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A Call to Action for Renewed Focus on REAL Education Reform

by Steven Guttentag, President of Connections Education

On Wednesday June 15th, I attended a lunch at the National Press Club at the invitation of Jeanne Allen, founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, and a long-time, tireless and effective supporter of choice and charters. At this event, Jeanne unveiled The New Opportunity Agenda, a manifesto for renewed energy, strategy and action around education innovation and opportunity.

In a nutshell, Jeanne and the panel argued that the progress made over the last 25 years around creating educational choices for all parents (not just the privileged few who can afford private schools) and the development of new educational models, practices and pedagogy, is starting to wane. In some cases, it seems to be even going backwards. She provided a wake- up call to education reformers and asked all of us, across the ideological spectrum, to find common ground around the “twin values of opportunity and upward mobility.”

As someone who has been on the front lines of education reform my entire career, first as a teacher in the District of Columbia Public Schools, then as an administrator in the School District of Philadelphia and now as a co-founder and president of Connections Education, a company supporting K-12 online and blended learning in schools and school systems across the country for 15 years, this was a message for which I had been waiting. Attempting to innovate within our public education system is a constant battle to fit a square peg into a round hole—to justify, to explain, to try to comply with antiquated rules and regulations.

Joining Jeanne at the front of the room in support of this change agenda was John Engler, Former Governor of Michigan, David Levin, President and CEO of McGraw-Hill Education, and Donald Hense, Chair and

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Online Charter Schools Closing Achievement Gap for Low-Income Students

K12 Inc., America’s leading provider of K-12 online school programs, released a new report showing three of its largest managed online charter schools — Texas Virtual Academy (TXVA), Arizona Virtual Academy (AZVA), and Georgia Cyber Academy (GCA) — are making progress on closing the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged and not disadvantaged students.

The full report can be found here.

“For the 2013-2014 school year, K12 reported that its network of schools enrolled a higher percentage of economically disadvantaged students than the national average,” said Dr. Margaret Jorgensen, K12 Chief Academic Officer. “K12-managed schools are working to close the achievement gap, and in this report we look at three cases where schools are closing the gap between students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch and those not eligible. In other instances, we observed that students who were eligible for either free or reduced price lunch are achieving higher percentages at or above proficiency on state tests, while others who were not eligible for subsidized meals were making even greater gains in proficiency.”

“Our commitment at K12 is to serve all students, regardless of their academic or socioeconomic circumstance,” said Mary Gifford, Senior Vice President of Education and Policy. “We recognize that many of the schools we serve have a higher population who come from low-income households than the national average.  We are pleased that the instructional programs and wrap around family support services we are providing at these schools are demonstrating positive results.”

Texas Virtual Academy: In Reading, comparing TXVA students enrolled 3 years or more to those enrolled less than 1 year, proficiency percentages increased with longer enrollment for Free Lunch Eligible students by 20 percentage points, for Reduce-Price Lunch by 18 percentage points, and for Not Eligible by 15 percentage points. Notable at TXVA is the

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