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Volume 26, Number 2
March/April 2010

Progress and Puzzles in Educational Policy Research

How can we foster the growth of schools as learning organizations?


25th Anniversary ImageAmerican education, which served the country so well for the first three-quarters of the twentieth century, is not adequate today—especially because it fails to provide disadvantaged children with the skills they need to escape poverty. Advances in computer technology have dramatically reduced the demand for workers who can simply follow a set of well-defined instructions, while increasing the demand for strong analytical and communication skills. The growing importance of these skill sets in determining labor market earnings makes access to a good education particularly critical.

At the same time, increased inequality in many aspects of American life undermines the ability of families at the bottom of the income distribution to obtain a good education for their children. To take only one example, the poverty into which a large percentage of urban children are born hinders the development of the language and communications skills that are so important in workplaces where computers are doing more and more of the routine tasks. To my mind, this contributes to the disturbing pattern that the rate of intergenerational economic mobility in the United States is lower today than it is in most other high-income countries.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

P. T. Decker, D. P. Mayer, and S. Glazerman. The Effects of Teach For America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., 2004.

C. K. Jackson and E. Bruegmann. “Teaching Students and Teaching Each Other: The Importance of Peer Learning for Teachers.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 1, no. 4 (2009): 85–108.

T. J. Kane and D. O. Staiger. “Estimating Teacher Impacts on Student Achievement: An Experimental Evaluation.” National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper #14607. Cambridge, MA: NBER, December 2008. Available online at

D. F. McCaffrey, T. R. Sass, J. R. Lockwood, and K. Mihaly. “The Inter-Temporal Variability of Teacher Effect Estimates.” Education Finance and Policy 4, no. 4 (2009): 572–606.

R. J. Murnane, “Educational Policy Research: Progress, Puzzles, and Challenges.” 2009 Spencer Foundation Lecture in Education Policy and Management, November 5, 2009. Available online at

J. E. Rockoff, B. A. Jacob, T. J. Kane, and D. O. Staiger. “Can You Recognize an Effective Teacher When You Recruit One?” National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper #14485. Cambridge, MA: NBER, November 2008. Available online at