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Newswire: June 9, 2015

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Vol. 17, No. 23

DIPLOMAS COUNT. Education Week released its annual Diplomas Count special report earlier this week on high school graduation rates nationwide. Next Steps: Life After Special Education lays out high school graduation data disaggregated by ethnic group, as well as by English learner, socioeconomic, and disability status. Although the report lauds the eight out of 10 public high school students that graduate with a diploma, it acknowledges that that number masks deep gaps between groups. African-Americans and American Indians, for example, graduate just roughly 70 percent of the time, while only six in 10 students with disabilities and English learners earn a diploma. The report also highlights the stories and varied post-school pathways of students with disabilities, exposing a “fractured” policy landscape that leaves many families in the dark about their options.

GRIT. Eighth graders in the U.S. are 36 percent proficient in reading and 35 percent proficient in math according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), more commonly known as the Nation’s Report Card, a federal testing program designed to provide a snapshot of student achievement. Despite the fact that not even 50 percent of our kids can read and do math at grade level, the announcement came yesterday that the Nation’s Report Card wants to measure students’ grit. Maybe instead the feds should be measuring the grit of state lawmakers and leaders and whether or not they have what it takes to pass real reforms that translate into real results for parents and kids. Nevada would certainly earn points for its grit, passing not one, but two school choice measures this legislative session, the most recent being a universal Education Savings Account (ESA) program signed into law last week by Governor Sandoval. Of course now that Nevada lawmakers have shown their grit, leaders there must make sure the law is implemented as intended, giving parents ultimate power over their child’s education.

BLINDERS. School choice is a truly bipartisan issue when it comes down to it (tri-partisan actually, with 79 percent of Republicans in support of school choice, 73 percent of Democrats, and 71 percent of Independents), but unfortunately political blinders tend to get in the way of seeing an issue for what it’s truly worth, and in the case of school choice, that means seeing the issue from a parent or child’s perspective. The most disheartening thing to creating more and better opportunities for our children is the closed minds of those so vehemently against school choice, writes a charter school graduate’s mom who admits that if you had asked her opinion on charter schools a few years ago she would have said she didn’t like them because of the way the media reports on the scandals and “scurrilous motives” of these schools, giving her an impression of supposed separateness from the public system. What we need to see in the media are more reports and stories of the success of school choice opportunities, like how the SABIS® International Charter School (SICS) in Springfield, Massachusetts ranked among the best high schools in America and was awarded its sixth consecutive silver medal from U.S. News & World Report.

TENURE UPHELD. Last week, a North Carolina Appeals court ruled lawmakers’ attempt to end teacher tenure unconstitutional on the basis that it amounted to an illegal taking of contract and property rights. While N.C. Association of Educators’ president Rodney Ellis tells the News & Observer tenure is a “critical tool to recruit and retain quality educators,” any policy that prioritizes a hire date is an injustice not only to students, but to teachers who deserve merit-based appreciation like other professionals. Thankfully, in other parts of the U.S., such as in California last year with the headliner Vergara vs. California case, courts are ruling against archaic employment practices like tenure and “last in, first out” retention policies that do nothing to support teachers who go the extra mile for students day in and day out. And in fact, poll results reveal rising support for rewarding teachers for performance, with 59 percent in support of taking student performance into consideration when it comes to compensating teachers in 2005, to 62 percent support in October 2013.

#EDPOLICYLEADERS. We’ve been telling you about the latest EdReformU™ course for the past few weeks (enrollment for History of Charter Schools is now closed, but stay tuned for application information for the second offering of EdReformU™’s foundational course, Decline and Fall of the U.S. Education System), but did you know that another standout education reform organization, Foundation for Excellence in Education, has a series of self-paced online courses designed for lawmakers, local education leaders and reform advocates? Check out the three different course offerings here that deal with the various elements of education reform from data privacy to communications.