Resources on the Social Side of Education Reform

shankerblogThe folks over at Shanker Blog have been writing recently about how education reform cannot happen in a vacuum. Schools and the people in them are inherently social, so approaching education reform through a social lens makes sense. Here is a piece from one of their recent blogs:

For the past few months, we have been insisting, through this blog series, on the idea that education reform has a social dimension or level that often is overlooked in mainstream debate and policy. Under this broad theme, we’ve covered diverse issues ranging from how teachers’ social capital can increase their human capital to how personnel churn can undermine reform efforts, or how too much individual talent can impede a team’s overall performance.

This collection of issues may prompt a number of important questions: What exactly is the “social side?” What are its key ideas? I would like to offer a few initial thoughts and share some resources that I’ve compiled.

The social side is primarily a lens that brings into focus a critical oversight in the public debate on educational reform and its policies: The idea that teaching and learning are not solo but rather social endeavors that are achieved in the context of the school organization, and within the districts where schools are embedded, through relationships and teamwork, rather than competition and a focus on individual prowess.

This social side perspective does a few things:

  • Shifts the focus from the individual attributes of stakeholders (e.g., teachers, principals) to the supports and constraints afforded by the school organization and the broader social context in which individuals operate;
  • Highlights the importance of interdependencies (formal and informal) at all levels of the system – e.g., among teachers within a school, leaders across a district, schools and the community etc. – and the idea that a complex system is more than the sum of its parts;
  • Recognizes that valuable resources (e.g., information, advice, support) are exchanged through relationships within and across the overlapping networks of schools and districts, and that monitoring and strengthening this infrastructure is crucial for educational improvement.

For more, including numerous links to resources on the social side, see


Three new videos from AEI Vision Talks

AEIThe American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank that covers education issues, has a new series of videos out addressing the course of education reform in the United States.

Following is an excerpt from their description of the series:

Our schools are failing the most vulnerable kids.

Everyone’s heard the scary statistics. But the dollars we spend per child and the national trends in test scores are not what’s most important.

Here’s what matters: We are failing in our moral duty to provide every American boy and girl the education they need to build a meaningful and satisfying life.

Three of four talks have been released:

Are American Schools Designed to Succeed? by Rick Hess, AEI’s Director of Education Policy

Institutions don’t last forever. As the world changes, they adapt or die. But U.S. education still uses a 200-year-old philosophy. Hess explains why it is time to rethink the real purpose of American schools.

Making the Case for Education Reform by Arthur Brooks, AEI President

Education reformers have the ideas to fix America’s failing schools. So why aren’t people listening? Brooks explains why we have failed to capture hearts and minds — and how we can win the debate.

Has Education Reform Gone Wrong? by Kaya Henderson, DCPS Chancellor

Is education really about test scores and economic forecasts? Or is it about the aspirations of children and families? Henderson explains what we should really be measuring when we measure our schools.

To view the videos, please visit:


Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning




As employers and postsecondary institutions increasingly demand students and workers equipped with high-level skills, many states are exploring performance assessments as part of their K-12 education strategies. Unlike multiple-choice tests, these assessments require students to construct answers, produce products, or perform activities; they allow educators to assess student performance meaningfully and foster deeper learning.

In Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning, Stanford University Professor and SCOPE Faculty Director Linda Darling-Hammond and NASBE Deeper Learning Project Director Ace Parsi argue that focusing on assessments is essential for facilitating meaningful learning that leads to  state educational agency success and helps policymakers address some of the thorniest issues around them: purpose, sustainability, reliability, accountability, policy alignment, equity, professional practice, and implementation. The paper includes key considerations for state policymakers as they assess whether their states are getting the maximum benefits from the adoption of performance assessment strategies.

“Transforming a state assessment and accountability strategy to support and advance the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are essential to students’ college, career, and civic success is not an easy task for any state,” says Darling-Hammond.

“New strategies will require a commitment to funding new systems, training educators, and collecting and analyzing the information that performance assessments provide to continuously improve state education systems,” adds Parsi. “While this commitment will require funding, the costs are dwarfed by the substantial costs of inaction: poorly trained educators, continued and persistent opportunity gaps, and most important, a system that is misaligned to the goal of enabling all students to seize opportunities the 21st century provides. Luckily, many states have already begun to engage in this important task.”

Read and share Performance Assessments: How State Policy Can Advance Assessments for 21st Century Learning at:


Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12

edclogo2In a new report, Skills for Success: Supporting and Assessing Key Habits, Mindsets, and Skills in PreK-12, Melissa Tooley and Laura Bornfreund highlight trends and raise important considerations for schools supporting and assessing a more comprehensive set of student “skills for success” and explore how assessments of these skills could be used to inform school improvement and accountability strategies.

Skills for Success include grit, self-discipline, and critical thinking, which are often directly encouraged in early education, but then abandoned in later years of school. While schools and teachers certainly recognize the importance of these skills, they may not be equipped to integrate them into daily instruction in a meaningful fashion. Tooley and Bornfreund believe this is crucial because research shows that children learn and refine these skills into adolescence.

One of the key ways that Tooley and Bornfreund recommend that changes can be effected is to increase accountability for skills for success:

Some of our recommendations focus on increasing the visibility of school policies and practices that can influence students’ skills for success and holding schools and educators accountable for improving areas that are lacking. To date, the evidence from K–12 SFS implementation indicates that if SFS and the practices that promote them are not monitored by outside stakeholders in some way, educators push them to the side to focus on those areas that accountability systems are based on.

