Amber M. Northern

Research Fellow

Amber Northern was a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.  She is vice president for research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she helps develop new research initiatives and manages Fordham's research studies. She has more fifteen years of experience in educational evaluation, education policy, and secondary education. She has published in the areas of educational accountability, standardized testing, teacher quality, and educational technology, among others.

Before joining Fordham, she was a senior study director at Westat, where she provided evaluation services for various federal, state, and local education agencies, as well as for educational foundations, textbook publishers, and professional development providers. She has experience directing and overseeing multiple and varied research studies (from small-scale studies to multimillion dollar projects); analyzing and reporting on such topics as performance-based pay for educators, reading instruction, mathematics and science education, and teacher quality; developing research instruments and protocols; assembling advisory panels and communicating with content experts and other scholars; and writing proposals, technical reports, and policy briefs.

Previously, Northern worked with the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia Center for Educational Policy Studies, and the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia. Northern has researched and published in the areas of educational accountability, standardized testing, and school choice.

Northern holds a PhD in education policy and evaluation from the University of Virginia. She began her career as a high school classroom teacher.

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Recent Commentary

Analysis and Commentary

End-Of-Course Exams Benefit Students—And States

by Chester E. Finn Jr., Amber M. Northernvia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Education reformers in the United States have stumbled when it comes to high schools and the achievement evidence shows it. National Assessment results in grade twelve have been flat for a very long time. ACT and SAT scores are flat. U.S. results on PISA and TIMSS are essentially flat. College remediation rates—and dropout rates—remain high. Advanced Placement (AP) participation is up, but success on AP exams is not—and for minority students it’s down. 

Analysis and Commentary

Teachers Get Real About Discipline Reform

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Last December, a headline in Chalkbeat announced the end of a contentious two-year debate among school discipline reformers and other ed-policy aficionados: “It’s official: DeVos has axed Obama discipline guidelines meant to reduce suspensions of students of color.”

Analysis and Commentary

Teacher Diversity Is Yet Another Area Where Charter Schools Excel

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, June 5, 2019

As conservatives working in education, we find ourselves drawn to Chief Justice Roberts’s observation that “it is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.” And along with Dr. King, we want to believe in a world where everyone is judged by the content of their character, not the color of the skin. As such, we tend to think that teachers should be hired based on the quality of their instruction and their fit with a school’s mission—not their race or ethnicity. So we’ve been skeptical, even uncomfortable, about efforts to “match” students and teachers based on their race.

Analysis and Commentary

Are Career-Tech Students Preparing For Jobs That Actually Exist?

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Not long ago, the New York Times ran a revealing article titled “The Typical American Lives Only 18 Miles From Mom.” Based on a comprehensive survey of older Americans, the authors reported that, “Over the last few decades, Americans have become less mobile, and most adults—especially those with less education or lower incomes—do not venture far from their hometowns.” In fact, “the median distance Americans live from their mother is eighteen miles, and only 20 percent live more than a couple of hours’ drive from their parents.”

Analysis and Commentary

Credit Recovery: Good Intentions, Poor Execution

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Last May, Slate ran an eight-part series exploring the rise in online learning for high school students who had failed a course. One of the articles included a screenshot of this tweet with identifying information removed: “If anyone wants to go online and do my chemistry credit recovery, I’d be more than happy to give you my username and password.”

Analysis and Commentary

How To Reverse Grade Inflation And Help Students Reach Their Potential

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Many of us, if we’re lucky, can fondly recall a time in elementary school when our parents proudly posted one of our A papers on the refrigerator door. Maybe it was a spelling test or set of multiplication problems—no matter. What mattered, though, was the outstanding achievement that mom, dad, and kid believed was embodied in that A, and the pride and satisfaction that we felt in seeing it every time we opened the fridge for a sandwich.

Analysis and Commentary

Point Of View: Oklahoma’s Math Standards Don’t Make The Grade

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia News OK
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

In spring 2016, Oklahoma adopted new math and English language arts (ELA) standards after making the decision drop the Common Core. In doing so, it was well within its rights. But Oklahoma also has a responsibility to make sure its standards are strong, clear and rigorous. For ELA, the state has accomplished this. But for math, it fell short.

Analysis and Commentary

The Perils Of Revising The Common Core

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, August 22, 2018

For the first decade of Fordham’s existence, starting in 1997, reviewing state academic standards was our bread and butter, but the pattern always seemed to be the same: A few states had done a commendable job of identifying the knowledge and skills—grade by grade—that their students needed to master to be on track for success after high school. But most state standards were horrendous—poorly written, disorganized, incomplete, and replete with dubious ideas.

Analysis and Commentary

Opinion: It's Time To Irrigate Charter School Deserts

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Cincinnati Enquirer
Monday, July 30, 2018
In a country built on the freedom to choose – whether that's Verizon or AT&T, Hulu or Netflix, iPhone or Android – it's hard to understand why we don't give poor families the opportunity to choose their schools, just as middle- and upper-income families can do via private schools or buying into the right neighborhood.
Analysis and Commentary

Self-Discipline: Yet Another Catholic School Advantage

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How does self-discipline develop? Certainly it comes in part from institutions of civil society such as home, family, and church. But schools can make a difference too, and over the years Catholic schools—the largest provider of private education in the United States—have been particularly committed to the development of sound character, including the acquisition of self-discipline.