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Newswire: January 10, 2012

Vol. 14, No. 2

A look forward to 2012:

BATTER UP. More states are stepping up to the plate to add reforms, even a few pinch hitters who rarely seem to make it to first base. Take Mississippi and Alabama, which may finally take the initiative to hit it out of the park. Mississippi has a charter law in name only, battered down by restrictions that keep school districts in charge so it’s no surprise that the state has no charters. Some talk about new authorizers now, but it’s only truly independent authorizers that can head off the anti-charter bias that pits charters against traditional public schools. Alabama has no law on the books and there is now hope that legislation may finally have a chance. Looking at where these states rank in terms of student achievement (for example, in Alabama and Mississippi about 80% of 8th graders are at basic or below on NAEP in math; while 74% Alabama 8th graders and 79% in Mississippi are below in reading), it certainly is past time to put in place charter and other choice options for families. Then there’s Virginia, with Governor McDonnell trying to step up to the plate, but not quite making it. Last year, he tipped his hat to expanding charter schools, but ended up making the application process more, not less, difficult. This year, he wants to create a technical advisory committee to help with the application process and said details about clarifying the per-pupil amount charters receive are “forthcoming.” He may just miss his turn at bat.

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HELLO? 2012 is a presidential year and it’s off with a roar as GOP candidates make their way from Iowa to New Hampshire and beyond. Unfortunately, there seems to be barely a peep about education as the key to U.S. global competitiveness as candidates criss-cross the country. A highly educated workforce is what drives the nation’s economy to be competitive and the U.S. achievement gap remains a barricade that prevents students from climbing the ladder of success. Even our top schools are woefully underperforming. So what are these candidates waiting for? Read more by CER’s Jeanne Allen in Politico.

GOING, GOING… GONE? While the candidates are going nowhere on education, the re-write of NCLB is, finally, going somewhere. House Education Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and his colleagues have begun to address the need for a rewrite, though whether or not the law will have the kind of teeth sorely missing from recent reforms (see Race To The Top redux below) remains to be seen. According to a statement, “The draft policies outlined in the Student Success Act and the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act will replace the existing federal accountability system, which has been widely criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike, with state-developed and implemented accountability systems. The legislation will also support additional flexibility in the use of federal education funds, help provide better information to parents on teacher effectiveness, and increase school choice.” Choice, flexibility — good. Consequences for failing to meet important milestones? Not so good. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) says Kline’s plan ignites the threat of “trench warfare” from the Dems. Meanwhile, the Senate action gives more flexibility to districts while not incentivizing choice or teacher reforms, and lacks all accountability for failure to demonstrate success. Sounds like they all have their work cut out for them. Or perhaps, they’ll wait for a new administration to do the hard work. Time will tell.

RACING WHERE? It can’t be to the top, when the Obama/Duncan signature education effort awarded money for promises that still have yet to be met in the time and manner in which they were set. A few examples: New York, where the state and teacher unions have yet to concur on a plan, which is a criteria for getting the funds; D.C., where leadership turnover is blamed for instability on Race to the Top program; and Florida, problems with leadership changes and legal challenges; as well as Hawaii, which is now under “high risk” status.

HOPING FOR QUALITY. Education Week this week will release its Quality Counts 2012 report. This year’s focus on “The Global Challenge: Education in a Competitive World” examines how America’s public education system ranks on a global stage and also gives a “fresh perspective” on the multiple challenges faced by the U.S. to meet demands of a world economy. Okay…let’s hope they get it right this time, unlike when Maryland was anointed best in the nation. See the Global Report Card