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Occasional Letter to Friends – Summer 2017

Dear Friends:

Some of you may be old enough to recall that, once upon a time, the Center produced a good, old-fashioned newsletter—THE MONTHLY LETTER TO FRIENDS—written up, laid out, sent to a printer, stuffed, stamped, and delivered to homes and offices all across America via the U.S. Postal Service (a process nearly as archaic today as the notion of a school system that looks like it did more than 160 years ago).

The Letter was the first of its kind, providing updates on state and local efforts, presenting little exposés on the big education blob, looking at research, offering insights into what approaches we might take strategically, tactically and politically, and more. It was a mainstay of CER’s efforts to stay in touch with our many supporters, and for more than a dozen years it went out like clockwork, eight pages long, more than 100 issues in all.

The printed letter eventually gave way to a myriad of electronic communications, with occasional snail-mail deliveries to the Luddites. CER’s Weekly Newswire is now in its 19th year! And we also keep our constituencies informed via regular news alerts, releases, and advisories, as well as the web, Facebook, and Twitter.

But, occasionally, we still write letters, and because it’s been—and continues to be—a very busy year, and on the cusp of the back-to-school season, we decided to put a little ink to paper and fire-up the old postage meter. So without further ado, we present this aptly titled Occasional Letter to Friends reporting on some of our work so far this year, and delivering news and insight that, like over the previous 23 years, you won’t find in this particular way anywhere else!

 

THE AFT FIRESTORM OF 2017

In one of the more offensive rants you’ll ever hear directed at education reformers, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten resorted to race-baiting in her attempt to discredit parents and other advocates of choice. Speaking before the AFT summer meeting Weingarten said that the word “choice” was used to cloak overt racism by segregationist politicians and that the “real pioneers” of private school choice were the white politicians who resisted school integration.

Given that many of this era’s most notable advocates for education opportunities and choice were, and still are, men and women of color, fighting for the rights of children and families of all colors, Weingarten’s warped view of history would be laughable… were it not such an offensive smear and such an obvious attempt to discredit the work of so many good people and to try to escape blame for the failure of so many urban schools.

All of this is more than a little troubling. We demanded Weingarten apologize and suggested she resign. She engaged with us directly on Twitter, not once but 3 times! Others have since jumped in, taking Weingarten to task, but so far her only response has been to promote the idea that choice equals segregation.

As we said in a follow-up to our original call for her resignation:

“Clearly, she believes staying on message—no matter how insulting that message is to African-Americans and people of color throughout the nation—is more important than honesty, fairness, respect and simple decency. Regardless of whether or not it was an act of insensitive ignorance, or ruthless political calculation, Weingarten should step down as head of the AFT.”

Stay tuned. More to come.

 

FIRESTORM #2: NAACP’S UNFORTUNATE POSITIONS

Hot on the heels of the AFT broadside, came the NAACP Task Force on Quality Education July 2017 Hearing Report which “found” that charter schools were detrimental to minority communities and called for a moratorium on the creation of new ones. This, as you can imagine, set off its own firestorm of controversy, prompting dozens of responses from leading African-Americans, including CER directors David Hardy, founder and Chair of Boys’ Latin Philadelphia Charter School and Donald Hense, founder and chairman of Washington D.C.’s Friendship Public Charter Schools, who argued that,

“The NAACP’s campaign against charter schools is detrimental and disrespectful to all parents who struggle to ensure a quality education for their children. Rather than embrace, and work to expand, the opportunities that charter schools represent to America’s disadvantaged, and to families of color across the nation, the NAACP has chosen to stand as an obstacle, and work to stifle, a movement that, for thousands of children, is the greatest—and only—hope for achieving a quality education.

“The association’s recently released report is intentionally skewed to further a union-driven, anti-charter school agenda, and its ‘model legislation’ effort is an outrageous political scheme to further support the union’s agenda by undermining the voice and will of parents who are fighting for options for their children’s education and for the right and freedom to choose.

“The NAACP has a long history of fighting for justice and for individual rights that further opportunities, hopes and human dignity. These efforts are the antithesis of that long fight, putting the association sadly, and uncharacteristically, on the wrong side of history.”

More to come on this, too.

 

BUREAUCRACY: EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Bureaucracy. Remember when it was everywhere in education, pervading every level of educational instruction and delivery? Then came charter schools, contractual arrangements, which, as Ted Kolderie argued at their inception, would provide unique opportunities for educators to start schools, and parents to enjoin them on behalf of their children, unfettered by most traditional rules and regulations.

