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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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Lost in space

rocketIn the only public “debate” on the Senate Floor today regarding the highly-successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan demonstrated that he’s worn out his welcome in Washington, DC (at least in the non-Congressional parts of town). By telling families that if they want to send their kids to private schools (and thus, get an education) – they need to pay for it and by, strangely, saying that “if North Dakota were a country”, the state’s science scores would be second in the world—he proved himself equally bizarre and out of touch.

Sen. Dorgan thinks public education is something it’s not. He remembers his own school days and thinks classrooms in DC must be reminiscent of his youth in North Dakota. How wrong he is….

The lesson was right in front of him, but perhaps Sen. Dorgan was chatting in the cloakroom with his anti-voucher buddies when a truly esteemed Senator spoke and eloquently described the true need for DC school vouchers. Perhaps he missed the oversized posters that the venerable Sen. Dianne Feinstein brought with her to the well of the Senate today – posters that depicted parents and kids who can’t, as he posited, just “pay for the tuition” themselves – but whose futures have been saved by the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

Did he miss it? Or does he choose to ignore it?

So while Byron “Lost in Space” Dorgan prattled on with a strange, troubling analogy – which included the argument that the US has talented astronauts, therefore DC kids do not deserve vouchers – the only man in either chamber of Congress who has actually flown in space, real astronaut Bill Nelson (D-FL), voted in favor of the the DCOSP tonight. We suppose he’s much

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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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Winded

thatgirlIn my junior year of high school, I was caught red handed not signed up for a Fall sports team (we were required to participate in one every season). I was guilty, had no defense, was unceremoniously marched over to the cross-country team and “volunteered”. For the record, this was and remains the harshest punishment ever exacted upon my person.

I showed up every day and did only that which was required, nothing more (sometimes less).

When we competed in a race, though I usually came in last, (I thought) I crossed each finish line in style, sprinting with my last reserves of energy. But it was all for show. Those who stuck around to actually see me finish saw only this explosion of effort and quite rightly wondered why I had not doled it out over the entire course.

It was a sad display of ego and false enthusiasm.

And I am reminded almost daily of this as states rush education legislation through their political machines. One by one, Illinois, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Delaware, Tennessee and their neighbors sprint across the finish line just in time for their ‘Race to the Top’ applications to have a little more content to accompany their creative writing.

What if they had been working on these education efforts over time, with focus and determination? What if they had trained a little harder in order to move beyond the superficial? What if they had made changes to their schools just because it was necessary and right, rather than lucrative?

I was never going to be a cross-country runner, and my finish line sprints proved that. Will the same be true of states in the ‘Race to the Top’?

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I'm Not Impressed

disappointedToday’s speech by Randi Weingarten of the AFT exemplifies what’s wrong with teachers unions and their control over America’s education system. Randi made news today by announcing that she’d be willing to incorporate student test data in teacher evaluations-but she also listed a litany of other things (including “portfolios”) that should be included.

I’m not impressed.

I simply don’t see why the concept of putting student learning first is so challenging for Ms. Weingarten. Her attempts to pacify those who want to see bad teachers removed from the classroom and off of the public payroll lack specifics. What will she do to remove the stranglehold that her union has over principals across America when it comes to terminating the employment of people who cannot teach – so that we can rightly elevate and compensate those teachers who can? What I see is an ‘our way or no way’ approach by the AFT that neither benefits children to the fullest nor serves the best interests of her members.

Finally, any speech on “reform” by Ms. Weingarten is specious, given that her union claims to want the “best” schools for children. This can’t be true, or else she and her allies would be fighting for school choice programs, not standing in the schoolhouse doors blocking the exits for low-income children.

Randi Weingarten fails to impress once again.

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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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How dare you?

schoolchoicecapitolDespite the adage that you get more bees with honey, I will not sit idly by and allow Congressman Jose Serrano, Democrat from Bronx, NY, write an opinion for The Washington Post that is layered with obfuscation and misperceptions, without calling him on it.

Serrano is suddenly the focus of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program‘s supporters, forced by the unique circumstances of the federal government’s oversight of the District of Columbia, which he manages as chair of a nebulous Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Serrano is apparently angered that this position begets him calls from all over the nation – from people of all stripes and walks of life, who want children to have what they deserve and rarely get in the District’s traditional public schools – a good education that is also safe, also preparatory for life.

Serrano’s attitude to these calls – and the children affected – can best be considered ignorance. He says that local people should lobby their local leaders, as if their local leaders have the authority to spend federal money. By doing so, he also ignores that local people HAVE lobbied local leaders – tens of thousands of them – and those local leaders have endorsed the program and written Congress about that endorsement. The Mayor, the Chancellor of the city’s schools, a majority of the City Council, the former Mayor, the former City Council Education Chair, the Mayor’s staff. These are not Republicans, as Serrano wants us all to believe. These are Democrats, and predominantly people of color, who understand and care deeply about the people of this city, and who are happy to draw help from anyone who can or would want to help them, regardless of

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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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