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Lessons for US and Our Children From 9/11

Everyone has a story about what was happening ten years ago, on that originally beautiful morning that soon turned into the nightmare we now know as September 11, 2001. I was watching live coverage of then President George W. Bush, who sat in a public school classroom in Florida, as he sought to mobilize people behind a consensus that our school crisis needed a major national initiative to ensure accountability for results at an unprecedented level.

After the tap on the shoulder from his chief of staff, the news people interrupted and the rest, as they say, is history. Weeks later, Bush would begin anew with the late Senator Edward Kennedy, House education chair John Boehner, house education ranking member George Miller and others as they forged a new consensus that money without strings, and without a requirement for student results, would no longer be the way our government conducted business.

As No Child Left Behind took hold over many contentious days and nights of negotiation, eventually, and in large part owing to the new found camaraderie that sprang out of the tragedy of 9/11, a new law was born.

Despite its many detractors and some flaws, NCLB then, as now, continues to shine sun on an outrage that should upset the American public at its core, on a regular basis. That outrage — that fewer than half of ALL of U.S. children are not proficient in basic, needed elements of education, and that children of color lag by another 30 percent — is something that we should approach not much differently than as if a foreign power was attacking us right here on our own soil.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we were reminded that generations of students lack a fundamental understanding of history. Evil acts aside, most Americans did not understand

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Exercising Parent Power

It’s that time of year again – kids are heading back to school. For parents, this can be a reason to rejoice or panic.

Sure, you’re happy your child is going to begin another year of learning and growth. But, at the same time you may be worried about whether or not your child is in the right environment, if the teachers are properly preparing your child for the future or if there are better options available.

Well, the Center for Education Reform is available to help.

Parent Power provides the tools for parents to become empowered and make the best decisions possible for their child’s future. For instance, Education 101 provides a quick rundown on the buzzwords and breakthroughs in schooling and education reform, and what they really mean for you and your child.

Whether you have questions about charter schools, school choice, curriculum, evaluating your child’s school, digital learning, or even how to stay involved and informed with your child’s homework, the site will help you get the answers you need.

Parents have more power over their child’s education than ever before. You just may not realize it. Parent Power will help you navigate the system and take control over your child’s learning.

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Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

You can steal the plays, but that doesn’t mean you can execute the playbook.

This week in the New York Times, Houston Public Schools explained how its troubled schools were looking to improve by mimicking successful charter schools.

It’s great that HPS is acknowledging that charter schools are successful in educating low-income, urban kids. And it’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But, it’s shortsighted to think that by cherry-picking a few plays from the charter school playbook achievement is going to rise in regular public schools.

HPS teamed up with Harvard researcher Dr. Ronald Fryer to identify and implement five key ideas common to successful charters: “longer school days and years; more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers; frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught; what he calls ‘high-dosage tutoring’; and a ‘no excuses’ culture.”

This approach demonstrates the lack of understanding about what is truly happening in charter schools.

HPS can’t just pick and choose charter school elements and think that’ll change everything. Charter schools are an entire culture shift that cultivates innovation and provides freedom from burdensome regulations.

Giving more quizzes and making the school day longer isn’t going to have the systemic change that comes out of a true charter environment.

“If you see something good, why not try to replicate it?” said Terry Grier, Houston’s superintendent.

Sure. But instead of just trying to replicate charter schools, why not become one – don’t just steal the plays, steal the playbook.

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Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

You can steal the plays, but that doesn’t mean you can execute the playbook.

This week in the New York Times, Houston Public Schools explained how its troubled schools were looking to improve by mimicking successful charter schools.

It’s great that HPS is acknowledging that charter schools are successful in educating low-income, urban kids. And it’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But, it’s shortsighted to think that by cherry-picking a few plays from the charter school playbook achievement is going to rise in regular public schools.

HPS teamed up with Harvard researcher Dr. Ronald Fryer to identify and implement five key ideas common to successful charters: “longer school days and years; more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers; frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught; what he calls ‘high-dosage tutoring’; and a ‘no excuses’ culture.”

This approach demonstrates the lack of understanding about what is truly happening in charter schools.

HPS can’t just pick and choose charter school elements and think that’ll change everything. Charter schools are an entire culture shift that cultivates innovation and provides freedom from burdensome regulations.

Giving more quizzes and making the school day longer isn’t going to have the systemic change that comes out of a true charter environment.

“If you see something good, why not try to replicate it?” said Terry Grier, Houston’s superintendent.

Sure. But instead of just trying to replicate charter schools, why not become one – don’t just steal the plays, steal the playbook.

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An Abbreviated Story of Labor: What Once Was but Is No More

Once upon a time, in this country, early in the last century hoards of Italians, (like me!), Irish, German, Jewish peoples and more descended on this land in search of something better. From the schools to the sweatshops, they took jobs that paid little and demanded much. Haste, greed and neglect soon became the norm in the American workforce. Labor unions stepped, to collectively support and advance the rights of people to work and be given adequate wages, benefits and a quality environment. It was great, when it was needed.

Today those same unions — in this case in education — no longer protect people who are being abused, neglected, forced to work 15-hour days with no break for food or bathroom. Because of enlightened leaders, workers and yes, labor’s past contributions, today we and our institutions are protected. Those protections however, may have swung too far past the original intentions. For when it comes to teachers unions, protections now are all about labor not product.

Consider the attack by the United Federation of Teachers of New York in successfully challenging a new state evaluation system that would allow schools, parents and the public to know for certain if the people teaching our kids actually is successful at it!

