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Times-Picayune: Louisiana charter school monitoring plan ready for review

By Andrew Vanacore
The Times-Picayune
September 27, 2011

The Louisiana Department of Education will lay out a plan for keeping a closer eye on independent charter schools today that includes restructuring the department’s charter office, an increase in funding and more clearly defined roles for the different state officials involved in the job. Department officials, who will unveil the plan at a meeting of the state board of education today, are calling the strategy “preliminary” and saying it could still evolve based on an external review. They will need board approval for certain aspects, but they expect much of the new strategy to fall within the framework of existing board policy and state law.

The plan reflects heightened criticism aimed at the department since revelations earlier this year about teacher complaints filed against Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in eastern New Orleans. After numerous allegations came to light in July, including accusations of cheating on science fair competitions and a lack of proper supervision for students, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education revoked the school’s charter. But the fact that more than a year elapsed between the original complaints and final action by the board gave ammunition to those who have questioned the state’s ability to keep a close enough eye on charter schools.

In response, acting state Superintendent Ollie Tyler last month promised a comprehensive investigation into how the department handles oversight of charters, which enjoy greater autonomy than their traditional counterparts.

State officials have already said they plan to shift responsibility for charter supervision in New Orleans to the state-run Recovery School District, where New Orleans-based staff will conduct annual reviews at every school.

Officials from both the RSD and the department of education in Baton Rouge worked on the report that BESE will get today, which lays out numerous steps

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Daily Headlines for September 23, 2011

Obama Rewrites ‘No Child’ Law
Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2011
President Barack Obama is set to replace key planks of former President George W. Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind education law, allowing many schools to escape looming punishment if their states adopt a new set of standards.

U.S. May Spare Schools From Harsh Penalties In Exchange For Reforms
Los Angeles Times, CA, September 23, 2011
The Obama administration plan would relieve school districts from requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act if they implement reforms such as linking teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Study: Single-Sex Education May Do More Harm Than Good
Washington Post, DC, September 22, 2011
The push for more single-sex instruction in public schools is based on weak, “misconstrued” scientific claims rather than solid research and may do more harm than good, according to a study published in the journal Science on Thursday.

FROM THE STATES

CALIFORNIA

Charter School Plans Move Forward In Banta
Tracy Press, CA, September 22, 2011
Plans to build a technology charter school in the Banta Elementary School District are moving forward, and on Tuesday night officials announced they hope to eventually expand it to include a four-year college.

 

COLORADO

DPS, Union To Seek Arbitrator’s Ruling On Teacher-Effectiveness Law
Denver Post, CO, September 22, 2011
Denver Public Schools and the teacher’s union have announced they will go to an arbitrator to get an outside opinion on how to implement Senate Bill 191 – last year’s teacher-effectiveness bill.

ILLINOIS

Chicago Mayor Celebrates Opening Of Health Sciences Charter School At New Southwest Side Site
Chicago Tribune, IL, September 23, 2011
Chicago’s first public charter school focusing on health sciences careers has embarked on its first year in a new $24 million building on the city’s Southwest Side.

Charter Schools Plan Rally At UIC
Chicago Tribune, IL, September 23, 2011
Chicago’s

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New Jersey Spotlight: New Jersey Can No Longer Afford to Have A Weak Charter School Law

By Carlos Perez
September 20, 2011
The New Jersey Spotlight

New Jersey has a dismal record when it comes to getting extra education money from Washington.

Most people remember the state’s lost bid for up to $400 million in “Race to the Top” funds last year. But that’s not the only rejection notice the Department of Education has received from Washington.

Over the summer, New Jersey lost its bid for $15 million for charter school startups. That’s not an insignificant amount to schools struggling to cobble together enough funding to open their classroom doors.

What makes this rejection even worse is that it marks the third consecutive year the federal education purse-string holders have said no to New Jersey’s charter schools.

