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 What's New

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Keeping Millenials in Classrooms Requires Time and Support

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: February 4, 2016

CEP Executive Director Maria Ferguson reflects on the teaching profession and the dwindling number of college students who want to become teachers.

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Deconstructing the 2015 NAEP Results

Author(s): Nancy Kober
Published: February 2, 2016

The 2015 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results were both surprising and unsettling for many education leaders. CEP's Nancy Kober gets some insight from a panel of experts and deconstructs the findings. This short piece helps explain what they mean and don't mean for the future of public education.

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The One Who Loved Evaluations Will Now Be Evaluated

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: December 4, 2015

Maria Ferguson's latest Washington View column for Phi Delta Kappan magazine.

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Knowing the Score: The Who, What, and Why of Testing

Author(s): Nancy Kober
Published: November 3, 2015

Recently, the amount and variety of testing occurring in public schools has received considerable national attention. To help parents, educators, policymakers, and others sort out all the differing information and opinions on testing, the Center on Education Policy at the George Washington University has developed Knowing the Score: The Who, What, and Why of Testing. This publication provides objective information and explanations of important issues related to assessment in K-12 schools, including— 

  • Basic facts about testing and common reasons for testing
  • The impacts of the federal government, states, and school districts on the amount and type of testing
  • The historical roots of current testing requirements
  • Impact of the Common Core on testing
  • How individuals can determine how much testing is too much
View Report

Making Research More Useful in Policy and in the Classroom

Author(s): CEP
Published: April 30, 2015

On April 30, 2015, the Center on Education Policy convened a roundtable discussion of national education leaders on the use of research-based evidence to inform education policy and practice. Sponsored by the William T. Grant Foundation, the discussion covered the use of evidence and research partnerships at the state and local levels; the role of intermediaries in producing, promoting, and interpreting evidence; putting research evidence in context, and creating the conditions that allow educators to access the right research at the right time.


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As policymakers consider a reauthorized ESEA, let’s try using what we know about federal policies for school improvement.

Author(s): Jennifer McMurrer, Diane Stark Rentner, and Nancy Kober
Published: April 14, 2015


What, if anything, can the federal government do to improve persistently low-performing schools and ensure that all students attend effective schools? Congressional efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reveal deep differences on this central question. Many Congressional Republicans say the answer is to substantially reduce the federal role and increase state and local control of education, a philosophy embodied in the Student Success Act reported by the House education committee. Key Congressional Democrats disagree, as do civil rights organizations, the Secretary of Education, and some business leaders; these groups emphasize the importance of maintaining federal protections and tracking achievement for disadvantaged students and providing targeted funding to high-poverty schools. Senate education committee leaders have introduced a bipartisan bill that would retain some federal requirements but give states more latitude in how they hold schools accountable. The bill would also pass responsibility to states and school districts to determine how to improve low-performing schools.

To inform this debate, policymakers of diverse viewpoints can look to a body of research conducted over the past 13 years by the Center on Education Policy. Since 2002, CEP has studied implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, particularly federal policies to improve low-performing schools and raise student achievement. This research includes state and local surveys, case studies, and analyses of test score trends. Summarized below are the main lessons learned from this body of work about the federal role in school improvement. These are by no means the only lessons from this research; all of the study reports on NCLB and school improvement are available for free at

  1. Allow some flexibility in the use of school improvement funds. School improvement is often a complex, iterative, and evolving process in which school and community context influences choices and implementation. Until very recently, the Obama Administration’s rules for federal School Improvement Grants (SIGs) required recipients to use funds to implement one of four specific reform models. But the one-size fits all approach did not work for many grantees participating in CEP’s research, especially schools in rural areas. It will be important to build some flexibility into any federal role in assisting states and districts with improving schools.
  1. Recognize that even with a more flexible approach, some structure can be helpful in planning and implementing reforms. The federal school reform models, though flawed, did provide a process and a structure that encouraged many low-performing schools to analyze data, consider how they were doing things, and determine how they might improve. For example, by virtue of having to respond to federal requirements to expand learning time, schools often ended up making better use of instructional time in the school day and finding more time for teacher development, planning, and collaboration.
  1. Provide dedicated funding for school and district reform. Federal SIGs were often a welcome source of extra funding because they allowed district and school leaders to try new approaches for improving student learning. Typically, other funding streams received by district and schools were not realistic sources of support for school reform because they were already obligated for salaries and other expenses.
  1. Target a portion of federal dollars on improving the capacity of states and districts to help low-achieving schools. Often state education agencies lack sufficient staff to provide technical assistance on school improvement, while districts lack staff to fashion reform plans and to identify academic, curricular, staffing, or other issues that affect school performance. Although money for improvement is needed at the school level, it’s just as important that federal funds are available to build state and local staffing capacity and expertise to help struggling schools.
  1. Recognize that real change may take longer than a three- or five-year grant cycle. There is a tendency among policymakers to declare a program or a policy a failure if it does not show immediate positive results. It takes time, however, to bring about systemic change and increase student achievement in schools that educate large proportions of low-income and disadvantaged students. For example, many schools that received federal SIGs funds focused the first year or more of their grant on improving school safety, attendance, parent involvement, and other aspects of school climate, which they viewed as a necessary precondition to improving achievement.
  1. Sustain funding for improvement activities. SIGs are provided for a limited number of years on the theory that local or state funds will gradually replace the federal dollars to sustain activities. CEP’s research shows, however, that more often than not when the federal money goes away, so does the reform effort, no matter how promising.
  1. Study and report on school improvement efforts. Although the U.S. Department of Education has released some data on the impact of SIGs, there is much more to be learned about the state, district, and school roles in planning and implementing school improvement. For example, which approaches worked and did not work for states and schools to improve student achievement? And what were the conditions that contributed to the successes and obstacles of these approaches? What is needed is a sustained, multi-tiered federal approach to study school improvement efforts that are underway; this should include funds for localized, timely, and actionable research as well as larger federal data collection and analysis across multiple sites.