The national unions have been fighting efforts to allow parents to turnaround failing schools. They oppose California’s parent trigger law and have well-documented tools for members who succeeded in squashing a similar proposal in Connecticut. The unions not only oppose real performance evaluations and parent choice but even standards and testing, funding teachers to rally in Washington over efforts to hold schools accountable.

This is what labor unions have become?

Movies have been done, books written, and hundreds of thousands of blogs, tweets, and news articles on the same subject.

This Labor day

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PDK/Gallup poll lacks context, usefulness

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts, said the late great Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And indeed, the PDK/Gallup poll underscores the wisdom offered by the former Senior Senator from New York, no doubt in the larger public policy context of his day.

While everyone has opinions, pollsters are supposed to provide at least a baseline of data to allow someone to offer an opinion on information that he or she may or may not have known before being asked a question. The annual PDK/Gallup poll lacks much needed context, perhaps not unintentionally, rendering its usefulness nearly meaningless. Asking someone about spending priorities in the absence of knowing what the nation spends on schools doesn’t really tell you what we believe about money. Defining online learning as a way to learn at home doesn’t really inform the reader about how much we know and like the new digital learning age. Dozens of such data-lacking examples abound in this year’s annual survey of Americans’ attitudes.

Therein lies a nugget of truth that is perhaps at the heart Senator Moynihan’s admonishment. If this is a world in which opinions matter but facts do not, is it any wonder we are failing to educate millions of students? There’s no shortage of opinions among Americans, even if we don’t have data to back them up. And isn’t that the difference between productive learning environments and ones destined to fail? Good policy and bad policy? From pre-school to higher education, we are convinced that thinking and talking without real content knowledge is acceptable and that opinions matter, regardless of how well informed they are. Why try to find out the answers when your opinion counts, regardless of what you know?

If facts mattered in this survey,

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Cheating to Win, Blame Game Loser

Here at Edspresso, we’ve grown tired of this complaining that high-stakes testing is responsible for the cheating done by teachers and administrators.

It almost seems that because as a society we demand and expect positive results – our children to be educated – we’re being unfair. It’s not their fault, they say, it’s the requirements. The stakes are too high.

But what exactly are these high stakes we hear about? We’re talking about children’s futures – it’s highly important that they are educated, right?

Well, no.

To teachers and administrators, high stakes means earning more money, accolades, getting tenure and ultimately keeping their job. But, don’t most people need to produce solid outcomes in their job to keep it?

Do we accept cheating elsewhere? Is it okay for the bank teller to shortchange you, so her daily numbers look higher? Is it okay for your doctor to cut corners so she can get you out of the office faster and see more patients? Was it okay when Wall Street put personal profits over the financial security of the public?

Why should we give teachers and administrators a pass? There are many quality teachers that produce high results without resorting to fraud. Because there are some that can’t, we’re supposed to turn a blind eye.

Now, we don’t only have to worry that our children are not getting the educational background they need to be prepared to succeed.

We’ve got to be concerned that those teaching them may feel that the end justifies the means at any cost, the line between right and wrong is a shade of grey and if you get caught blame someone else.

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Charter School Sues Three Districts to Stop Bullying

Princeton International Academy Charter School is suing three school districts to stop what they say is the spending of “public funds and using their governmental positions to oppose the opening of the charter school.”

Bravo!

All too often, traditional school districts fight dirty to protect their territory and thwart charter school competition – much to the detriment of parents and students.

But PIACS and parents are calling them out on it.

They want to stop the misuse of public funds, seek repayment of said funds, initiate a full accounting report of monies spent and see a monitor appointed to oversee spending.

This could set a new tone in the fight for charter schools where school districts will be held accountable for unfair practices. If successful, we could see charters in districts across the nation following suit.

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Drawing Dead at the SOS Rally

Reason.tv did a fantastic job of capturing footage and conducting interviews with supporters, teachers and even Matt Damon at the recent Save Our Schools Status Quo rally in D.C.

The comments may shock you – and no, I’m not talking about Matt Damon’s potty mouth. You can catch his interview at the 0:38 mark. But, you really have to see the teacher at 3:05 who thinks we should be spending a BILLION dollars per student.

Her comments get me thinking about one of Matt Damon’s movies – Rounders. In the film, he plays some uber-smart poker player. I’m sure even Matt Damon can explain what it means to be drawing dead. This is when, no matter how much money you put into the pot, you’re never going to win the hand because your opponent has better cards.

It’s kind of like the battle over education reform. The unions want to put more and more money into the pot, but they’re holding a losing hand. As a nation, we’ve put more money into education than ever before, while test scores and student performance have remained flat.

The unions are drawing dead. And no amount of money can change that.

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And the Ayes Have It

Maryland’s Montgomery County Board of Education has approved its first charter school. It was a long road for Crossway Community, a local nonprofit organization, to open its Montessori-based elementary school, but in recent months it gained the support of Superintendent Joshua Starr and former superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

It’s being hailed as a “historic moment in Montgomery County,” as it should be, but this also provides credence at the national level to the idea that charter schools have a place in more affluent suburbs where test scores and graduation rates are higher.

Even in rich districts, there are students who are not getting the attention or type of education they need. In Montgomery County, those families will now have a choice.

Nationally, this is a battle that is just starting to take shape. New Jersey is one area that is in the midst of its own fight (see The Next Charter Battlefront: Suburbs). Yet, as the charter movement puts up victory after victory in these suburbs, the tide is turning to give families more options.

Charter opponents you have been put on notice.

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