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It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Later

I can’t quite believe that my seven weeks interning at The Center for Education Reform (CER) are nearly over. It seems like yesterday was my first day.

During my time here, I have been exposed to the demands of nonprofit work, learned about the intricacies of educational policies and have had the opportunity to attend all types of events, from a panel discussion on Capitol Hill about special education to a survey briefing at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) featuring CER’s own president, Kara Kerwin. The other interns and I even had the chance to spearhead and coordinate our own event. It required countless hours of preparation and collaboration but was a rewarding experience that proved to be a huge success.

My two favorite events centered on socioeconomic status, academic attainment, and educational opportunity. As a sociology major, these topics greatly interest me. The first one was at the American Enterprise Institute and was a critique and discussion of Robert Putnam’s newest book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. The other, a webinar presentation hosted by the American Institutes for Research, examined inequities within and across education systems and students’ ability to thrive academically despite socioeconomic setbacks.

These events resonated with me because they reminded me distinctly why I want to be a leader in education. I want to provide a voice for those who are usually voiceless. It is my moral imperative.

This internship has really made me question our country’s pedagogical approaches. If we want to reshape our education system, we can’t continue to pass policies enshrined in tradition. It is those kinds of methods that stifle creativity and innovation. Instead, we should concentrate on our changing world and how we can apply new measures to alter the current state of education.

Working at CER has reaffirmed

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All Good Things Must Come To An End, Right?

It feels like it was just yesterday that I was walking across the Syracuse University campus, checking my email and learning that I received a position as an intern for the summer here at The Center for Education Reform (CER). That was almost five months ago now. I look back at my time here at CER this summer and I almost don’t recognize the girl who thought a voucher was just something used at a retail store to get 50% off!

On my first day, I was told countless times that I would get as much from this internship as I put into it. What I wasn’t told was that I would learn more in these six weeks than in any college semester. Meeting real education reformers taught me that this work never ends but that there are real results. We (yes, I would say I’m a reformer now) are helping real live people who need a voice in those scary marble halls of the Capitol. It’s important to remember who we’re fighting for with all these policy briefings and panel discussions. The future of America is in our hands because we’re the ones fighting for those who can’t always fight for themselves.

My experiences here at CER have been vast. From spending afternoons in those scary marble hallways of the Capitol, to planning events, and listening to some truly inspirational panel discussions, this summer has taught me more than I ever expected. A personal favorite of mine was an entrepreneurship panel, titled “The State of Entrepreneurship in K-12 Education” at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). This panel proved to me that education does not simply need to be a teacher in front of a classroom but in fact, it is an entire army of people working to

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EdReform: Past, Present and Future

We planned an event.

When we arrived in the CER office all we kept hearing about was the events we would plan. They would be events “for interns by interns” and we would plan them essentially on our own. It was a daunting task but we were up for the challenge and the result would be two success stories.

Yesterday’s event was a panel discussion titled “EdReform: Past, Present and Future.” Each intern was assigned a different role that involved completing a task prior to the event and a task on the actual day of the event. Planning this event required weekly intern meetings that helped to create the bond that has come to exist between this group of seven CER interns. We found our venue thanks to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute during the first week of July. Our speakers, Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Jill Turgeon, an educator and school board member in Loudoun County, Virginia, as well as John Bailey of Digital Learning Now were all people who we had encountered at other events throughout the summer and proved to be influential on us as interns. And finally, we purchased lunch for all attendees as a final ploy to get interns in the door.

The day finally arrived. Michael Petrilli, Jill Turgeon and John Bailey arrived at the conference space and our discussion was under way. Throughout the discussion there was a common theme around parent power and the need for parents to have the ability to choose the school that they think is best for their child. There also seemed to be a common belief among the panelists that technology can be used in the classroom but is only beneficial when it is a support and not simply an amplification of

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Expanding Options and Changing Stigmas

Over the past few decades, primary and secondary education have been rethought, reshaped, and rebranded. Amidst the changes in the K-12 world, there have been stigmas attached to different styles of education just as there are in the post-secondary world. Although the options in post-secondary education outnumber those in primary and secondary education, stigmas persist about what choices are better than others. A four-year university option is perceived as more prestigious than a community college option due to nomenclature. Expanding the options and reducing the stigma of alternative styles of higher education would not only ensure success in higher education for all students, but also equip more individuals with the tools for success. Just as school choice is important for K-12 education, changing the stigma of choices in post-secondary education needs to be on the top of our list.

