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NEWSWIRE: October 7, 2014

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Vol. 16, No. 39

THE ‘BARGAIN’. On Sunday October 5, 2014, Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss launched a series of attacks on charter schools relying heavily on biased and inaccurate data. Claiming that the “Charter school ‘bargain’ was a raw deal” and stating “concerns are rising as the number of charters overall is increasing.” The allegations that charters are “stunningly opaque…and turning out to be anything but accountable” are misguided and misinformed. The Center for Education Reform has a guide to help advocates speak up in fighting the misinformation that continues to pervade.

THE FREEDOM TO CHALLENGE. It’s not everyday a group of sixth graders are asked to draft an essay and speech for a state level event on Constitution Day. But Challenge Charter School in Arizona was the only elementary school in the entire state to be recognized for the highest level of Excellence in Civic Engagement by the AZ Department of Education. So, the school saw the essay and speech contest as a good way to find a student representative for the awards ceremony. It’s not all that surprising Challenge would get this recognition, since educators have the freedom to implement an innovative curriculum in a learning environment where citizenship is a pillar expectation. Equally unsurprising is a school like Challenge can thrive in a state that’s number three in Parent Power.

STUDENTS AND PARENTS LEARN IT’S OK2SAY. Both charter and traditional school communities across Michigan can now access a new resource OK2SAY, giving parents, students and school personnel a safe space to share and respond to student safety threats. The reporting system is a way to break the culture of silence that is far too often associated with incidents that threaten students’ well being. When visiting schools, CER often hears directly from parents that the safety of their children is one of, if not the highest priority when sending their kids to school, and often seek out other options if that priority is unfulfilled. Click here for a list of parent resources, and how you can help create safer learning environments for kids.

BREAKING THE DIVIDE. A simple Google Maps search will show Schenectady and Niskayuna high schools in upstate New York a mere 1.7 miles apart, but their close physical proximity does not translate over to academics. Both schools spend roughly the same per-pupil, yet Niskayuna has a graduation rate of 95 percent compared to Schenectady’s 55 percent. But when educators look beyond funding, it’s incredible what can happen when teachers have the ability to innovate. It’s why CER has seen firsthand charter schools serving high percentages of low-income, underserved students that produce remarkably high learning gains. If there’s no accountability for poor performance, then there’s no incentive to effect meaningful chance. In the end, there’s nothing really unique about this tale of two high schools and their students, in the sense that they’re only trapped by the boundaries school bureaucrats draw on a map.

PUTTING A FACE TO THE POLICY. Florida parent Mary Kurnik literally jumped for joy upon learning that her son John, who has autism, is eligible for one of the newly created Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs) for special needs students. The state that’s number two in Parent Power is trusting parents like Mary, who now plans to utilize the $10,000 allotment for behavioral therapy that will help her son’s learning. Other parents may see fit to use the program in other ways that best fits their child’s needs, such as tutoring, books, and tuition. Step Up for Students, the organization overseeing the program’s enactment, reports that nearly 4,000 parents have begun the application process, living proof that there is need for these choices, and parents are lining up by the thousands.

EDUCATION 50 OUT TOMORROW. Check back tomorrow for CER’s Education 50 resource, designed to help you the voter, get the analysis to determine candidate positions on education reform in the 36 gubernatorial elections this November.