Michael J. Petrilli

Visiting Fellow

Mike Petrilli is an award-winning writer and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, one of the country’s most influential education policy think tanks. He is the author of The Diverse Schools’ Dilemma: A Parent's Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools and coeditor of Knowledge at the Core: Don Hirsch, Core Knowledge, and the Future of the Common Core. Petrilli is also a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and executive editor of Education Next. Petrilli has published opinion pieces in the New York Times, Washington Post Bloomberg View, Slate, and Wall Street Journal and has been a guest on NBC Nightly News,, ABC World News Tonight, CNN, and Fox, as well as several National Public Radio programs, including All Things Considered, On Point, and the Diane Rehm Show. Petrilli helped create the US Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, the Policy Innovators in Education Network, and Young Education Professionals. He lives with his family in Bethesda, Maryland.

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Recent Commentary

Analysis and Commentary

Why Disparate Impact Theory Is A Bad Fit For School Discipline

by Michael J. Petrillivia EducationNext
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

In 2014, in response to findings that African American students were three times as likely to be suspended as white students, the Obama Administration sent a lengthy “Dear Colleague” letter to school districts nationwide, spelling out a new policy on school discipline, motivated by disparate impact theory. It warned administrators that they could be subject to a federal civil rights investigation if their data showed significant racial disparities in the use of suspensions or expulsions, and could be found guilty of discrimination even if they had race-neutral discipline policies that were being applied even-handedly.

Analysis and Commentary

Education Reform Developments To Watch For In 2018

by Michael J. Petrillivia EducationNext
Thursday, January 4, 2018

Advertisements for investment funds always say that past performance is no guarantee of future results; in the case of my forecasting skills, that’s probably a good thing. After all, in 2016 I claimed that Donald Trump would never become president, and a year ago I thought that 2017 might be the year of coming back together again. So in the spirit of third time’s a charm, not three strikes and you’re out, here’s what I see coming down the pike in 2018.

Analysis and Commentary

What To Watch With Your Kids This Winter Break

by Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Friday, December 22, 2017

Regular readers know that I’m somewhat obsessed with the topic of screen time. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, or the years our kids spent in a Waldorf pre-school, but I can’t help feeling a little guilty about letting my boys watch stupid Disney TV shows or play mindless video games when I could be engaging them in healthier pursuits. 

Analysis and Commentary

Why Fordham's ESSA Outlook Is Sunnier Than Our Peers'

by Michael J. Petrilli, Brandon L. Wright via Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Earlier this month, Bellwether Education Partners and the Collaborative for Student Success released a report assessing states’ ESSA plans. As The 74 reported, their reviews found them “largely lackluster,” a judgment that, at first blush, seems to conflict with Fordham’s own generally positive review of all fifty-one ESSA accountability plans. But don’t rely on first blushes.

Analysis and Commentary

Can Parents Prod Schools To Get Better?

by Michael J. Petrilliquoting Williamson M. Eversvia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

In 1970, the celebrated economist Albert O. Hirschman published Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. A few years ago, the Hoover Institution’s Williamson Evers explained its argument on the Education Next blog.

Analysis and Commentary

How To Think About Discipline Disparities

by Michael J. Petrillivia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Friday, December 8, 2017

One of the things that makes the topic of discipline disparities so difficult is that it’s hard to untangle students’ behavior from adults’ responses. As Matt Barnum put it in a recent Chalkbeat article, “black and poor students have substantially higher suspension rates than white and more affluent peers. Figuring out why is tricky. Is it because certain groups of students behave differently, or because teachers and administrators respond differently to the same behavior?”

Analysis and Commentary

A Response To Bill Honig Regarding Our Review Of California's ESSA Accountability Plan

by Michael J. Petrilli, Brandon L. Wright via Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Friday, December 8, 2017

Former California state superintendent Bill Honig recently wrote a blog post criticizing the recent Fordham study that we coauthored, Rating the Ratings: An Analysis of the 51 ESSA Accountability Plans. Although we respect his opinion, we take issue with two of his arguments.

Analysis and Commentary

Why Are Charter Schools More Popular In Some States Than Others?

by Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The August release of the latest Education Next poll set the education-reform field ablaze, for it showed a sizable and worrying decline in support for charter schools. We wonks weighed in with our best guesses about what might explain this unexpected trend. 

Analysis and Commentary

In Search Of Common Ground On School Discipline Reform

by Michael J. Petrillivia Flypaper (Fordham Education Blog)
Monday, November 20, 2017

The controversy brewing over Obama-era school discipline policy has all the makings of a polarizing debate. For progressives, it taps into deeply held beliefs about fairness and justice. And for conservatives, it taps into deeply held beliefs about order and safety. Throw in race, Donald Trump, and Betsy DeVos, and you have a potentially toxic stew.

Analysis and Commentary

Good News For Students And Federalism: Most States Step Up On Accountability Under ESSA

by Brandon L. Wright , Michael J. Petrillivia Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Thursday, November 16, 2017

When Congress enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), shifting much education decision-making back to the states, many reformers, especially on the left, voiced concern that states would give up on rigorous accountability systems. “Federal pressure is a hard thing for people to swallow,” said Conor Williams, a senior researcher at New America, “but this law doesn’t give enough federal pressure for enough schools and doesn’t define the guardrails we need.”