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CEP Blog Posts

Blog Posts from the Center on Education Policy

What’s on the horizon for education policy?

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: February 26, 2018

CEP’s executive director highlights four areas – ESSA implementation, school choice, career and technical education, and funding – that are likely to dominate the federal education policy debates in 2018. Read the column here.

New Tax Plan Provides Little Cheer for Education

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: January 22, 2018

CEP Executive Director explains how the new tax plan will impact K-12 and postsecondary education. Read the column here

Standing up for Good Research

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: November 27, 2017

CEP Executive Director discusses the need for high-quality research to provide empirical evidence as part of the policy cycle. Read the column here.

3 Ways Congress Can Support Public Education

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

CEP Executive Director suggests that Congress needs to provide leadership in three education issues: DACA, oversight of for-profit colleges, and the civic role of public education. Read the column here.

Could American Support for Public Education be Slipping?

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: September 24, 2017

CEP Executive Director comments on the 2017 PDK poll. Read the column here

A New Push for Integrating College and Career Preparation?

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: August 29, 2017

CEP Executive Director discusses the latest PDK Poll finding that most Americans support classes that teach job or career skills. Read the column here.

The shape of the Federal Role in Education

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: May 1, 2017

CEP Executive Director explains the powers and limits of federal education policymakers under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Read the column here.

Good Time to be a Data Nerd

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: March 27, 2017

CEP Executive Director considers the impact of the Civil Rights Data Collection and the Stanford Education Data Archive as tools for policy discussions. Read the column here.

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.

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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Choice for Secretary of Education (PDF format, 81.0 KB)

Next up: Team DeVos

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: January 6, 2017

CEP Executive Director writes about what the U.S. Department of Education might look like under Betsy DeVos’ leadership. Read the column here.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in Maryland

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: November 28, 2016

CEP Executive Director discusses Maryland’s changing school calendar. Read the column here.

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.

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.

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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Blog Post (PDF format, 422 KB)

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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Article (PDF format, 92.9 KB)

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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Article (PDF format, 146 KB)

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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Article (PDF format, 224 KB)

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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Blog post (PDF format, 129 KB)

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.

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.

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.

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.

High Schools: Grow up!

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: January 30, 2014

CEP Executive Director Maria Ferguson is the author of the “Washington View” monthly column for Kappan magazine ( This month she focuses on the unique needs of high schools. Click here to read the column.

Failure IS an Option

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: January 16, 2014

CEP Executive Director Maria Ferguson is the author of the “Washington View” monthly column for Kappan magazine ( Her December column focuses on finding the value in failure and how educators and policymakers can learn from their efforts, even those that don’t turn out the way they hope. Click here to read the column.

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.

Hello and welcome to the Center on Education Policy (CEP).

Author(s): Maria Ferguson
Published: July 20, 2012

Hello and welcome to the Center on Education Policy (CEP).

My name is Maria Ferguson and I am the new Executive Director of CEP, which is now an independent center housed at the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD). For those of you who have come to our website before, you likely know that the founder and former president and chief operating officer Jack Jennings, recently retired after serving as an exemplar of thoughtful, intelligent leadership for 17 years. Jack is a legend to all of us in education policy and following in his footsteps is both humbling and thrilling.

CEP’s staff has managed the transition to their new home beautifully. I am thrilled to be part of such an amazing organization and will work hard to chart a new path with a clear sense of purpose and impact, with a bright eye towards the future.  To that end, many people have asked me what CEP’s move to GWU means for the organization.  Although this relationship is new for both CEP and GWU, I can tell you this much:

CEP will continue to be an independent source of information and resources to support and improve public education in the U.S.  CEP does not represent any special interests and will remain a completely independent source of information about education policy and practice amid the conflicting opinions and perceptions about public education. 

