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

Elementary Schools: To Improve Reading Comprehension, Teach More Social Studies

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

If America is serious about wanting kids to become better readers, our elementary schools need to spend more time teaching social studies rather than doubling-down on “reading comprehension.” This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s the key takeaway from a groundbreaking study the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released last week.

Analysis and Commentary

Florida’s New Math And English Standards Aren’t Ready For Prime Time

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, June 10, 2020

It’s no secret that the Common Core State Standards ushered in much higher-quality academic expectations for K–12 students across the nation. It’s also no secret that their arrival in 2010 unleashed a national melee that a decade later is still playing out in political theatre at state and local levels. 

Analysis and Commentary

Students Learn More From Teachers With High Grading Standards

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Many moons ago, one of us was a first-year teacher of high school English in a rural district that loved its football. It was the end of the first term as I sat at my desk after school in a musty classroom trailer—there being no room in the main building for rookies—trying to finish up my grades in time for report cards. 

Analysis and Commentary

Dear Teachers, Most Of The Popular Lessons You Found Online Aren't Worth Using

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, December 11, 2019

As we were putting the final touches on our new report, The Supplemental Curriculum Bazaar: Is What's Online Any Good?, Amazon unveiled a “new storefront” called Amazon Ignite. The site will allow educators to earn money by publishing—online, of course—their original educational resources (lesson plans, worksheets, games, and more).

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Better Students and Better Jobs

by Amber M. Northern, Michael J. Petrillivia Hoover Digest
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

A new survey shows that the jobs for which students are training simply aren’t the jobs employers want to fill. How to fix this mismatch.

Analysis and Commentary

Here’s More Evidence That Expanding Charter Schools In Big Cities Helps All Kids Of Color, Even Those Who Stay In District Schools. Are Critics Willing To Rethink Their Opposition?

by Michael J. Petrilli, Amber M. Northernvia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Those of us at Fordham have strived over the course of our organization’s two-decade existence to stay open to new evidence and to be willing to change our minds. For example, we shifted from the notion of "letting a thousand flowers bloom" when it came to charter schools to acknowledging that "some weeding is necessary" after multiple studies showed just how poor the achievement of some charters was turning out to be, and just how hard it was to actually shut such failing charter schools down. And there have been other smaller shifts over the years, too, on funding, teacher diversity, and more.

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.”