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DC Put Kids First Rally: The Hands-on Advocacy of School Choice Week

After my first day of interning at CER learning about the behind the scenes work and research that the organization does on a daily basis, I got to spend my second day experiencing the hands on advocacy that occurs in DC to push education policy to the forefront of the media and national attention. The DC Put Kids First Rally, held at Friendship Chamberlain Elementary School due to the bitterly cold weather, was a gathering of passionate individuals and organizations that are strong advocates for school choice and better education options for students around the country. Attending this event allowed me to interact with individuals from other education policy groups in the District, as well as see firsthand some of the students who are directly impacted by the changes that are made in education today.

The event was part of National School Choice Week, a political awareness effort taking place across the country during the week of January 26th, and featured numerous impressive speakers including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Leslie Williams, former WNBA player and school choice advocate. All of the speakers expressed their strong support for the improvement of school choice throughout the United States, and emphasized the main message of the event, which was the need to “put kids first.” In addition to the main speakers, there were student speakers and performers that made the event extremely enjoyable and demonstrated the many benefits that private and charter schools can have on a student’s education.

As a junior at American University studying International Relations with minors in Public Affairs and German, I never thought that my studies would lead me to an interest in education policy, but after researching CER I began to realize the importance of education reform in the U.S. My knowledge on education up

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First Fridays: A Tour of an Exceptional Charter School

As another round of First Friday tours began at Center City Brightwood Public Charter School I was immediately surprised by the number of students in the school in correlation to the number of grade levels offered. The Brightwood campus is one of six Center City Public Charter Schools located in DC and serves 251 students between Pre-K and 8th grade. I thought at first this low number of students would come as a disadvantage to the school because they’ve seen almost stagnant growth since their opening in 2008. Once I was able to actively see the student to teacher ratio in the classrooms and the high level of interaction, I changed my opinion.

Center City Brightwood campus could increase the number of students in the future but for now, I see how the students can benefit from the little gap between teacher and student figures. More teachers allow for higher individual focus on students in the classroom, something that I always agree with. The school is focused on advancing students in Math and ELA curriculum. One Pre-K class I saw in particular was relying on a school approach called Total Physical Reading, or TPR. The kids were acting out the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff, learning about the different elements of a story along with the teacher encouraging participation from the entire class.

I was lucky enough to have my tour guided by the Principal of Center City Brightwood, Shavonne Gibson, who has been with the school since 2011. She spoke of the school’s gains since she has been principal, such as recently working with the Flamboyan Foundation, which allows teachers to directly engage families by holding three Academic Parent Teacher Team (APTT) meetings across the year and by conducting home visits. I have personally never experienced home

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Allysa Turner: First Week at CER

This week marks my second week being in Washington, DC and the first week of my senior year of college. After being at Arizona State University for three years, this cross-country trip to the nation’s capitol marks the first semester I will not be returning to Arizona. As part of ASU’s McCain Institute Policy & Design program, I am to be in Washington, DC, participating in a course that is designed to give the students real world knowledge and experience on the challenges that come with national and global policy in a number of areas. Along with this course, the students are to obtain an internship in the area with an organization of their choice that generally revolves around their interests.

This leads me to how I ended up with Center for Education Reform. As a Public Service and Public Policy student in the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU, my main interests lie with education reform and CER turned out to be my top choice when applying to a numerous amount of internships over this past summer. This week also marks only my first week with CER, which means learning about the organization’s ins and outs and what my daily tasks will be.

During my time here in Washington, DC, I hope to gain extensive knowledge in many areas, including policy design, education reform as a whole, and even the DC metro lines. I have been to DC, parts of Maryland and northern Virginia multiple times in my life as I have the majority of my family living in these areas. I hope to familiarize myself with this region of the East Coast just as I have with the West. I could quite possibly be calling this area ‘home’ in the near future.

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Austin White: The Value of Hands On Learning

After taking my final morning commute, I sat down at my computer one last time with the daunting task of putting words to my DC experience. This morning’s rare but refreshing cool breeze was a faint reminder of home, almost as if it intended to make today’s finality more vivid. The California sun was soon to be a reality again, and this experience soon to be a memory. Staring at a blank word document, all I could think was, “Where to begin…”

I thought back to last spring when I decided to spend this summer in DC. I had actually recently returned from a semester abroad in Rome where I took a break from my political science coursework to study art history. Italy had shown me the value of hands-on learning, as I became completely inspired by the opportunity to physically visit the paintings, statues and architecture that we studied in class. When I then returned to UCSB, feeling a sense of urgency to get back on track with my major classes, I began to wonder how I could integrate that same feeling of tangibility to my interests in political science. So on my first day back on campus when I heard about the UCDC program, where I could earn academic units for interning in DC to gain real world experience, the decision to enroll seemed obvious.