CEP will continue to act as a voice for public education by reporting on the impact of federal and state education policies. We will continue to convene people with differing points of view and foster a reasoned debate on public education. And we will look for opportunities to grow and develop new areas of work that are consistent with our mission and take advantage of the many resources at GWU. An important goal of CEP is to help citizens better understand the role of public education in a democracy. In order to do this, citizens must understand the laws and policies that structure education at the local, state and federal levels, and how these laws and policies affect teaching and learning.  All of us will continue to work hard to honor CEP’s legacy of being an honest and trusted broker of information about education policy. 

You should continue to expect the same caliber of excellent information and resources from CEP that so many people have come to expect and appreciate.  As a longtime end user of CEP’s research and information, I know the value this organization has for education leaders, policymakers and the public. Thankfully CEP’s staff remains intact: Deputy Director Diane Stark Rentner, Research Associate Shelby McIntosh; Senior Research Associate Jennifer McMurrer; Office Manager Susie Pamudji; and longtime CEP consultants Naomi Chudowsky, Nancy Kober, and Caitlin Scott remain key members of the CEP team.  CEP’s Alexandra Usher will begin a Master’s program in public policy at the University of Chicago this fall. 

CEP is incredibly fortunate to now be part of the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Led by Dean Michael Feuer, the staff and faculty at GSEHD have made CEP’s transition smooth and easy. We are all excited about the people and resources that GSEHD brings to CEP’s world. The faculty and students at the University represent an incredible pool of talent and knowledge that we are lucky enough to now have as colleagues. We look forward to mutually supporting one another’s efforts so we can all engage more fully in analysis of education policy issues. 

I hope you will visit  again and often. I encourage you to take advantage of the many resources on this website. You can find out more information about CEP and its new home at GWU by following the links below. Do not hesitate to email me directly with any questions or concerns:


Maria Ferguson bio
Michael Feuer bio
GSEHD website

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Hello and welcome to the Center on Education Policy (CEP). (DOCX format, 15.4 KB)

A Civil Right to a Good Education

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: January 30, 2012

This January 30, 2012 Huffington Post blog by CEP President Jack Jennings reviews past national movements to improve schools and proposes a new effort where a good education would become a civil right for all.  The blog summarizes Jennings’ January 2012 paper Reflections on a Half-Century of School Reform: Why Have We Fallen Short and Where Do We Go From Here?

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Blog Post (PDF format, 79.7 KB)

Coal for Christmas

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: January 10, 2012

Before Christmas, Jack Jennings, CEP’s president, submitted the following blog to the Huffington Post. This blog discusses the disappointing results from urban school districts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress that were released in December. He suggests a link between those results and the financial problems being experienced by American schools.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 430 KB)

Have We Gotten It Wrong on School Reform?

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: November 23, 2011

This November 23, 2011 Huffington Post blog written by CEP’s president Jack Jennings highlights a recent study of the education systems in Shanghai (China), Finland, Japan, Singapore, and Ontario (Canada), and discusses what lessons can be learned from these countries to help improve public education in the United States.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 337 KB)

Higher Wages Would Attract, Keep Better Teachers

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: November 9, 2011

On November 9, 2011, a commentary written by Jack Jennings, CEP’s president, appeared in the Debate Club of U.S. News and World Report. That magazine had asked him to comment on a recent report concluding that American teachers were over-paid. The commentary rebuts that conclusion.

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Commentary (PDF format, 71.3 KB)

A Serious Step Backward

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: October 24, 2011

On October 24, the Huffington Post carried a blog written by Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO, on the views of the Republican presidential aspirants on the role of the federal government in education.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 73.3 KB)

A Ray of Sunlight in Education

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: September 14, 2011

This September 14, 2011 Huffington Post blog, written by Jack Jennings, discusses the Center on Education Policy Report, Common Core State Standards:  Progress and Challenges in School Districts’ Implementation.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 74.5 KB)

