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Newswire: November 8, 2011

Vol. 13, No. 43

NOT DONE AT ALL. “Education Reform Done Right, Right Now” is the slogan for the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), an affiliate of the NEA. Glad to see they feel a sense of urgency, but for what? One item on their agenda is public school choice, they say. Right. Ambitious. Of course, they are not for real choice, nor teacher evaluations that include student testing, nor with closing traditional public schools that have failed for years. Or, for that matter, paying individual teachers, not all teachers in a building, for improving student growth during the year spent in the classroom. No. None of that is on their agenda. Instead, they are very clear that politics must stay out of the classroom. But, the hypocrisy is too much to take when they were recently singled out for contributing more than $1M to today’s New Jersey elections. To counter the NJEA’s bankroll, a new group, Better Education For Kids, with an emphasis on kids, the real reason for reform,  supports real school choice, tenure reform and merit pay. It has its eyes on communities like Camden, where it handed out 40,000 backpacks filled with school supplies. And, it recently contributed to the campaign of Troy Singleton, a Democrat running for the Assembly. Singleton is on the mark when he explains what needs to happen at the school level. “Every principal should be able to look at the educational staff, using a predetermined metric of evaluation, and reward those teachers,” he said. “I think that’s consistent with what we instill in our children in the educational system.” You bet it is.

TEACHERS’ VOICE. With all the money the NJEA and other teacher unions are spending this election cycle, they should make sure they are representing the interest of their members. A new survey by the Association of American Educators (AAE), the largest national non-union teachers’ association, finds that school choice is actually quite well received by teachers. Nearly 80% of respondents agree with a law in Oklahoma that provides a tax credit to individuals and corporations that donate to organizations providing “Opportunity Scholarships.” And 61% of those surveyed agree with an Arizona law that provides tax credit scholarships to special education students in traditional public schools, allowing them to attend the public or private school of their choice. Almost three-fourths disagree with first-in, last-out hiring policies, a four-point increase from last year. And, the clincher: 78% say that collective bargaining has little to no effect on their ability to teach effectively and just 28% of teachers believe collective bargaining equates to a better compensated workforce. The teachers’ union is fast becoming a dinosaur even among its own constituency, partly because leaders refused throughout the years to quickly move to a path of professionalism.

CHARTERS CLOSING THE GAP. Critics continue to charge charter schools with creaming the easiest to teach children. Just listen to the recklessness of Chicago teacher union leaders in opposition to a charter proposal for a Latino community – they say charters “cherry-pick the best and the brightest in the schools” and “all the regular neighborhood schools then lose enrollment and their scores drop.” The facts tell otherwise. Just look at Washington D.C. where charters account for 41% of the city’s public school children, but 60% of all the high-performing, open-enrollment schools. An Examiner editorial tells why: “Freed from the D.C. Public Schools bureaucratic straitjacket, charters tailor their budgets, personnel and curriculum around the needs of their students (95% black and Hispanic) instead of the other way around.” And, D.C. isn’t the only city where charters are closing the gap. As reported here before, California data shows that black young men in charters outperform their traditional public school counterparts. Then there’s the latest charter study from Mathematica and the University of Washington Center on Reinventing Public Education that finds high-performing charter management organizations, like KIPP, are “so effective they are providing the equivalent of three years of schooling for students every two years”. Andrew Rotherham, in a TIME piece on the study, chides charter critics who say money should be targeted to improve traditional public schools. They “ignore the immediacy of educational failure,” particularly in communities were schools have been in abysmal shape for years.