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Newswire: July 10, 2012

Vol. 14, No. 28

NO OSCAR, YET. Finally, the state of Maine enacted a charter school law, with collective applause from around the country. But, it’s too soon to give the state star status in the charter school world. CER’s Alison Consoletti, vice president for research, told the Kennebec Journal, in a strong article on Maine’s foray into charters, that the state’s Charter School Commission, appointed by the State Board of Education with three members overlapping between both boards, does not pass muster. “If you have the strong, independent authorizers, they can hold the charters accountable,” explains Consoletti. “So the schools tend to be higher quality and better managed.” Consoletti also points out that the state’s law is so new, it is unclear precisely what the climate will be to instill flexibility and accountability in charters statewide. “All we really have to go on is what the law says,” according to Consoletti. “While some pieces, like the funding, seem to be better than average, it’s still difficult to see until a charter school is open how funding flows; how the law is going to work.” Calling on Maine charter fans to do what it takes to ensure a strong charter program is created and maintained with appropriate authorizers.

BOOOORING. Students nationwide are not challenged by school. Yes, there is a sliver of kids stressed out over mountains of homework, seeking the Holy Grail of an Ivy League education, but, in general, students say they are not expected to rise to higher standards in the classroom, according to a study just released by the Center for American Progress titled “Do Schools Challenge Our Students.” Pivotal in the survey of students is an “increasing be[lief] that student surveys can provide important insights into a teacher’s effectiveness.” The report’s authors, Ulrich Boser and Lindsay Rosenthal, refer to the Gates Foundation’s Measure of Effective Teaching Project that finds student feedback better predicts teacher performance than whether or not that teacher holds a master’s degree, for example. A totally expected finding is that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to have rich academic experiences and learning opportunities…which is why parental choice is essential to quickly move children from schools that fail to rich, learning environments that ooze success.

SPEAKING OF AN OPPORTUNITY GAP. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam released research that reveals a growing divide between children of the affluent and those less well-off when it comes to various opportunities. Coupled with the student surveys above, the urgency to offer all students a top-notch education takes on new meaning, with charters and choice leading the way.

NOW, HERE’S AN OPPORTUNITY. Shearwater High School, a charter sponsored by Saint Louis University, was anointed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon as a model for other charters to replicate. On top of that, Emerson, a manufacturing and technology company, donated $500,000 to the school for its “groundbreaking” work. Shearwater targets students who have left or were suspended from traditional public schools. The St. Louis-Post Dispatch writes that nearly all of the students enter Shearwater with elementary school levels in reading and math and the staff dedicates itself to getting these kids on the college/career path ASAP. “I will not settle for less when I can do so much more,” said one of Shearwater’s graduating students. And, that pretty much sums up why far too many students don’t feel challenged in their zip code-determined school.