Post-secondary education has shown the education world how important it is to give students options. Expanding options equips more individuals with the tools for success. The Brookings Institution hosted several panels on the importance of choice in post-secondary education and the need to enhance the experience for students. The panelists’ ideas, although specific to post-secondary education, parallel the need for choice in primary and secondary education. Providing more education options can only improve both sectors of education. Just as some post-secondary students excel in a traditional, four-year college experience and others excel in a certification program at a community college, some K-12 students can excel in a traditional public school and others excel in an alternative charter school setting. The acceptance of alternative modes of K-12 education should ideally be transferred to the post-secondary realm, while the abundance of options in the post-secondary realm should be paralleled in the K-12 sector.

As DeRionne Pollard, the president of Montgomery College noted,

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Measuring Academic Resilience

Last week, I listened to American Institutes for Research’s webinar “Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Students Who Are Academically Successful: Examining Academic Resilience Cross-Nationally”.

Maria Stephens and Ebru Erberber, Senior Researchers at American Institutes for Research, observed the discrepancies between marginalized students and their ability to thrive academically. They investigated the prevalence of “academic resilience” internationally as well as the factors influencing this success. Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, discussed the implications of their analysis and results. He suggested ways to increase academic achievement among those who are underprivileged.

Erberber claimed that it is the school’s initial responsibility to expose students to higher educational options and various fields of study. Academic success thereby stems from student aspiration and teacher encouragement.

McComb then stressed the importance of personalized learning and professional development.

Stephens, Erberber, and McComb offered valuable insight about inequities within and across education systems. They briefly discussed policy implementation, but did not fully engage in a conversation about potential practices that could reshape the education landscape, which disappointed me.

Socioeconomic status should not be a determinant of a child’s academic success, but all too often, it is. I believe it would have been beneficial to talk about educational policy in relation to their findings and analysis. We need more policies to make schools responsible for student outcomes and not just enrollment. This strategy would incentivize administrators and teachers to provide students with all of the information they need to reach their goals, whether it be to graduate high school, go immediately to the workforce, or attend a two or four-year college.

Being fully aware of these options has unfortunately become a privilege, but every student is entitled to understand their choices. We cannot bridge the achievement gap between socioeconomic classes without increased accountability and greater transparency between students, teachers, and administrators.

Hayley Nicholas, CER

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Lifting Off With STEM Education

Yesterday, the CER interns were given the opportunity to complete a private tour of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), located in Greenbelt, Maryland. Touring the facilities was like getting a chance to go to Space Camp for a day, but for a group of college students! We were shown the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest space telescope currently in development. We were also shown around the facilities, which measure frequencies, vibrations, and light in order to best research how these devices will be used in space. We were given the chance to enter a space simulator that made it look – and feel! – like we were orbiting the globe.

Despite the space simulator and flashy gadgets, my favorite part of the day was a working lunch with Dean Kern, the deputy director of the GSFC Office of Education. A former charter school principal, Mr. Kern showed us not only the crucial importance of STEM education, but also how the traditional public school model fails students when it comes to STEM. Despite a modest budget, NASA’s Office of Education is working hard to close the well-documented STEM achievement gap, which fails marginalized minority groups in STEM opportunities. The statistics are staggering: 30% of high schools with the highest percentage of Black and Latino students do not offer chemistry; 25% of these high schools don’t offer Algebra II; and half of our nation’s high schools don’t offer calculus.

High schools should be the place students, especially women and minorities, first develop their interests and passions. With just 20% of the STEM workforce being comprised of women, African Americans, and Latinos it’s obvious NASA has its work cut out for them to truly integrate the field and provide equal opportunities to all. With high standards being set for K-12

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And The Results Are In!

Schooling in America affects every person in this nation and yet everyone involved, whether it be on the policy and reform side of things or those actually in the schools, are not correctly informed about the other side. The policy makers and reformers are not in the classroom and those in the classroom don’t understand the topics and reforms in K-12 education. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice attempts to bridge this gap of understanding by publishing an annual survey that measures public opinion, awareness, and knowledge of these topics. The Center for Education Reform (CER) interns had the pleasure of attending the presentation of the poll results at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and had the amazing opportunity to see our very own Kara Kerwin, president of CER, on the panel and see her in action.

The results of the survey revealed many interesting statistics, but what struck me as the most important was the public’s opinion of where the direction of K-12 education is going and the rating of the federal government’s performance in K-12. Both results showed that Americans have a negative view of the education system. Americans are almost twice as likely to say that our education system has gotten off on the “wrong track” and the majority of them give a negative rating to the federal government’s handling of K-12 matters. Just from these two questions it is easy to see that something must be done to improve K-12 education. The general public has different preferences for schooling than the actual schooling that occurs. If given the choice, many would change the type of school they attend, so why not find a definitive way to give the public this choice?

