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School Choice, US, Vouchers

The Friedman Foundation – for Educational Choice



Much current discussion of educational vouchers takes it for granted that their primary aim is to improve education for low-income students in urban areas. That would indeed be one of the effects of the full-fledged adoption of vouchers, and it is certainly a worthy objective, but it is very far from the major objective, at least to this supporter of vouchers.

I have nothing but good things to say about voucher programs…that are limited to a small  number of low-income participants. They greatly benefit the limited number of students who receive vouchers, enable fuller use to be made of existing excellent private schools, and provide a useful stimulus to government schools. They also demonstrate the inefficiency of government schools by providing a superior education at less than half the per-pupil cost.

But such programs are on too small a scale, and impose too many limits, to encourage the entry of innovative schools or modes of teaching. The major objective of educational vouchers is much more ambitious. It is to drag education out of the 19th century—where it has been mired for far too long—and into the 21st century, by introducing competition on a broad scale. Free market competition can do for education what it has done already for other areas, such as agriculture, transportation, power, communication and, most recently, computers and the Internet. Only a truly competitive educational industry can empower the ultimate consumers of educational services—parents and their children.

– Milton Friedman

To read more: http://www.edchoice.org/School-Choice/The-ABCs-of-School-Choice/ABCs-Blue/2014-The-ABCs-of-School-Choice-Blue

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Education to be in focus at Barack Obama’s State of the Union address

Quality, US

Economic Times


President Barack Obama will deliver his State of the Union address January 28, but, for my money, his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, already gave it. Just not enough people heard it.

So instead of Obama fishing around for contrived ideas to put in his speech – the usual laundry list that wins applause but no action – the president should steal Duncan’s speech and claim it as his own (I won’t tell) because it was not a laundry list and wasn’t a feel-good speech. In fact, it was a feel-bad speech, asking one big question. Are we falling behind as a country in education not just because we fail to recruit the smartest college students to become teachers or reform-resistant teachers’ unions, but because of our culture today: Too many parents and too many kids just don’t take education seriously enough and don’t want to put in the work needed today to really excel?

Is this the key cause of income inequality and persistent poverty? No. But it is surely part of their solutions, and it is a subject that Obama has not used his bully pulpit to address in any sustained way. Nothing could spark a national discussion of this more than a State of the Union address.

I’ll get to Duncan’s speech in a moment, but, if you think he’s exaggerating, listen to some teachers. Here are the guts of a letter published recently by The Washington Post from a veteran seventh-grade language arts teacher in Frederick, Md., who explained why she no longer wants to teach. (She asked to remain anonymous.)

After complaining about the “superficial curriculum that encouraged mindless conformity,” she wrote: “I decided that if I was going to teach this nonsense, I was at least going to teach it well. I set my expectations high, I kept my classroom structured, I tutored students, I provided extra practice and I tried to make class fun. … I quickly rose through the ranks of ‘favorite teacher,’ kept open communication channels with parents and had many students with solid A’s. It was about this time that I was called down to the principal’s office. … She handed me a list of about 10 students, all of whom had D’s or F’s. At the time, I only had about 120 students, so I was relatively on par with a standard bell curve. As she brought up each one, I walked her through my grade sheets that showed not low scores but a failure to turn in work – a  lack of responsibility. I showed her my tutoring logs, my letters to parents, only to be interrogated further.

“Eventually, the meeting came down to two quotes that I will forever remember as the defining slogans for public education: ‘They are not allowed to fail.’ ‘If they have D’s or F’s, there is something that you are not doing for them.’ What am I not doing for them? I suppose I was not giving them the answers. I was not physically picking up their hands to write for them. I was not following them home each night to make sure they did their work on time. I was not excusing their lack of discipline. .. Teachers are held to impossible standards, and students are accountable for hardly any part of their own education and are incapable of failing.”

