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Newswire: January 8, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 1

Happy New Year! The first half of the first month of 2013 is not even finished and already the momentum — and opposition — around education reform is building. To wit:

STATE POLICY MATTERS. Kudos to StudentsFirst for their new report card, which offers some different perspective on the issues facing policymakers and parents. If Ed Reform is a College Student, this is akin to yet another professor weighing in on his competency in particular areas. But it’s the cumulative GPA that really matters in the end. CER comments today.

UNION POWER?? It’s like Randi Weingarten was suddenly Captain Renault in Casablanca: “I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here!” Her line to Mayor Bloomberg’s characterization of the union being as powerful as the NRA might as well have been: “I’m shocked, shocked that anyone thinks we have as much power as the NRA!” The union was offended and tied the remark to the recent tragedies in Newton. For shame! Whether one likes it or not, the NRA is a powerful political lobby for a cause and members, and that’s what “Hizoner” was saying when the union decided to once again stand in the way of a new teacher evaluation law from being implemented. That law got the union and the Governor of NY and Bloomberg great press TWO YEARS AGO and is STILL NOT IMPLEMENTED, and is one of those laws that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attributes to Race to the Top pressure. Ah, but as we predicted, there is more to getting policy changed than getting a law passed, and like so many places, the initial oohhs and aahhs that surround the union becoming progressive turns out to be all about the talk,

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Districts Wonder if Race to Top is Worth Cost

by Pauline Liu
Times Herald-Record
November 12, 2012

The federal Race to the Top competition is making school districts dole out far more money than they’re receiving from the program, according to school officials and experts.

For some districts, it’s wreaking havoc.

“Race to the Top has turned the district upside down,” said Monticello School Superintendent Daniel Teplesky. “The teachers are anxious.”

It seems that the program has teachers in Newburgh so anxious that some aired their grievances at a Board of Education meeting recently. “Teachers are depressed, demoralized, and that serves no one, especially not our students,” said teachers association president Art Plichta to the school board.

As for Newburgh Schools Superintendent Ralph Pizzo, he’s blaming mandates, though not specifically RTTT, for soaring costs that have put the district “roughly $10 million above the tax cap.”

In an open letter that he posted online a couple of weeks ago, he expressed concerns about cutting programs and closing a school. He did not return calls for comment.

There are a lot of changes, including a new teacher- and principal-evaluation system, a new curriculum that’s aligned with new learning standards as well as more tests for students and more training for teachers.

The costs of implementing RTTT have been outlined in a new report by Ken Mitchell, a schools superintendent in Rockland County.

He looks at districts in the Lower Hudson and offers hard numbers illustrating the huge disparity been what they actually receive from the program and what they must spend in order to participate in it.

The study was done for SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach and has been posted on its website.

“This is what happens when you have folks running federal and state educational systems, when they have never really been around the systems they are purporting to run,” said Middletown School Superintendent

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Unions Refusing Race to the Top

Local teacher unions are refusing to sign on with district Race to the Top plans. The reason? Teacher evaluations. Failure to get unions to sign on to reform plans means the Los Angeles Unified School District in California and the Clark County School District in Nevada both will be ineligible to win $40 million in federal funding.

The irony here is that unions are typically the ones pushing for more money and funding, but if they can’t have a say in where it goes, or if it puts their members in jeopardy of losing their job, then all of a sudden they aren’t screaming for more funding for education.

Whether or not these districts’ plans were truly reform-minded or not is another issue, and union refusal to sign on doesn’t necessarily indicate these plans were heavy on reform since in both districts unions were already experiencing disagreements pre-Race to the Top proposals.

The bigger point, however, is what we can learn from the first Race to the Top competitions. It isn’t federal grants that will bring about reform, but on-the-ground work from parents, advocates, and legislative leaders that can bring about real change.

Daily Headlines for August 14, 2012

Teachers Who Excel: A Lesson From Miss Smoot
Christian Science Monitor Blog, MA, August 13, 2012

Nothing is more important in K-12 education than the quality of a teacher. But how do we make great teachers? We could start with someone like Jane Smoot.



Only 3 Juneau Schools Meet AYP Standards
Juneau Empire, AK, August 14, 2012

Auke Bay Elementary School , Juneau Community Charter School and Johnson Youth Center were the only three schools among 14 in Juneau to meet AYP in all categories during the 2011-12 school district, according to data released Monday by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.


Charter Schools Benefit Communities
Santa Maria Times, CA, August 14, 2012

It’s no surprise many charter schools are popping up across the nation. One is planned in San Miguel in SLO County , and Orcutt Academy opened a couple years ago. There are also several smaller, home-study based charter schools in the Santa Maria Valley .


Thompson School District Staff Trains On New Evaluation System
Loveland Reporter Herald, CO, August 13, 2012

Nearly 200 Thompson School District employees — teachers, administrators and support staff — came together Monday to prepare for the first full school year of the Colorado Integration Project.

