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Newswire: September 13, 2011

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Vol. 13, No. 36

KATRINA Vs. EMPIRE. New Orleans, Louisiana’s (NOLA), ed establishment has mounted a fight they hope carries hurricane force winds to the Big Easy, knocking out the careful and successful repair work of the state’s — and perhaps — the south’s — worst school system. That system lost everything in the tragic hurricane of 2005, but from the ashes emerged a fresh start for schools, including no interference by a power-hungry school board and unions, as well as from tenure and seniority issues that protect jobs often at the expense of kids. Next month’s elections will decide the fate of 11 positions on the state board of education. Unlike most states, their job is not only to pick a state superintendent who can advocate for or against reforms like the charter schools that gave NOLA a fresh start or the pathbreaking voucher program that now helps thousands with private education. This board and the state super also have authority over the Recovery District, and that is why this is such a hot race. Teacher unions have banded together with the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education to try to return NOLA to a pre-Katrina structure. It’s a pity they still don’t get it. Get involved and publicize the importance of reform-minded candidates to your friends or colleagues in the Bayou. For more information on New Orleans schools, visit: http://educatenow.net/ or http://newschoolsforneworleans.org/index.php

WHAT GIVES? Besides jobs and stimuli for the economy, the President promised in his speech last week a big gift for the establishment — $35B to teachers to allegedly help avert further layoffs, without evidence that such layoffs are looming or would have any impact on kids and without any strings attached to ensure quality comes first over quantity. Obama said that “these are the men and women charged with preparing our children for a world where the competition has never been tougher.” Clearly, then, we need teachers who are at the top of their game to do this job, not just blanket hiring of people who can stand in front of the classroom. Another problem, as has been noted here and trumpeted over the air waves everywhere, is that the nation’s schools actually have a higher percentage of teachers and staff than enrollment numbers suggest is necessary. Census data for the 2008-2009 school year show that during that time, just over 48,000,000 students were enrolled in K-12 public education, which is a decline of 157,114 students from the previous year. But, they were taught by 3,231,487 teachers (full-time equivalent); an increase of just over 81,000 teachers from the previous year. So, like we asked: What gives? Most likely a shoring up of Obama’s political base (ie teacher unions) as we near that presidential election cycle. If we have to spend more money, instead of giving billions to hire teachers schools may not need, why not give schools the flexibility to target funds where real need exists.

MIDDLE CLASS SYNDROME. Schools situated in middle class neighborhoods are losing out big-time because their wealthy neighbors can support schools via higher property taxes and their poorer relatives get all the attention these days. So argues a new report, Incomplete: How Middle-Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade. Published by Third Way, a “Democratic think tank that claims to advocate for private sector economic growth,” the report does not argue to lessen the laser beam focus on schools in poverty, but to broaden the light to include schools in middle class neighborhoods where, believe it or not, only 1 in 4 kids go to college. Neglecting these schools means forgoing higher educational opportunities for folks who form the “backbone” of the U.S. economy. We add that meaningful reform in these schools, plus a broad range of choice options that are clearly explained to parents, is a good way to fuel our economy. Speaking of which, finally more and more people are making this connection between quality education and a thriving economy. A Census Bureau study, Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings, shows that education has a greater effect on earnings than race or gender. In fact, education’s effect is five times more than any other demographic factor. Many of us knew this already, but maybe pounding home the message from different arenas will give our nation the sense of urgency we need to improve schools now. None of us can wait until tomorrow.

BOOK REPORT. Want to know more about the book, The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids The Education They Deserve? Check out edspresso on Wednesday.