Robert Pondiscio

    Author Bio:
    Robert Pondiscio is senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He is also a senior advisor to Democracy Prep Public Schools, a network of high-performing charter schools based in Harlem, New York. He writes and speaks extensively on education and education-reform issues, with an emphasis on literacy, curriculum, teaching, and urban education. After twenty years in journalism, including senior positions at TIME and BusinessWeek, Robert became a fifth-grade teacher at a struggling South Bronx public school in 2002. He subsequently served as vice president for the Core Knowledge Foundation. Robert’s articles and op-ed columns on education have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New York Daily News, Education Next, and many other publications. A frequent speaker and expert guest on education issues, he has appeared on the Fox News Channel, CNN, and elsewhere.


Reform Leaders: You’re Fired

Forum: Education Reform’s Race Debate

‘No Excuses’ Kids Go to College

Will high-flying charters see their low-income students graduate?

SPRING 2013 / VOL. 13, NO. 2

Tools for Teachers

Review of Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion

Spring 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 2

Edutopian Vision

George Lucas reimagines the American classroom

Summer 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 3

Blog Posts/Multimedia

New York’s Reading Standards Rewrite Should Alarm Parents

Students who learn to work with complex texts during their K–12 years can handle the demands of college reading. Those who haven’t cannot.


Who Will Stand Up for School Reform?

Education reform circa 2016 is politically orphaned, loath to ask much of fair-weather friends, and too morally exhausted and intimidated by “social justice” crusaders to defend its successes.


Growing Up Poor and White in America: A View from the Inside

Books like J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” force us to confront simpleminded views of the ills we seek to address and to be humble about over-optimistic schemes to set things right.


Should Civic Education Emphasize Diversity or What We Have in Common?

The key to creating conditions that sincerely celebrate diversity may lie in focusing the attention of our children on what makes us one country.


Cultural Literacy in the Age of the Hashtag

Last month, on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, the hashtag ‪#‎BeckyWithTheBadGrades began trending on Twitter.


How We Make Teaching Too Hard for Mere Mortals

Expecting teachers to be expert pedagogues and instructional designers is one of the ways in which we push the job far beyond the abilities of mere mortals.


Testing Alone Won’t Make Good Readers

Children’s ability to understand what they read is intimately intertwined with their background knowledge and vocabulary. If a child is not broadly educated, he won’t be fully literate.


The Teacher Hazing Ritual

It’s difficult to pinpoint why we seem so averse to making classroom management the centerpiece of new teacher training.


Trump’s Rise Is a Wake-up Call for Education Reformers

Some advice on how to bring disaffected Trump voters back into the fold—or the economically disconnected in for a landing,


How To Create Accountability Systems that Build Knowledge and Increase Reading Ability

Accountability plans must ensure that every student gets the broad knowledge and vocabulary that remain the unacknowledged drivers of language proficiency


Can Higher Standards Survive?

Does the political will exist to maintain higher standards? And does the capacity exist in K–12 education to raise significant numbers of American children to meet these standards?


How To Fix Reading in the Era of ESSA

Substantial gains in decoding have shown we can get kids to the starting line. But we’re leaving them stuck there.


Pencils Down? Not So Fast

New York State education officials raised a ruckus two weeks ago when they announced that annual statewide reading and math tests, administered in grades 3–8, would no longer be timed.


Ten Things Every American Should Know

An intriguing effort to crowd-source a 2016 version of E.D. Hirsch’s famous list of things you need to know to be culturally literate.


The Miseducation of Donald Trump Voters

As a new sobriety over the issues animating Trump supporters settles in, I’m hoping for a parallel rethinking among education reformers.


Education Posts I Wish I’d Written This Year

The best compliment I can pay a fellow education blogger is to confess professional jealousy. So I’d like to close out 2015 by saluting the education blogs and columns that made me green with envy.


Governor Cuomo’s Task Force Looks to Bury Higher Standards

New York has all the pieces in place to become a national leader in education, but Governor Andrew Cuomo would rather switch than fight.


