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Beware the guise of democracy

There is a bill moving through the New Jersey Assembly that is particularly lousy, in part due to its specious language, but mainly because it facilitates the status quo by hampering the incentive for charter schools to do what they do best: innovate.

The piece of legislation (A 3852) seeks to put any and all charter school applications to local referendum, thereby transferring all duties of application evaluation –a process that traditionally requires weeks if not months of thorough scrutiny and targeted inquiry by education professionals– to a swift popular vote. Operating on the pretense of democratic principle, the bill’s sponsors would like for you to believe that the backwards operation of New Jersey’s Office of Charters has all along been the result of too little input from education stakeholders at the local level, e.g. principles, board members, and parents. This argument is populist positioning and little more: a guileful use of the symbolic American prerogative– the ballot box. It acknowledges neither the root of the problem with the state’s current authorizer or the need for a certain level of expertise and objectivity when it comes to deciding which applications do and which do not merit consideration for a charter. Instead, it tosses the application process into the arena of popularity– where a charter is measured not by its expressed, detailed need in the community but by its popularity, or attractiveness to the majority. (more…)

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Georgia charters reap what legislature sowed

Georgia’s high court recently struck down HB 881, a 2008 revision to the state’s charter law which empowered a new commission to approve charters, putting a dozen new schools and thousands of children in jeopardy. Was the court right that this conflicts with the constitution? Well, it does if you consider that the legislature in GA — not wanting to conflict with the state education department — failed to create the truly independent authorizer that would have fallen outside the education powers clause of the constitution. All states have these clauses, and in effect, they regulate the flow of all education affairs that exist through school district boundaries.  The state education department also derives its authority from this clause. However, the legislature has the authority to tax and spend and create institutions outside of the education powers clause that withstand constitutional lines of authority. In effect, legislatures can create authorities to solve just about any state problem. Georgia legislators were poised to do this when they first were introduced to the notion of multiple authorizers by yours truly. But they, along with a bevy of local advocates, decided to placate local school boards (who sued them anyway) and avoid a clash with the state education department and thus failed to make it truly autonomous. That led to all sorts of practical and process difficulties during their first approval process as Commission members clashed with state department of education authorities. But they did approve several schools two years in a row and now those schools inevitably will close.

A pity for the kids and families. And a big lesson to be learned by legislators.

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Taking the "right" out of civil rights

Masquerading as a champion for equity, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA semi-regularly issues forth condemnations and reports outlining how little we’ve achieved as a nation in civil rights. Their glass is always half empty, and their data normally, well, wrong.  When it comes to education, they criticize any programs that give the poor and people of color power, as if only a highly regulated government can really ensure our civil rights are respected.  But more than 30 years of school system failures to do just that still hasn’t convinced them they are wrong. Instead of embracing the kinds of reforms that do indeed restore justice to those lacking, they find ways to use data to say otherwise.

Their most recent report says charter schools in most states are highly segregated and of course, it is suggested, are an affront to civil rights. The “project” neither collects its own data for this, instead relying on federally flawed data, or does it actually look at the communities where charters live for a glimpse of what service these schools are providing. (more…)

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A Call for Education Innovators!

Are you or someone you know 30 or younger and innovative when it comes to education? A new member-based organization, splashlife.com is looking to feature 30 innovative educators under 30, and is anticipating your suggestions.

Given the greater autonomy that comes with school reform models like charters, we have little doubt that young educators are utilizing this freedom to push the envelope in K-12 education.

Of course innovators out there are not usually the types to toot their own horns, but maybe you can do that for them—or, if you’ve got something in the works yourself, this is a solid opportunity to get exposure.

May is the Splashlife’s education-focused month, so help them out— contact Meredith Landry, Splashlife Editor at meredith@splashlife.com to tell them who’s doing something new and innovative, why they’re great, and of course, include contact information.

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Is Vincent Gray a liar, or just not paying attention?

popquizDC’s Mayor Vincent Gray and other school choice opponents took some time out yesterday, a day that saw a renewal of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program thanks to the CR budget compromise in the House and Senate, to decry what they see is that program’s theft of federal funds from the city’s public schools.

What?!

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program provides supplemental funding for scholarships that are made available to the District’s poorest families, offering them a lifeline out of failing neighborhood schools.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The legislation (supplemental, remember, above and beyond typical funding for DCPS) provides $40 million EXTRA dollars a year to traditional DC public schools and charter schools.

So…

POP QUIZ

This means:

A) He is a liar

B) He has never taken the time read the legislation (then or now) and his staff is lying to him

C) The teachers union contributed handsomely to his campaign war chest

D) He will say anything to appease his supporters, even if it means robbing traditional public and charter schools of tens of millions of dollars, and thousands of kids of their educational future

(Answer: Thee of these answers are correct, but it is unclear as to which three.)

