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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.

FROM THE STATES

CALIFORNIA

Whitman Returns to Her Valley Roots

Wall Street Journal, September 29,

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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.

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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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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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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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Losing the race before it's begun

hare_turtleIf the Race to the Top is to have an influence on making sure schools get better, someone has got to figure out how districts can be held accountable directly for their behavior when it comes to reform. Nowhere is this more clear than in South Carolina’s Richland School District – an area where the school board seems to relish opportunities to strike down innovative and independent charter schools.

The Hope Charter Academy saw its charter unanimously rejected by a hostile school board that uses any excuses it can to reject quality school applications.

Founded by a group of long time African-American activists and developed over an 18-month period, the Hope Academy proposal was initially given a temporary green light and thus signed up more than 250 interested parents. However, a hostile school board rejected its pleas despite four hours of convincing public testimony.

While some feel criticism of Race to the Top fever is premature, we use this example (only one of scores across the country) to illustrate why public policy at the federal level takes not just time, but real understanding and action of state influencers, to have any effect. South Carolina districts are the only authorizers that can (if they want to) fully fund charters. The one real alternative created – with support from the local charter association – only provides $3,400 – the state per pupil amount – for each student that enrolls in state charter district authorized schools.

Perhaps racing to the top is, in theory, a good idea. It won’t work, however, unless it transcends state and local politics and business as usual.

Interesting that Hope Academy is pretty darn near the school district the President cited in his (almost) State of the Union

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