Global Village Academy Charter Proposed For D-11
Colorado Springs Gazette, CO, August 13, 2012

A group of community leaders is seeking to open a charter school in Colorado Springs School District 11 that blends language immersion and military traditions.

Cañon City School District Online Academy To Host Open House To Promote
Cañon City Daily Record, CO, August 13, 2012

The beginning of the 2012-13 school year also marks the start of the second year of the Cañon Online Academy.


36 Apply For Charter Schools In Palm Beach County, As Popularity Grows
Palm Beach Post,

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Race to the Top Winners Hitting Roadblocks

“Reform that is bought can easily be voted away once the federal coffers run dry.” – Jeanne Allen, CER, July 24, 2009

The Race to the Top program that awarded money in exchange for promises has hit expected roadblocks – impediments that are natural to a system that is disincentivized on a regular basis to restructure and improve operations.

As we pointed out at the beginning of the competition, states overpromised in their applications what they could get done to improve education. States wrote what reviewers wanted to see in order to win a grant, and now are faced with the real challenge of actually implementing these promises. New York won in the 2nd round, but we cautioned in the 1st round that “with constant opposition by teachers unions in New York, good luck getting any districts to support these education reforms, much less agree to implement them.” Today, the hostility between NYC education officials and the UFT is palpable and ten districts haven’t received any federal funds because they can’t reach an agreement regarding new teacher evaluations. The Empire state is but one example of good intentions gone awry. And while Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has made noises about pulling back funds, he simultaneously says that they are confident with more time states will get it right. NCLB might be everyone’s favorite whipping boy lately, but the consequence for not complying was real and resulted in money loss and more.

We hate to say we told you so, but without strong on-the-ground work of parents, advocates, and legislative leaders in each state who see that special interests have blocked educational opportunities and work to change that, these federal grants won’t bring about reform, just frustration.

Daily Headlines for September 29, 2011

Fighting the Feds: 2012 Candidates Want States to Control Education
ABC News, September 29, 2011
So when it comes to education policy debates, whether it’s the Democratic incumbent or the array of Republican challengers, all eyes – and talking points – are on two things: the federal government’s role and the overall cost.

Obama Tells Students: Discover New Passions
Washington Post, DC, September 28, 2011
For an incumbent president facing a tough reelection campaign, no public appearance is completely free of political content. But President Obama’s annual back-to-school speech to the nation’s students, delivered Wednesday at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Northwest Washington , was about as close as it gets.

No Child Waivers Make Sense For Now
Philadelphia Inquirer, PA, September 29, 2011
Members of Congress railing against the Obama administration’s decision to grant waivers from the sweeping No Child Left Behind education law have little ground to stand on.

Coming Together to Dismantle Education Reform
TIME, September 29, 2011
A new consensus is emerging in education politics. But can the center hold? And would reformers even want it to? Bipartisanship is supposed to be a good thing — except for when Republicans and Democrats come together to try to paper over our education problems.

Teachers Union Launches Ad Campaign Supporting Obama Jobs Bill
The Hill, DC, September 28, 2011
The National Education Association (NEA) launched a multistate television ad campaign Wednesday in support of President Obama’s American Jobs Act.

Romney’s Race From the Top
American Spectator, September 29, 2011
The GOP field would rather ignore education altogether, even to the point of dismissing sensible, conservative ideas that could get better bang for taxpayers’ buck. This was particularly clear when Texas Gov. Rick Perry took aim at Romney for praising President Barack Obama’s school reform agenda.



Whitman Returns to Her Valley Roots

Wall Street Journal, September 29,

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New Jersey Spotlight: New Jersey Can No Longer Afford to Have A Weak Charter School Law

By Carlos Perez
September 20, 2011
The New Jersey Spotlight

New Jersey has a dismal record when it comes to getting extra education money from Washington.

Most people remember the state’s lost bid for up to $400 million in “Race to the Top” funds last year. But that’s not the only rejection notice the Department of Education has received from Washington.

Over the summer, New Jersey lost its bid for $15 million for charter school startups. That’s not an insignificant amount to schools struggling to cobble together enough funding to open their classroom doors.

What makes this rejection even worse is that it marks the third consecutive year the federal education purse-string holders have said no to New Jersey’s charter schools.

So why did the state lose out? This one wasn’t because of an application error. It was more fundamental. The federal review panel found that the New Jersey charter law was wanting. The members said the law wasn’t what it should be when it comes to the number of institutions empowered to authorize and monitor charters. That was the most often cited shortcoming, but there were others.

Spotty oversight of the school performance and inequitable funding were two.

The Obama administration isn’t the only one to cite inadequacies of the New Jersey law. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranks New Jersey 26 out of 41 when it comes to measuring up to a model law.

Now is the time for New Jersey to act, especially since the $250 million federal program that provides startup funding for charter schools is about to be changed. Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed with bipartisan support a bill that calls for improving collaboration between traditional and charter public schools, improves facilities funding programs and urges states to work with charters in serving all students.

None of these policy

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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

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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.


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?


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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