Improving America's Schools

Excellent schooling has never been more important – or more challenging to achieve. As lively debates rage over the best ways to reinvent American education for the 21st century, SSN scholars ask what works – and what falls short – to ensure good schools, effective teachers, and rigorous and rich instruction for all children and teenagers, including those growing up in disadvantaged communities.


A pioneer in ensuring universal access to public elementary and secondary education, the United States has fallen behind. Inequalities are growing and other nations are doing a better job of helping all students reach high standards.

> Why Equity is the Key to Excellence for American Schools
Flynn Ross, University of Southern Maine

> Making Sense of Trends in U.S. High School Graduation
Richard J. Murnane, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

> To Help Disadvantaged Children Learn, We Must Acknowledge that Poverty Hampers Education
Helen F. Ladd, Sanford School, Duke University


Accountability reformers are setting more demanding academic standards and using regular testing to hold individual schools and teachers responsible for boosting student achievement across the board. The reforms hold great promise, and are backed by many advocates who care deeply about reducing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic achievement gaps. Using educational data from many states and school districts, researchers are probing what works – and what has backfired or fallen short. Ideally, research results will inform the next rounds of national and state debates about how to improve policies.

> The Future of America's "No Child Left Behind" Reforms
Linda Forman Naval, Scholars Strategy Network

> Accountability in Education as a Civil Rights Cause
Jesse Rhodes, University of Massachusetts Amherst

> Can New Forms of Governance Improve America's Schools?
Paul Manna, College of William and Mary

> Alienated Parents – An Unexpected Downside of School Accountability Reforms
Jesse Rhodes, University of Massachusetts Amherst


What makes schools effective – and how can we boost the performance of struggling schools and groups of students? Many models have been tried, to mixed effect – including managerially autonomous charter schools, better and more equitable systems of school funding, and "turnaround" strategies encouraged by philanthropic donors. SSN experts assess the results and underline the value of more closely involving parents and community groups in efforts to improve schools.

> Can Charter Schools Fix American Public Schooling?
Luis Mirón, Loyola University New Orleans

> Money Matters – For All Schoolchildren
Melissa F. Weiner, College of the Holy Cross

> Why the Decline of Catholic Schools Matters
Carol Ann MacGregor, Loyola University New Orleans

> Can Philanthropists Engineer Effective School Reforms?
Sarah Reckhow, Michigan State University

> Why Community Collaboration Can Do Better than Turnaround Approaches to School Reform
Christopher Lubienski, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Luis Mirón, Loyala University New Orleans

> The Promise of Community Organizing for School Reform
Mark R. Warren, University of Massachusetts Boston

> Lessons from Hawaii's Efforts to Use "Race to the Top" to Boost Achievement of Native Hawaiian School Children
Morgen Johansen, University of Hawai'i at Manoa


Proponents of very different approaches to school reform agree that skilled and committed teachers are vital, especially for poor communities where many students struggle. But there are different recipes being offered for recruiting, developing, and retaining the best classroom instructors.

> Why Experienced Teachers are Important – And What Can be Done to Develop Them
Helen F. Ladd, Sanford School, Duke University

> Meeting the Challenge of Developing the Best American Teachers in a Culturally Diverse World
Flynn Ross, University of Southern Maine

> The Role of State Education Agencies in Reforming Teacher Evaluation
Patrick McGuinn, Drew University


School schedules were set in long-ago agrarian America, where youngsters worked on family farms. In today's world, good jobs and informed citizenship require creative learners. More time at school would boost disadvantaged students and help working parents. It would allow space for enhanced science instruction, a richer menu of extracurricular activities, and programs to develop civic skills and values to better prepare students for the 21st century.

> The Benefits of More Time in School
Mark D. Benigni, Superintendent of Schools, Meriden, Connecticut

> The Future of Service-Learning in Maryland Schools
Richard Blissett, Vanderbilt University

> Promoting Civic Habits in Multi-Cultural Schools
Ashley Elizabeth Anglin, University of Hawai'i at Manoa

> Why Americans Need to Know More about Biology and Genomics in the New Technological Era
Lisa R. Moore, University of Southern Maine


December, 2013