I got an almost identical letter last month from a high school teacher in Oregon: “Until about 1992, I would have at least one kid in every class who simply wouldn’t do anything. A bad class might have two. Today I have 10 to 15. I recently looked back at my old exams from the ’80s. These were tough, comprehensive ones without the benefit of notes. Few would pass them today. We are dumbing down our classes. It is an inexorable downward progression in which one day all a kid will need to pass is to have a blood pressure. The kids today are not different in ‘nature.’ … The difference is that back then, although they didn’t want to, they would do the work. Today, they won’t. … This is a real conversation I had with a failing student who was being quite sincere in her comments: ‘I know you’re a really good teacher, but you don’t seem to realize I have two hours a night of Facebook and over 4,000 text messages a month to deal with. How do you expect me to do all this work?’ When I collect homework at the beginning of class, it is standard out of a class of 35, to receive only 8 to 10 assignments. If I didn’t give half-credit for late work, I think most would fail.”

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US Says ‘India’ is the most Important Partner in Asia for Higher Edu’n

Global news, US
Monday, May 13, 2013
One India Education
US describes ‘INDIA’ as its most important partner in Asia based on the growing convergence in interests and outlook has brought about unprecedented cooperation on issues ranging from regional and global security to counter-terrorism.”President Obama has called partnership with India a ‘defining partnership for the 21st century,'” recalled Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake during a talk at Boston University’s India Symposium in Boston, Massachusetts, Friday.”And as we go about the much-talked about ‘Asia rebalance,’ there’s no more important partner for the United States in the region than India,” he said.”The growing convergence of our interests and outlook has brought about unprecedented cooperation on regional and global security, economics and trade, education, science and technology, clean energy, health, and counter-terrorism,” Blake added.According to the sources, India’s Minister for Human Resources Development Pallam Raju will visit Washington next week to lay the groundwork for the Higher Education Dialogue to be held with the US-India Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi next month.”We will work together to help India achieve its ambitious goal to establish 200 community colleges; build the next cadre of America’s India experts, and increase access to higher education through innovative use of technology,” Blake said.”The commitment by both governments to emphasize higher education collaboration underscores our shared belief that education is the lynchpin of the entrepreneurship and innovation that will drive our knowledge economies and growth and help us meet new challenges.”While the US has long been a favoured destination for Indian students with over 100,000 new Indian students coming to the US every year, India ranks only eleventh among the destinations for American students studying abroad, he noted.”I want many more Americans to experience the richness of India’s culture, the vibrancy of its young people, and the dynamism of its economy.” ” I am very excited that discussions like ours are taking place at so many levels because both our countries can contribute to one another, and frankly, can learn from each other.” Blake said.
Read more at: http://education.oneindia.in/news/2013/05/13/us-says-india-is-the-most-important-partner-higher-edu-004955.html

More than 242,000 Students Eligible To Participate in Pennsylvania’s New Scholarship Tax Credit Program

Global news, US

HARRISBURG, Pa., July 30, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — New program, which became law last month, expands educational opportunities for state’s most disadvantaged students

More than 242,000 Pennsylvania students living in the attendance boundary of 414 of the state’s worst-performing schools could be eligible to receive a scholarship to attend the private school of their parents’ choice, thanks to a new private school choice program created last month.
A total of 414 schools in 74 school districts are eligible to participate in the Educational Opportunity Scholarship Act, a new scholarship tax credit program signed into law last month to complement the existing–and now expanded–Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. The new program allows children from low- and middle-income families who live in the attendance area of the lowest-performing 15 percent of Pennsylvania schools to receive a scholarship to attend a participating private school.

Pennsylvania’s lowest-performing schools are located in 38 different counties across the state, according to the state Department of Education. Up to $50 million can be donated for scholarships beginning in the fall.