It went pretty well…for a while. Of the 13 strongest charter laws, 12 were passed between 1991 and 1999—and these 12 states alone account for over 56 percent of today’s charter schools. In short, there was more progress made in the first nine years of the charter movement than the next 15.

We have diagnosed why, and talked about it for the past few years. We warned this would occur if we started trusting government to do the work that charters intended for parents and teachers. And now we have our own charter blob.

Consider what Betsy DeVos recently said, invoking our work (and, actually, quoting our Manifesto):

“…somewhere along the way…we’ve taken the colorful collage of charters and drawn our own set of lines around it to box others out, to mitigate risk, to play it safe. This is not what we set out to do, and, more importantly, it doesn’t help kids.

“No one has a monopoly on innovation. No one has a monopoly on creativity. No one has a monopoly on knowing how every child learns.”

“I thought it was a tough but fair criticism when a friend recently wrote in an article that many who call themselves ‘reformers’ have instead become just another breed of bureaucrats—a new education establishment.”

We have hundreds of data points, anecdotes and stories we have shared with legislators and researchers, advocates and media. Some of it sticks; most of it seems to fall on deaf ears.

And so, following the release of our Manifesto—A Movement at Risk in June 2016, our convening of CER’s EdReform: Revived Conference in November 2016, and dozens of state meetings and studies, we have just published a thorough research review of why everything old is new again—what, and why, overregulation has now taken hold in the very environment where it was not intended to be.

It’s titled Charting a New Course, The Case for Freedom, Flexibility & Opportunity Through Charter Schools. It’s an important work, because the problems it addresses are hurting kids, and because it’s time for everyone to pay full attention to the fact that, for the most part, well-intentioned advocates have put government ahead of parents, again.

As we argue, thanks to co-editors Cara Candal of CER and Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute, we are at a critical inflection point:

“The charter school debate will look very different in the years to come. For the first quarter century, the question was simple: you’re either for charter schools or against them. But now that the sector has matured, taken root, and gained broader public acceptance, the debate is shifting from whether to expand charter schools to how.

“The way we see it, there are two camps within the school choice and charter school movements:

“System-centered reformers want to arrive at higher quality educational options by expertise-driven management. They believe that bureaucrats and politicians should have ample authority to decide what schools may open and what schools must close using standardized test-scores to make data-driven decisions.

“Parent-centered reformers trust parents more than bureaucrats when it comes to determining school quality. They want to see a more open and dynamic system, where educational entrepreneurs are freer to open new schools and parents decide which schools should close and which should expand based on whether they want to send their children there.

“Right now, the system-centered reformers have the upper hand when it comes to financial support and organizational infrastructure… System-centered reformers make the simpler argument, and it is predicated on the assumption that the goal of charter schools is to raise standardized test scores.

“But we believe that parent-centered reformers make a better case for quality schools. Parents and the public intuitively know that academic outcomes matter but there is more to academic outcomes and to education than test scores.

“We stand with parent-centered reformers more because of our optimism than our concerns. We believe that parents (who see their child come home from school every day) are better able than bureaucrats (who see mostly standardized tests scores) to judge the quality of the school they’ve chosen. We believe that if offered more freedom, educational entrepreneurs will embrace a variety of different approaches and offer parents a diverse range of options. We accept that more freedom might mean that more schools fail than would in a more regulated environment, but we believe that failure is necessary for success. We are optimistic that, over time, the net result of giving educators autonomy and empowering parents to judge schools will drive the creation of a higher quality sector.”

To receive a print copy of Charting a New Course, call us at (202) 750-0016, or download a PDF version: www.edreform.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/charting-a-new-course.pdf

 

THE NEW POWER IN WASHINGTON

We happen to think that the still-new ecosystem in Washington may just help us roll back the charter blob from whence it came. “How?” you ask? Well, there’s The Bully Pulpit, which always helps get (and keep) the ball rolling. And there’s the potential for the roll-back of regulatory and non-regulatory guidance that has evolved from Congressional action and administrative rulemaking, along with real aggressive action we are pushing Congress to take on everything from freeing states up to be truly innovative and enacting meaningful tax reform that includes the potential for tax credits.

We at CER are obsessed with regulatory creep in the charter sector. Americans know all too well the slippery slope of government action. So we’ve embarked on an effort to help the U.S. Department of Ed and Congressional leadership accomplish a bold but cost effective ways to free and enable America’s schools, educators and citizens to be innovative for our kids. There are four major themes in The First 100 Days: The path to going bold on education innovation and opportunity, including how to focus on:

  • Spending, so that innovation and flexibility can thrive in schools
  • Teaching, and what Washington can do to accelerate the creation of a new pipeline of qualified people joining the noble profession;
  • Higher education, and the unique opportunity to rethink how the federal government defines it and supports it; and last but not least,
  • Educational Choice, and the path that is possible when the federal government permits money to follow kids,stimulates new thinking around old programs, and ensures they follow state efforts, not mandate their conduct.

