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Newswire December 6, 2017

THEY SAY SHOWING UP IS HALF THE BATTLE.  Research suggests that finishing high school is key to future success. But we’re still not ready to cheer the notion that rising high school graduation rates are an indication of great progress in education because other data – about what kids actually know and can do at each level – is still sorely lacking. Graduation rates are relatively subjective. We’re glad things are looking better, but whether and where that is actually resulting in better educated students is debatable.

DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ IN THE NEWSPAPERS.  In case you missed it – and, given the timing of its release, it seems to have been designed so that you would – the AP filed a story over this past weekend concluding, based on an “analysis” of data, that charter schools are racially isolated. We put quotes around analysis because aside from the story being outrageously inaccurate, it’s also lacking in data integrity, reflects no understanding of variations in charter laws or of local context, and is otherwise wholly lacking in any kind of critical thinking. It’s a stunningly irresponsible piece of journalism that took extremely complex data and tried to simplify a picture of more than 7,000 schools in thousands of communities in 43 states whose laws are as different as snowflakes in where and how they permit charter schools. It’s shocking, especially when more than 50 percent of students in traditional public schools lack proficiency and charter schools are providing children of greatest need with the only choices they’ve ever had. Hence, the well-deserved and welcome firestorm of criticism the story has generated.

AND… Before you shrug off the AP story as simply bad reporting, or a hatchet job on charter schools (both of which happen to be true) remember that this is the type of information that worms its way into the public record and eventually becomes “fact” in the ongoing discussion/debate/argument over charters and other opportunities and options for learning. The story has already been dissected to apply its “findings” to Ohio and Michigan charters and is likely to keep popping up, a la whack-a-mole, for months (and possibly years to come). So this is probably not the last time you’ll hear from us on the subject.

THE 411 ON 529.  With the new 529 rules contained in the Senate Tax Reform bill having weathered the gauntlet of review and revision that is the legislative process, it’s now on to committee for the reconciliation process (which is often more like an ugly divorce trial than an effort to reach a harmonious middle ground…but we always hope for the best). The good news is, the revisions have gotten this far and, when all is said and done, will probably survive in some form or fashion in the final bill. The bad news is…well, this is a rare instance where, at the moment we have no bad news to report. The revisions are not the end-all-and-be-all – there are still ideas afoot for expanding opportunities though the tax code, and those remain on a list of action items for 2018 – but as we look to the close of 2017, we can at least say, “so far, so good.” (If you can look past the spin and editorial comment, this isn’t a bad WaPo piece on the ed-related items in the Senate tax bill.)

THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY.  While at its heart, education reform will always be a grassroots movement, embracing innovation and harnessing technology as means for improving education opportunities and options has become a worldwide undertaking. Hence last week’s Global Education Summit held in Beijing. With the theme of “Global Technology Advancing Education,” the meeting brought together more than 300 education and technology leaders to discuss issues related to connecting China’s education to the world and bridging the education of today to that of tomorrow. A Who’s Who of the education and tech world were in attendance – including CER Board Members Michael Moe and Chris Whittle – as well as former President Barack Obama. It was an exciting event that spoke to the reality of today’s challenges and of the need to accelerate the pace of change here in the U.S.

AND SINCE WE’RE SCALING SUMMITS: The 10th Annual ExcelinEd National Summit on Education Reform was held last week in good old Nashville, Tennessee, USA. While our good friend and long-time ally in education reform, Gov. Jeb Bush, attracted most of the headlines – along with EdSec Betsy DeVos (who, frankly, did a great job sticking to her guns as an advocate of substantive reform) – the meeting featured 13 in-depth strategy sessions designed to engage, educate and inspire attendees to do big things to help students in their states. If you didn’t make it this year, plan to attend next year. It’s a valuable experience for individuals and for maintaining momentum in the movement.