Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs; the American foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and AztecNative American cultures; and Christopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

One of my greatest joys as a parent has been reading beloved, classic children’s books to my sons. (I highly recommend this set, for example.) I forgot how fun the stories were; my boys especially enjoy adventure books like Call of the Wild. (If you’re looking for great books for littler kids, check out my Kindergarten Canon.)

Such books are worthwhile in their own right, but they also serve an important educational purpose: They are touchstones in our culture and are referenced frequently by writers and speakers. (Think of phrases like “down the rabbit hole.”) So if our kids are going to be culturally literate (paging E.D. Hirsch), they need to be familiar with these stories.

So when you’re finished reading the books, why not watch the movie versions too? Enjoy!

The 10 best movie adaptations of classic children's books available for streaming

1. Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Disney’s animated, musical retelling of this


Claim: Rolling back education reform will improve outcomes for students, especially poor students.

Reality: There is no evidence for this claim.

The most frustrating thing about Diane Ravitch’s new book, Reign of Error, isn’t the way she twists the evidence on school choice and testing, her condescending tone toward leaders trying to improve educational outcomes, or her clever but disingenuous rhetorical arguments. No, what’s most frustrating is that we education reformers have left ourselves exposed and vulnerable to her attacks by overselling, and underthinking, our own ideas.

Truth be told, there are parts of the school-reform agenda today that are easy pickings for our opponents. Chief among these is the move to create prescriptive, top-down, statewide teacher-evaluation systems based largely on classroom-level test-score gains. Akin to Obamacare, it’s an idea that seems appealing at first blush (let’s recognize our best teachers and fire our worst!) but quickly devolves into a Rube Goldberg nightmare, with state officials trying (for example) to figure out how to link gym teachers’ performance to reading scores.

Fixing schools, especially from afar, is difficult, treacherous work, yet those of us in the reform community have tried to turn it into a morality play between good and evil. “We know what works, we just need the political will to do it,” goes the common refrain. Balderdash. We know that some...


For some time now, I’ve been impressed by Tennessee’s Common Core implementation efforts. I even interviewed Emily Barton from the state’s department of education for By the Company It Keeps for this very reason (well, and because she’s generally exceptional).

Two recent documents along these lines are worth noting. The SEA released a short piece called “20 Things Every Tennessee Teacher Should Know about the PARCC Assessments.” It’s far more than your typical glossy communications piece. It actually has some serious content that should both inform educators and give confidence to leaders in the state that the SEA is on its game.

But even more importantly, it’ll probably help the state’s efforts to cool whatever anti–Common Core or anti-common-assessments sentiment that’s simmering. The document shows that PARCC is a serious effort to gauge kids’ progress toward college and career readiness.

I was happy they sent this along because part of my handwringing about PARCC’s troubles has been that it has felt like there’s been next to no active advocacy for common testing. To the extent the reform community’s talked about the consortia, it’s usually been reactive—pushing back against opposition. Documents like this (and I’m hoping other PARCC states have similar ones or produce them) can help the cause.

The other document is a pretty thorough—though user-friendly—analysis of TN’s 2013 writing test results. This might seem like a marginal contribution, but give it a look. It discusses major findings and their implications, provides recommendations for...


In recent months, so many reformers have come down with a case of the shakes, fretting about everything under the sun.

There are those who list the supposed litany of missteps made by our movement’s leaders. Then there are those who offer expansive mea culpas for all of the grievances thrown their way.

But no specific policy topic has caused more reformer repentance than educator evaluations. These new systems, we’re told by our erstwhile comrades-in-arms, have infuriated teachers, corrupted the formative nature of observations, and so much more. In fact, Mike Petrilli just cited these new evaluation systems as the easiest-to-criticize element in reform’s agenda.

Hopefully, the new, very encouraging study of Washington, D.C.’s IMPACT will coax some of my panicky friends out from under their covers.

I’ve long been a huge fan of IMPACT. It’s an educator-evaluation system that dramatically improves observations, makes use of student performance, rewards excellence, and has meaningful consequences for persistence low performance.

And it turns out—sorry Chicken Littles!— it’s working.

The study by Dee and Wyckoff found several positive effects. Maybe most importantly, it’s bringing about greater effectiveness across the board. It’s helping struggling teachers improve, and, remarkably, even causing those at the top to get better and better. In the words of one of the coauthors, “We find strong evidence that this system causes meaningful increases in teacher performance.”

It’s also helping to encourage the lowest-performing teachers to voluntarily leave the...


Lottery systems are too common in education. And while it’s the fairest way to allocate a limited number of seats at, say, an oversubscribed, high-performing charter school, it’s not the way forward when it comes to Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Unfortunately, that’s the direction some California school districts may be heading.

Teresa Watanabe of the Los Angeles Times reported last week that as some schools move to open access for AP courses, it allows students unprepared for the college-level rigor to sign up. And by enrolling students via lottery—because there aren’t enough AP seats to go around—schools may be shutting out high-achieving students entirely.

"While expanding access is generally a good thing, we need to make sure we're not watering down the experience for the high achievers," said Michael Petrilli in the story.

Mike reiterated that sentiment yesterday when he spoke to Larry Mantle of KPCC’s AirTalk, noting the unintended consequences of expanding AP courses.

