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NEWSWIRE: January 13, 2015

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Vol. 17, No. 2

CARROTS, STICKS & CONGRESS. While expressing optimism and touting areas of agreement, Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged there are competing visions for how best to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Rather than compete between those nostalgic for local control and those who want a clearly defined federal role, why not forge a new course of action that incorporates the best of both worlds? It’s easier to talk about inputs and the resources the federal government will pump into states than it is to talk about what outputs students are getting in return for those investments. The federal government can’t control what goes on in every classroom, but states should be held accountable for whether plans to increase standards, teacher quality and choice actually move the needle on student achievement.

GOVS DOING THEIR PART. As the feds debate ESEA reauthorization, the nation’s governors are laying out their visions for education at the state level. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, one of many reform-minded governors according to CER’s Education50 analysis, rightly said that improving student outcomes, “can and should unite us,” while emphasizing parental choice coupled with accountability. Hopefully there will be more state executives who act on the rhetoric of their state of the state addresses, and take the lead in advancing reform principles.

ONE SIZE FITS ALL? NOT EXACTLY. Doing his part to dispel the myths surrounding charter schools, Joe Nathan, former educator and now director of Minnesota-based Center for School Change, discusses how blanket statements applied to charter schools simply don’t pass muster. Some have tried to advance notions that charter schools are not innovative, not part of the public system and can be lumped together as a monolithic sector of education. But the fact is that there are all kinds of charter schools because there are all kinds of kids with different learning needs. This realization requires educators to think outside the box, and structure a school to meet unique demand. As a result, charters vary widely in philosophy, focus and approach, translating into increased student success. CER’s law rankings show what’s necessary for state policy to support educators in their missions to build the most effective schools possible, whatever that may look like.

COMMUNITY COLLEGE, CHARTER STYLE. President Obama recently announced an initiative to make community college more accessible. What people may not realize, however, is that charter schools have actually been taking the lead on this for years now, offering chances for students to get a head start on obtaining college credit. In fact, last week’s Newswire featured a dual partnership program in St. Paul allowing charter students to get a leg up on higher education. Additionally, the GEO charter network in Indiana graduated five students who earned an Associate’s Degree before even receiving a high school diploma! These types of programs – especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds – are transforming higher education from a pipe dream into a reality.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION. There’s currently a proposal in Maryland to create an additional charter authorizer in Frederick County aside from the local school board. Regular readers of Newswire are familiar with the shortcomings of Maryland’s charter law, but not as much as Maryland charter educators and Old Line State parents, who live in a state that earns 60% in Parent Power. In states with strong laws, charter leaders are entrusted to manage their own staff, customize course content, and adapt to the learning needs of their student body. Marylanders are simply asking for the same courtesy.

ADVANCING THE MOVEMENT. In a panel discussion with Rep. Luke Messer, leader of the Congressional School Choice Caucus, Lindsey Burke of Heritage and Don Soifer of the DC Public Charter School Board, CER’s very own Kara Kerwin discussed how to advance the school choice movement in the U.S. Whether it’s the tax credit scholarship program in Florida or Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in Arizona, Kerwin highlighted how parents actively seek out education options when choices and data become accessible. As Parent Power continues to gain traction in statehouses, it’s critical that choice proponents in Congress stay the course to add to this progress.