Teacher Pay: U.S. Ranks 22nd Out Of 27 Countries

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: August 30, 2011

This August 30, 2011 Huffington Post blog by Jack Jennings discusses how teacher pay in the United States compares to other countries.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 95.6 KB)

School Vouchers: No Clear Advantage in Academic Achievement

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: July 27, 2011

In this Huffington Post blog, posted on July 27, 2011, Jack Jennings reviews the evolution of pro-voucher arguments over last 50 years, discusses these findings in light of CEP’s recent report on vouchers, and calls for greater efforts to improve public schools, which is where 90% of students attend school today.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 47.7 KB)

Education Budget Cuts Imperil Reform

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: June 30, 2011

In this Huffington Post blog, posted on June 30, 2011, Jack Jennings discusses the findings from the CEP report, Strained Schools Face Bleak Future: Districts Foresee Budget Cuts, Teacher Layoffs, and a Slowing of Education Reform Efforts.  He warns that squeezed school budgets may lead to a decline in student achievement because school districts are laying off teachers in order to balance the budget.  Fewer teachers will likely lead to increased class sizes and less attention to individual students.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 150 KB)

Long-Term Gains In Minority Education: An Overlooked Success?

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: May 8, 2011

This blog, which was written by Jack Jennings, CEP’s president, and posted on the Huffington Post on May 8, 2011, discusses achievement gains of white, Latino, and African American students on the long-term National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  The blog points out that while general trends show a mixed picture of achievement gains over the last four decades, Latino and African American students made great gains.  Accompanying the blog is a table that shows the changes in long-term NAEP reading and math scores since the 1970s for white, Latino, and African American students as well as for all students.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 70.0 KB) NAEP Table (PDF format, 68.8 KB)

Federal Aid to the Schools - Wasteful or Helpful?

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: April 21, 2011

This blog posted on April 21, 2011, in the Huffington Post, by Jack Jennings counters the criticisms of conservative critics of federal aid to education by describing the equity purpose of this aid and then highlighting the major educational achievements of the groups principally targeted for this assistance.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 67.2 KB)

Those Who Don't Learn From Their History ...

Author(s): Alexandra Usher
Published: April 20, 2011

In this guest blog posted April 20 on Education Week’s Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook, Alexandra Usher discusses the early federal land grant program which encouraged the creation of public schools across the U.S. Referencing CEP’s 2011 background paper Public Schools and the Original Federal Land Grants, Usher describes how the Land Ordinance and Northwest Ordinance established a policy through which new states were given land by the federal government for the support of public schools.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 84.6 KB)

Turning Around the Lowest Performing Schools: A Noble Goal and a Daunting Challenge

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: April 7, 2011

In this blog posted on April 7, 2011 in the Huffington Post, Jack Jennings describes the intent and weighs the prospects for success of President Obama’s initiative to make improvements in the nation’s lowest performing schools. The blog draws on the research conducted by CEP on schools needing restructuring under NCLB in assessing the chances for major improvement in these lowest performing schools.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 45.0 KB)

Can Boys Succeed in Later Life If They Can’t Read As Well As Girls?

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: March 17, 2011

In his March, 2011 blog post for The Huffington Post, CEP president and CEO Jack Jennings asks the question, “Can Boys Succeed Later in Life if They Can’t Read as Well as Girls?” Jennings notes troubling statistics that illustrate lower performance of boys compared to girls, including performance on state reading tests, and graduation rates from both high school and college. He says that the good news is that the recent national focus on improvement in math achievement for women has paid off, but that the bad news is that men are falling behind in the workforce, most likely because of their educational deficiencies.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 97.1 KB)

Get the Federal Government Out of Education? That Wasn’t the Founding Fathers’ Vision

Author(s): Jack Jennings
Published: February 7, 2011

This article, written by Jack Jennings, CEP's president and appearing in the February 7, 2011 Huffington Post, discusses the history of the federal role in education, and gives reasons why the federal government should continue to be involved in education.

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Blog Post (PDF format, 149 KB)