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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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Edspresso LIVE! – Education Nation, Day 1

(Ongoing updates throughout the day – as technology allows – after the jump…)

8:25AM-
Good morning! Sorry for the delay…

We’re back. Check out all the live coverage across our sites:
Live blog updated throughout the day
Twitter
Ustream Channel for behind-the-scenes video
Right here on Edspresso

(more…)

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All in the family

duncannea(originally posted on Politico‘s The Arena blog)

Unpopular positions? Tough love? The teachers unions want you to believe they are being punished by the president’s policies. It makes for great copy and provides cover for both the unions and the Education Department as they manipulate Capitol Hill for a second multi-billion dollar bailout. But the truth is, it’s all in the family.

The administration’s education policy, including the “Race to the Top” initiative, has been easy on unions and their members. States have received money for saying they are going to factor performance into evaluations, when in reality to make meaningful performance pay work, you must either require performance to trump local union contract provisions or change the contract itself. Additionally, districts have been paid money for saying they will turn around failing schools. No one in the status quo is hurting or being forced to change very much because of what the president is saying. The talk is good and strengthens reformers’ hands, but the teachers unions won’t feel any discomfort until someone or something cuts into the lock they have on how schools operate and how policy is crafted.

Read the entire post over at The Arena

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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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The Antidote

christie-antidoteGarden State Governor Chris Christie doesn’t mince words, and doesn’t suffer fools. His reaction to a compromised school choice bill, watered down to allow for swift passage in the legislature:

“If you gut the purpose of the program to begin with, what good is it?…

If you compromise yourself away to nothing, then I don’t know what you’ve won…

(Legislators) are irrelevant in this in comparison to the children in 200 plus failing schools in New Jersey who are being stripped of hope…

People wonder why there is violence in our cities. Violence is commited, in the main, at least in my experience, by people without hope.

They wonder why there is drug abuse in our cities. People who turn to drugs are generally people with out hope.

They wonder why families are disintegrating in our cities. Families disintegrate because of the poison of a lack of hope.

And the greatest antidote to a lack of hope is a world class education“.

(Watch his complete response.)

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The hits just keep on coming

dontchangeThe opening of Virginia’s latest charter school (one of only four operating around the state) has been nothing but a roller coaster ride, not to mention a textbook example of the more-often-than-not contentious relationship between school districts and their charter schools when districts hold all the cards under a weak charter law:

Since the start of their dance with Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in the spring of 2008:

Patrick Henry was forced to go through the RPS approval vote process three times

Patrick Henry was initially left out of this year’s RPS budget

Patrick Henry is to be held to higher standards than other RPS schools, but will receive 21 percent less funding

Patrick Henry was “generously” granted leased space from RPS at a cost of $1 per year – facilities which came with a crippling renovation price tag of close to $1 million

Enough already?

Apparently not. Yesterday, a school more than 2 years in the making, one that will offer families a longer school year and a curriculum focus not available in traditional Richmond schools, was faced with the possibility of being on the receiving end of one more hit – the potential refusal by RPS to hire their first principal just as the final preparations for their inaugural school year get under way. (more…)

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The sky is falling

dontchangeIf you’ve picked up a newspaper or turned on the evening news lately, it’s been all doom and gloom for schools, teachers and the future of American education.

First, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) tag teamed behind Education Stimulus 2.0 in a hearing on the ED budget, claiming that another $23 billion is “absolutely necessary” to save up to 300,000 teacher jobs, proving that everyday is Christmas for the unions (I guess last year’s $100 billion just wasn’t enough).

Then the NEA asked us to remember the children.

Tons of federal money + jobs + children + tears + zero historical context = Media Tsunami

Former CER colleague Neal McCluskey, however, actually grabs the data and puts it all into perspective:

For one thing, in 2007-08 public schools employed more than 6.2 million people; even the 300,000 figure is tiny compared to that huge number.

More importantly, preceding our schools’ few recent years of financial woe were decades of decadent plenty. According to inflation-adjusted federal data, in 1970-71 Americans spent $5,593 per public-school student. By 2006-07 we were spending $12,463 – a whopping 123 percent increase that bought lots of teachers, administrators, and other shiny things!

And, he points out, it hasn’t bought the student achievement demanded or intended.

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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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