“These newly-released numbers showing just how many students are trapped in failing schools are a clear indication that more educational options are needed in Pennsylvania,” said Kevin P. Chavous, a senior advisor to the American Federation for Children. “We’re pleased that the Educational Opportunity Scholarship Act will be joining the state’s existing school choice options in the school year ahead.”
The new cap for the expanded EITC program, which currently serves more than 40,000 students from low- and middle-income families, will go from $75 million to $100 million beginning in the 2012-13 school year.

The expansion of the EITC program and enactment of the Educational Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit is just the latest in a string of victories for disadvantaged children across the nation. Already in 2012, new programs have been enacted in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Mississippi. Five states–Louisiana, Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania– have seen significant expansions this year in private school choice options.

There are 32 publicly-funded private school choice programs across the country in 16 states and the District of Columbia. More than 210,000 children received scholarships through school choice programs during in the 2011-12 school year, a number that is expected to rise dramatically in the 2012-13 school year.

The Wall Street Journal, 01 August 2012


Evidence from America and Britain shows that independence for schools works

Global news, UK, US

FOR decades too many educationalists have succumbed to the tyranny of low expectations, at least when it comes to those at the bottom of the heap. The assumption has been that the poor, often black, children living in some of the world’s biggest and richest cities such as New York, Los Angeles and London face too many challenges to learn. There was little hope that school could make any difference to their future unless the problem of poverty could first be “solved”, which it couldn’t.

Such attitudes consigned whole generations to the scrapheap. But 20 years ago, in St Paul, Minnesota, the first of America’s charter schools started a revolution. There are now 5,600 of them. They are publicly funded, but largely independent of the local educational bureaucracies and the teachers’ unions that live in unhealthy symbiosis with them.

Charter schools are controversial, for three reasons. They represent an “experiment” or “privatisation”. They largely bypass the unions. And their results are mixed. In some states—Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana and Missouri—the results of charter pupils in maths and English are significantly better than those of pupils in traditional public schools. In others—Arizona and Ohio—they have done badly.

Yet the virtue of experiments is that you can learn from them; and it is now becoming clear how and where charter schools work best. Poor pupils, those in urban environments and English-language learners fare better in charters (see article). In states that monitor them carefully and close down failing schools quickly, they work best. And one great advantage is that partly because most are free of union control, they can be closed down more easily if they are failing.

This revolution is now spreading round the world. In Britain academies, also free from local-authority control, were pioneered by the last Labour government. At first they were restricted to inner-city areas where existing schools had failed. But the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has turbocharged their growth, and has launched “free schools”, modelled on a successful Swedish experiment, which have even more independence. By the end of this year half of all British schools will be academies or free schools. Free schools are too new for their performance to be judged; in academies, though, results for GCSEs (the exams pupils take at 15 or 16) are improving twice as fast as those in the state sector as a whole.

It is pretty clear now that giving schools independence—so long as it is done in the right way, with the right monitoring, regulation and safeguards from the state—works. Yet it remains politically difficult to implement. That is why it needs a strong push from national governments. Britain is giving school independence the shove it needs. In America, artificial limits on the number of charter schools must be ended, and they must get the same levels of funding as other schools.

The least we can do

In rich countries, this generation of adults is not doing well by its children. They will have to pay off huge public-
sector debts. They will be expected to foot colossal bills for their parents’ pension and health costs. They will compete for jobs with people from emerging countries, many of whom have better education systems despite their lower incomes. The least this generation can do for its children is to try its best to improve its state schools. Giving them more independence can do that at no extra cost. Let there be more of it.

The Economist, 07 July 2012


Charter schools raise educational standards for vulnerable children

Charter Schools, Global news, US

CHICAGO: “EVERYONE’S pencil should be on the apple in the tally-mark chart!” shouts a teacher to a class of pupils at Harvest Preparatory School in Minneapolis. Papers and feet are shuffled; a test is coming. Each class is examined every six or seven weeks. The teachers are monitored too. As a result, Harvest Prep outperformed every city school district in Minnesota in maths last year. It is also a “charter” school; and all the children are black.