So why did the state lose out? This one wasn’t because of an application error. It was more fundamental. The federal review panel found that the New Jersey charter law was wanting. The members said the law wasn’t what it should be when it comes to the number of institutions empowered to authorize and monitor charters. That was the most often cited shortcoming, but there were others.

Spotty oversight of the school performance and inequitable funding were two.

The Obama administration isn’t the only one to cite inadequacies of the New Jersey law. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks New Jersey 26 out of 41 when it comes to measuring up to a model law.

Now is the time for New Jersey to act, especially since the $250 million federal program that provides startup funding for charter schools is about to be changed. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed with bipartisan support a bill that calls for improving collaboration between traditional and charter public schools, improves facilities funding programs and urges states to work with charters in serving all students.

None of these policy

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Times of Trenton: Charter schools caught in the middle of ideological fight

By Carmen Cusido
The Times of Trenton
September 19, 2011

After 14 years in operation, Trenton Community Charter School somehow lost its footing. The state Department of Education noted low student test scores, inadequate lesson plans and sloppy record keeping before putting the school on probation and finally ordering it to close this summer.

Meanwhile, a group that wants to establish a Chinese-English immersion school in South Brunswick — Princeton International Academy Charter School — has encountered stiff opposition from the three school districts that would have to support it with a share of their tax revenues.

As charter schools come under increasing fire from a community skeptical that they are fulfilling their promise as fresh-thinking public schools, several pieces of legislation have been floated to either promote charter school formation or grant more power to restrict their proliferation.
“We are not geared up to provide the proper oversight once these charters are granted,” said Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence). Turner is co-sponsoring a bill that would require voter approval of new charter schools. “That’s why we see an inordinate number of them failing.”
Although she thinks parents in failing districts should be given a choice where to send their children, Turner said legislation to allow taxpayers to vote for the approval of charter schools is essential.

But Ronald Brady, the head of school and co-founder of Trenton’s Foundation Academy Charter School, argued that allowing public referendums on charter school openings could hurt educational diversity.

“It subjects individual charter schools — an interest to, say, 30 percent of the population — to the opinion of the entire population,” Brady said. “It’s antithetical to what charters are about.”

MOVING TOWARD REFORM

In Turner’s district, Trenton Community Charter School was one of two charters that shut down this summer. Capital Preparatory High School was pressured to voluntarily give up its charter after it

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Save the Status Quo, March Against Freedom

By now, you’ve likely heard that the anti-reform establishment will be marching the streets of D.C. this weekend in an effort to “Save Our Schools.” The participating groups want to restore parent and student influence in education.

There’s only one problem with that – they don’t.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – two unions that have done everything in their power from distorting the truth and lying to intimidation and lawsuits to stop any reform that takes their control and gives it to parents – are driving this rally.

These groups fight charter school openings across the country. For example they are currently stumping against a Mandarin immersion charter in Milburn, New Jersey.

They’ve sued multiple times to stop or delay school choice bills from taking effect. The teachers association now has a lawsuit in Indiana to stop low-income students in failing schools from using a voucher to attend a different school of their parent’s choice.

They are even fighting the “Parent Trigger” law that was passed in California and allows parents to initiate changes to a school, like converting it to a charter, if a majority of parents agree and sign a petition.

It’s the same coalition of the past 35 years that just wants the status quo. Reform to them is about money, control and no high-stakes tests or accountability.

In each case above, and the dozens of ones not mentioned, these groups are eliminating the influence parents and students have, not moving it forward.

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Looking forward to 2011

champagneWasn’t 2010 supposed to be the Year of Education Reform? ‘Race to the Top’ was going to transform the education landscape, ‘No Child Left Behind’ was to get a facelift, school turnaround options were going to transform our lowest achieving public schools…

How’d all that work out for everyone?

– Maryland and Hawaii winning ‘Race to the Top’ money? For what, exactly? They’ll be battling their unions until 2015 just to move the dial slightly on any of their promises.

– ESEA reauthorization during an election year? Good luck.

