Happy 10th Anniversary, Education Next!

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Spring 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 2

Ten years ago we launched Education Next. When Laura Bush made the occasion her premier speaking appearance as first lady, we realized we had a chance to make an impact. On that cold, wintry day in February 2001, at the Willard Hotel, some 200 people discussed federal attempts to fix America’s schools.

A year previously, a group of us—Chester Finn, Jay Greene, Marci Kanstoroom, and I—decided the country needed a new education journal, one free of all connections to institutions with a vested interest in the status quo. We also agreed that good design and good writing were as important as good ideas.

Either the timing was perfect or we were dumb lucky, most likely both. The Hoover Institution had just launched its own education initiative, the Koret Task Force on K–12 Education, and both Hoover and its task force lent the undertaking their vigorous support. We asked the Smith Richardson Foundation for a small grant to help set up shop. Our draft proposal placed all four of us in charge of the journal. At that, Phoebe Cottingham, the foundation’s officer, simply laughed, shrewdly refusing to release monies until an editor-in-chief had been named. When all fingers were pointed at me, I accepted, with the proviso that a managing editor be someone upon whom I could depend. Shortly thereafter, several other foundations made major grants, a manuscript editor and a designer were found, and the first issue arrived only three months late.

All of this seemed too good to be true. And it was. No sooner were we launched than a small consulting firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, filed a lawsuit, complaining that our journal, Education Matters, had stolen its name. It was tempting to fight for the moniker, but, as Mark Zuckerberg concluded more recently, we decided that time and resources were better devoted to substance, not lawsuits. And so we are Education Next.

Over the decade, we have witnessed—perhaps contributed to—the advance of school reform: the proliferation of school choice from vouchers to tax credits, charters, and online learning; the evolution of accountability’s focus from schools to teachers; renewed attention to national standards; and a more realistic understanding of the uncertain connection between educational expenditures and school quality.

Space is too short to highlight every noteworthy feature, but here are a few that have stood time’s test: E. D. Hirsch’s placement of progressive education within the Romantic tradition (first issue), Joel Best’s skeptical view of school violence (2002), Michael Podgursky’s discovery of the well-paid teacher (2003), Bruno Manno’s and Bryan Hassel’s takes on the charter movement (2003), Brian Jacob and Steve Levitt’s technique for catching teachers who cheat (2004), Barry Garelick’s jeremiad against progressive math (2005), Frederick Hess and Martin West’s exposé of school “strike phobia” (2006), Roland Fryer’s identification of “acting white” (2006), Clay Christiansen and Michael Horn’s vision for virtual learning (2008), and Milton Gaither’s authoritative look at home schooling (2009).

This past year a cornucopia of outstanding pieces have emerged, including James Guthrie and Arthur Peng’s crisp analysis of rising school costs, the inside story of charter authorizing by Terry Ryan and his colleagues, and Jonah Rockoff and Benjamin Lockwood’s eye-opening research on middle schools.

Key to our success have been the journal’s photos and graphics—from the first issue’s bird-sphinx to the cartoons depicting Margaret Spellings, Michael Bloomberg, and Michelle Rhee; from the Magritte-style school teacher to the haunting, Hopperesque truancy hangout; from the Woodish portrayal of the public to the New Orleans reconstruction photo.

Let me not forget the journal’s annual survey of public opinion, which celebrates its own 5th anniversary this summer. Thank you, readers, for your support over the decade.

— Paul E. Peterson