Twenty years ago Minnesota became the first American state to pass charter-school laws. (Charter schools are publicly funded but independently managed.) The idea was born of frustration with traditional publicly funded schools and the persistent achievement gap between poor minority pupils and those from middle-income homes. Charters enroll more poor, black and Latino pupils, and more pupils who at first do less well at standardised tests, than their traditional counterparts.

Today there are 5,600 charter schools, and they serve more than 2m pupils in 41 of America’s 50 states. This number has grown annually by 7.5% since 2006 (see chart), but is still tiny: charters enroll less than 4% of the country’s public-school students. Some places have taken to charter schools particularly enthusiastically: in Washington, DC, 44% of public-school students attend a charter school.

That figure is dwarfed by New Orleans. There two-thirds of students are in charters, thanks to an overhaul of the city’s disastrous schools after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Today half of charter schools in the city are improving reading or maths at a significantly faster rate than competing public schools; and across the state as a whole charters are performing better.

Parents like charter schools, and waiting-lists for them are growing faster than new places. Nina Rees, the new head of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, says more than 600,000 children are on waiting lists. Oversubscribed schools choose pupils by lottery, something poignantly illustrated in the documentary film “Waiting for Superman”.

Although charter schools have won support from across the political spectrum, they have always attracted controversy. Much of the unease has been stirred up by teachers’ unions; charter schools do not usually employ unionised teachers. As recounted in a new book, “Zero Chance of Passage”, by Ember Reichgott Junge, a former Minnesota legislator who wrote the original charter legislation, unions have from the outset pushed the misleading idea that charters drain resources from traditional schools. They also maintain that politicians who support them are against public education.

That is not true.

Critics of charter schools derive more ammunition from the fact that their performance varies widely. For example, earlier this year the University of Minnesota found that charters in the twin cities of Minneapolis-St Paul lagged behind public elementary schools, ranking 7.5% lower for maths and 4.4% lower for reading.

Hundreds of other studies have been done on charters; but most are of dubious quality. One recent analysis had to discard 75% of its research because it had failed to account for differences between the backgrounds and academic histories of pupils attending the schools. Much political capital has been made of a 2009 study of 16 states that found that only 17% of charter schools were better than public schools, 37% were worse and the rest were about the same. The work was done by the Centre for Research on Education Outcomes (Credo) at Stanford University.

The Credo study has been criticised for not comparing the results of children who have won charter-school lotteries with those who have not—a natural experiment in which the only difference between winners and losers should be the schooling they receive. Such studies suggest that charters are better. For example, a lottery study in New York City found that by eighth grade (around 13), charter-school pupils were 30 points ahead in maths.

However, recent work by Mathematica, an independent policy group, suggests that the Credo study is sound. The bigger problem is that its findings have been misinterpreted. First, the children who most need charters have been served well. Credo finds that students in poverty and English language learners fare better in charters. And a national “meta-analysis” of research, done last year for the Centre on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle, found charters were better at teaching elementary-school reading and mathematics, and middle-school mathematics. High-school charters, though, fared worse. Another recent study in Massachusetts for the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that urban charter schools are shown to be effective for minorities, poor students and low achievers.

Second, charter school performance is not so “mixed” if you look at the data on a state-by-state basis, rather than across the country as a whole. States with reading and maths gains that were significantly higher for charter-school students than in traditional schools included Arkansas, Colorado (Denver), Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana and Missouri.
Credo thinks that the variation in quality can be traced to the governing legislation behind the schools. Margaret Raymond, director of Credo, points to Arizona’s terrible results in 2009, which were the result of lax screening of those who were allowed to set up charter schools, and no serious reviews thereafter. Ohio, where most charters are worse than the traditional schools, gained a reputation as the “Wild West” of charter schools because it exercised almost no oversight.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, has had excellent results and is strict about the schools it allows to operate; the state will step in and close an underperforming school at short notice. Caps on the number of charters in a state drag down performance as much as lax oversight, because they cramp the diversification of the market and discourage investment.