CEP’s research points to the need for a balanced federal role in school improvement that reduces some requirements but still provides a degree of structure; that provides dedicated funding for schools, districts, and states to carry out their respective responsibilities; and that allows for sustained support over a sufficient period of time.

Thoughtful policymaking requires attention to lessons from the past, continued attention to emerging information in the present, and a candid discussion of how the past and present can inform the future. We hope that the House and Senate education committee members will take into consideration the valuable research done by CEP and other groups when crafting an ESEA policy on the federal role in improving low-performing schools.

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Building a Better Relationship between Education and Data

Author(s): Center on Education Policy
Published: February 19, 2015

Empowering Educators to Lead the Way on Data Use

Despite the presence of technology and data in almost every aspect of our lives, the K-12 education sector is still grappling with how to effectively use data to support instruction and student learning.  While some important progress has been made, many educators still need support--including time, training and resources--on how to manage and use data.

On  March 17, 2015, the Center on Education Policy (CEP), in collaboration with Renaissance Learning and the Data Quality Campaign, convened a conversation on the campus of the George Washington University about empowering educators to lead the way in using data to improve classroom instruction and student learning. The conversation looked at state and local leadership on data use, including the benefits and challenges associated with new technologies that process and organize school data. Issues covered include:

  • Data and assessment literacy: Empowering teachers and administrators
  • State leadership: Creating the conditions and culture for effective data use
  • More than just numbers: The power and potential of data visualization


Rebecca Thessin, Ed.D., a panelist at this event wrote a paper called The Need to Use Evidence in School-Based K-12 Improvement Efforts:  When data is used as part of an ongoing cycle of improvement that involves the regular collection and systematic analysis of evidence, teachers can change their instructional practice to improve student achievement. To do so, the school leader must share leadership of a schoolwide process of improvement with teachers. Most critically, central office must give priority to developing the skills of principals to lead the difficult but rewarding work of improving instruction and schools.  Rebecca Thessin, Assistant Professor of Educational Administration at the George Washington University shares her thoughts and experience on how to empower teachers to use data effectively and how schools and districts can engage in the systematic collection and analysis of evidence as part of an ongoing school improvement cycle. Dr. Thessin identifies four steps that school leaders, supported by their central office, can take to launch and implement this work effectively and sustain it over time to lead to improvement.

You can view the video of the event and download Rebecca Thessin's full paper below:

Video of the webcast

Thessin Paper


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A Compendium of Research on the Common Core State Standards

Author(s): Matthew Frizzell and Tara Dunderdale
Published: February 10, 2015

This updated compendium includes over 85 research studies focused on the Common Core State Standards, and encompasses research from multiple sources, such as government entities, independent organizations, and peer-reviewed publications from academic journals and other outlets. Each study in the compendium has been summarized and categorized across nine topic areas. A URL link to the original research is also provided when possible. The compendium is presented below both as a single document as well as individual PDFs of the nine topic areas. The compendium will be updated regularly as the body of CCSS-related research grows. This latest version is updated as of February 10, 2015.

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Expanded Learning Time: A Summary of Findings from Case Studies in Four States

Author(s): Jennifer McMurrer, Matthew Frizzell, Nanami Yoshioka, Caitlin Scott, and Nora Ostler
Published: January 13, 2015

This summary report describes the strategies being used by case study sites to meet federal requirements and encouragements for increased or expanded learning time, and the challenges, successes, and impacts associated with this implementation process.  The report is based on the findings of a series of case studies of 17 low-performing schools within 11 school districts in four geographically dispersed states—Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon and Virginia.  CEP interviewed 49 education leaders at the state, district, and school-levels to collect data for the study.  Also available on this site are detailed reports for each of the four states and 11 districts with the 17 case study schools and a webinar presentation of the key findings.

