The problem:

  • The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, Democrats for Education Reform.  Best overview of U.S. achievement and reform trends over the last several decades. Unlike most data-based overviews of education, this one weaves the data into a narrative.

The solution:

  • At the system level:
    • The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley. Ripley follows American students as they study abroad in Korea, Finland, and Poland, countries whose students top the PISA test. Weaving between narrative and expository text, Ripley describes their experiences and the very different decisions the countries have made about their education systems.
    • How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better, McKinsey. This report buckets global school systems by their levels of development, and then argues that the appropriate reform(s) depend(s) on their level of development.
    • Smarter Budgets, Smarter Schools, Nate Levenson. Smart, tactical advice for how to make tradeoffs that serve kids from a former superintendent. Most education writing focuses either on increasing student achievement or reducing costs. This book focuses on how you can increase student achievement while reducing costs, thus getting to an academic return on investment.
  • At the school level: 
    • Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools, Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer. A study of 35 charter NYC charter schools finds class size, per pupil expenditure, teacher certification, and teacher degree attainment are not correlated with school effectiveness but frequent teacher feedback, using data to guide instruction, high dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations explain approximately 50% of variation in school effectiveness.
    • Greenhouse Schools: How Schools Can Build Cultures Where Teachers and Students Thrive, TNTP.  This report captures and compares the practices at schools with effective and ineffective instructional cultures.


  • Charter Schools in the States, a series of briefs from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Great overviews of key issues including student achievement in charters, charter school caps, and charter school finance.
  • The Performance and Competitive Effects of School Autonomy,” Damon Clark. In 1988, all schools in the UK were permitted to vote on whether or not to become autonomous. Comparing schools where autonomy narrowly passed with those where it narrowly failed, Clark finds that exam pass rates increased 0.25 standard deviations (!) in those where it narrowly passed.


  • Ed Tech Map, New Schools Venture Fund. Split into curricula, instructional systems, data systems, and talent management, this ed tech market map lays out who is tackling which challenges.
  • EdSurge, the TechCrunch for #edtech, this weekly newsletter will keep you in the know on all things education + technology.
  • Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, Clay Christensen, Curtis Johnson, and Michael Horn.  The Innovator’s Dilemma for the education space, this book explains the difference between a sustaining innovation and a disruptive one and how the authors expect disruption will play out in the education space.


The impact of effective teachers as measured by value-added:

  • The Long Term Impact of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood, Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff. The researchers analyze the adult outcomes of 2.5 million students and find, “Students assigned to high-value-added teachers are more likely to attend college, attend higher- ranked colleges, earn higher salaries, live in higher SES neighborhoods, and save more for retirement. They are also less likely to have children as teenagers.”

Teacher evaluation:

  • Gathering Feedback for Teaching: Combining High-Quality Observations with Student Surveys and Achievement Gains, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Part of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project, this interim report shows that value-added scores + observations + student perceptions has more validity and reliability than any single measure of teacher effectiveness.
  • State of the States: Teacher Evaluation, NCTQ.  A state-by-state rundown of teacher evaluation reform with a roll-up identifying key trends across the state.

Labor policies:

  • Teacher Roles, Rules, and Rights database, National Center for Teacher Quality.  A database detailing what is in the collective bargaining agreements of more than 100 of the largest U.S. school districts.
  • Missed Opportunities: How We Keep High Quality Teachers Out of Urban Classrooms, TNTP.  For big urbans, the binding constraint on hiring isn’t the number or quality of candidates but policies that slow hiring timelines.
  • Mutual Benefits: New York City’s Shift to Mutual Consent in Teacher Hiring, TNTP.  Profiles the shift from direct placement to mutual consent hiring in NYC. TNTP finds that in NYC 62% of teachers voluntarily transferring move to schools of equal or greater poverty.
  • The Irreplaceables, TNTP.  A bridge between the teacher and principal research, this report finds that principals don’t accurately communicate with teachers about their performance or differentiate the opportunities they offer to high and low performers. I did a full rundown here.

Class size:

  • Class Size: What the Research Says, Brookings Institute. A concise rundown of the research. Class size reduction is expensive and matters less than effective teaching, but there is some research showing class size matters more for poor kids.

Professional Development:

  • Survey of attitudes toward professional development, The Parthenon Group. National data on the swamp that is PD.


  • Public Education Finances: 2010.  A look at public education spending by source (e.g. federal, state, local) and use (e.g. instruction, capital outlays), broken out by state and major metropolitan area.

Selling to school districts:

  • Slow Entry, Distant Exit, 2005...but still relevant. Two people on the management team at Wireless Generation explain why it's so hard to sell to school districts. Twenty pages yet still pithy--that's how hard it is to sell to districts.

Higher ed:

  • "Time is the Enemy: The Surprising Truth about Why Today’s College Students Aren’t Graduating…And What Needs to Change." Best data-based overview of college (in)completion.
  • Estimating the Return to College Selectivity over the Career Using Administrative Earnings Data,” Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger.  For most students, the best predictor of future success is not the selectivity of the college they attended but the selectivity of the best college to which they applied. Despite disagreeing with some of their work here, this is still a very good paper. 
  • The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the Aspen Institute. There are almost as many students enrolled in two year-public schools as four-year ones but too little is written about them. Finally, a dive under the hood at five of the best.
  • "Education to Employment," McKinsey.  The world over, there is both a shortage of skilled workers and a shortage of jobs. This report unpacks the education to employment transition, examining how more students can graduate with skills needed for the workforce.
  • "Accreditation: Removing the Barriers to Higher Education Reform," the Heritage Foundation. Summary of how accreditation works, case for why it needs to change, and review of MOOCs operating today.
  • MOOC U, Jeff Selingo. Explores the successes and setbacks of MOOCs through the experiences of the professor constructing the course and students taking it, woven together with bigger picture data.