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Big Change on Both Sides of the Pond

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: March 23, 2017

CEP Executive Director shares reflections about a recent trip to London and how that country's political upheaval shares common ground with what is happening in the US. Read the column here:

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Don't Play Politics With the Common Core

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: February 28, 2017

CEP's Executive Director Maria Ferguson urges state and local leaders to ignore political chatter and remain focused on college and career ready standards in an Education Week commentary. You can read the commentary here:

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District Leadership in the New Era of Assessment

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner, Mathew Frizzell, Nancy Kober, and Maria Ferguson
Published: February 15, 2017

This report, based on a spring 2016 survey of a nationally representative sample of school district leaders in 42 Common Core-adopting states, explores issues related to assessment.  The report highlights district officials’ experiences with administering state Common Core-aligned assessments, how the student achievement data from those exams is used, views on the amount of time that students are tested, and the extent to which students opted out of the 2015 state exams.

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What Do Teachers and District Leaders Feel about State Standards and Assessments?

Author(s): Maria Ferguson, Nancy Kober, and Diane Stark Rentner
Published: February 15, 2017

This three-report summary synthesizes the key findings about teachers and district leaders’ views on standards and assessments and provides recommendations for state leaders. The three reports drawn upon for this summary are Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices (teacher survey report); Listening to and Learning from Teachers: A Summary of Focus Groups on the Common Core and Assessments; and District Leadership in the New Era of Assessment.

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Choice for Secretary of Education

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: January 25, 2017

Maria Ferguson's latest Kappan Washington View column on the President's choice for Secretary of Education. Read the column here.

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The Legacy of More & Better Learning Time: Grantee and Stakeholder Reflections

Author(s): Matthew Frizzell, Diane Stark Renter, Nancy Kober, Matthew Braun, and Maria Ferguson
Published: January 24, 2017

This report serves as a legacy document for the Ford Foundation’s More and Better Learning Time (MBLT) initiative. It summarizes the approaches to and outcomes and challenges of successful MBLT strategies around the country. The report includes data from a survey for Ford Foundation MBLT grantees across the country and from case studies in Denver, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; and Rochester, New York.

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Education for the Us First Crowd

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: November 10, 2016

In her latest column for Kappan magazine, CEP Executive Director Maria Ferguson shares her thoughts on the 2016 campaign and election and what it means for the future of public education. Read the full column here.

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The children are watching

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: October 24, 2016

Maria Ferguson's latest Kappan column, exploring how education may not have played a big role in the 2016 presidential campaign, but that doesn’t mean that children aren’t being schooled in the political process. They are listening and learning from all of the adult antics. Ultimately, this year’s experiences will play a role in their decisions about what to say, how to say it, and how to participate in this country’s political future.

Read the column here.

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Listening to and Learning from Teachers: A Summary of Focus Groups on the Common Core and Assessments

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner, Nancy Kober, Mathew Frizzell, and Maria Ferguson
Published: October 12, 2016

This report summarizes discussions from five elementary teacher focus groups conducted in Delaware, Illinois, Utah, and Wisconsin in spring and summer of 2016. Topics addressed include the Common Core State Standards, curricula, instructional materials, CCSS-aligned state assessments, student achievement data from those assessments, and accountability.  Where possible, the teachers’ comments are compared to the findings from CEP’s 2015 teacher survey.

The Center on Education Policy (CEP) conducted a webinar that highlighted findings from CEP's newest report, Listening to and Learning from Teachers You can view and download materials from the webinar here.

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NAEP Data: Beat Reporters' Secret Weapon

Author(s): CEP
Published: August 9, 2016

Most education reporters at one time or another write stories related to NAEP,  the National Assessment of Educational Progress. To help them better understand the unique aspects pf NAEP and take advantage of the rich data pool that NAEP offers, CEP joined forced with the Education Writers' Association (EWA) to host a reporter-focused webinar on making the most of NAEP.

This 60-minute webinar will help anyone who wants to better understand NAEP and gain practical tips for tapping this rich trove of student achievement data and detailed survey results from students, teachers, and schools. Experts from CEP and EWA explain the fundamentals of NAEP, its uses and misuses, explain how to navigate the NAEP Data Explorer website, and answer audience questions. 

Maria Ferguson, Executive Director of the Center on Education Policy (CEP)
Nancy Kober, Senior Editor, CEP
Mikhail Zinshteyn, Program Manager, EWA

Link to webinar:

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To Show Teachers Appreciation, We Can Start By Listening

Author(s): Gavin Payne
Published: May 6, 2016

Gavin Payne, Director of U.S. Programs & Advocacy for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is the author of the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists blog, a series of interviews with education leaders. This month he interviews CEP Executive Director Maria Ferguson to discuss how good listening makes for better policy. 

Read the interview here.

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Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices

Author(s): Diane Stark Rentner, Nancy Kober and Matthew Frizzell
Published: May 5, 2016

In the winter of 2015, CEP surveyed a nationally representative sample of public school teachers to learn their views on the teaching profession, state standards and assessments, testing, and teacher evaluations.  The report, Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices, summarizes these survey findings, including responses indicating that public school teachers are concerned and frustrated with shifting policies, over emphasis on student testing, and their lack of voice in decision-making.

Also included below is a ready-to-use comprehensive Power Point presentation of key findings from CEP's Teacher Survey Report, Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices. You can listen to the webinar here.

Listen to Us: Teacher Views and Voices Tables and Figures
Each of the tables and figures that appear in the report have been converted to individual JPEG images.  These images may be used without explicit permission from the Center on Education Policy as long as appropriate attribution is given to the CEP as the source.  Also, the JPEG images do not include the notes that appeared with each of the tables and figures in the report.  Please refer to the report for the notes and to Appendix 2 for information on the confidence intervals.

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Will the Light Shine on Education?

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: April 1, 2016

In the current election season, education is not drawing a lot of interest as a political issue. According to Gallup, only 4% of Americans consider education the nation’s most important problem. Hillary Clinton created a dustup last year when she talked about charter schools and may end up avoiding all but the simplest comments about it. But Sen. Bernie Sanders has put forth a proposal to make public colleges and universities free. The Republicans mostly avoid the topic except to take broadsides at the Common Core and keeping the federal government out of education. But it will be interesting to see if after the two major parties select their nominees that education becomes a more important issue in the fall campaign.

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Keeping Millennials 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

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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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