Everyone agrees that more access to advanced-level work is a good thing for our students, but the evidence is mixed on whether students who don’t (or can’t) pass the AP exam actually benefit from taking these courses.

There’s also a question of peers. Will teachers spend too much class time working with students who are struggling? It seems likely. AP courses should have standards of entry...


Over at Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, our own Mike Petrilli and educator Deborah Meier have been engaged in a spirited back and forth about the role that poverty plays in education. Allow me to chime in, first by suggesting that while poverty matters, we are nowhere close to maximizing our educational potential, even given the current level of poverty.

I'm concerned that many of the same people who seem to be implying that few further gains can be made in educational outcomes without first solving the poverty problem also seem to have near-total faith in the power of the right government program to address any societal problem that comes our way. Education reformers and advocates for the poor ought not to allow for the creation of this sort of vacuum whereby the poverty conversation is dominated by those who believe the only answers to poverty lie in more safety-net programs that may indeed worsen the cycle of poverty and government dependency. Instead, those who believe that education is the primary path to economic opportunity must also fight to ensure that real opportunities exist.

It’s no secret that our current economic recovery is languishing, with cratering workforce-participation rates and the unemployment rate for blacks north of 13 percent. These effects are especially pronounced in poor communities, and when children in those areas are surrounded by near-despair and hopelessness, it’s no surprise that some don't see education as a path to a brighter future. If...


Dear Deborah,

A healthy debate we've started indeed! I'm not sure we've bridged many differences, though; maybe we should change the blog's name to Bigging Differences.

In that spirit, let me float another provocative but commonsensical idea: We need to do everything we can—in our schools and in our larger social policies—to empower individuals who are working hard to climb the ladder to success. In other words, we need to spur on the strivers.

Let me explain some of my assumptions.

  1. As we've been discussing, I still believe in the promise of upward mobility. I don't buy into the dystopia of some on the left that pictures a future with an eviscerated middle class, opportunities only for the elite, and a vast dependent population. Times are tough now, but economic growth and jobs will return; the American Dream will be back.
  2. But I'm no utopian. Not all children born into poverty are going to make it out by adulthood. Most face powerful disadvantages—dysfunctional families, substance abuse, crime, segregation, broken economies, bad schools, etc.—and not everyone will be able to overcome them. Surely, though, we can do better than our current track record, which is to lift roughly half of all poor children into the working or middle class by the age of 25.
  3. Climbing the ladder of opportunity takes effort—by individuals and by their families.
  4. ...

As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-entrance test of the same name, judges only one-quarter of its test-takers to be fully ready for college-level academics, and the College Board is not much cheerier. In releasing SAT results for the 1.6 million members of the high school class of 2013 who took the test, the board estimated that just 43 percent met its benchmark for college and career readiness—a score of 1550 or better (out of 2400), which translates to a 65 percent chance of having a B-minus (or better) GPA during the freshman year in college.

And that’s among those who stick it out and graduate from high school. Millions of young people drop out. School discipline remains appalling, with gangs, metal detectors, and violence the norm in many places.

The basic institutional structures for high school that former Harvard president James B. Conant described and recommended in an influential 1959 book remain pretty much unchanged a half-century later. The rest of the world has not...


Over the past several weeks, Fordham’s Mike Petrilli has been debating Deborah Meier on her Bridging Differences blog about the relationship between poverty and education. One topic that’s come up is the impact of family breakdown. This guest post by Center of the American Experiment president Mitch Pearlstein explores what might be done about it.

Presuming one thinks it’s generally not great for children to live with only one parent, and that it’s not great for the commonweal either, what might you be tempted to say to a young woman or man who was blasé, perhaps even eager, to bring a child into the world in which it was understood, from Day One, that one of his or her parents was essentially out of the family portrait and would remain that way? This is what I might say with as much empathy and grace as I could:

I assure you I know that life can be terribly unpredictable and difficult. In fact, it usually is. This is especially case when it comes to the most personal and treasured things going on in our lives, starting with our children and other people we love. It also can be especially the case when it comes to people we may not love very much anymore at all, if we ever really did. And I very much assure you as well that I’m far from the best or right person in the world to talk to you about these matters, as...


Note: This post is part of our series, "Netflix Academy: The best educational videos available for streaming." Be sure to check out our previous Netflix Academy posts on dinosaurs; the American foundersaquatic life; the Maya, Inca, and Aztec; and Native American cultures. Thanks to research interns Melissa Reynolds and Singer Crawford for their help in compiling these lists.

Welcome to the final week of our Columbus Day unit. Two weeks ago we tackled the ancient American civilizations of the Maya, Inca, and Aztec. Then we spotlighted Native American cultures. At last it’s time for Christopher Columbus himself (and other discoverers).

As I’ve written before, it’s harder to find good historical content for young children than science content. And sure enough, age-appropriate videos on Columbus (or the Age of Discovery writ large) are slim pickings. In fact, we’ve expanded our universe beyond Netflix and Amazon in order to bring in some other worthy selections.

Needless to say, Columbus is a controversial historical figure. Watch these videos with your children—and be prepared to explain the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Best videos on Christopher Columbus and the Age of Discovery available for streaming

1. Vikings: Journey to the New World

Vikings: Journey to the New World

They came from the North and soon the legend would say that they didn't know fear. For