Everyone believes that something needs to change in education and that we all

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Transforming Decades of Failure

Erin Gruwell, the inspirational teacher behind Freedom Writers, continues to be one of the few educators fueling my desire to teach in a low-income area. Her experience as a transformative educator showed me the power of the teacher in a classroom. However, many teachers remain ineffective in the classroom. The Thomas B. Fordham institute hosted a panel discussion in which individuals talked about their experiences with turnaround school districts in Louisiana, Michigan, and Tennessee.

A turnaround school district is one in which previously failing schools are “turned around” into successful schools through various changes in school leadership. Schools are not being closed or recreated as Chris Barbic, the superintendent of the Achievement School District, and Veronica Conforme, the chancellor of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, have made evident. Conforme and Barbic made very clear that turnaround efforts are transforming the neighborhoods into areas of success, not recreating the neighborhoods. This is important to note because it shows that the integrity of the neighborhood is not lost under new school leadership, but rather efforts are made to equip students with the resources to enhance the community in which they live. Turnaround efforts enhance the practices and schools in place. This also helps to encourage community involvement without making it seem like external organizations are imposing themselves upon these communities labeled “failing” and “impoverished”.

Fordham Turnaround PictureIt was interesting to see how improving schools can have a transformative effect on the whole community. Patrick Dobard, the superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District, notes that these turnaround school districts often are in areas of generational poverty and work tirelessly to allow disadvantaged students to escape the cycle of poverty. Poverty places a great burden upon communities, but equipping them with the

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Class Segregation and Educational Opportunity

I recently attended a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute with Robert Putnam of Harvard University, Charles Murray, who is a W.H. Bradley Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and William Julius Wilson, a sociologist and Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University. Each speaker presented their criticism of Putnam’s newest book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, and offered insight into the increasing opportunity gap among children.

Putnam spoke candidly about the segregation deeply embedded in our society—religious, ethnic, and racial disparities have improved, while classist assumptions have led to greater segregation between the lower, middle, and upper social strata. He briefly explored the implications of these treAEI Putnam Event - Demographicsnds by explaining the terms “summer camp gap” and “Goodnight Moon time” and also called for extensive policy changes to help fix these inconsistencies.

The “summer camp gap” refers to the amount of benefits parents are able to provide for their children, such as piano lessons, sports camps, or vacations, and “Goodnight Moon time” is the portion of the day dedicated to parent-child interaction. Children acquire valuable developmental skills during extracurricular activities and from stable, close contact and socialization with a parental figure. Putnam argues, however, that children in high school-educated homes versus college-educated homes possess fewer resources to hone these skills, which further stratifies social classes.

Murray strongly disagreed with Putnam’s approach to policy implementation, and Wilson believed Putnam’s book did not focus nearly enough on interracial differences.

I believe that the discussion centered largely on the social sphere, and the panelists did not integrate education into the conversation as much as they could have. A child’s social environment is inextricably linked to his or her educational access. This connection can either accelerate or

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Entrepreneurship as Innovation in Education

When I heard the word entrepreneur, the field of education was quite possibly the last thing that entered into my mind. To me, an entrepreneur was always someone who created a new business against a great deal of resistance from outside forces. Think Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook or Steve Jobs and Apple. I never before thought of classroom teachers as entrepreneurs. However, I realized today that teachers are entrepreneurs in every sense of the word thanks to the research presentation held by AEI entitled “The State of Entrepreneurship in K-12 Education.” Teachers work in a variety of ways to ensure that every student who enters their classroom leaves as something more than they were. The goal of every teacher is for students to leave their class more enriched and engaged than they were when they entered.

I would argue that teachers want innovation in their classrooms beyond just an iPad or laptop given to every student. Teachers need more support than that. On one hand, technology can provide that innovation if it is made in a way that supports both the teacher and the student. However, when teachers are unable to access this technology because of slow broadband, limited/no Wi-Fi or impossible to remember passwords, the technology becomes more of a head wind than a tail wind, to use the analogy that was repeated throughout the conference. Tail winds are things that create more “smooth sailing” for teachers, whereas head winds are the issues they are coming up against. For example, school choice can be seen as a tailwind because parents and students are finally able to make their own choices about where they want to attend school. On the other hand, one head wind can be the restrictions currently being placed on teachers that prevent them from

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