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,...

By J. Martin Rochester

A recent front-page story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about “teaching social justice” in K–12 classrooms raised interesting, and also troubling, issues regarding the proper mission of schools.

As I wrote in my book, Class Warfare “there has always been the temptation to use schools for purposes other than schooling, for proselytizing and other ends, since children are the ultimate captive audience.” Both conservatives and liberals have engaged in moralizing at various times, from the McGuffey readers introduced in 1836 to inculcate patriotism and traditional values to the more recent efforts of multiculturalists to promote global citizenship.

The Educators for Social Justice described in the article state that they “value the importance of solidarity (in) working toward our mission to develop and support socially just, equitable, and sustainable practices.” They are not alone in this crusade, as similar movements have sprung up all across the country in pre-collegiate education.

Who could be against schools attempting to cultivate virtue in young people? Let me suggest that while there is a place for this in schools, one must tread very carefully in this area. Educators for Social Justice and like-minded groups seem oblivious to the potential problems they are inviting.


In an era when Americans are chronically dissatisfied with their country’s schools (if not necessarily with the ones their own kids attend) and increasingly anxious about the rise of China, Lenora Chu’s new book, Little Soldiers: An American Boy, A Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, is timely and illuminating, as it looks at China’s education system through the lens of an American parent who is also a veteran journalist. Chu and her husband live in Shanghai and, as their son Rainey approaches school age, they must decide what type of education they want for him. This personal angle—plus a journalist’s attention to context—provides clarity and nuance that some other recent books touching similar topics, such as Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon and Marc Tucker’s Surpassing Shanghai, have lacked.

As Chu talks to teachers, observes classrooms, and stresses about her parental choices, she raises timely questions about parenting styles, cross-cultural literacy, and varying approaches to education. She’s often skeptical of the practices and norms in Chinese schools that she visits, but confronting these cultural differences makes her—and the reader—question things that may otherwise get taken for granted.

In some cases, she easily concludes...

Although researchers have yet to render the definitive verdict on preschool as the possible key to Kindergarten readiness, better K–12 outcomes, and life success for children, more findings are being added to the pool every month. One case in point is a new longitudinal study that examines academic and socioemotional outcomes for students participating in a Montessori preschool.

For those not familiar with the method, the American Montessori Society’s list of attributes reads: “Multiage groupings that foster peer learning, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and guided choice of work activity. In addition, a full complement of specially designed Montessori learning materials are meticulously arranged and available for use in an aesthetically pleasing environment.”

For the purposes of the present study, Montessori was chosen as an alternative to what the researchers define as default or “business-as-usual” versions of preschool: “teacher-led and didactic or else…lack[ing] academic content.”

Angeline Lillard and her research team used lottery-based Montessori magnet schools in Hartford, Connecticut, to create treatment and control groups. The treatment group comprised seventy students who won the lottery to attend one of two public Montessori schools; the control group consisted of seventy-one students who lost the same lottery and attended a...

Christopher Yaluma

A recent study examines how peer achievement and a classroom’s gender composition influence math achievement and student attendance rates.

The author, Ozkan Eren of Louisiana State University, uses data collected from a well-executed randomized experiment of middle and high school students in disadvantaged neighborhoods between 2010 and 2012. The sample included 5,320 students from eighty schools in twenty school districts.

There are three key findings: First, having a higher proportion of female peers in math classrooms improves the math test scores of female students, especially in less-advanced math courses, such as general high school math. A 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of female peers increases the average math test scores by 0.1 of a standard deviation. The gender effects on male students, however, are positive but insignificant. 

Second, regarding peer effects, having higher achieving peers has no significant effect on female math test scores, but does improve the marks of males in the bottom two-thirds of achievement: A 1.0 standard deviation increase in peer achievement increases boys’ math achievement by 0.4 of a standard deviation.

Finally, having a higher proportion of female peers in math classrooms decreases the probability of chronic absenteeism among male students, but has no...