After researching the multitude of internship opportunities this city offers, I realized that I really wanted to get involved with something education related. I had (and still have) tentative plans to study education in some form or another in graduate school, and figured substantiating the learning process with a hands-on internship experience could provide a similar inspiration to what I found in Rome. My time abroad had already sparked a deeper interest in

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Macon Richardson: Classroom Thought Meets Real World Experience

I shoved my annotated, well-used copy of Pedagogy of the Oppressed into my book bag as class ended and I approached my professor, Dr. Carrillo. I told Dr. Carrillo, an education professor, that I had finalized my summer plans: I would be interning with The Center for Education Reform in Washington, DC. I joked that I was unsure if he would approve; the Center has been one of (many, many) organizations criticized by Diane Ravitch, the education icon and author of our assigned reading the previous week. Dr. Carrillo laughed and the two of us agreed that my internship would give me an opportunity to apply the class material in the real world and engage in Friere’s notion of critical consciousness. The internship would give me the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself to think critically about education policy and my own beliefs.

Before interning at CER, my experience with ed policy had been informed by academic theory and research learned in class (I am an education minor) and the realities of ‘policy in practice’ I witness while working in local classrooms. CER gave me the opportunity to experience a policy actor I had only read about in introductory public policy textbooks: the non-profit sector. This past summer I have learned the intricacies involved in non-profit work and the incredible networking that fuels any organization. Through the lens of CER I have come to see how various political actors (legislators, school districts, teachers, parents, media, etc.) work with non-profits to push reform forward. It is an incredibly complex and personalized effort that cannot be understood through the dry language of a college textbook.

Furthermore, I have been exposed to an incredibly diverse array of opinions and positions at CER. Researching and reading about pertinent education policy ‘hot-topics’

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Callie Wendell: The DC Experience

After living and breathing in Washington D.C. for the past two months, I have come to my final week in this great city. This week has been a very sweet and sour week for me. As much as I am ready to go home and see friends and family again I am going to miss Washington D.C. and all of the things I have learned here. There have been probably three major aspects of growth while in the city. First, my work with CER along with my interactions with TFAS (The Fund for American Studies) has helped fully shape my beliefs in politics. Everything I have heard and learned I have questioned and analyzed; as a result, I have been able to gain a fuller understanding of the policy realm along with some specific polices such as education policy and what my beliefs are regarding both.

The second aspect of growth I attained while in D.C. was the ability to survive in the real world. Before coming to D.C. I never had to buy groceries and make meals because I still live on a college campus back home. CER was my first full time job/ internship. Often times in the beginning of the summer I questioned whether or not I could survive this real world experience. In the end, I not only survived it, but learned that it isn’t as bad and scary as I thought it would be. CER provided me with a nice transition to the real world. The working environment was fantastic and I was able to work with a great group of people who understood that this was a completely new experience for me.

Probably the biggest impact this summer has had on me was how these experiences have shaped what I want to do

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Tyler Losey: Can you be for-profit and for students?

Last Wednesday the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) had a Google hangout discussion with leaders in the for-profit education field, in which they discussed the central question of “can you be for-profit and for students?” It was an interesting question, to say the least, and AEI scholar Frederick Hess and Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute also address this topic in their new book Private Enterprise and Public Education. For-profit education is normally thought of as having to do with only higher education, but I was struck by the potential good for-profit education can do for K-12 education as well.

The statistics do not need to be repeated here – an astounding number of students across the nation are not proficient in basic reading and math skills. We know what the problem is. We also know how dire the problem is. And we know who caused the problem – the education establishment and the public sector that for so long have accepted mediocrity and slipping student achievement. The debate in education reform is mainly over what the solution will be. And with the pressure of other countries outpacing us in vital areas of achievement like STEM and literacy, the time is now to find solutions.

