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Newswire: November 5, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 41

ELECTION DAY. Today, the likely decisions of voters in Virginia, New Jersey and New York City chart a very uncertain future for education reform and student opportunity. Two frontrunners have firmly positioned themselves as anti-reform, while one other merely has the potential to do more. In a state desperately in need of Parent Power, Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe has confirmed his support to the unions and establishment, speaking in tired platitudes and promising to shy away from the empowering policies rooted in choice and accountability that have been successful in so many other states. The next likely mayor of New York Bill de Blasio is an avowed opponent of charter school expansion, and places himself firmly against the choice and accountability that has taken a positive foothold in the Big Apple for the past decade. Establishment enemy Chris Christie is expected to coast to reelection in New Jersey, where it remains to be seen whether he’ll push for quality charter school expansion through independent authorizing, as well as creating at least the foundation for a school choice program. To be sure, the number of charter schools increased and there were positive changes to teacher tenure during Christie’s first term, but there is still so much more work to do. Perhaps these candidates will experience a change of heart, but as it unfortunately stands now, policies allowing for more and better student opportunities seem unlikely. If you haven’t made it to the polls yet today, be sure to check out our Edreform Election Tools.

DON’T WORRY, DENY INSTEAD. Diane Ravitch recently appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to inform us that the public education system is doing just fine, but of course years of lagging test scores paints a different picture, something we’re likely to see continue upon release of NAEP scores this week. Anti-reformers like Ravitch are part of the ‘Don’t Worry’ crowd, a coalition in perpetual denial about the lack of improvement in public education, and their blanket scapegoating of societal ills such as poverty hasn’t done anything to make things better. We can continue to do the same things without introducing new choices, accountability and innovations, and for those in the  ‘Don’t Worry’ camp, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

KNOWING WHAT WORKS. There is currently a debate in Wisconsin over whether to allow other campuses within the University of Wisconsin system to become charter school authorizers. This would allow universities, which have a proven track record of quality authorizing, to approve and oversee charter schools statewide, as opposed to school districts which have often proven themselves as not up to the task of authorizing. A longitudinal study that looked at student achievement in Milwaukee Public Schools showed higher student achievement in charter schools authorized by the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee than in traditional public schools. The trend of not only higher student achievement but also markedly larger student gains in charter schools approved by independent, university authorizers is not unique to Milwaukee, and has been seen elsewhere in states such as New York and Michigan. We know what works and also know that independent and capable university authorizers won’t be a possibility without properly written laws on the books.

CORE OF WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT. Of educational policy initiatives, the debate over Common Core has arguably become the most buzzworthy. Somehow, everyone seems to have an opinion of a system that hasn’t even been fully implemented, which ends up distracting from the real solutions that we know influence student success. Those who are focused on Common Core would be doing more for improving education if they put the same amount of time and energy promoting policies that focus on empowering parents, facilitating educational options. Strong accountability and innovations in learning come when families have more options, and when schools have the autonomy to provide the educational experience that best fits the needs of their students.

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