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Home » Newswire Weekly » Newswire: June 12, 2012

Newswire: June 12, 2012

Vol. 14, No. 24

CORBETT’S CRUSADE? Many are asking the big question- how is it that a candidate who ran and won on making school reform his first priority hasn’t been successful in achieving real reform since he’s taken office? Meanwhile, the Governor has weighed in on the debate on online schooling, criticizing the notion that online schools should be well-enough funded to provide choices that hundreds of parents use and demand. For almost 18 straight months the Corbett team has permitted the Republican House to ignore SB 1, a pathbreaking school choice bill that passed last year. Then, an effort to improve the state’s charter law to incorporate higher education in authorizing has been stalled by the status quo supporting school districts. The Governor is now taking aim at cyber charters as if cutting their funds will close the state budget gap. As Governor Corbett himself said at a school choice forum during the campaign, good education is the key to economic solvency. The Pennsylvania House adjourns June 30 but there is still time to do a real reform package, if the will is there.

“TEAR DOWN THIS WALL.” Today is the anniversary of the famous Reagan challenge to Gorbachev at the Bradenberg Gate, calling on the Russian leader to destroy the Berlin Wall that separated a country and kept half in abysmal conditions. How fitting that a similar wall holds back kids in the U.S. from social justice parity and, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, stands as tall and solid as it was when many who were elected and promised to fight the status quo two years ago.

SWIFT BOAT OF REFORM. With far too many schools drowning academically, especially in Detroit, no wonder parent trigger is winding its way through the Michigan Legislature in order to make swift changes to boost achievement. Critics fire off that parent trigger is a draconian move that thwarts real progress to be made in the schools. The point they miss is that students just don’t have the time to wait around until adults work through the bureaucracy, bear a teacher strike, or deal with ineffective after ineffective school leader to come up with a solution for failing schools. A trigger says, to lift from the 1976 film Network, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” A perfectly fitting response for a parent whose child doesn’t have time to waste getting a dead-end education.

MODELING CHARTERS. The Faison K-5 school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s, Homewood neighborhood was failing to provide adequate, let alone exceptional, education opportunities for its students. Just to illustrate, in 2007, 95 percent of fifth-grade students fell below proficient in math and 88 percent in reading. This year, though, Faison is looking to turn itself around, with a teacher-led drive to bump up achievement. And who did they look to for a model? The John B. Stetson Charter School in Philadelphia. At first a small group from Faison visited Stetson, but soon after brought a larger group to view how the charter, located in a similarly disadvantaged community with kids who previously struggled to learn, created an environment that encouraged and inspired success. Charter success breeds success, even among traditional public schools when they have thoughtful leaders.

INVESTING IN REFORM. Bond investors are careful to analyze financial and operational assumptions of any investment before they jump in. So their increasing willingness to back charter schools is another indication of a reform that is here to stay.

SAVING CATHOLIC SCHOOLS. Catholic schools, most known for their dazzling success with inner-city students, are making a comeback as vouchers edge into the education scene. St. Stanislaus, for example, in East Chicago, Indiana, had enrollment jump nearly 40 percent in 2010 due to the state’s voucher program. Nationwide, the dip in enrollment of Catholic schools is slowing, showing “signs of growth even in cities without vouchers.” It’s no coincidence that Indiana, the state with the most expansive voucher program, also shows the most dramatic enrollment increases in Catholic schools. But, as the Wall Street Journal notes, Catholic schools in states without vouchers can benefit from wealthy Catholic business leaders who donate to keep the school up and running. Catholic schools nationwide certainly fill a niche, provide an environment conducive to learning at high levels and offer values, religious or not, that allow all students to feel safe, act responsibly and with care in the classroom.

UNION BEHAVIOR. Success for the Chicago Teacher’s Union is not assessed these days by improving student math skills and more, but by reaching the magic 75 percent figure in a vote to authorize a strike. The authorization vote is the first step for the union to call for a strike vote in the fall, should contract negotiations hit an impasse. An impasse is likely, since the union has batted heads with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his plan to lengthen the school day, install teacher evaluations with teeth and pass tenure reform. It’s not that Emmanuel’s proposals are particularly bold, either. Student growth will count for a mere 15 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in year one, increasing to only 25 percent by year five. But as CER’s Jeanne Allen says in the Tribune, Emanuel has been “clear that notions like ironclad tenure and seniority should not be a proxy for a teacher’s performance.” Still there’s no guarantee he’s willing to fight them to the finish line, but at least it’s a start.

STRIKES COST. Teachers on strike cost, not only in days students loose in learning, but in real dollars. In Pennsylvania’s Neshaminy school district, teachers went on strike, although returning a day later due to a judge’s order. There may still be a risk that a strike goes into effect and, if they do, just as in Chicago, an increase in the average salary and benefit cost per teacher may just knock a fatigued economy into a flatline. Taxpayers for a Fair Neshaminy School Budget recently put together a chart that shows exactly how much the true cost is of teachers in that district. Of course, paying well for top teachers is essential, but in Neshaminy just as in Chicago, there is no guarantee that money goes for excellence nor that the union is considering, at all, the fiscal responsibility of the state.

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