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Newswire: March 12, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 10

RACISM & GREED? Should our public services be used for people who really need them? Aren’t prisons a place for criminals who defiantly break the law? And how exactly does intentionally breaking the law help children understand the importance of schooling? These and more questions are on our minds as we ponder the actions by President of the AFT union Randi Weingarten this past Thursday, who, upon her arrival in Philadelphia to protest the closing of 23 FAILING (yes that was caps intentionally) schools got herself arrested. Make no mistake — this was planned. Anyone with a big time PR shop like the AFT has doesn’t do these things without much consideration. You could just see her — boarding the plane, arriving in Philly, taking her car to the site, getting poised to protest and WHAM, standing in front of the door to the School Reform Commission meeting just to be carried away to the Klink, the pen – prison! The cheering and hizzahs were incredible, thanks to the adult members of the union who joined her. “This is about Racism and Greed” one sign said. Actually — he’s half right. It’s about the not so subtle racism that pervades a system that makes someone want to keep a bad school open and keep poor kids of color from getting a good education and it’s about the greed of the unions who just can’t let it go.

BABIES TO THE CORE. Those cute little kindergartens we all like to fawn over are apparently getting the shaft in schools that have already started implementing the Common Core standards for young children. It’s not intentional, as Harlem Village Academies Founder & Author (and CER 2006 Honoree) Deborah Kenny writes in a fabulous op-ed. It’s that teaching requires more than a handbook or list of instructions from even the most respected and well-funded efforts to ensure better learning happens in the classroom. The law of unintended consequences that many have been predicting may occur from a national effort to ensure common learning state by state seems to be cropping up all over the place. Hold your fire. Just saying. One could argue that the perverse reaction to NCLB was a bit the same as that to Common Core. Perverse or not, it happens, and we need to be prepared.

CER president Jeanne Allen will join a crowd of experts and researchers on March 25 at the American Enterprise Institute to discuss these issues and more.

SEQUESTER – REVISITED. Each day continues to reveal distorted predications of doomsday in our nation’s schools due to the sequestration. First there was the Arne flap and across the country school districts are crowing that they’ve had to cut millions from their schools. Our investigative eyes are on it, and we have discovered a few more Pinocchios in recent coverage. One example is the report which says that schools on Indian Reservations and Military facilities are hardest hit given their percentage of federal funds. The Washington Post provides evidence in Arizona’s Navajo based Window Rock School District, whose superintendent just last week said that closing schools, cancelling bus routes and cutting positions are among the things she has to do ASAP. “We may have to close those schools — we don’t have any other avenues at all,” Superintendent Debbie Jackson-Dennison said, adding that she will cut five administrators, 25 support staffers and 35 certified teachers by the end of May. School bus routes, vital in a large rural setting, will be reduced beginning this month, guaranteeing that some children will be riding an hour to and from school. But a closer look reveals that this district has had financial problems long before the sequester, and most are a result of bad management. First, the district’s impact aid which the Superintendent says in this press release from September 2012 was likely to be cut because of the sequester back then, and yet, all of that aid has already flowed to the district. Then, apparently the county treasurer was found at fault with his investments causing the district to lose money. Much of the story is outlined here. It’s another example that very often the actual story is much more complex than what is commonly thought.

WHY CAN’T JOHNNY STILL READ? Or at least, why can’t we reach the estimated 33% of kids in this country that are below basic come fourth grade? Just weeks from the 30th Anniversary of A Nation at Risk, we have a nation still at risk and states are grappling with whether to retain or promote. Meanwhile, thousands of schools, which ARE accountable for how their students perform year to year in most states that have charter schools and robust authorizing, are doing it well. And yet…

OPPOSITION REMAINS FIXED ON CHARTERS. …Despite their success, the mainstreamness of it all, the Kumba-ya between both political parties, charters are under constant attack in communities and at some state levels. If they are not under attack, they face an uphill fight to even get approved much less enacted. To wit:

• Maine — Knowing that his charter law is weak and it’s time to educate the public better on the issues, Governor La Page is holding a major summit one week from Friday, March 22, to grow support for the importance of charters. He would not need to do this if his law had not been a political compromise with the establishment.

• Mississippi – Legislators are working on a compromise bill that would allow charters to open in failing school districts under certain limitations, and yet even this very modest bill which is riddled with restrictions is having a tough time gaining traction as a “don’t worry be happy” crowd of Republicans in that state just thinks everything is great for their kids.

• Pennsylvania – Reports of Philly notwithstanding, legislators have introduced poison pill bills to withhold more funding from already underfunded charters. Reform bills are coming, but the powerful school boards lobby remains fixed in Harrisburg.

• Tennessee – An effort to improve and expand that state’s charter bill is wavering, while a proposal by the Governor would create a limited voucher program for 5,000 low-income students in 83 failing schools across the state. If passed, the cap would rise to 20,000 students by 2016. A modest proposal at best, and some lawmakers would like to see a much more expansive program.

Alaska, Alabama, and Georgia have all seen action recently on charters, tax credits and a parent trigger bill, respectively. Scaled back or compromised by the special interest clout, the progress isn’t near what it should be if Johnny and Jane and Jose and Josephine are expected to read well.