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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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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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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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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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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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Battle Hymn of the Reformers (No Excuses!)

noexcusesA challenge to the NAACP, African-American parents and all Americans…

To rousing applause, the president gave what was perhaps his best education speech to date last night, making it clear that “government programs alone…” won’t solve our problems, instead asking this community in particular to adopt  “a new mind set”, one that doesn’t tolerate failure.

“No excuses,” the president demanded to this audience. “No excuses.”

He has our thanks and our blessing for adopting the Reform Battle Cry.

“No Excuses” he said to the organization that, despite it’s name, has in reality done little in the last 20 years to support the kinds of real reforms that can indeed create a no excuses culture for poor children, children of color, all children in need.

And so the president’s impassioned and bold speech is particularly music to the ears of reformers of all stripes.

“I hope you don’t mind. I want to go on a little detour here about education (to rousing applause). In the 21st century when so many jobs will require a bachelors degree or more… a world class education is a prerequisite for success. You know what I’m taking about. There’s a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools.

“There is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God given potential.

“Yet more than half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, the dream of a world class education is still being deferred…” (i.e. Achievement gap, dropouts, corridors of shame…)

“The state of our schools… is an American problem. Because if black and brown children cannot compete, America cannot compete.

“And let me say this, if Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg and Newt Gingrich can agree we have to

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Morning news isn't just White House dogs and pirates

morningjoeTwo interesting education conversations on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning:

1) Walter Isaacson speaks some truth about NCLB, charter schools, mayoral control and teachers unions, but his argument that deep down Duncan supports the D.C. voucher program coupled with a sunny outlook on the affect $timulus money will have in the classroom raised this viewer’s eyebrows.

2) D.C.’s Mayor Adrian Fenty lays it out for Joe and states unequivocally that real change will come to public schools when principals are given control of a hiring/firing process based on merit. Be sure to watch the Mayor dance around Pat Buchanan’s assertion that what he is endorsing is union busting.

The best note of the morning, however, was hit by Joe when he shook his head in an attempt to understand the BLOB and their efforts to thwart true reform, saying: “It’s like these people are like holdouts, like those Japanese soldiers that kept fighting for 20 years on remote islands. They didn’t realize the world had changed.”

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Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

wizardofozI have many colleagues who insist that deep down, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a real education reformer, and is a reflection of an administration that is reform-minded on critical education issues.  Because he hired this or that person, because he talks about charter schools, and because he told the press he thought that children currently in the DC scholarship program should be allowed to finish even if it is discontinued.  There are some who believe he’s “one of us.”

The Denver Post today, like Toto in The Wizard of Oz, pulls back the curtain on the image of Duncan as reformer to reveal some hard truths behind the talking points.  Like many of us, they wanted to know why a Congressionally mandated report on the DC voucher program – providing evidence of success – was released on a Friday, after Congress recessed, and as millions of Americans were leaving for their spring breaks.  Duncan denied knowing about the findings, though senior department officials have had a chance to review them since November.  Even if they deliberately kept it from the Secretary, it still begs the question as to why, knowing the Congress was moving to kill it, did he not ask where the study results were?  As the Denver Post columnist argues, Duncan discards the program as being too small to care about.  He dances around his opposition by advocating that kids already in the program continue — without demanding legislation that would allow that to happen, by the way.  Thus my colleagues’ “hopes” that he’ll come around, that reason will prevail.  They are so blinded by their dreams for this Administration that they find it impossible to believe its people could oppose something so good.

But

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