Bad laws make bad charter schools.

Ms Raymond says traditional public schools no longer have the excuse that they cannot be blamed for the poor performance of children because of their background; so competition from charters may improve standards in non-charters, too.

Moreover, if charter schools go downhill they can usually be closed more easily than traditional schools. Even so, most of those attending a big schools conference in Minneapolis in June agreed that more bad charters should close. Since 1993 15% of charter schools have shut their gates, most because of low enrolment, a sign that the market is working.

Charter schools have been successful because they offer freedom to shape the school to the pupils, rather than the other way round. Schools can change the length of the school day, fire bad teachers and spend their money as they wish. At Harvest Prep the school year is continuous, with short and relatively frequent bursts of holiday, because that keeps learning on track and kids out of trouble.

The charter-school concept has also attracted new institutions into early education, says Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute, which is part of the University of Chicago. The university operates four charters for (mostly) poor black children up to ninth grade (14-15), and college-acceptance rates for children going through them have been above 98% in each of the past three years. This compares with a city average of 35%.

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney favour charter schools, but at a time of probable cuts in federal education spending their growth may slow. Despite huge demand, and even though the ingredients for success are clear after two decades of experiment, extending charters’ successes to the other 96% will take a long time.

The Economist, 07 July 2012


As private school vouchers expand in New Orleans, eyes turn toward state for accountability plan

Global news, US

Since the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina, two public school systems have grown side by side out of the wreckage in New Orleans, one operated by the state, another by the local school board. Now, a third school system of sorts, still comparatively small but growing, is elbowing its way into the mix, not entirely public but subsidized by millions of taxpayer dollars. These are the more than two dozen private schools in the parish that have opted to take part in the state’s voucher program, accepting students who qualify for public funding to pay their tuition.

What began as a tiny, state-run pilot program in 2008 with backing from Gov. Bobby Jindal is growing into another miniature school district, on track to educate roughly 2,300 Orleans Parish students when the new academic year opens this fall.

With a statewide expansion opening vouchers to high school students and those attending not just failing but C- and D-rated schools this year, voucher enrollment in the city could grow by another 900 pupils before the school year begins.

All of the schools that take vouchers existed before the program, and most of them are run by the CatholicArchdiocese of New Orleans. Most students at these schools still pay their own tuition. But the latest available data from the state Department of Education provide the broad outlines of what’s emerging as a quasi-public realm, one that has touched off an ideological debate over how closely it should be regulated.

On average, the 23 schools that enrolled voucher students this past school year drew 37 percent of their students from the program. Voucher students made up more than 60 percent of the student body at a handful of the participating schools.

A look at enrollment numbers for the fall, along with the tuition that each school charged this past year, suggests that taxpayers could be putting up about $12 million to fund the voucher system in Orleans Parish, with the average school charging the state about $4,500 per student.

Seen though any ideological lens, this is a major shift. To supporters, the program is giving disadvantaged, largely black students from failing public schools their first entree into a private school system that more affluent families — black and white — have been flocking to in New Orleans since the 1950s. Some of the private schools in the program are already showing encouraging results on state exams, and they doing it with less money per student than the public system.

Detractors nevertheless worry that vouchers will divert resources from already underfinanced public schools, which, by and large, will be left to educate the students who require more expensive special attention.
What’s more, critics fret about millions of public dollars going to schools that aren’t required to hit the minimum academic benchmarks that all public schools, including charters, must meet.

Some schools look to expand

In a few cases, tiny schools in New Orleans that operate independently from the archdiocese are looking to expand dramatically, to judge by the number of voucher seats they have open for the fall. As private schools, they are only as transparent about their plans as they want to be.

