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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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Setting the record straight in PA

The Scranton Times felt the wrath (ok, it was a measured response) of Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R-PA) over a piece they published last week on the school choice legislation the senator and others pushed for this past session.

Sen. Piccola’s letter wanted to make clear that the voucher portion of the legislation always focused “on rescuing needy students and their families from the failure of the current system and providing them with the choice for a better education…” Not ALL commonwealth students like the editorial pointed out. Additionally, Sen. Piccola address the fact that countless public hearings and committee discussions were devoted to the evaluation process of the bill.

Pennsylvania proved to be a tough school choice nut to crack this session. But in his letter, Sen. Piccola re-ups his commitment to school choice and declares that Gov. Tom Corbett and House leaders are onboard.

Let’s hope that we’ll finally see the cooperation necessary to expand PA choice this fall.

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The Next Charter Battlefront: Suburbs

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an article about the growing fight over charter schools in suburban districts. The story focuses on Milburn, New Jersey where the median family household income is $159,000 (yeah, that’s not a typo).

Charter opponents provide the typical anti-charter school rhetoric – drains money, the local schools are excellent, test scores are high, etc. But they don’t acknowledge that even at the best schools there are students who still struggle. Just because the district is rich, the notion that one size doesn’t fit all isn’t negated.

Additionally, the district superintendent perpetuates the attitude of many other public administrators who believe that education dollars are theirs and not the people at large. He claims that the district is already losing money – never mind that Millburn has the highest property tax in New Jersey with an annual average of $19,000. It should also be noted that many states provide impact aid for districts where there are charters, which translates to charter schools getting less per-pupil funding than the student’s previous district.

This debate is just warming up. We’re going to see more and more of these types of articles because even in good districts not every need is met. Regardless of whether you’re rich or poor, some kids still struggle with school.

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Wait! So competition works?

Indianapolis Public Schools launched a campaign this month going door to door to try and bring back nearly 5,000 dropouts ranging from ages 7 to 23. It’s a positive effort that’s for sure – especially in a district that has a dropout rate of 24.6 percent.

But don’t get too high on that horse just yet.

Why after decades of letting these kids slip through the crack is IPS making an effort to re-engage them? It’s a pretty simple answer – competition.

IPS enrollment has declined by about 8 percent since 2006. Many of these students, at least those that haven’t dropped out, have moved to surrounding township schools where test scores are better or to the various city charter schools. What makes it even more pressing for IPS is that the state just approved a school voucher program for low-income students.

Competition is spurring action. The status quo is being jettisoned in the process and thousands of students lost over the years are getting a second chance.

IPS may be more concerned with incomes than outcomes, but at least the kids are the beneficiaries.

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Exposure, ad infinitum

Ayn Marie Samuelson and Beatrice Davis Fowler come out swinging with their book Exposing the Public Education System, bringing to bear a glut of anecdotal and statistical evidence upon the issue of why so much money is spent on the United State’s public education with such mediocre to poor results. The root problem, they urge, is that the school system has gotten away from us – the parents and community members – and has become a monolithic barrier to successful education of our young. Right they are!

Throughout the book, the authors argue that our public school system is beholden to the vices of bureaucracy, in all the worst sorts of ways: corruption, special interests, non-transparency and perpetuation of the status quo. You name it, they’ve flagged it and provided more than three examples for each. (more…)

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NEA's Late to the Evaluation Party

Have you ever been late to your own party and then botched it on the food, drinks and decorations?

This weekend the National Education Association voted to allow student performance to be included in teacher evaluations. Yay, it’s about time! I never thought that would happen. It’s good to finally seeing the NEA take some…

Wait. What’s that you say New York Times?

“The union also made clear that it continued to oppose the use of existing standardized test scores to judge teachers, a core part of the federally backed teacher evaluation overhauls already under way in at least 15 states.”

So, not only have scores of states – without NEA guidance – already taken the initiative to use student performance in evaluating teachers, but they also think the evaluations should be done without any form of standardized testing.

