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After-School Programs

Offered at schools and community sites throughout the country, after-school programs have been used for years as a means to provide a safe place for children when many parents are at work and unable to provide supervision.

Backed by research that shows the hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are a peak time for students to engage in dangerous, illicit, and delinquent behavior, these programs have been proven to not only reduce misbehavior, but to improve students’ motivation and attendance in school.

Flickr/Alan Cleaver (CC BY 2.0)

Arts Education

Paints, pantomimes and piccolos – the arts are on display in our movies, on TV sets, and along city streets. But in recent years schools have had an uneasy relationship with arts education, sidelining stand-alone classes here while adding elements of the arts there. Yet after years of debate over perceived declines in access to arts education in U.S. schools, efforts are underway to expand funding and opportunities for students to draw, drum or dance.


Campaigns & Elections

Thomas Jefferson, among others, is credited by historians with equating an educated populace with one that was prepared to participate and vote in a democracy. “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone,” he once wrote. “The people themselves are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”

So what role does the issue of education itself play in elections, from the White House to the local school board? The materials gathered in this Topics section tackle this question.

image of teacher and children sitting in circle in classroom

Educating for Character & Citizenship

The intensive focus in public schools on boosting achievement in core subjects has sparked concerns that the U.S. education system is neglecting an important responsibility: to help foster in children strong character and prepare them for active citizenship in a democratic society.


Charters & Choice

Over the past two decades, charter schools have emerged as the fastest growing form of school choice, outpacing other alternatives such as vouchers, magnet schools, and homeschooling. Charters have also become a touchstone for how people feel about a host of related issues: job protections for teachers, the role of elected school boards and teachers unions, and the privatization of schools. The materials compiled in this section of Story Starters examine the ways charter schools and other school choice options play out in the education process.


College & Career Readiness

Among school reformers, “college readiness” has become a rallying cry. But what does it mean, and how does career readiness factor in?


Common Core
The Push for Common Standards

In 2010, state after state took a remarkable—and unprecedented—step: They adopted common academic standards. Once the dust had settled the following year, 46 states and the District of Columbia had signed on to the Common Core State Standards.


Curriculum & Instruction

What students learn and how that content is taught have been concerns at the heart of schooling in the United States since universal education took root in the 19th century. Throughout the 20th century the “struggle for the American curriculum,” as one education historian called it, ebbed and flowed for decades as debates raged over the very purpose of schooling – whether to prepare an engaged citizenry, develop a competitive workforce, or ensure an educated populace capable of reaching its intellectual potential.


Data & Accountability

From test scores to teacher salaries, from graduation rates to grade-point averages, the education world is full of data. The federal No Child Left Behind law, signed in 2002, created an unprecedented demand for detailed information about students and schools. No longer are public schools judged simply by average test scores for all students. The law requires states, school districts and campuses to break out (“disaggregate,” in education-speak) test scores by race, gender, English proficiency, socioeconomic status and more.


Digital Learning & Technology

Nichole Dobo, The Hechinger Report

Digital devices and speedy internet can transform classrooms by supporting and inspiring innovative teaching methods.

But simply filling a classroom with the latest and most expensive technology isn’t enough to improve outcomes for students. Training teachers, budgeting for expensive purchases, communicating with parents and effectively deploying the new tools to classrooms are key to success.


District Management

How are the policies for America’s local school districts set? Who is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of those policies? What happens when control over public schools shifts from a school board to the mayor? 

Questions about the governance, leadership and management of local school districts are often at the heart of conversations about how to improve U.S. public education, whether through incremental change or sweeping reform. This Topics section focuses on the lines of authority over public school systems, including the superintendents and other leaders entrusted with running them.


Early Childhood Education

From the moment a child is born, the learning begins. By kindergarten, gaps in skills and knowledge for some children have set in that can last a lifetime.

Over the past two decades, a growing body of research has helped bring the importance of the early years into greater focus. High-quality early childhood education and care are increasingly considered critical levers in supporting children’s development, school readiness, and long-term life outcomes. At the same time, adverse childhood experiences have been shown to have long-lasting consequences on learning and behavior as well as on physical and mental health.

The field of early childhood education faces a host of challenges: Funding is fragmented, access and quality are uneven, and services to the youngest children are limited. Worker pay is so low that about half of child care workers are on public assistance, research has found, while costs make early care and education unaffordable for some parents.

President Barack Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act. ©2015 NEA. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of the National Education Association.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act is the long-awaited rewrite of the main federal law for K-12 education, and replaces the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act.


