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A Grand Finale

Three months ago I walked into the 7th floor office of the Center for Education with wide eyes and butterflies in my stomach. At that time I thought I knew a good bit about education policy, I am an Ed Wonk, I told myself as I embarked on my semester in Washington. My time at CER has allowed me to put my prior knowledge to work, but it has also taught me just how much I have left to learn.

It was an exciting time to be working in the world of education. I have had the chance to follow education stories as they developed, like the Supreme Court case in Washington state against charter schools and the debate around the Opportunity Scholarship Program here in Washington DC. It was great timing that I also got to witness the historic process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It was especially interesting to observe this process from the dual perspectives of my two internships with CER and the US Senate. Watching as President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law on my 22nd birthday, December 10, 2015, was definitely the highlight of my semester.

I have loved every minute of these past few months. From attending discussion events at Washington think tanks to conducting charter and parent outreach, I am grateful for all of the work I have gotten to do for an organization that is working to pursue meaningful education reform. Each day at CER has been full of new challenges, interesting work, and exciting learning opportunities. And I have thoughtfully crafted my personal opinions on national education issues like school choice, state standards and teacher preparation processes.

Everything I have observed and learned with CER

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Parent Choice in Washington DC

On Tuesday, December 15th, the Fordham Institute and the DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) teamed up to host a panel discussion entitled The Future of Parent Choice in Washington DC. The panelists covered a wide range of education topics, from choice to collaboration to school rankings and reports.

Scott Pearson, Executive Director of the DCPCSB kicked off the event by discussing their latest equity reports. The charter sector faces many questions and doubts and myths from outsiders, including questions of discipline practices, accusations of pushing out weak students to bump test scores, and even discriminating against special needs students. In response to these questions, DCPCSB emulated the work being done in New Orleans and began developing Equity Reports — these documents that would be published annually to increase accountability in charters through transparency. They present data points on evolving enrollment numbers, attendance rates, suspension and expulsion counts, as well as academic student performance data.

Pearson noted that, after the first round of reports were released on the 2014-2015 school year, they have been found incredibly useful for the community and school leaders have used them to address their own weaknesses. The DCPCSB also has another report that ranks the charter schools in Washington into three tiers based on academic performance. Pearson argued that these reports and rankings have been influential for families, and that application numbers have shifted according to rankings.

Next, President of the Fordham Institute, Michael Petrilli, moderated a discussion with Pearson and two additional panelists: Cassandra Pinkney, Founder of Eagle Academy Public Charter Schools in DC, and Abigail Smith, the former Deputy Mayor of Education for Washington, DC.

The panelists spoke about charter and district relations, the topic of another

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Onward & Upward

I can’t believe this semester is coming to an end! I have truly learned a great deal through my experiences at CER. Whether it was attending events with other leaders in the education reform movement from various organizations, or simply reading articles discussing various happenings in the education sector across the US, I have not stopped learning during my time here. All of the staff has been very encouraging in answering any, and all of my questions.

Growing up in the suburbs of Westchester County, NY, I was blessed by the opportunity to a quality education at my local public school, with supportive parents and excellent teachers that inspired passion in my studies. I never worried about looking at different options for schooling, until applying to university. Interning at CER has opened my eyes up to the world of school choice, and its importance. Every child is different, and therefore requires different outlets for learning to ensure they are achieving equal quality education.

On this note, interning with CER during the passing of ESSA has been a wonderfully exciting experience. From attending an informal dinner-discussion about ESSA prior to its passing, live streaming the hearing in the office, its passing, and witnessing history being made has been very exciting. This win for education reform results in a promising future, which I aim to be invested in, through my future career.

I am grateful to have been apart of an organization that truly makes change, and am excited to continue my involvement in the education-sector post-grad. When exploring my options for next year, I aim to pursue some sort of education-focus – whether it’s in the classroom, or working to continue effecting policy changes to ensure children across the U.S. have equal access to quality education.

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From CER to TFA

I have been an intern at The Center for Education Reform (CER) for six months and I am very excited to be ending my first semester of senior year with a job offer through Teach for America (TFA). Though controversial in the media, I believe Teach for America is the best place for me to expand my interest in education policy. By entering the classroom as a special education teacher, I will witness firsthand the struggles CER works to overcome at a state and national level. Going from CER to TFA is a logical and exciting jump that I am eager to take on.

