A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, written by Joshua Goodman of the Harvard Kennedy School, explores the effect of increased high school math requirements on students’ educational and workforce outcomes.

The study examines state-level school reforms enacted in response to A Nation at Risk, which, inter alia, lamented the declining status of the U.S. scientific and technological workforce. The federal report, published in 1983, prompted thirty-nine states and D.C. to increase the number of math courses that they required for high school graduation. However, the reforms were not implemented simultaneously (the most responsive updated requirements by 1984, while the slowest took until 1990). The differential timing of reforms across the states helped Goodman clearly identify their effects.

By looking at transcript data, Goodman found that when states boosted their math requirements, a jump followed in the average number of math courses completed. That’s not surprising. What’s more interesting—and sobering—is that this increase occurred because students took more basic math courses (e.g., algebra, geometry, vocational math), not more advanced math courses (e.g., algebra II, pre-calculus, statistics). Unfortunately, that means the reform did not achieve the Excellence Commission’s implicit objective of sharpening STEM’s cutting edge...

Do incentives nudge students to exert more effort in their schoolwork? A recent study by University of Chicago analysts suggests they do, though the structure of the incentive is also important.

The researchers conducted field experiments from 2009 to 2011 in three high-poverty areas, including Chicago Public Schools and two nearby districts, with nearly 6,000 student participants in grades two through ten. Based on improved performance relative to a baseline score on a low-stakes reading or math assessment (not the state exam), various incentives were offered to different groups of pupils, such as a $10 or $20 reward, or a trophy worth about $3 along with public recognition of their accomplishment. The analysts offered no reward to students in a control group. To test whether pupils responded differently to immediate versus delayed incentives, some of the students received their reward right after the test—results were computed on the spot—while others knew the reward would be withheld for one month.

Several interesting findings emerged. First, the larger cash reward ($20) led to positive effects on test performance, while the smaller reward had no impact ($10). This suggests that, if offering a monetary reward, larger payouts will likely lead to more...

Marc S. Tucker

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared in’s Top Performers blog on February 9, 2017, and is reprinted with permission from the author.

I ran into an acquaintance on the ferry the other day. She told me that after she began to wake from the shock of the election’s outcome she decided that she wanted to get out of the cocoon of her circle of friends to try to understand the people who had voted for Donald Trump. She told me about the conversations she had begun to have with working-class people she knew with whom she had never talked politics and those conversations had only spiked her need to dig further. She asked me if there was anything she could read that might help her.

I smiled and gave her my own reading list: Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City and J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. To my astonishment, I learned later that there had been a run on these books in our little...

Last week, I walked the halls of the Washington State Legislature with more than 250 parents, teachers, and advocates for gifted children and testified before the Senate Education Committee (read remarks). We are all united by the common vision of a nation where giftedness and high potential are fully recognized, universally valued, and actively nurtured to support children from all backgrounds as they reach for their personal best and contribute to their communities.

Gifted and talented children often amaze us with their uncanny ability to learn new information rapidly, their extraordinary ability to memorize information, their large vocabularies, their unusually mature insights and their intense levels of concentration on things that interest them. When we encounter these children we are surprised, compelled to smile and intuitively know they are special.

Yet, the perceptions of these children have long been mired in mythology. These dangerous fallacies range from believing that gifted students will naturally rise to the top without explicit support to believing that such students don’t exist in schools in low-income and minority communities. After decades of these myths leading to a national neglect of this student population, it is clear that we must build the public’s understanding of...

Establishment folks in public education have done their best to make charter schools and other parental choice programs look like the Devil. Their story about how such programs drain money from public schools now seems as much a part of American folklore as Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan. How many times did you see the words “siphoning money” in print in the weeks prior to Betsy DeVos’s confirmation?

But there’s a difference between propaganda and reasoned discourse. The truth is that traditional public schools do not need and should not claim public funds that would have come to kids who no longer sit in their classrooms. When they take advantage of new policy opportunities, including the funds they provide, private and charter schools are cheating no one. They are innovators who are fulfilling our nation’s promise to educate its children. 

Parental choice programs do indeed transfer funds from some schools to other schools. Usually, they take from schools that can’t give kids what they need and give to ones that can. But it’s not that one school is the white- and the other the black-hatted cowboy; it’s not that one school is “public” and the other is a public enemy....

