It’s Time for a “Yes, and…” Approach to Education Policy

There’s a rule of thumb in improv comedy that performers are supposed to take a “Yes, and…” approach to a skit. Even if they had a different vision for how the action should play out, the comedy works better when performers accept contributions as they come in and build on them.

In education, we’ve tended toward the opposite, a “No, but…” approach. As I outlined in a recent piece for, education policy has swung wildly from one fad to the next in search of a silver bullet. We had a national reading program… until Congress got rid of it. We had a national tutoring program… until we didn’t.

We can’t afford this type of approach right now. With student achievement, attendance, and behavior all well below their pre-pandemic levels, it’s past time to adopt a “Yes, and…” approach in education.

What would that look like? It would require more patience, and a willingness to evaluate reform efforts and keep “tinkering toward utopia,” as Larry Cuban famously put it.

A “Yes, and…” approach would also require policymakers to be open to different paths to educational success. Some schools and districts might want to make a big bet on early childhood investments and Montessori schools, while others might want to better integrate technology, create new teaching roles, or build new career pathways.

Over the last two years, the EduRecoveryHub initiative has played a critical role in identifying and sharing a wide variety of promising practices across seven different categories. Those showcase a range of initiatives, from “Parent Universities” in Newark, NJ to a summer kindergarten transition program in Hawaii. The site also features deep dives into state-led recovery strategies, including a Connecticut initiative where universities formed a research collaborative to provide feedback on state recovery efforts.

In fact, everywhere I look I see promising reforms worth studying and emulating. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • In Kentucky, a state-level program combining targeted interventions for students and collaboration among teachers had significant positive effects in K-3 math, reading, and other non-test outcomes including student attendance and disciplinary incidents.
  • New York City is in the third year of its popular “Summer Rising” program. It will offer free full-day programming with academic and enrichment activities for up to 110,000 children.
  • Researchers found that the Teacher Advancement Project, a program that combines comprehensive teacher evaluations, teacher coaching and mentorship, and performance pay, improved short- and long-run outcomes for students.
  • A recent study found that charter schools that adopted the Core Knowledge curriculum saw huge gains in reading, math, and science achievement.
  • A comprehensive program which gave community college students intensive advising, tutoring, and financial support successfully replicated from New York to Ohio. The program boosted participant graduation rates by 50 percent and early-career earnings by 11%, even during the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Going forward, I’ll be writing regularly on EduRecoveryHub, sharing my analysis and thoughts on the evolving state of educational recovery in the U.S. and the dynamic, systemic shifts that will shape the way schools facilitate learning and meet student needs into the future. In the process, I’ll highlight new research, unpack new data, and conduct interviews with researchers and practitioners to understand what’s going on in their communities. Above all, I’ll keep a relentless focus on efforts to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged kids.

My goal here is to share good ideas and help more people see what is possible. I anticipate there will be a lot to cover!

About the Author

Chad Aldeman is a nationally recognized expert on education policy, including school finance; teacher preparation, evaluation, and compensation; and state standards, assessment, and accountability. Keep up with Chad on the EduProgess: Unpacked blog.