– At least we learned a few things about turnarounds, namely that they aren’t going to work unless the culture of a failing school is turned on its head.

Before we get accused of ending a year on a sour note, though, allow us to throw ourselves into the group of hopefuls looking to 2011 as a year that gets things done for our kids and for our schools.

Why the positive change of heart, you ask?

November.

Beginning next Monday, a new Congress just might leave substantive education policy decisions in the hands of those who have been getting the job done all along – Governors and state legislators.

And so, we end 2010 as many began, hopeful that substantive changes will come to our schools in the form of greater choice for parents, real rewards for our best teachers and accountability for those who steer the ship.

To help this process along, we offer up these 10 Education Reform New Year’s Resolutions for state lawmakers:

1. Increase the ability of higher education, mayors and other independent entities to authorize charter schools so more children have access to quality public school options.

2. Eliminate arbitrary and unnecessary caps on the number of charter schools that

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Welcome aboard

rollercoasterDear Michelle,

Welcome to the other side. We need your help. And we need new champions. Learning to tell the difference is an art, though, not a science.

This is the place where – in order to make good calls that benefit reform – you have to distinguish incessantly between what someone says they believe and what they truly will do. We at CER do not spend money on politics, but we do spend our time and energy on educating and activating people to do the right thing. Oh sure, reform is very much in vogue right now, and hundreds of people will crowd a ballroom to hear someone speak. They will applaud and nod approvingly at every word said in defense of students, and in support of a fight to change the status quo for good. Then they will go back to their states and communities and say things like the following, which we’ve heard for 17 years, as if a 45 were scratched so it keeps repeating…

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Charting a course for reform

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s terrifically honest keynote address at this year’s Excellence in Action National Summit in Washington, DC:

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Excuse me. There's egg on your face.

eggonfaceThere is no more dedicated charter school foe than Gwinnett County Schools in Georgia. For years, they have targeted Ivy Preparatory Academy, a unique all-girls school in Norcross educating more than 300 students.

First they denied Ivy its charter. Then they fought the state board which overruled their rejection. Then they fought the constitutionality of the state board. Then they cried foul over a funding allocation process they say robs their kids of a quality education. That’s a lot of billable hours, no matter how you look at it. No big loss for a district with a $2 billion + annual budget, I guess.

But in this battle, David just keeps getting one up on Goliath. On the latest round of state tests, every girl at Ivy Prep passed the reading and language exams. To add a cherry on top of that, no traditional public school in Gwinnett County had multiple grade levels ace the tests, but its other charter school, New Life Academy of Excellence, did.

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Changing my tune on 'Race to the Top'

dontchangeI have been accused of being too negative on the ‘Race to the Top’ competition by many, in and out of the education reform world. (I prefer the term cynical – even skeptical or experienced would do.) But recent soul-searching in the aftermath of Monday’s announcement that Delaware and Tennessee would be the inaugural winners in phase one has forced me to re-evaluate my thinking. When the news first broke Monday morning, I was a bit taken aback. But then, I figured “why not?”

Even if they’re not welcoming to charter schools, at least they have them, right? Moratoriums, caps and restricted enrollment must just be their way of maintaining quality standards.

And while Tennessee has only raised 8th grade proficiency on NAEP reading tests by 2 points in 11 years and Delaware 8th graders have remained stagnate since 2003, both have signed on for common standards. That should fix that issue lickety split.

And in re-reviewing both of their applications, I put myself in the place of a true DoED evaluator – alone, in a dark room, on my 4th application, deadline approaching – and I found that I truly appreciated the lack of detail in the teacher evaluation sections of each app. I was free to believe exactly what was written, and only what was written. I wasn’t hampered by knowledge of teachers union contracts, work rules, etc. And besides, with all those union locals signing on to the state proposals, I too was convinced that buy-in – not game changing reforms – would be the tipping point.

So there you have it. Just as Diane Ravitch has been accused of late, I am admitting to a 180-degree turn with respect to ‘Race to the Top’. As one can’t help but

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