Ten days ago, Jason Bedrick wrote that I was mistaken to equate school “accountability” with “top-down government regulations”:

This fundamentally misunderstands accountability. As I explained at the Heritage Foundation earlier this week, true accountability is when service providers are directly answerable to the people most affected by their performance. When that isn’t possible, as when a utility company has a monopoly, top-down regulations may be necessary instead. But we shouldn’t confuse the inferior alternative accountability regime for the ideal form of accountability just because that’s what we’re used to. As Thomas Sowell has written, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

As Jason knows, I agree with him—and with Sowell, Milton Friedman, and many others—that schools must be accountable to parents via the marketplace, that school choice is a better system than a regulated monopoly, and that I don’t in fact support “top down regulations.” What I and other “choice realists” want is for schools of choice to be lightly regulated yet subject to societal expectations regarding results. That’s what we...

A new study examines the role of high schools in explaining students’ initial placement into college and into a college major. In other words, does where you attended high school have much to do with where you go to college and the quality of the major that you pursue?

Analysts study outcomes from six cohorts of full time, non-transfer students who entered a four-year public university in Missouri as college freshmen straight from a public high school between 1996 and 2001 (the sum of which totaled roughly 58,000 students). Students are tracked for eight years to determine graduation outcomes.

They treat majors as specific to each university such that students at different universities who have the same major (i.e., it has the same classification code from the U.S. Department of Education) don’t get clumped together; this way, they can devise a measure of academic quality for each university major that is based on the academic qualifications of students who complete a degree. In other words, the quality of majors by each university is based on the pre-college academic qualifications (namely class percentile ranks and ACT scores) of the students who completed a degree in that major at that university. So...

When we last caught up with KIPP, they were setting the reform world on its collective ear with a report, at once edifying and sobering, on the college completion rates of its alumni. That report, back in the Spring of 2011, showed a surprising 33 percent of the earliest cohorts of KIPP middle-school students had graduated from a four-year college within six years. Surprising how? That depends on how you look at it. If you are born poor and black or brown in the U.S., your chances of graduating college by your mid-twenties is merely 9 percent; KIPP was improving those odds four-fold. On the other hand, the network itself has long insisted its goal was for the students it serves to graduate at rates comparable to the most advantaged American kids, or about 75 percent.

Bolstered by that initial report, KIPP redoubled its efforts, forming partnerships with colleges, re-examining its academic offerings, and launching other initiatives to increase college persistence among its grads. Those efforts are paying off: As of fall 2015, 44 percent of KIPP students have now earned a four-year college degree after finishing eighth grade at a KIPP middle school ten or more years ago.


The American Federation for Children (AFC) recently released its third annual poll on school choice. The national poll surveyed just over 1,000 likely voters early this January via phone calls.

To determine general support and opposition, AFC posed the following question: “Generally speaking, would you say you favor or oppose the concept of school choice? School choice gives parents the right to use the tax dollars associated with their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which better serves their needs.” By and large, the findings indicate broad support for school choice—68 percent of those surveyed support school choice compared to 28 percent who oppose it. These results are similar to previous years: 69 and 70 percent of likely voters who expressed support for school choice in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

In addition to overall percentages, AFC broke out the survey numbers by specific demographic groups. Seventy-five percent of Latinos and 72 percent of African Americans support school choice compared to 65 percent of Whites. In terms of political affiliation, 84 percent of Republicans support school choice (up slightly from 80 percent in 2016), compared to 55 percent of Democrats (down from 65 percent...

The major charge against Betsy DeVos—and certainly the one that the writers at “Saturday Night Live” recently ran with—was that she doesn’t know enough about “school” to be Secretary of Education. She hasn’t been a teacher, a principal, or a superintendent. She doesn’t know how to pick a curriculum, evaluate an instructor, or write an Individual Education Plan for students with disabilities.

All true. And if she were seeking employment as a teacher, a principal, or a superintendent, that experience gap would be damning. But she’s not.

President Trump selected her to be the U.S. Secretary of Education. That person’s job is to do education politics and policy—to work with members of Congress and governors, to understand how a bill becomes a law, to provide moral support to reformers as they fight it out in the states and at the local level. With her decades of involvement in politics, with policymakers, and in the trenches of the parental choice movement, DeVos is an inspired choice for the job that the Senate confirmed her for yesterday.

Which isn’t to say that the millions of teachers and parents who flooded social media and the Congressional switchboard to urge her rejection had...