Expanded Learning Time
Lengthening the School Calendar

Pressure to meet testing benchmarks and close the achievement gap have spurred growing interest nationally in examining new ways to think about the structure and use of time within schools. One such emerging reform, called Expanded Learning Time (ELT), adds hours and/or days to the traditional school schedule under the assumption that more classroom time will help disadvantaged, minority students “catch up” to the speed of their higher performing peers.


Federal K-12 Funding

A relatively small slice of overall financing for K-12 schools - just about 10 percent, on average – comes from Washington, D.C. Schools across the country depend much more on state and local dollars. The federal share can range from more than 15 percent – in states including South Dakota and Louisiana – to less than 5 percent, in Connecticut and New Jersey.


Federal K-12 Reform

Since the creation of the U.S. Department of Education in 1980—if not long before—policymakers, educators, and the public have debated how involved the federal government should be in shaping the schools that children across the nation attend. The articles, reports and other materials in this Topics section examine the recent impact of federally driven efforts to reform elementary and secondary schools.


The Global Context for Education

Interest has mounted in how U.S. students stack up academically against their peers abroad, as well as the potential lessons educators and policymakers here might glean from high-achieving nations.


K-12 Finance & Operations

Many education decisions—from how many students will be in each class to how long bus routes will be—are driven by one significant factor: money. This Topics section offers materials that explore the myriad decisions that affect how money for K-12 schooling is raised and spent, and how those decisions shape the way the nation’s public schools are run.


Online Learning

Just a little over a decade ago, online learning for many educators fell into the realm of science fiction, or worse, snake oil. Visions of students accessing an array of courses on their computers, interacting with teachers over the internet, and participating in virtual “field trips” seemed more fantasy than reality.

Flickr/dierk schaefer (CC BY 2.0)

Psychology of Learning


Backed by decades of research, a movement is afoot to rethink how students learn inside and outside of classrooms. As a result, momentum is building to introduce students to fresh ideas that will help them confront their anxieties about homework, tests and their own ability to learn, making them more motivated learners along the way.


School Climate & Safety

There was a time when the idea of creating a desirable school climate was practically redundant because there were few, if any, obstacles. “In the earliest public schools, teachers taught and students listened,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written approvingly about that simpler era in American education. “Teachers commanded, and students obeyed.”

In the modern era, however, maintaining a good school climate is a continuing challenge for teachers, administrators, and policymakers.


School Leadership

The role of the school principal has come into sharper focus in recent years, as a growing body of research shines a light on how principals affect student learning. With that knowledge comes a growing recognition that, in an era of accountability, the success of school improvement initiatives depends heavily on having effective leaders on campus.


Special Education

Each year, parents and school boards duke it out at hearings and in court over the kinds of services and placements their schools provide for students with special needs.Those battles over special education have their roots in the 1976 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.The basic tenets of that landmark federal law are that students with disabilities should be provided with a “free, appropriate public education” (FAPE), and that this education should take place in the“least restrictive environment,” meanin


Standards & Testing

There are few questions more crucial to the field of education than what students should learn and how that learning should be measured. This Topics section examines several currently hot topics – including common standards, international comparisons, and cheating – in the often-contentious realm of standards and testing.


STEM Education

Calls to improve education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math have taken on fresh urgency in recent years. With U.S. prospects for prosperity increasingly seen as tied to performance in the STEM fields, the education community has stepped up efforts to rethink and revamp how U.S. students are educated in those subjects and groomed for technical careers.


Student-Centered Learning

At its core, “student-centered learning” is the idea that each student is an individual who learns in unique ways. Students come to school with prior knowledge, educational experiences, trauma, attitudes, interests, preferences, strengths and weaknesses unique to their lived experiences. At their best, student-centered approaches give students agency over their learning so they are active participants in the process, rather than empty vessels to be filled.


Summer Learning

Recognition of the importance of summer to the traditional school year is growing nationally, as more districts realize just how detrimental months away from school can be to students – especially those who are already struggling academically.

But how best to use the summertime to foster student learning and development remains undetermined, although more research has emerged on what works best.


Teacher Evaluation

In recent years, the evaluation of classroom teachers has become an increasingly high profile and controversial issue, especially as many states began to require those judgments to be based — at least in part — on student test scores.

But the landscape is shifting once again, spurred on by changes in federal law. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which went into effect with the 2017-18 school year, ushered in a new era of greater state flexibility and decreasing federal oversight of teacher evaluations.


Teacher Workforce

Many efforts to improve U.S. education today focus squarely on the “talent strategy” – how to get more great teachers into the pipeline and keep them in the classroom.