Losing the Ability to Compare Academic Performance Across States

The promise of the Common Core included not just multi-state standards but also multi-state assessments, but just 21 states are currently still participating in the two assessment “consortia.”


ESEA and the Return of a Well-Rounded Curriculum

The sooner schools see building knowledge across the curriculum as Job One in strengthening reading comprehension, the better.


Are Disruption-Free Schools Only for the Rich?

Why is it “unfair” to give poor families the studious, disruption-free schools the rich take for granted?


“Deans for Impact” Group Aims to Reform Ed Schools From Within

Two dozen deans of education schools have come together to embrace empirical validation of teacher preparation methods and accountability for student learning.


Breaking Apart the Silos of Education Research, Policy, and Practice

Those who work in education research, policy, and practice frequently fail to communicate with one another, and when they do, each faction speaks a different language.


In New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Initiatives Threaten to Widen the Achievement Gap

Mayor de Blasio has shown a good instinct for identifying the right targets—early childhood education and reading. But it’s hard to be encouraged that either he or his chancellor knows how to hit them.


The Real Battle for Common Core Begins

An examination of assignments given by middle school teachers appears to show that most of the work asked of students does not reflect the higher, more rigorous standards set by Common Core.


On Constitution Day, in Search of the Public Mission of Schools

Today is Constitution Day, when all schools receiving federal funds are expected to provide lessons or other programming on our most important founding document.


The Common Core Test Wake-Up Call Is Here

Parents will soon receive for the first time their children’s scores on new tests aligned to the standards. The news is expected to be sobering.


New Orleans: A Success Story? Yes. A National Model? Maybe Not.

Which strategy should the charter sector pursue in the short- to medium-term: selective chartering or a district-wide replacement strategy?


The Myth of Today’s Exhausted, Overscheduled Superkids

If American childhood has become a hothouse of overscheduling and stress, it’s not showing up in the data.


The Hard Work Has Just Begun

Getting low-income “first-generation” kids into college is hard. Getting them to graduate from college is harder.


A Peek Inside the Classroom Black Box

Why is so little information available about which textbooks and curricula are being used?


Common Core’s First Breakout Hit?

Schools and teachers anywhere can download free materials from EngageNY, a comprehensive, Common Core-aligned curriculum developed by New York State.


To Boost Reading Skills, Restore the Liberal Arts to Elementary School

To be a good reader you need an understanding of literature, art, music, history, and the sciences — that is, you need a liberal arts education.


Four Lessons from the Opt-Out Debate

It’s still too soon to gauge whether the opt-out movement is a true groundswell of opposition, a union-driven blip on the radar, or something in between.


Trust, But Verify

The draft School Quality Snapshot says clearly and unambiguously that the days of measuring a school by academic performance in New York City are over.


Charter Schools and Backfill: The Debate We’re Not Having

The backfilling debate is something of a proxy fight between two very different visions for charters. Are they a replacement strategy for disappointing schools and districts? Or are they closer to a poor man’s private school?


A Troubling Verdict

I found myself caught up short by the Atlanta verdict this week and eleven educators found guilty of racketeering in a widespread cheating scandal.


Don’t Know Much About History

Some fret that states that make the U.S. citizenship test a graduation requirement may be tacitly encouraging schools to abandon semester-long classes in civics. I’m skeptical.


Showing Parents What Grade-Level Work Looks Like

Milestones seeks to demystify the Common Core standards with a free and engaging collection of short videos showing what grade-level work looks like


No Time to Lose on Early Reading

I share critics concerns that early childhood learning is leading schools to take all the joy out of kindergarten, but I see no reason to blame Common Core for that.


America’s Millennials: Overeducated and Unprepared

More time in school is not producing Americans with more or better skills.


Is Common Core Too Hard for Kindergarten?

We can have kindergarten that is both play-based and language-rich. It’s what the best kindergarten teachers have always done.


Model Citizens

Arizona became the first state to make passing the U.S. Citizenship Test a high school graduation requirement.


Don’t Confuse Jargon with Rigor

Elementary school English language arts classrooms have long been in the thrall of nonsensical jargon.