Apparently, the union doesn’t feel that any of the existing tests millions of students take each year are up to the level of quality and validity necessary to gauge performance.

When was the last time in any other industry that performance wasn’t part of an evaluation?

Those Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard, and Total Quality Management folks must have had it all wrong.

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Congressional report raises concerns over Duncan waivers

Hmm. Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that I have heard this before? Oh, I know. We wrote about it back on June 14 (Creative Non-Compliance).

The issue at hand is Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s disregard for federal law and his willingness to circumvent NCLB to grant conditional waivers to states and schools making it easier to avoid the “failing school” moniker.

Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) deserve credit for pushing the issue with the Secretary. On June 23, they sent a letter to Duncan about his proposal and as of the July 1 deadline had yet to receive a response.

In the meantime, the Congressional Research Service produced its own report. Kline put out a release encapsulating the findings:

The CRS analysis confirms the Secretary’s authority to waive statutory requirements under ESEA; however, the report warns of potential legal limits and challenges to the Secretary’s proposal to grant conditional waivers…The CRS report underscores the urgent need for the Secretary to fully explain his conditional waiver proposal and offer the legal justification for his plan.

Secretary Duncan, we know you are a busy guy, but don’t you think you owe it to not only the committee, but also American families, to explain your position? Or perhaps you’re just waiting for a waiver.

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President Clinton and Charter Schools: A History Lesson

History is an important aspect of life to understand. Knowing what transpired and why, who was involved and why they did what they did, drives us to emulate that which is good, and, hopefully, learn from mistakes. That’s why I ask my colleagues to appreciate, as well as tolerate, my concern over a public tribute to former President Bill Clinton, who today received the first-ever lifetime achievement award from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

Look, it’s great that a prominent, centrist Democrat supports charters and that he knew as president that it was important to endorse the concept. But, it doesn’t change the fact that two states had already enacted charter school legislation before he even stepped into the Oval Office. In 1991, Minnesota’s Gov. Arne Carlson became the first to sign charters into law and then in 1992 California Gov. Pete Wilson followed suit. (more…)

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Putting the Ill in Illinois

Illinois’ education blob is giving themselves a pat on the back. Their “collaboration” helped pass a bill, almost unanimously, that institutes some form of teacher evaluations based on “multiple measures” yet to be defined, and changes tenure rules, slightly. There are longer school days, strike rules requiring 75 percent of teachers to agree, but not much more. There’s not much here that helps students immediately, or parents, but makes it look like it does. Indeed, the back patting seems to be more about how it was done, not what was done.

Says the press propaganda:

“Unlike our neighbors in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states, stakeholders here worked together to craft an aggressive bill that makes our state the leader in education reform. At a time when many teachers understandably feel under attack, this bill celebrates effective teachers, recognizes their accomplishments and helps keep them in classrooms.”

We’re so glad that no one had to flee a state to keep from voting on major changes to education. Maybe that’s because there was nothing really to flee about, no controversy, no major changes. Time will tell, but a rose by any other name is not a rose. And this bill is not reform.

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Creative Non-Compliance

I usually like this term. It means we might as well bend some rules, if the need justifies it, and normally, this term is associated with good deeds. But, Secretary Arne Duncan’s attempt to start creatively non-complying with NCLB may not be about good deeds, as much as he suggests it is. Throughout the weekend, news reports screamed that Duncan will be granting waivers to a law carefully and painfully put in place to guard against the kind of data abuses and lack of transparency that plagued the nation prior to NCLB’s enactment.

Sure, NCLB is not perfect, and Congress and the past president made lots of mistakes. But the fact is that without NCLB, we simply don’t have a clue how schools or students are performing. We can argue some bars are lower and some higher, that some schools that get labeled do so unfairly. For the most part, however, it works. It shines sun on the dirty little secret of even the best schools that neglect their neediest students. And it captured our attention and put the establishment on the defensive. Most important, it gave parents a tool to use as a lever for change. (more…)

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