Peter Murphy

The House Republican tax reform plan, contained in its proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, includes a provision to expand the Internal Revenue Code section 529 savings plans to include expenses for kindergarten-through-grade-twelve education and apprenticeship programs. The maximum annual amount of such expenses allowed from these plans would be $10,000.

Supporters of educational choice should embrace this proposal and advocate for its inclusion in the final, adopted tax bill. Simply put, expanding 529 college savings plans for K–12 education and apprenticeship programs will enable more families to access educational choice before their children enroll in college.

Current tax law restricts 529 savings plans to higher education and allows maximum annual contributions of up to $5,000 per year for each individual account ($10,000 for joint-income tax filers).

While contributions to existing 529 college savings plans are not deductible for federal income tax purposes, the accrued interest is not subject to federal tax.

In the process of proposing to expand the 529 plans to K–12 education and apprenticeship programs, the House GOP tax plan would eliminate Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, which is the current savings vehicle for K–12 expenses for up to $2,000 annually, since they would be duplicative.

As a...

Education reform advocates nationwide are putting together their wish lists for the state legislative sessions that generally start in January. Here’s one for the top of those lists: tackling how state assessments are administered and how kids’ results on those assessments are reported.

Getting this right is good policy, good politics, and a hedge against another anti-testing backlash.

For inspiration note the changes enacted in Florida last year via HB 7069. Its controversial provisions have drawn most of the attention, especially its requirement that local districts give charter schools access to local property taxes. But it also made some worthy tacks on testing. These include:

  • Moving state tests to the last four weeks of the school year to give teachers more time to teach—and reducing dead time at year’s end. (The previous state testing window started in March.)
  • Requiring that teachers receive the scores of their incoming students before the next year starts.
  • Including in the score reports that are sent home to parents:
    • Information about students’ strengths and areas for improvement
    • Specific suggestions for actions parents can take on their child’s behalf
    • Data on proficiency and growth over time, over multiple years
    • When available, projections
  • ...

In this study, the authors examine the impact that being born in the Year of the Dragon—the luckiest and most desirable in the Chinese Zodiac—has on the academic achievement of Chinese youth.

Data for the study come from three sources: the 2010–13 waves of the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS); the China Education Panel Study (CEPS), which includes over 13,000 middle school students from 112 schools in twenty-eight districts, counties, and/or cities; and the Beijing College Students Panel Survey (BCSS), which includes about 5,000 undergraduates from fifteen universities in Beijing.

Based on their analysis of these data, the authors estimate that, relative to individuals born in other years, so-called “Dragons” score about 0.05 standard deviations higher on middle school Chinese and English exams and 0.1 standard deviations higher on China’s National College Entrance Examination, and are 5–10 percentage points more likely to have a college education.

Because parents of Dragons are no richer, better educated, or more likely to have white-collar jobs than other parents, the authors conclude that “the differential educational success of Dragon children is not related to family background.” Moreover, because the CEPS includes questions related to “dimensions of language, perceptions of figures and spaces, and calculations...

Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research has released a study that provides the first look at how Newark schools are faring after the enactment of controversial reforms. Kicked off by an infusion of $200 million from the Startup: Education Foundation (now the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) and other philanthropists in 2010, the reform included curricular overhauls, scaling up charters, dramatic staff changes, and school closures. The initial findings indicate that these disruptive changes are improving student achievement.

The study examines student growth on New Jersey state achievement tests from 2009 to 2016—before and after funding—comparing students of similar academic achievement and demographics to other lower-income districts in the state, as well as to overall state results. Analysts also look to determine which reforms were responsible for the changes in growth. As the scope of reforms is quite large, they break them into two categories: within-school reforms, such as personnel changes, new teacher contracts, and curriculum reform; and between-school reforms, including closing low-performing schools, the expansion of charter schools, and the implementation of a universal choice system that allowed families to submit a single application to attend a district or local charter school.

Analysts find that student growth dropped in the first...

For the first time in their lives, my twin daughters are attending separate schools. It was a hard decision made after a lot of research and soul searching. My wife and I think both schools are good ones, but I’d be lying if I said I was 100 percent confident. The national debate over whether and how parents can know best when it comes to school choice has me wondering if we’ve chosen well. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that we had full information and access to many options, but I know that’s not the same for every family. That should be the debate on parental choice. Perhaps the process that my family went through—and the differences between the schools we ultimately chose—can help shed light on the larger discussion.

The school that both girls attended through ninth grade last year is an odd one, to be sure, and not just because of its sixth-through-twelfth-grade orientation. As a standalone STEM school, it is more like a charter than a traditional school, but it has no sponsor or elected board; it is supported by a consortium of higher education, philanthropic, and district leaders. As...

