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Newswire: October 25, 2011

Vol. 13, No. 41

A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN? The late-Steve Jobs may have felt Bill Gates would have been “a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger,” and Gates may have found Jobs “fundamentally odd,” but the views of these two masters of the tech universe on education are less adverse. For both, it’s all about the professionalization of teachers. Jobs, in Walter Isaacson’s book Steve Jobs, allegedly told President Obama that the nation’s education system is “crippled by union work rules” and that there is no hope for ed reform until “the teachers’ unions were broken.” Jobs’ idea, and a good one, is to give principals the authority to hire and fire their own staff – just as occurs in most businesses, and which happens in most charter schools. He says all this under the umbrella that the U.S. is strangling itself with “regulations and unnecessary costs,” that put us at a competitive disadvantage with nations like China. The Gates, both Bill and Melinda, take a more nuanced, research-based approach, beginning with a recent survey conducted with Scholastic Inc. Survey results indicate that teachers want to be treated like professionals. In direct opposition to some union opinion, 85% of teachers concur that student growth “over the course of an academic year” should be a factor in their evaluations. They are receptive to new teacher evaluations and want the right kind of support to improve their classroom performance, which is part of Gates’ Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) program. MET is collecting video tapes of teachers, with the goal to first better define effective teaching, something the research world shockingly has yet to do, but, to also provide appropriate supports to help willing teachers improve their performance – in other words, act like pros. For reformers, look at the words of both and the actions of Gates, and you’ll find a path for teaching to become a profession its followers can be proud of.

A NEW CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT: Too bad the NAACP doesn’t realize it yet, but too many inner-city, minority kids from disadvantaged neighborhoods are drowning in abysmal public schools that have been failing for years. The group has protested co-locating top-notch charters with traditional public schools in NYC and, generally, is anti-charter. It’s befuddling at best that instead of marching to city hall to improve schools by supporting quality choice options, the NAACP and other groups are walking arm-in-arm with unions who are fighting charters from moving into the neighborhood. (Think KIPP, Harlem Success Charters, Harlem Children’s Zone, to name a few). A California Charter Schools Association study examined the state’s API and found that the average black charter school student outscored his counterpart in traditional public schools by an average of 18 points over the last four years. What’s the NAACP waiting for? The brand new civil rights movement is all about doing whatever it takes to make schools work for kids. If that’s charters, fine. Vouchers, great. Full-service schools. Go for it. But, to stand guard over the failing old ways instead of being in the vanguard of what’s new and can work — it’s unthinkable. Come on, NAACP, represent your constituents.

CER REFORMIES ROCK THE GALA. Who says ed reformers don’t know how to have fun? October 20 was a rockin’ evening to celebrate the hard work of trying to improve education opportunities for students nationwide. Honorees of the evening were serenaded by The Reformers, all leaders of the education reform movement themselves. This year’s honorees include: The Honorable John Boehner, Katherine Bradley, Kevin Chavous, John Fisher, Steve Klinsky, John Legend, Eva Moskowitz and Brian Williams of NBC News. Can’t wait for the next Gala!

STATESIDE Pennsylvania Senate education committee, under time pressure due to end of legislative session, was able to pass a reform amendment that combined and subsequently weakened the voucher bill, SB 1, and the charter bill, SB 904, in order to ensure the Senate would pass something. Taken out is the multiple authorizers for charters. And, for vouchers, only the bottom five percent of failing schools are included. Expect a vote in the Senate as early as tomorrow on the bill. Then, it will move on to the House where it is possible the multiple authorizers for charters could be put back in the legislation.

Michigan is once again making moves to improve learning and offer more choice to families. A bill just passed the Senate that would remove the cap on the number of charters university authorizers may approve. It also would eliminate the “single site” requirement, which would pave the way for replication of successful schools. And, it expands digital learning opportunities. Now being debated in the House.

New Jersey lawmakers are bringing back scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools. Right now, the bill, the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA) is pared down to only include cities like Camden and Newark, but expect more action after the Nov. election.