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Newswire: September 6, 2011

Vol. 13, No. 35

BACK TO SCHOOL ’11

Continuing the trend as we watch almost nearly all go back to school today, Newswire offers you a few “wishes” for our nation’s youth and their necessary achievement.

WISH #1 (PART DEUX FROM LAST WEEK). That more regular public schools replicate success, like the one covered in today’s NY Times by veteran education reporter Sam Dillon. YOWSA! “We can’t sit idly by and let parents think that only the quality charter schools can educate poor kids well,” said Terry Grier, Houston’s hard-charging superintendent. “If you see something good, why not try to replicate it?” KIPP’s Mike Feinberg, whose work forms the basis for some of the reforms Grier is trying told Dillon: “They’ve been trying to fix Lee High School for 20 years,” he said. “But up until now, there’s been no competitive pressure for them to really get crazy and do transformational things.” See for yourself – Need we say more?

WISH #2  That an honest and open debate on standards will ensue as a result of today’s great analysis by another veteran education news guy, Jay Mathews. For several months, University of Arkansas professor and researcher Jay Greene has been providing a different, less popular view about the so-called Common Core, that has not gotten much traction outside of narrow reform rooms, until now. The reality Greene says – and with which Mathews agrees – is that standards have no impact on whether or not curriculum is rich or pedagogy changes to accommodate new benchmarks. Another consideration that is raised in The Good School, a new, pathbreaking book by journalist Peg Tyre, is that tests are never fully developed based on standards, but on a certain “scientific” level of test questions most people are likely to get right on any particular subject. (More on The Good School in next week’s Newswire – you will not want to miss what we consider the best and most thoughtful read of this decade!) More than anything, Greene and Mathews remind us that the reformers of today succeeded in convincing the public that one-size-does-not-fit-all. While standards are a good idea, their impact on achievement may be mixed. Read more here and decide for yourself.

WISH #3 That the success charter schools enjoy in more than a majority of cases, based on dozens of apples-to-apples comparisons, would be recognized over popularized myths that came from one study, with weak methodology. Let’s face it, dig into any state with a strong law (e.g., well-conceived and structured with maximum freedom from traditional education structures) that has a strong portfolio of authorizers, and you’ll find charters that are raising student achievement. From New York to Washington to Florida to Michigan and beyond in all directions, the real data (which takes a lot longer to read and decipher than a few studies) paints a positive picture of a movement that not only serves most of its kids well, but that has a high degree of success closing schools that fail. Indeed, a look at the closures – which is coming from CER later this month – shows that not only do most schools do a good job of closing failing schools, but many get to them long before they reach their charter contract review. Next time someone says or writes “but most charters don’t do any better than other public schools,” ask them to show you their data. You’ll find the emperor is wearing some pretty bare threads.

One other thing worth noting – Why are New York schools opening September 8th? Yes, time is important, UFT!