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Snowe-d under

plowIn an attempt to win back her crown as Miss Congeniality among anti-school-choice Democrats, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) strolled to the well of the Senate yesterday evening to stab her fellow Mainer, Sen. Susan Collins, in the back by voting against the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. Ms. Collins is one of the program’s chief champions. Despite the courage demonstrated by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Bill Nelson, Mark Warner, and Joe Lieberman – who voted FOR the voucher program – Sen. Snowe’s status as the lone Republican vote against the program was anything but courageous. Whether she likes Sen. Collins or not – or whether she wants to curry favor with Democrats or not (she does), Sen. Snowe’s vote today left DC kids… snowed under.

(In another bit of Maine news, yesterday, the state legislature again denied families another form school choice when their Education Committee endorsed an “innovative schools” bill which had all references to charter school removed before moving on to the main body.)

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Onwards and upwards

up-buttonCharters are not only closing the achievement gap for those stuck in failing schools but educating diverse student populations that represent wide variation in income and race.

But what about their effect on students’ futures?

A study looked at the achievement and movement of charter students in Florida and Chicago and has found a direct (positive) impact on graduation rate and college matriculation.

Two key findings:

Students who attend a charter high school are 7 to 15 percentage points more likely to earn a standard diploma than students who attend a traditional public high school. Similarly, those attending a charter high school are 8 to 10 percentage points more likely to attend college.

The “what” is clear. Charter schools are providing the necessary environment for students to break the 70 percent graduation rate and not only earn their high school diploma but move on to college in many cases.

The “why” may take a little more time to nail down, but whatever it is, it’s working.

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From the cutting room floor

trash canFour things you are guaranteed not to hear in Wednesday night’s SOTU:

  • “While a little nerve-wracking for us around the White House, November elections by the people of New Jersey and Virginia solidified what will be an exciting opportunity for those states to break from the status quo and embrace the education reforms of their new governors and the incredibly bold leaders they have chosen to steer schools in their states. At the very least, McDonnell has kept Gerard so busy he hasn’t been able to bother me about DC scholarships.”
  • “Frankly, my Education Secretary and I were disappointed with the results of special legislative sessions and bill proposals regarding charter schools. Our crack public affairs team spun things so R2TT would come out smelling like a rose, but, come on. Caps lifted when states weren’t even near them, Louisiana? Strengthening collective bargaining, Illinois? And two little guys out of New England – I’m talking to you Rhode Island and Connecticut – giving charter schools money you had already promised then taken away? Really? I hope that wasn’t used to support your applications. We went to Harvard, you know.”
  • “The one real win in R2TT goes on the scoreboard for teachers. Check this out. In addition to $100 billion dollars to keep them employed through the stimulus, we figured out a way to take it a step further with R2TT and teacher evaluation methodology. You could drive a truck through the holes in state proposals regarding teachers. You should see some of the emails Arne sends me late at night with examples cut straight from the applications. It’s all I can do to keep from falling out of bed. I can’t wait for round two.”
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Know Your Choices: Sowing the Seeds of Education Reform

A handbook to help parents make sense of schooling options to get a better education for their child.

Download or print your PDF copy of Know Your Choices

One is the loneliest number

sesamestreet1When is a charter law not a charter law? When is a charter school not a charter school?

Ask Mississippi.

Like a thief in the night, July 1st of this year came and went, slipping out the back door with the Magnolia State’s charter law as legislators allowed it to sunset without even a word.

Nobody seemed to notice. Not the press. Not the bloggers. Not the major edreform players. We didn’t even mention it, but in our defense, it was really hot that day and we were planning a cookout.

Another group that likely missed the significance of the loss of the law: the faculty and students of Mississippi’s lone charter school – The Hayes Cooper Center.

The school was basically a glorified magnate school, did not have true autonomy and was tied to the school district in so many ways as to make it indistinguishable from its conventional counterparts.

Each year, we analyze and grade the country’s charter school laws, assigning a letter grade to each.  Last year, Mississippi received an ‘F’ with an analysis that placed it last among the (then) 41 laws.

Certainly, The Hayes Cooper Center probably didn’t feel much different as kids ran out to greet the first day of Summer than it did when they trudged back for Fall classes.

And it was Mississippi’s weak law – one that its lead architect later referred to as “the sorriest” in the nation – that allowed this to happen.

The ‘Race to the Top’ competition has placed a national spotlight on charter schools and charter legislation as lawmakers everywhere begin to tinker with theirs in order to polish them up before the Department of Education passes judgment in the Spring.