You can find the full report here:


ASCD’s newest Policy Points on Teacher Leadership

ascd_header_logoASCD has a new bulletin out about teacher leadership that is an excellent jumping off point for anyone looking to both advance the role of teachers and improve student achievement.

It first explores the teacher leadership landscape by featuring recent data on the primary characteristics of teacher leaders, identifying states that offer formal teacher leader certifications, and offering recommendations on how states can best support teachers in leadership roles. In other words, it takes context into account, helping education leaders find the best way to become more involved.

The graphic-based issue then highlights the benefits of teacher leadership including improved teacher retention, increased teacher capacity, school staffing innovations, and, ultimately, a stronger teaching profession.

This Policy Points bulletin makes it clear that involving teachers more in rewarding leadership positions offers a promising initiative to advance American education overall.

For more information, please visit:


Reimagining College in 2015

brookingslogoStuart Butler of the Brookings Institutions has some bold predictions for changes to higher education in coming years. He bases his predictions on signs that have become more evident in recent years, but as of yet have not significantly disturbed the four-year college education establishment.

His 4 key predictions are:

  • Tuition will begin to fall sharply.
  • Quality information will get much better and become customized.
  • MOOCs will become more sophisticated and pervasive.
  • The traditional four-year college will give way to other business models.

Essentially, Butler thinks that education will face the same sort of changes that technological innovation has caused in other fields. And for those frantically saving money for their future college education, his predictions will be music to their ears.

For more information, please visit:


Creating a Teacher-Powered School

teacher centered schools logo-smallEducation Evolving is launching, in partnership with the Center for Teaching Quality, an online guide: “Steps to Creating a Teacher-Powered School.”

The guide walks educators through the stages in creating a school designed and run by teachers. It’s an updated, interactive version of the PDF guide with the same name released earlier this year.

This guide is part of the Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative – one of Education Evolving’s primary priorities over the past year. The initiative seeks to raise awareness of schools where teachers call the shots, and to support teachers in starting and converting schools to such a model.

The guide can be found at:

As an example, a school in Prince George’s County, MD is attempting to put the principles of a teacher-powered school into effect. Following is an excerpt from the U.S. News and World Report article about it:

A group of teachers and union representatives gathered on a mid-summer morning in the small town of Forestville to discuss the details of opening a new school in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The five educators discussed budgeting, facilities, community engagement and curriculum, tucked away at the teachers’ union headquarters. There were no representatives from the state education department or local school board to get involved in the planning of staffing, transportation and food services, and notably, no principal – because there won’t be one.

“Teachers don’t really get a lot of say in what goes on in schools. So I thought, why not then have an avenue where teachers really get to step up to the plate and decide how schools actually operate, what the academic program would look like, and just the overall kind of structure that would give kids more engagement in their own learning?” says Dorothy Ray, director of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association’s UniServ program, which focuses on providing advocacy support to local union affiliates.

“Thank heavens some folks in here listened to me,” she adds.

For more information, please visit:


Time for Equity Indicators Framework

Home - Time For Equity




The Time for Equity Indicators Framework is a web-based tool today that provides school and district leaders, reform support partners, researchers, and community organizations with a wealth of information about how to effectively measure the process and impact of expanding and reimagining learning time.  It has been developed by the Annenberg Institute for Education Reform and funded by the Ford Foundation.

It is an information clearinghouse on twenty-four different benchmarks of education conditions, access and impact. The tool provides a wide range of measures that go well beyond standardized test scores to encompass the entire context surrounding educational improvement. Resources include links to academic research, data tools, videos and more, on indicators such as teacher leadership; student, family and community engagement; and engaged student learning. The new site represents two years of research and engagement with organizations supporting and implementing new approaches to structuring learning time in urban neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, driven by the goal of equity for all students.

For more information, please visit:


Spin Straw into Gold — A Report Highlights Role States Can Play to Support Districts

ers_logo-2There has been a growing debate over the role state education agencies should play in our K-12 system. A just-released ERS report makes the case that we shouldn’t be focused on expanding or limiting the role of states but on ensuring they are more strategic in how they support districts and schools.

In “Spinning Straw into Gold: How state education agencies can transform their data to improve critical school resource decisions,” authors Stephen Frank and Joseph Trawick-Smith explain that SEAs collect key data for compliance and accountability purposes from districts but don’t typically help school leaders use that data in meaningful ways. “The fact that many states collect these data but don’t turn it into something schools can use to be more strategic in areas such as staffing, scheduling and budgeting, just doesn’t make sense. They could be turning straw into gold, but sadly most states are not. We hope the ideas presented here help SEAs shift their strategies,” said Frank.

For more, see the report, here:


Why We Need a Federal Preschool Investment in 6 Charts

AP587074697411-620From Rachel Herzfeldt-Kamprath and Maryam Adamu at Center for American Progress comes a new report about the importance of reforms to early childhood education.

The past decade has been significant for the growth of early childhood programs. From the increased understanding of brain development in infants and toddlers to the more rigorous monitoring of social and educational outcomes, the early childhood field continues to move forward. Despite strong progress to date, there is still much more to do to ensure that all children have access to high-quality early childhood programs from birth.

Research indicates that access to quality preschool can provide a boost for children that will influence their success for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, not every child has access to high-quality early education, and many of children who could benefit do not attend preschool. Given the importance of early learning, making sure that all children are afforded the opportunity to access high-quality early childhood education is a no-brainer.

These six charts show why policymakers need to invest in early childhood education now.