Fighting Fade-Out in Education

The Need for Standardized Alignment in Teaching and Learning

The New America Foundation's second event under the Early Education Initiative gathered a distinguished panel of speakers from academia and both sides of the political aisle to discuss the newly released issue brief, "Ladders of Learning: Fighting Fade-Out by Advancing PK-3 Alignment." Michael Dannenberg, the Director of New America's Education Program, set the stage with his remark that the education system was progressing on a continuum with regards to standards-based reform, a concept that is here to stay.

Kristie Kauerz, the author of the issue brief accompanying the event, commented on how the No Child Left Behind Act focuses on students in the third through eighth grades, while neglecting to impose adequate standards on the younger grade levels. "Waiting until third grade is waiting too long," Kauerz said. Ultimately, the paper sheds light on the concept of academic fade-out, whereby early cognitive gains observed following pre-kindergarten (PK) and full day kindergarten may not be sustained from one grade to the next. Instead of dismissing these programs as ineffective, Kauerz explained how this phenomenon indicates precisely why we need more investment in these early years. She explained the concepts of horizontal, vertical, and temporal alignment and called for an increased focus on the quality of early childhood learning environments. (Her detailed recommendations are included in the paper.)

One of the leading education experts in the country, Diane Ravitch spoke about the need to include national cognitive development standards in early education. She agreed with the global competition argument often given to prompt education reform. Citing our consistently mediocre performance on international comparison studies, Ravitch called our "50 states, 50 standards" education system "a mile wide and an inch deep," where much of what you learn depends on where you attend school.

Andrew Rotherham offered a political backdrop for the conversation. He disagreed with Kauerz' recommendation to form a PK-3 commission, predicting it would only create more politics, and called for more flexibility for school districts in lieu of rededicating Title I funds to PK . In response to a question about getting states to upgrade their standards, he suggested states should be encouraged to work together for both cost and quality problems, and ultimately, generate economies of scale. Rotherham also declared the No Child Left Behind Act a political revolution in that it changed the playing field afterwards, allowing new players to emerge and participate.

-Soumya Bhat


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  • Michael Dannenberg
    Director, Education Policy Program

  • Diane Ravitch
    Research Professor of Education, New York University

  • Andrew Rotherham
    Former Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy

  • Kristie Kauerz
    Ph.D. Candidate, Teachers College, Columbia University