For so long in K-12 education, however, there has been an aversion to for-profit entities getting involved, an avoidance of some obscure and undefined evil that for-profits are characterized by. For-profits work in many of the same industries as government services, like health care, security, transportation and postal services. But in education? Inconceivable. Meanwhile, the public sector is viewed as having an angelic role in education despite its dismal results. It does not make sense, and in AEI’s Google hangout discussion, it was said rightfully that no one should be excluded from trying

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Tyler Losey: Ignorance About the Charter School Movement, School Choice and Education Policy

“What are you doing this summer in DC?” I reply, of course, that I am working at a long-standing pioneer organization in the education reform movement. More often than not the answer is met with a blank stare of confusion. “Well it’s an advocacy group that has been around for twenty years that provides information, supports grassroots activism in the ed reform movement, school choice, and promotes accurate media coverage of education issues”. But even in the political and policy-wonk hub of the nation, people simply don’t understand the issues or the movement that I have been happy to work in this summer. The number of times I have actually had to explain simply the definition of a charter school is mind-boggling.

Now don’t get me wrong, this I do gladly because the more people who know and understand what a charter school is, the better. But something has been revealed to me after two short months as an intern at the Center for Education Reform (CER) – the general public’s ignorance of education policy, reform, and the charter school movement is dangerous. It is an enemy of the movement just as much as the education establishment.

Some weeks ago at the National Charter School Conference, among other, shall we say, interesting things that occurred, I crossed paths for a short time with two attendees who were there “in protest”. While I distributed tote bags and information, they came up, looked intently at the CER logo and declined taking the bags because they were “from public schools”. Before I could say anything the attendees left and merged with the rest of the crowd. Of course, this small experience highlights the larger issue of ignorance and is just

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Callie Wendell: A Land Of Opportunities

I have been in Washington D.C. for 6 weeks now and I cannot believe the immense amount of opportunities I have had while here through the program I am with, The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), personal connections and of course, through CER. TFAS is an organization that gives students from around the world the opportunity to take classes and intern in either Washington D.C. or one of their two global locations. Due to my acceptance to TFAS, my application was sent to CER, and after an interview, I was accepted into their internship program. Throughout my summer with TFAS I have been able to hear from the minds of a variety of great academics along with visits to a few historic sites such as Mt. Vernon and the State Department.

While in D.C. I was also able to advance my own ideas through personal connections. The Can Kicks Back campaign is the student version of the Fix the Debt campaign and was brought to my school last semester by a friend of mine. After hearing about this campaign I came up with the idea to hold a massive concert at my school with a few speakers to make the issue of the debt relatable to college students and have student bands performing at the concert. Our goal is to get as many people as possible involved on campus in this event, which has been titled Live Debt. The student that brought the Can Kicks Back campaign to my school and introduced me to the campaign connected me with one of the people in charge. This person loved my idea so much that he asked me to present it the following day at a conference/ meeting for the organization. The fact that someone thought my idea

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Austin White: Competency-Based Education

Today a few fellow interns and I ventured out to the Capitol for the Congressional E-Learning Caucus Briefing on K-12 Competency-Based Education. Originally I had thought that the speakers planned to center their panel discussion on virtual learning programs to share information about technology’s potential role in the classroom. But virtual learning ended up being the background of a very clear message—education needs to focus on maximizing student proficiency. To do this, they advocated for Competency-Based Education, merely showing how educators can utilize technology as one tool among many for progressive education models.

So what is Competency-Based Education? Competency-Based Education essentially aims to ensure that students only complete their subjects after successfully demonstrating an adequate understanding of the material. Understanding that every child has unique learning habits, it requires individualized learning plans tailored to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Remembering my own educational history, the thought of being able to create a personal pace between subjects was immediately appealing. We all remember feeling rushed through some classes and moving too slowly in others, rarely feeling as though the timing was just right. Whereas the traditional education system locks students into one universally prescribed path in each grade level, these alternative models finally offer students the chance to advance at their own rate.

Further, to meet their needs, students get the chance to blend learning methods between digital learning, internship work, independent projects, and traditional teacher-student face time. As long as they can eventually demonstrate their comprehension of the subject material, they are given a degree of freedom in their curriculum structure. The whole way through, the programs are personalized.

Not only is it exciting to think of the benefits for those struggling to learn at a fitting pace, but the potential for highly motivated students now becomes endless. Think of the possibility

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