 

BEYOND THE FIRST 100 DAYS — LET FREEDOM RING!

Just in time to celebrate Independence Day, CER issued Beyond the First 100 Days: Transforming government’s role in education, which reviewed progress of our recommendations to date, and a reiteration of our January 2017 recommendations to the Trump Administration. As we say in the introduction, we prefer a model that achieves competency over just measuring time on task.

The agenda we laid out remains an important guide, offering ideas for action that will result in making personalized learning a reality for millions, ensuring quality teaching, access to innovative and relevant higher education opportunities, and new choices throughout the nation.

All of this made the pre-4th of July release date especially fitting, helping everyone remember that the freedoms our Founders fought for are just as critical in education as they are in our day-to-day lives. It’s our call to “Let Freedom Ring” for all learners, at all levels.

 

MEANWHILE ON CAPITOL HILL AND ELSEWHERE

As is always the case, Congress is abuzz with ideas, issues, hearings, proposals and counterproposals on bushels of issues. So, to ensure that key education issues don’t evaporate, or never materialize at all, we’ve been making regular sojourns to the Hill and, in our best school-teacher voice, delivering the message: LET’S FOCUS PEOPLE! Key issues to which we are continually drawing the attention of Congressional leaders: Personalized Learning, Higher Ed, Educational Choice, Innovation, Rural Education, and Tax Credit Scholarships.

And speaking of meetings…

In April, we were asked to organize, and proud to participate in, a White House event hosted by Vice President Pence, extolling the virtues of DC scholarships, specifically, and tax credits, generally. It was nice to have one of our long-time issues receive a boost from the VEEP (and from POTUS) and nicer still for all the kids who got to participate in a rather august gathering.

Which reminds us that…

In March, CER led a diverse bi-partisan delegation of charter leaders to the Department of Education to meet with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to share the challenges that all schools face with the imposition of more and more regulations, funding inequity and lack of air and ground cover.

 

NOTA EST

A grab bag of a few newsworthy, noteworthy and otherwise interesting items from the first half of the year:

  • CER released Just the Facts: Success, Innovation, and Opportunity in Charter Schools, debunking charter school misinformation with the most valid and reliable data to date.
  • We were thrilled to be published in The National Review about the AFT president’s reprehensible comments.
  • Education Week published our commentary, Regulations Are Strangling Charter Schools.
  • CER contributed to passage of the Kentucky charter school law, albeit far weaker than we would have liked, and to do so we even provided them with the most expert constitutional law expert and former Solicitor General of the United States Paul Clement, to validate the constitutionality of multiple charter authorizers.
  • In a big win for kids in DC, the city’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was threatened with elimination at the end of 2016, was re-authorized by Congress, and not just for a year, but through FY 2022!
  • CER released its 17th annual National Charter School Law Ranking & Scorecard, providing guidance and feedback to policymakers on the relative strengths and weakness of charter school policies and their effectiveness in fulfilling the true meaning of the words “charter school law.”
  • The 8th annual ASU + GSV Summit was held in Salt Lake City. CER was again a sponsor and hosted several key discussions with school leaders, policymakers and business leaders. This must-attend annual event led by Ed revolutionaries Michael Moe (CER’s Vice Chair) and Deborah Quazzo again drew thousands who gathered who opened up their minds and committed to expanding the breadth and depth of what we mean by “education.”
  • In an historic win for kids, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 7069, directing that more federal funds go to where students choose to attend school. Prior to this, the spending of federal funds was largely at the discretion of school districts, even if students were attending other charter schools.
  • The National Charter Schools Conference brought several thousand members of the charter school community to Washington, DC, with several hundred of them coming together at CER’s Salute to Charter Schools VIP reception which featured remarks by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Congressman Paul Mitchell (R-MI), and Jimmy Kemp, President of the Jack Kemp Foundation.

 

As I write, we’re gearing up for Congress’ return to Washington where a lot of work—and opportunities to foster reform—awaits. As always, we’re also gearing up to lend our expertise, resources and voice to those efforts, and to efforts to achieve substantive education reform throughout the country

Thank you for your support. If we can be of any help to you, let us know. And please consider contributing to our work by using the enclosed envelope. We can’t do it without you!

All the best,

Jeanne Allen, Founder & CEO