Will their laws shine any brighter than Mississippi’s? Certainly. But, while the

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Gingrich and Sharpton – An Odd Couple for Education, But Not the First

al-newtTomorrow, on his continuing education tour, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be joined in Philadelphia by two gentlemen who because of their obvious differences on many levels are called the Odd Couple of education.  I applaud strange bedfellows – when they make things happen for kids. With this one, I’m not so sure.

The first real Odd Couples of education led some of the nation’s most fundamental shifts in education, shifts that had once been considered radical.  Looking back through the past sixteen years, it’s clear that while education reform has changed dramatically, broad, mainstream support for bold changes in education existed then, just as they do now.  It was just much less hip to say so.

Then, policymakers who led the fight for charter schools, merit pay (as it was called in those days), vouchers and the like were accused of being part of the vast right wing conspiracy and generally anti-public education, despite the fact that such nomenclature didn’t fit then, just as it does not now. CER’s first work celebrated legislators like Pennsylvania Democrat Dwight Evans, who joined hands with Republican Tom Ridge to pass that state’s charter bill.  Miami Urban League head T. Willard Fair teamed up with Governor Jeb Bush to bring vouchers to Florida, following in the steps of Representative Polly Williams, a former Black Panther, in league with conservative Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

These were the first, real Odd Couples of the modern education reform movement.  They were bold, tenacious, and courageous to cross party lines, incur the wrath of unions together and suffer all sorts of education establishment slurs. (more…)

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Buried Alive (updated)

shovel“Explosive” results of a comprehensive, multi-year analysis of charter schools in New York City find students in charters more poor, more disadvantaged and from homes with lesser educational background, but closing the achievement gap by as much as 86 percent in math and 66 percent in reading.

So why is that news relegated to Page A27 of the New York Times, and only in a smattering of other papers elsewhere around the country?

This study by a noted Stanford University economist used an apples to apples comparison of real children – students who went to charters with those who did not get chosen by the lottery – rather than use intangible and relatively sketchy methodologies involving virtual students.

A less robust and, frankly, largely flawed study released in June by independent researchers at Stanford used that flawed methodology and made national headlines within a day of its press releases hitting the wires.

Their press roll out was criticized by charter advocates nationwide for misleading reporters. Indeed, the headlines then actually warned of charter students being behind in almost every state, without much credence for that or the general conclusions that now have every state legislator – along with union officials – saying charter success is overrated.

But the reality is: it’s not overrated. Charter schools do make an enormous difference in the life of a child and their family, particularly the longer they stay in a charter school.

The true gold-standard report issued Tuesday by Caroline Hoxby and her colleagues at the National Bureau of Economic Research tells the real story of a very big state that has the longevity and experience worthy of study and reporting.

It should not be buried in the depths of newspapers behind smaller, less

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Too much credit

sneechesEven when research studies come from prestigious universities like Stanford, they can be flawed. That’s the case with data cited in “The $5 billion bet on education,” Al Hunt’s recent New York Times commentary about the Obama Administration’s education agenda and its reliance on less bureaucratic, more accountable public schools known as charters.

A small research unit at Stanford (not the university itself) piloted a methodology pairing virtual twins in charters with students in traditional public education, producing results at odds with most state and national assessments that show far better results. And the longer students are in charters, the better they do.

Obama’s Race to the Top would not be complete without such reforms, but Hunt errors in giving credit to states that have done little to create strong laws that allow for high numbers of high performing charter schools to flourish. The real test will be whether, when state legislators return to work, they will be willing to allow charters to start outside of school board control, free from union contracts and other constraints and funded equitably.

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Morning news isn't just White House dogs and pirates

morningjoeTwo interesting education conversations on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning:

1) Walter Isaacson speaks some truth about NCLB, charter schools, mayoral control and teachers unions, but his argument that deep down Duncan supports the D.C. voucher program coupled with a sunny outlook on the affect $timulus money will have in the classroom raised this viewer’s eyebrows.

2) D.C.’s Mayor Adrian Fenty lays it out for Joe and states unequivocally that real change will come to public schools when principals are given control of a hiring/firing process based on merit. Be sure to watch the Mayor dance around Pat Buchanan’s assertion that what he is endorsing is union busting.

The best note of the morning, however, was hit by Joe when he shook his head in an attempt to understand the BLOB and their efforts to thwart true reform, saying: “It’s like these people are like holdouts, like those Japanese soldiers that kept fighting for 20 years on remote islands. They didn’t realize the world had changed.”

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