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NEWSWIRE: November 18, 2014

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Vol. 16, No. 45

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VOUCHERS! In 1990, Wisconsin reformers made school choice history in creating the first-ever modern day voucher program in Milwaukee. Fast forward 25 years and 280,000 scholarships later, the program designed for low-income students has not only expanded beyond the Milwaukee city limits but has served as a blueprint for other states. Wisconsin has since undergone a few expansions to the program, but it’s going to take more to address growing demand, exemplified by the 3,400 students outside Milwaukee and Racine who applied for 1,000 available scholarships. It’s important to acknowledge these milestones because they not only remind us why reform is so critical, but also compel us to look back at the trailblazers like Polly Williams who helped make the current progress possible.

PARENTS DEMAND POWER. In response to what they see as lagging academic performance, parents in Anaheim are assembling to weigh their options and decide whether to exercise their parent trigger right under state law. Palm Lane Elementary has a student population of which half are low-income and 60 percent classified as English language learners. Knowing parent trigger is available to them and that they can’t stand idly by while students endure subpar conditions, parents have mobilized to engage school officials and obtain the assurance that their children are receiving a solid education. As CER stated in August, the presence of a parent trigger provision, even if it’s not ultimately exercised, allows for the type of constructive dialogue that can ensue between parents and educators.

SUBSTANDARD. There’s been a lot – actually, ‘a lot’ might be the understatement of the century – of debate surrounding what the Common Core means for students. Ironically, and as Kara Kerwin recently noted, the level of disconnect between what the Common Core actually is and how states are interpreting it results in not all that much in “common” about it. It’s remarkable just how muddled the Common Core implementation process became once the standards themselves were subject to so much interpretation, combined with unproductive federal involvement. A close examination of what the Common Core actually says and to actually read standards aloud speaks to the need for state expectations to be clearer in addition to fewer and higher.

TOP TIER ACCOUNTABILITY. Some encouraging news came out of the District of Columbia last week when accountability ratings for charter schools revealed nine percent more DC students are in Tier 1 (meaning schools that score 65 points or more on a number of achievement metrics) charter classrooms than last year. What’s more, charter schools rated Tier 1 came from diverse parts of the city, demonstrating successful educational models in nearly every pocket of the District. The ratings come just months after charter schools boasted higher averages on assessments for the ninth year in a row. The combination of strong accountability from an independent authorizer with simultaneously promoting educational choice shows why D.C. continues to have one of the most vigorous charter sectors in the country.

WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY. In a development that almost seems beyond parody, so-called “displaced” New York City educators are clawing back to re-enter classrooms, somehow feeling disenfranchised by the same system that kept them in those positions for so long in the first place. It’s just the latest example of status quo proponents being so set in their ways at the expense of students and doing what they only know how: opine, organize and spend more money. No wonder unionized charter schools are declining because wherever they’ve been established – see here and here – innovation and autonomy must contend with the very forces they seek to amend. Kevin Chavous nails it when he says unions “flunked their midterms” and future cycles will yield similar results if positions don’t change. As 2014 election results came in across the country, it was evident reformers overcame this onslaught and will do so again as consensus for choice and accountability grows and parents seek out better schools.

GEAR UP FOR GIVING. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, people around the world celebrate a day of giving back with #GivingTuesday, a one-day online effort dedicated to raising funds and awareness for important causes everywhere. CER’s #GivingTuesday goal is to raise $5,000 to accelerate the pace of much-needed reforms that give parents fundamental power over their children’s education. Click here to learn more or donate early!

FEDS GIVING BACK. If you or someone you know works for the federal government or serves in the military, there’s a special opportunity to contribute to CER through the Combined Federal Campaign. Pledges made by Federal civilians, postal and military donors support CER’s efforts to make ALL schools work better for ALL children.