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NEWSWIRE: February 4, 2014

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Vol. 16, No. 5

DIGITAL LEARNING IN THE NEWS. If the only newspaper a person ever reads is the Los Angeles Times, he or she would be inclined to think that students’ use of iPads is the most revolutionary classroom introduction since the chalkboard, and a substantial product of the digital learning revolution. But “digiformers” know that real innovation in the classroom is much more than new devices, and it’s the responsibility of the news media to cover it accordingly. That’s why CER Senior Fellow and president emeritus Jeanne Allen dug a little deeper in a new report that delves into how digital learning receives media coverage, and recommends how digital proponents should engage newspapers across the country. According to Allen’s findings, it behooves “digiformers” to engage local papers with a vested interest in what types of innovations are benefitting district schools and communities. Read the full report to find out other ways to ensure the positive spread of the digital revolution in the American press.

NOT JUST BIG CITIES. Much of the conversation surrounding charter schools tends to focus on improvements made in urban educational systems, but urban families aren’t the only ones in need of more choices. A new report sheds light on the underserved rural student population, which tends to have low graduation rates and more students living in poverty. With measures such as quality authorizing, flexible hiring practices to draw good teachers to rural areas, and equitable funding, charter schools have the potential to improve educational outlooks in rural areas. One of the primary benefits of school choice is a student can succeed regardless of zip code. With the right set of laws and policies, this promise can finally hold true for rural students.

AN UNACCEPTABLE GAP. Data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals unacceptably wide graduation gaps across the states between students with disabilities and their regular education peers. While large gaps pervaded across the South, such as special needs students in Mississippi who are 43 percent less likely to graduate when compared with traditional students, achievement gaps were found in several other states as well. Students with special needs comprise approximately 14 percent of the charter school population in the U.S.., which is comparable to the ratio in traditional schools, and could potentially grow as charters continue to expand at a steady, linear pace. Proposals to give special needs families much needed options, such as Senator Tim Scott’s (R-SC) CHOICE Act are positive steps, however the onus needs to be more on state lawmakers to implement solid choice programs for their constituents who require choices beyond the traditional system.

WEST COAST OFFENSIVE. A young reformer in California named Courtney Brousseau has set out to improve the educational experience of himself and his fellow students by petitioning for a system that rewards highly performing teachers.  Courtney says he’s had a number of great teachers throughout his schooling, and wants to advocate for a system that maintains quality teachers, and incentivizes others to make necessary improvements. These commendable efforts come amid a legal challenge in California where nine student plaintiffs are fighting to strike down constraining teacher hiring practices on the grounds that they impede their inherent right to a quality education. Current laws in California often allow for ineffective teachers to remain in classrooms without motivation to improve, and make it difficult to fire poorly performing teachers, something 86 percent of Americans would likely be against. In the meantime, we hope Courtney continues to serve as a force for positive change, and more students make their voices heard.

CHANGING THE CONVERSATION. Last week, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) hosted an intense discussion on the benefits of choice and competition in education. After all, competition has always been a basic American principle, and should rightfully be extended to education. “Forget about ‘quality’ — all the regulators are trying to take ‘quality’ and make it their own, putting us into a little box,” CER president Kara Kerwin told fellow panelists and the audience, speaking of the need to change the conversation to focus on what makes students “successful” in learning. By focusing on policies with proven track records of lifting student outcomes, even if they don’t adhere to a certain set of rules and oversight, lawmakers end up placing the interests of students before the whims of special interests. And the public knows lawmakers aren’t putting student interests first; 69% of Americans believe elected officials are not doing a good job when it comes to education.

CELEBRATE INNOVATION. Don’t forget tomorrow is Digital Learning Day! Stay tuned on www.edreform.com or follow us on twitter @edreform for new tools and data for ‘Digiformers.’