By Jeremy Noonan

After a public dispute with State Superintendent Richard Woods, Georgia governor Nathan Deal refused to sign off on the state’s ESSA plan. The dispute, played out in a series of back and forth letters between the officials, centered on the weight given to test results in the state’s school ratings system, the College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI). Gov. Deal said that there was too little weight given to test scores and thus criticized the plan as a “missed opportunity to set high expectations” for school and students.

One specific point of contention was the weight given in one CCRPI indicator to student participation in Advanced Placement courses—i.e., just taking the courses without reference to students’ actual performance on the AP exams. As similar arguments between access and quality in AP courses are playing out throughout the country, it is important to examine this debate closely.

Deal’s letter criticizes this “Accelerated Enrollment Readiness” indicator as an “incentive for schools and districts to enroll students in AP courses where there is little monitoring and regulation of quality.” He illustrates this perverse incentive with a story of a recently audited high school where the principal required all seniors to...

By Will Flanders and Natalie Goodnow

Last week, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty—where I am the research director—issued a report on the changes in the Badger State’s suspension rates over the past decade. Since 2009, the statewide rate has fallen by approximately 41 percent. And in Wisconsin’s largest city, Milwaukee, the rate’s fallen even more dramatically, by 55 percent.

These shifts are not unique. Rather, across the country suspension rates have been in a steep decline. Between 2011 and 2014, suspensions dropped nationwide by 20 percent, according to a report from the Manhattan Institute. And that same report found that more than fifty of the country’s largest school districts have put in place discipline reforms, and that twenty-seven states have changed their laws to reduce “exclusionary discipline.”

What is the impetus for these trends? It’s difficult to isolate each of the factors completely, but there appear to be two main causes: (1) an increasing notion among education policymakers that suspensions are a bad thing; and (2) federal policy under the Obama Administration that promised to take a hard look at school districts engaged in polices that resulted in “disparate impact” on racial groups, even if the policies were not explicitly racially biased....

Patrick Riccards

To kick off the month, the Fordham Institute’s Michael Petrilli boldly proclaimed that “the year since the 2016 election has been surprisingly good for education reform.” While I’d agree that the successes Petrilli singles out in places like Colorado and Illinois are impressive (and while I generally know better than to tell Mike he is wrong), I can’t help but bristle at his conclusion.

Yes, there are recent bright spots for education reform. But is the state of education reform today better off now than it was a year ago? Or five years ago? As a recovering education reformer, I would have to say no. And let me explain why.

Issue one: We are defining education reform success largely based on charter school victories. Yes, school choice is, and has always been, a major component of the ed reform movement. But it isn’t the only issue. When upwards of 94 percent of public school students attend traditional public schools, how can success be measured solely on successes affecting just 6 percent of students? Is it good that so many students—particularly those in urban and rural communities—still don’t have access to world-class schools that prepare one for college and career?...

Noel Jett

So, you’re considering radical acceleration. You’re running out of education options, and you miss the feeling of actually being challenged with your school work. I started community college when I was thirteen and transferred to Texas A&M when I was fourteen, so I feel your struggle. Now, I’m working on my Ph.D. in Gifted and Talented Education and I am happy to tell you both my experience and the research conclusions are positive. Radical acceleration is safe, healthy, and viable so far!

But I have bad news, too: There is one major con to this option, one that the research doesn’t fully grasp. The more intelligent someone is, and specifically the more advanced they are in school, the higher the likelihood they will have sworn themselves to secrecy about it. This is not completely without purpose: I find it quite fair to say that people constantly drawing attention to their own strengths are narcissistic. However, what is truly upsetting is the fact that it quickly becomes taboo to even tell someone the truth as a radically advanced child. Even if you never refer to yourself as intelligent, just plainly state that you are not in middle school but enrolled full-time...

It feels more than a little tone-deaf to say this right now, given the dumpster fire that is the current state of our national affairs, but education reform is having a pretty good year.

That’s certainly not what many of us predicted twelve months ago. We worried that Donald Trump’s support for charter schools and school choice would make those issues toxic on the left; growing polarization would sound the death knell for any hope of centrism and bipartisanship, both of which have been essential for the ed-reform project for the better part of two decades; and populist attacks on data and reason would make it that much harder for our arguments to win the day.

And indeed, some of this has come to pass. Reformers on the left, especially, feel forced to declare their allegiance to “The Resistance” on a daily basis, lest Randi Weingarten and others succeed in painting any Democrat for Education Reform as Betsy DeVos in sheep’s clothing.

And yet, in the arena where it matters most, education reformers have had a remarkable year. As one reform funder noted privately last week, “the world is falling apart, and the center is not holding,...