My path to CER began in a junior year Foundations of Education class, with a zealous professor who was not only a TFA alumna but who also had worked in curriculum development at Elsie Whitlow Stokes and the Yu Ying Academy, two case-to-point examples of charter success in urban education here in DC. She showed our class Waiting for Superman, and I was hooked. One teacher or school district could not solve the problems facing the schools chronicled in Superman: public schools, particularly in low-income, high-need areas, were simply not working; whereas charter networks that focus on high standards were. Charter school success was so prominent in these areas that parents and students agonized to join them on waitlists. Two TFA Alumni founded the KIPP network, and current Chancellor of DC Public Schools Kaya Henderson is also an alumna of the organization. I am excited to join the ranks of such prominent education reformers.

Like charter schools themselves, TFA is often maligned for following a non-conventional path. Charter schools succeed by making their own standards for students and allowing for teachers to take autonomy in the classroom. TFA teachers, though not following a

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The Future of Education Reform in Washington, D.C.

On October 15th, I attended an event regarding education reform in our city, Washington D.C. This event was hosted by the Progressive Policy Institute and featured speakers who work and advocate for education reform, including former mayor Vincent Gray, Richard Whitmire, David Osborne, Jennifer Niles and Scott Pearson.

The speakers laughed, joked with each other, and spoke in a way that was straightforward and easily understood. This made the event much more pleasant for me as at times the ideas can be very complex, and I am no pro when it comes to education reform. However, I was able to keep up with every conversation between the panelists, which left me feeling in the loop, rather than bewildered and disconnected from the topics. I was somewhat familiar with many of the topics discussed, but as always, there were many astonishing takeaways.

First, one of the speakers touched upon standardized testing and graduation rates. He lectured that test scores should not be the main focus; the percentage of graduating students should be the focus.

“The most important outcomes are not test scores. The most important outcomes are peoples’ lives,” he said.

This inspired me very much. While standardized test scores are important, they aren’t the only factor indicative of a student’s success. The attention should be on student outcomes as a whole, setting up students to have the tools and skills they need to earn a degree and have an active role in the workforce.

Charter schools focus heavily on a myriad of academic outcomes. If a charter school performs poorly and the outcomes of the students are negative, the school will be shut down. In this way, charter schools are held more accountable in Washington, D.C. (and across the nation) than their traditional public school counterparts. “If you don’t get better, you’re going

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Principal Re-Evaluation

“Developing Excellent School Principals to Advance Teaching and Learning: Considerations for State Policy” by Paul Manna is a complex and extensive study that explains one main concept: “how states can ensure schools have principals who advance teaching and learning.” Currently in America, principals’ roles are vital but rarely recognized, and unfortunately overlooked by policy makers in state policy. Manna offers policy solutions meant to solve this issue and to ensure that principals’ status and work can improve dramatically.

First, Manna suggests we need to “assess state and local contexts” since each state runs very differently. We need to recognize these differences to satisfy the individual needs of each district, school, and family. The research on differences in demographics can “help inform state policy decisions designed to improve local practice,” and thus recruit principals depending on differing needs of students.

Next, once we assess state and local context, Manna says we need to identify particular policies that will bring about positive change: leadership standards, recruitment policies, training and development, and evaluations. In regard to evaluations, the National Conference of State Legislatures has found that 36 states demand principal evaluations. These states, however, have limited experience implementing principal evaluations and “much remains to be learned” according to Manna. In fact, he recommends that states remain flexible in implementation as best practices are identified and states can learn from one another.

Once these best practices are known, principal standards can be made, training programs can be more effective, and most importantly, principal evaluations and accountability can become a priority.

Currently, teachers receive two to four times more attention than principals do. Teachers have a significant impact on a child’s education, however principals are meant to guide teachers, so if principals are a low priority on state agendas, there may be negative consequences for teachers. Manna suggests

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Purpose Of Charters And Specialized Schooling

After reading “Measuring Diversity in Charter School Offerings” by Michael Q. McShane and Jenn Hatfield, my understanding of charter schools has been broadened and solidified. Before reading this report, I knew what a charter school was – a school that is run independently, yet is still funded by the state. However, I now understand just why it is so important for them to run independently and why non-traditional schooling is relevant and necessary.

In sum, the report clarifies the types of charter schools and explores the demographics of over 1,000 charter schools across 17 cities. Among these charter schools, there are “specialized schools,” which I believe are the most important. Throughout these cities, there are different types of charter schools, some “specialized” and some more traditional, and this is sometimes a result of the cities’ demographics. For example, McShane and Hatfield explain that in general, there is a higher enrollment in “no-excuse schools” (schools that are very strict with student’s behavior and attendance) when there is a high percentage of black residents in the city. There are many theories about why this is, but I have my own theories as well.

