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NEWSWIRE: March 10, 2015

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Vol. 17, No. 10

A GEM OF AN IDEA. An exciting initiative is underway in Idaho, as the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation announced the launch of a new charter school network aimed at growing the blended learning model. Gem Innovative Schools will oversee three blended learning charter campuses and one fully online school. The three blended campuses, which will be located in Pocatello, the Treasure Valley, and Coeur d’Alene, aim to serve as many as 2,500 K-12 students by 2022. In addition to hiring the best teachers, Gem Innovative Schools will emphasize individualized instruction, allowing students to learn at their own pace, and manage school finances and resource allocation so funds are effectively being used to help student achievement. With over four million kids engaged in some form of online learning, the 19th ranked Parent Power state is ensuring its students have a portfolio of options to choose from when it comes to their learning needs.

FIXING FACILITIES. The Academy for Integrated Arts charter school in Kansas City, MO operates out of a converted warehouse, despite the fact that empty school buildings across the city stand ready and waiting to be revitalized. Missouri lawmakers have proposed legislation that would allow charters to make fair-priced offers on vacant schools, and give charters greater access to these unsold empty buildings at lower rates. It’s a start, but there’s a lot more that could be done. Currently, Missouri’s charter law does not provide facility funding for charter schools, a tremendous obstacle when getting a school off the ground and actually a key reason why charters end up closing, according to CER data. All public students, both charter and traditional, deserve equitable learning spaces to receive the education that’s right for them.

THE VERGARA EFFECT. The Vergara ruling heard round the world last June exemplified the fact that 86 percent of Americans favor accountability in education, and California lawmakers are taking cue by introducing a series of teacher quality reforms. On the table are proposals for annual evaluations for both tenured and non-tenured teachers, and for increasing the time it takes to earn tenure from two to three years. A separate piece of legislation would remove the ‘last-in-first-out’ policy that prioritizes seniority over performance when laying off teachers. Whether these proposals have a chance of passage is another story, but the fact that they’re receiving attention is a true testament to Vergara’s impact, and those nine courageous student plaintiffs who stood up for their constitutional rights.

DIGITAL MOMENTUM. Fifteen years into the 21st century, digital learning is an integral part of the effort to increase choice and accountability in education. Two policy areas worth watching in 2015 are competency-based learning and course access programs. Competency-based learning allows students to go at their own pace and is a big reason why many parents choose virtual education. Course access programs, which currently exist in seven states and counting, allow students to virtually enroll in individual courses that aren’t offered at their school or don’t fit with their schedule. CER polling reveals that over 60 percent of Americans favorably view the terms “digital learning” and “blended learning,” but are more divided on whether they’d send their child to a blended learning school. It’s up to reformers to combat the myths about digital learning, and increase public acceptance of opportunities that are revolutionizing the way students master course content. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to share information and facts on social media this Friday, March 13, to celebrate Digital Learning Day!

NJ BLENDED CONFERENCE. CER President Kara Kerwin will be at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ tomorrow, Wednesday, March 11, to provide a national perspective on the state of blended learning and virtual schools. Click here for more information and how to register.

MARCH MADNESS… edreform style! Which state will come out on top in this year’s charter school law rankings? Stay tuned for CER’s 16th edition of Charter School Laws Across the States: Rankings & Scorecard out soon!