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Newswire: March 27, 2012

Vol. 14, No. 13

PROPHETS FROM OTHER LANDS. As our education leaders move like molasses to improve American education, groups with an international bent are kicking them in the pants. These prophets from other lands – in fields not initially thought of as bastions of education development – seem to understand better than some education bureaucrats that improving education is vital today, not tomorrow. With urgency:
• The Council on Foreign Relations’ task force sounds the alarm that America’s education crisis is fast becoming a national security threat. Embarrassingly, American students are far worse off than other developed countries, despite the U.S. out-spending all developed nations on K-12 education. The Council calls for more school choice, among other initiatives, to boost achievement in this country now.
• Microsoft and the International Youth Foundation just released a report that spotlights an “opportunity divide” among young people worldwide. A primary reason, including in the U.S., is lack of access to quality education. The Opportunity for Action report is another canon shot signaling the need to move now to improve educational opportunities for all students.

WE THE PEOPLE. A family’s right to choose the right school for their child is a top concern of most Americans today. And, freedom to choose is based on citizen rights given to us by our founding fathers. Too often, even in the best of America’s schools, lessons detailing the founding of this nation take short shrift, if paid attention to at all. But, now, We the People is here to help guide the way – no matter how or where one is schooled. Brought to you by the State Policy Network, We the People is a series of educational stories based on the nation’s founding principles. It is multi-media – from text to video to podcasts to blogs. Visit www.wethepeopleHQ.org and get informed!

THE CHEATING GAME. How many cities are home to widespread cheating or the perception of such? New reports by the Atlanta Constitution Journal suggest heavy doses of suspected cheating appearing in large urban areas and rural districts where the pressure is supposedly high to boost scores of students living in poverty. While some testing critics wax on about what else would you expect when schools are judged so much on testing, the reality is you don’t blame tests for human failure. Whether the paper is right – and there’s no real way to know – there is a need for security systems to be put in place to make cheating impossible and quick action to improve teacher education programs – both pre- and in-service – so teachers can better meet the standards of the exam for all learners. Hopefully, the nation won’t get hung up on the report itself, tsk-tsking about this or that, and demonizing testing as the Darth Vadar of education.

CHARTER SKIMMING…NOT. Connecticut’s Trailblazers Academy and its sister school, Stamford Academy, are well-reputed for and pride themselves on enrolling the most challenging students – kids who are years behind their school grade and who have been chronically failed and kicked out by their local public schools. In existence since 2009, Trailblazers 8th-grade students have improved in math at about double the rate of the state average. They advanced 1.6 grade levels in reading. At Stamford, 91 percent of seniors were accepted into college, trade school or were successfully employed. Despite these against-all-odds data that show clear improvement, the schools may not have their charters renewed because their test scores do not measure up against the state average in math and reading. Basically, the school is being penalized for taking in all at-risk students, improving their scores and preparing them for life beyond high school. Some also complain that the schools are majority minority. But, could it really be that the district wants these kids – and their price tags – back in the system, albeit one that has failed them for years?

VIRTUAL BRAVO. Online learning is burgeoning nationwide, despite desperate cries from the status quo that virtual schools are riddled with obstacles that inhibit learning. Right? Wrong. And, a new study from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform finds significant benefits for students attending the state’s Virtual Academy (ARVA). The research finds that students attending ARVA in grades 3-6 during the 2008-2009 school year posted higher scores in math and literacy, despite beginning the year with slightly lower test scores than the comparison groups in traditional public schools. In Oklahoma, the Tulsa News makes the data come alive with an inspiring story about Union school district’s Virtual Learning Academy, still in its pilot year. Its success for students has a lot to do with flexibility so students can pursue high-level sports or intense artistic endeavors, without missing a beat of education. Check out Oklahoma’s online pride here. Bravo virtual learning.