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Obama Administration Flips on School Vouchers

WASHINGTON, DC – In a stunning turn of events, the Obama Administration today reversed course on the issue of school choice and vouchers, detailing an ambitious plan to create national school choice options through a competitive grant program for states.

“Unfortunately, I had not actually sat down and read the research on school choice and achievement for myself,” Obama admitted during a press conference this morning. “I trusted the counsel of those who supposedly had. I can admit when I am wrong, and in this case, I see that offering options to parents is not only changing lives, but, on a large scale, can lift our entire school system to new heights. That’s exactly what this White House is all about.”

Joined at the podium by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the President outlined their proposal to launch a competition that, like its predecessor ‘Race to the Top’, asks states to collaborate with stakeholders to win gobs of cash. Only, this time, according to Duncan, “the stakeholders will not be teachers unions and school boards, but parents and students. We screwed up last time and relied on the input of those we thought had the best interests of kids in mind. We wanted urgency. What we got was a pile of promises that have not only been sitting in limbo for over a year, but in some cases abandoned entirely.”

Duncan also revealed that no outside consultancy would be accepted to boost the chances states have to win. “For ‘Race to the Top’, my staff was reading the same application over and over again. Only the state names changed.”

To prove his point, he brought up the winning applications of Maryland and Hawaii. “Honestly, we were just flipping coins at the end,” he said.

Details of the plan are still being put in place, but

Read More …

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Fast Tracking the Status Quo

clock(Originally posted to the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog.)

Perhaps it’s not so unusual that the same person who fought to get a waiver from NCLB’s tutoring requirement is the same person who is pushing a fast track for making the bill’s requirements more flexible. When some of Arne Duncan’s Chicago schools were failing kids, he asked then Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings for a waiver from the requirement that students be permitted to leave and take their tutoring money elsewhere. Arne Duncan thought he could do tutoring better than the private sector, so he sought to deliver tutoring rather than send the money out of house. There’s no data on whether it worked, and some in Chicago say not much changed during that period of time following NCLB, other than a heightened awareness of the problem and a tenacity by Duncan to pursue some modest, external reforms (charters, some contracting). Once a school superintendent, always a school superintendent. And while Duncan is not the issue, his brand of reform puts Superintendents and school boards in the driver’s seat. Problem is, last time they drove that car, it kept getting banged up.

But it was NCLB’s teeth – the threat of loss of money or worse – that got people motivated. The hard, fast consequences of accountability, and the spotlight on data, however challenged by differing vantage points, prevented the country from hiding the shameful state of education in our schools, from the world or ourselves…

Read the entire post HERE.

(*Image courtesy of yellowcloud)

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Borrowed Time

clock(Originally posted to the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog)

The common theme running through many (too many) teacher evaluation proposals is time. We need time to create new evaluations. We need time to observe a teacher (after taking the time to build them up). We need time to create a plan based on our observations. We need to give them time to prove they can get better (or not). We need time to figure out if they should be doing something other than teaching.

The problem with ‘borrowing time’ is that no one wants to quantify what that means – how much we need, how soon, and whether we really even need more to begin with.

Before ‘Race to the Top’, states grappled with the notion of paying teachers based on performance, and some attempted modest measures, but most fell short. ‘Race to the Top’ further encouraged evaluation systems, but guidelines conveyed no urgency and states needed simply to promise changes. Evaluation systems adopted have proved fuzzier than many originally thought. Now with budget struggles in states and more understanding that first-hired/last-fired policies actually harm kids (what a discovery!), state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing hard to put hard, firm measurements with consequences in place…

Read the entire post HERE.

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Legislative Choices

hallwayProviding families with real school choice opportunities is top priority for several state legislatures this year. Here’s where a few of them stand:

Pennsylvania – SB1 (providing opportunity scholarships to kids trapped in the Keystone State’s lowest performing schools) flew out of the PA Senate Education Committee today on a bi-partisan 8-2 vote…

Nevada – Governor Brian Sandoval has unveiled the details of a proposed voucher program for the Silver State that would provide scholarships based on a sliding scale of financial need…

New Jersey – Gov. Chris Christie reinforced his commitment to the proposed New Jersey Opportunity Scholarship Program – now making it’s way through the hallways of Trenton – in his recent state budget announcement, saying it was a critical component to education reform in the Garden State…

Indiana – (Held up due to ongoing support of the Illinois tourism industry courtesy of Hoosier House Democrats)…

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