In Winter 2017, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education conducted a research review on the effects of curricular choices in K–12 education for the Knowledge Matters Campaign, a project of StandardsWork, Inc. That review,1 available upon request at standardswork.org, surfaced several important findings, including the following:
Research on the academic and civic outcomes produced by non-public schools is complicated. On the one hand, studies of the “school effect” dating back to James Coleman’s 1982 analysis of public, independent, and Catholic high schools indicates that private schools often produce modestly better academic and civic outcomes than district schools, even after controlling for students’ demographics.  Furthermore, international research suggests that highly pluralistic school systems, in which the government funds and regulates but does not operate all schools, can create the conditions for both academic excellence and equity (OECD 2014).
This case study provides superintendents, principals, and teachers with information on how three school systems have used an assessment developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—the OECD Test for Schools—to monitor students’ academic outcomes and inform shifts in policy and teacher practice to meet students’ learning needs. The OECD Test for Schools is based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a series of tests in reading, math, and science that is given every three years to more than 500,000 fifteen-year-olds in seventy-plus countries and economies.
Despite the increased focus on early literacy instruction sparked by No Child Left Behind, millions of adolescents still struggle with low literacy skills. In 2015, 66% of all eighth-grade students, 85% of Black students, and 79% of Hispanic students failed to perform proficiently in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Unless these students receive the intensive reading instruction they need in high school, their chances of graduating and securing gainful employment are slim to none. The Baltimore Curriculum Project and the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy hosted an event recently to discuss the adolescent crisis in America. Panelists included: Dr. Elizabeth Birr Moje, Interim Dean, University of Michigan School of Education, Dr. Rhonda L. Richetta, Principal, City Springs Elementary/Middle School, Dr. Sonja B. Santelises, Chief Executive Officer, Baltimore City Public Schools, and Dr. David M. Steiner, Executive Director, Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy.
Education policymakers generally agree that student achievement matters for those students’ life trajectories and for long-term national prosperity. But how much does it matter? By which measure: NAEP, state assessments, or graduation rates? To which economic outcome: individual, state, or national productivity? Eric Hanushek and Henry Levin, distinguished economists, joined David Steiner for this discussion.
We explored this issue with leaders who brought quite different angles to the debate: research, policy, activism, and jurisprudence.