Firstly, I agree with the idea in their report that “academic achievement is often the primary concern for low-income communities,” and for that reason there are many more “no-excuse” schools. However, I also believe that in poorer areas, students have many more burdens than students who live in wealthy areas. Sometimes they may be afraid to leave the house or go to school, and thus, hybrid/online learning may be necessary. Also, international/foreign language schools may help students of immigrant families feel more at home. And lastly, art schools are most important to me. Art schools are the perfect outlet for a student to express their emotions, in a

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Hear Our Voices, Save Our Choices – #SaveTheChartersBmore

Maryland borders the District of Columbia, home to countless charter schools and educational options, yet ranks an abysmal number 43 for Parent Power. The state has a weak charter law and school boards that are controlled by the unions’ interests. Despite the obstacles, the city of Baltimore has been able to open several charter schools. Parents in the city are rallying in support of the effectiveness of Baltimore’s charters — as their children’s future hangs in the balance. The highly successful KIPP Baltimore and eight other charters in the city are suing the city school district for unfair and unjust funding practices. Though charter schools traditionally do more with less, in Baltimore, the district spends 37% less annually on charter school pupils than their traditional public school counterparts. The new district funding formula will force district’s 34 charter schools to scale back because of insufficient funds. For instance, KIPP Baltimore will face $12 million in losses.

In response to the district’s dramatic shift in funding, parents, grandparents, students, teachers and administrators have taken to twitter and to the streets using #SaveTheChartersBmore. The rally in Baltimore had over 1,500 attendees and major media outlets covered the rally. SaveTheChartersBmore.com provided the matching t-shirts, and those fighting for transparency in Baltimore schools said the day had a loving atmosphere. Now, Baltimore must join the other states and cities and fight to keep and grow effective charter schools. When the district stops being accountable, it’s sad that protest becomes a necessary tool to save parents’ educational options for their kids. I hope the city of Baltimore hears the voices of the families protesting and rethinks redistributing funding away from charters — charters that are

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The Beginning: CER Intern Chronicles

I am a bit of a nomad. As a kid I moved across the country multiple times; Hawaii, California, South Dakota, Arizona, and South Carolina. Now I am living and working in Washington DC, but I always struggle when people ask me where I am from. It’s a serious identity crisis.

But when people ask me what I want to do when I graduate, or what I am passionate about, I respond with no hesitation or internal debate. “I love education policy.”

Since beginning a policy research project at my first Washington DC summer internship with the Council of State Government (CSG), and picking up my first policy report on school leadership, I knew that I was in love with education policy and research. I have always enjoyed my time spent in school, but I never expected that I would pursue a career in education. However, the more I have learned about the flaws plaguing the schools, especially those in our urban centers, the more I feel compelled to be a part of the solution.

I am not sure exactly where I will fit into the broader picture of improving urban education for the United States, but this semester I am spending the first part of my senior year at Wofford College studying and working in Washington DC. I am spending my mornings working in Senator Tim Scott’s office; I chose to work with him because of his commitment to school choice policies and position on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

And in the afternoons I am excited to be working with the Center for Education Reform. I believe that splitting my time between the US Senate and a nationally known education organization will give me a unique and diverse perspective on education policy, research, advocacy, and

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Washington Yu Ying Charter School Recognized For Excellence By Michelle Obama

This weekend, First Lady Michelle Obama, Madame Peng, wife of President Xi of China, and students from the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, attended the naming ceremony of the new baby panda at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. (his name is Bei Bei!) At this ceremony, the Yu Ying School was recognized by Michelle Obama for being part of the steps forward toward reaching the goal that President Obama and President Xi established: an initiative to teach one million students in the U.S. to speak Mandarin Chinese by the year 2020, the One Million Strong initiative.

Yu YingModeled after a girls’ school founded in 1911 in Beijing, China, the Yu Ying Charter School provides Chinese language immersion with the structured inquiry approach of the International Baccalaureate. The school provides children in grades PreK-5 with the opportunity to a quality public education and Chinese language and culture immersion.

Michelle Obama recognized that students at the Yu Ying School are among the first to be in an immersive school that promotes the idea of global citizenship, and the ability to connect with people around the world due to their early exposure to a different language and culture. She emphasized that this generation does not need to leave the country to be exposed to the rest of the world. That all is attainable with Internet access, and that Yu Ying students have the ability to extend their community across the world as they have the skills to do so. The First Lady encourages students worldwide to follow the Yu Ying students in their journey to expand their communities past language and cultural barriers.

Karina Lichtman, CER Intern


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