Case Study Reports


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Common Core State Standards in 2014: District Implementation of Consortia-Developed Assessments

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner, Nancy Kober
Published: October 30, 2014

This report, based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of school districts located in Common Core-adopting states that are also members of the PARCC or Smarter Balanced testing consortium, examines school districts’ efforts to prepare for the consortia assessments. The report discusses district leaders’ views on the consortia assessments, plans to provide remediation and support for students who may need assistance, readiness for administering the assessment online, and plans for revising or eliminating their own math and English language arts assessments.

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Common Core State Standards in 2014: Curriculum and Professional Development at the District Level

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner, Nancy Kober
Published: October 29, 2014

This report, based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of school districts in Common Core-adopting states, examines school districts’ efforts to develop and implement CCSS-aligned curricula and to provide professional development to teachers and principals.   Specifically, the report examines anticipated timelines for implementing CCSS-aligned curricula in all schools, sources of CCSS-aligned curricula, the estimated percentages of teachers and principals who have participated in CCSS-related professional development, anticipated timelines for when all teachers and principals will be prepared for the CCSS, and providers and topics of CCSS-related professional development.

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Moving ahead after November elections

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: October 28, 2014

The outcome of the November elections in Washington for House and Senate seats, along with the 36 governor offices up for votes means that there may be a very different political landscape come January. But perhaps the greatest promise of the results of the upcoming elections is that Congress and state houses could find some common ground and new leaders may emerge to move the nation toward addressing sorely neglected education issues.

Click here to read the full article.

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Common Core State Standards in 2014: Districts’ Perceptions, Progress, and Challenges

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner and Nancy Kober
Published: October 8, 2014

This report, based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of school districts in Common Core-adopting states, examines school districts’ efforts to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  The report addresses district leaders’ views on the rigor of the CCSS and their impact on learning and instruction, progress on and challenges in implementing the standards, outreach efforts to inform various stakeholders about the CCSS, district collaboration with other entities on various implementation activities, and the types and helpfulness of CCSS-related assistance from the state education agency.

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Listen to American Opinions

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: September 3, 2014

The annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools is coming out. It always gives us an important view of what Americans are thinking about their schools and education in general. There are important issues covered in the poll and we would do well to consider what the public is saying about our schools and we in Washington and across the country make and consider policy and initiatives for our future.

Read the full article here.

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A Guide to Federal Education Programs That Can Fund K-12 Universal Prevention and Social and Emotional Learning Activities

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner, Olga Acosta Price
Published: May 7, 2014

The Center on Education Policy and the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools created this user-friendly guide that highlights 15 federal elementary and secondary education programs where the statutory language or the regulations/guidance that accompanies a program appear to permit funds to be used to support universal prevention programs and social and emotional learning initiatives. The guide also provides examples of schools, districts, and state education agencies that have successfully supported their prevention programs with federal education dollars. An annotated bibliography of significant research regarding the impacts of school-based behavioral and emotional health interventions on student academic performance accompanies the guide.

Click here to listen to the June 18, 2014 webinar on this topic.

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A Research Agenda for the Common Core State Standards: What Information Do Policymakers Need?

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner, Maria Ferguson
Published: April 3, 2014

As part of a broader project to better connect the research on Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to policy and practice, CEP met with individuals from organizations representing state and local education policymakers to learn of their memberships’ research and data needs around the Common Core.  The conversations yielded four areas of policy-related research that will be needed in the coming year: (1) case studies of successful implementation of the CCSS; (2) studies of state and local CCSS outreach strategies; (3) studies of state education agency capacity to lead the CCSS implementation; and (4) analyses of the impact of federal education requirements on CCSS implementation.

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Amid the Chaos of Washington Lies Opportunity

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: March 26, 2014

Several important education authorization bills are languishing in the U.S. Congress, victims of sharp policy and political differences with the White House. But things are somewhat quieter now, so it might be a good time for Democrats and Republicans alike to find some common ground by looking at what has worked to improve education in the past.

Read the article here.

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Behind in Assessment and Losing the Shame Game

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: March 4, 2014

When the most recent PISA scores were released last fall, there was a flurry of headlines about America’s stagnant public schools. American students were characterized as being asleep at the wheel and in need of a major wake-up call. If we really wanted the public to look closer and try to understand why PISA, NAEP and other kinds of assessments are important, we would need to do more than just shame public schools. We would need to have a thoughtful and nuanced conversation about why some education systems have been able to improve student performance and others have not. We would have to look at culture, resources, leadership, teacher training and national sentiment. We would have to analyze gaps of all kinds, not just achievement. And we would have to use the information to help teachers and education leaders understand why others are making progress without humiliating them in the comparison.

You can read the full article here.

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Ten Big Takeaways from CEP’s Research on State Implementation of the Common Core

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner
Published: January 14, 2014

This October 2013 blog, written by CEP deputy director Diane Stark Rentner for the Hunt Institute’s  Intersection, summarizes the major key findings from CEP’s 3013 survey of state education agencies’ on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

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