2015: The Year of Curriculum- Based Reform?

Curriculum and content matter—and for no one more than poor kids who get too little of that knowledge and vocabulary at home.


Carmen Fariña’s War on Evidence

While running the nation’s largest school system, Carmen Farina has made a growing list of decisions based not on empirical evidence, but on the chancellor’s personal preference.


Why Didn’t I Think Of That?

Here are some of the pieces—about Common Core and education at large—I wish I’d written in 2014.


It Pays to Increase Your Word Power

To grow up as the child of well-educated parents in an affluent American home is to hit the verbal lottery.


A Response to Carol Burris and Rick Hess on Common Core Math in the Elementary Grades

Common Core has the potential to shift and drastically improve math instruction in American schools,


Let’s Tell the Truth: High-Stakes Tests Damage Reading Instruction

It’s long past time to recognize that reading tests don’t measure what we think they do.


What’s Right About Common Core

The overheated rhetoric around Common Core elides the fact that it incorporates several fundamentally sound and long-overdue ideas that have gone missing from our schools for decades.


How To Kill Reading Achievement

Complaints about close reading bother me less than its potential overuse, or the creeping notion that close reading is what all reading instruction should look like under Common Core. That would be bad for the standards, and even worse for reading achievement in the U.S.


Leveled Reading: The Making of a Literacy Myth

Opponents of the Common Core question the idea of improving literacy by introducing higher levels of textual complexity into the instructional mix.


Where Common Core Is Not Controversial

Those who see Common Core as a curricular monoculture, a boondoggle for publishers, or a violation of local control would do well to come to Reno.


Connecting the Dots: E. D. Hirsch, Jr., and Common Core

On Politico’s list of fifty “thinkers, doers and dreamers who really matter,” sharing the number eight spot are E.D. Hirsch and David Coleman, the principal author of the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts.


Thanks, Bobby Jindal!

When the court decides, as it almost certainly has to that, in fact, no one forced Louisiana or any other state to adopt Common Core, the most effective anti-Common Core argument goes, “Poof!”


Holding a Wolf by the Ears

Secretary Duncan’s reflective take on testing can delay, but cannot resolve, the reckoning that seems to be at hand.


What Is Going On at Success Academy?

New York’s latest round of state test results were released last week and the biggest news is the scores posted by Success Academy.


Can You Be an Ed Reformer and a Conservative?

The real challenge for conservatives has less to do with the nature of school reform than ensuring that the public and private functions served by education are brought into proper balance.


New York’s Common Core Tests: Tough Questions, Curious Choices

The bottom line: the tests are hard, as expected, but the choice of texts needs work.


Not Teacher Quality, but Quality Teaching

Any pedagogy, curriculum, approach, or technology has to be within the skills of ordinary teachers to implement well and effectively. If it takes a superstar teacher it’s a nonstarter.


Why Johnny Won’t Learn to Read

We know for a fact that “balanced literacy” has had little effect on closing stubborn achievement gaps. So why is New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina bringing it back?


A Missed Opportunity for Common Core

Common Core supporters should be showcasing lessons that represent a sharp break with the skills-driven, all-texts-are-created-equal approach that has come to dominate too many classrooms.


Conscious Incompetence: New Ed-School Grads are Unprepared to Teach — and We Seem Fine With That

Ask a teacher about his or her first year in the classroom and you’ll hear, either with a smile or a shudder, how “nothing prepared me for my first year as a teacher.”


GPAs, SATs, and TMI?

Our elite universities, should they wish, could end epic oversharing, help student writing, and improve college readiness in one fell swoop.


Relentless Relentlessness

Steve Farr’s Teaching as Leadership lives in the shadow of Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion


Edutopia: Inside George Lucas’ Quixotic Plan to Save America’s Schools

It was just about a year ago that I first started paying attention to Edutopia. They’ve been around for years, but they weren’t on my radar screen. Then suddenly, they wouldn’t stay off it. You couldn’t listen to the radio without hearing their ubiquitous underwriting credit on NPR, with its sublimely confident tagline “What Works in Public Education.”

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