children from nearly 1,000 schools, but the authors used a specific sample of 11,600 public school kindergarteners and their 2,690 teachers. ECLS collected information during the fall and spring of the academic year about children’s academic achievement and SE skills through surveys...

  1. We start today with sad (ish) news. A 167 year old Catholic elementary school in Louisville, Ohio, is scheduled to close at the end of the year due to declining enrollment. I mean, seriously declining. Less than 60 kids in pre-K through fifth grade this year. No, they don’t appear to accept vouchers. Why do you ask? (Canton Repository, 1/14/19)
  2. Staying in the Canton area for the moment, the new interim supe of Canton City Schools is the current head of HR. Congrats. (Canton Repository, 1/14/19)
  3. Speaking of new leadership, here is a brief rundown on the new president and vice president of your state board of education, elected by members yesterday. (Columbus Dispatch, 1/15/19)
  4. Following last week’s Lorain City Schools town hall meeting—in which, depending on what news outlet you read, things happened—district CEO David Hardy was on the dais again this weekend at Lorain’s 19th annual Speak Up, Speak Out event. The city of Lorain, the police department, and the school district all got together to answer questions from the community. Whatever they wre interested in talking about. Fascinating concept for an event. You’d think that things might be functioning more
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Jessica Baghian

While the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gave states the opportunity to broaden and deepen their visions of what makes for an excellent education, researchers and states have both struggled to design measures and systems that take meaningful steps in that direction. Most of us would agree that primary grade literacy, knowledge of U.S. history and civics, and productive transitions to employment and postsecondary education, for example, are essential and measurable aspects of schooling in America. Yet their appearances in ESSA accountability plans are rare to nonexistent.

The same is true for another essential area of the educational experience—enrichment experiences, which are abundant in virtually all respected schools, and which research confirms contribute profoundly to the lifelong interests and habits students take on as adults. Enrichment experiences, however, are not proportionally made available to all students at all schools. In Louisiana, for example, where I’m an assistant superintendent at the state education department, the average student in the district with the lowest enrichment enrollment is accessing 61 percent fewer enrichment courses than her counterpart in the district with the highest enrichment enrollment.

There is a clear and growing national interest to change this by elevating the role of enrichment opportunities...

Max Eden

Last week, the first randomized control trial study of “restorative justice” in a major urban district, Pittsburgh Public Schools, was published by the RAND Corporation.

The results were curiously mixed. Suspensions went down in elementary but not middle schools. Teachers reported improved school safety, professional environment, and classroom management ability. But students disagreed. They thought their teachers’ classroom management deteriorated, and that students in class were less respectful and supportive of each other; at a lower confidence interval, they reported bullying and more instructional time lost to disruption. And although restorative justice is billed as a way to fight the “school-to-prison pipeline,” it had no impact on student arrests.

The most troubling thing: There were significant and substantial negative effects on math achievement for middle school students, black students, and students in schools that are predominantly black.

What are we to make of these results? For education journalists like U.S. News and World Report’s Lauren Camera, there’s an easy solution: Don’t report the negative findings and write an article titled “Study Contradicts Betsy DeVos’ Reason for Eliminating School Discipline Guidance.”

When asked why she left her readers in the dark regarding the negative effects on black student achievement,...


Each year, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) releases a “challenged district list.” The list, based on criteria outlined in state law, determines in which of the state’s 608 school districts a new charter school can open. In the waning days of 2018, ODE released the latest and greatest version of the list.

After reviewing the list, here are a few takeaways worth noting.

It’s five times longer than it was last year

Last year, only forty-two districts were identified as “challenged.” But this year, 218 districts—over one third of the state’s traditional public school districts—have met the state’s criteria. Some of the districts on the list aren’t a surprise given their chronically low performance. For instance, even if state law didn’t mandate their inclusion, all of the Big Eight districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown) would have made the list based on their overall grades. Lorain City Schools, which is under the aegis of an Academic Distress Commission (ADC) because of chronic underperformance is included, as are the districts that could soon find themselves under ADC control—inner-ring, high-poverty suburbs like East Cleveland, Warrensville Heights, and Trotwood-Madison. But there are...

  1. Fordham is namechecked in this Dispatch editorial on the topic of funding changes for online charter schools. (Columbus Dispatch, 1/13/19)
  2. The dastardly scourge of charter schools rears its head in this piece too, in which a couple of folks in suburban Springboro Schools are incensed (incensed, I say!) over the district’s choice of consultant to assist with their strategic planning process. Doesn’t matter that the dude was previously state supe in both Ohio and Oklahoma. Doesn’t matter that he’s already worked with a bunch of districts in Ohio and elsewhere on just this sort of thing. It only matter that he once was part of a charter school network. We must now duck the witch. Duck him, I say! (Dayton Daily News, 1/12/19)
  3. Not enough school-choice-based hysteria for you? Try this then: The headline of this DDN piece says that the state’s voucher program is “to nearly double”. What it really means is that the students in a lot more schools across the state are eligible for vouchers due to consistently low academic performance in those school buildings. That is all that really qualifies as news here. The number of vouchers available = old news.
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In Ohio and across the nation, policymakers are contemplating sizeable increases to public outlays for early childhood programs, including expanded preschool, childcare, and other support services. Polls indicate that early childhood programs enjoy broad support, and proponents of early childhood programs often cite as evidence for expansion the positive, long-run effects of the boutique Perry Preschool program (it served just fifty-eight low-income children during the 1960s). But will greater expenditures in early childhood programs generate big returns? Or could they backfire?

A new study by university researchers Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber, and Kevin Milligan offers a cautionary tale. They examine the short- and longer-run outcomes of children participating in North America’s largest universal childcare program. Starting in fall 1997, Quebec began offering large public subsidies, open to all parents, for center- or home-based childcare programs serving youngsters up to four years old. As of 2011–12, the program cost $2 billion per year and subsidized roughly 80 percent of a family’s child care costs. Quebec has been the only province to adopt such an expansive childcare policy. For example, from the mid-1990s to 2008, Quebec children in center-based childcare jumped from 10 to 60 percent; during...