Cheryl Leufroy Frilot, founder of the Life of Christ Christian Academy, offered a tour of her school recently, showing off a set of spacious, well-equipped classrooms on North Dorgenois Street. Frilot, who started a school for the archdiocese back in the 1990s and has a master’s degree in special education, emphasized the academy’s small class sizes and the individualized attention students get. “You can’t do kids as cookie cutters,” she said.

Her school has 91 seats available for students from kindergarten through high school. That figure would more than double the school’s existing enrollment, almost a third of which already came from the voucher program last year, state data show. Of those voucher students, only 13 percent hit grade level on standardized exams this year. That statistic, provided by the state for this article, would not have been available to parents on the state’s website during the enrollment period.

At another private school, the Upperroom Bible Church Academy, just 24 percent of voucher students hit grade level this year. The school is housed in a windowless building on Lake Forest Boulevard in eastern New Orleans. Administrators did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment. It has 167 seats open for the fall, which, at the existing tuition rate, would bring the school close to $1 million in public money.

Regulating private schools that take vouchers

Examples like this from across the state — The News-Star, a newspaper in Monroe, turned up a school recently with 315 open voucher seats that gives instruction mainly through DVDs — have focused attention on the one public official who will now decide how to regulate the private schools that take vouchers: John White, Louisiana’s schools superintendent.

In passing the voucher expansion during the recent session of the Legislature, lawmakers punted some of the most important details to White, requiring him to come up with an accountability plan by Aug. 1. Neither the Legislature nor the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, a panel that White normally must answer to, will have to sign off on White’s plan, causing many observers to worry.

“This is all being worked out at the (education) department in conversations with the governor’s office and the private school leaders and various other groups,” said Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, an independent watchdog group. “But we’re not aware of any public process or forum or BESE meeting or hearing that’s going to address this.”

Scott added, “The Legislature could call a meeting. There’s nothing to stop them from doing that and asking for a public discussion. BESE could ask for a public discussion on the issue. In my view, both of those things should happen.”

The role of government in education

The voucher debate facing Louisiana is part of a broader discussion about the role of government in education. Government took a big step back when the state-run Recovery School District took over most schools in New Orleans from the Orleans Parish School Board.

Whereas the publicly elected board had run the city’s school system by itself before, the Recovery District began handing control of schools to nonprofit groups — charter schools — run by private boards and operating autonomously. As long as charter schools keep their performance scores rising fast enough and follow the terms of a detailed charter contract, they can stay in business.

The voucher program represents another government retreat. As with charter schools, the state gives private schools a certain amount of money per student and then gets out of the way. Unlike charters, these private schools have no contract with the state. They aren’t required to hold public board meetings. Their voucher students take the same LEAP exams as public school students, but they don’t face any particular consequences for the results.

The Jindal administration defends this approach by pointing out that parents are not being forced into these schools. Parents choose to apply for the voucher, and “parents are the best accountability system we have,” the administration says.

Pressure for rigorous standards

Others — including U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu; Leslie Jacobs, the godmother of the New Orleans charter movement; and a slew of good-government groups — are alarmed by this line of thinking. They are putting pressure on White to come with a set of rigorous standards for the voucher program to protect students and taxpayers.

Landrieu sent a letter to White this past week urging him to include voucher schools in the state’s new letter grading system, which assigns schools an F through A rating based on test results and other factors.

“In my view,” Landrieu wrote, “rigorous and transparent academic accountability means that parents and students should be able to easily compare the academic performance of participating nonpublic schools and public schools so that they can make informed decisions.”

The Council for a Better Louisiana sent a letter as well, arguing that the state should make sure students in the program “achieve at minimum basic academic standards and graduate from high school.” It added: “For those private schools who do not meet these standards for children, consequences should include removing their eligibility to participate in the scholarship program and providing better choices for parents elsewhere.”

White hasn’t tipped his hand yet on what the accountability system will look like. But he hinted at stronger standards than have applied to the pilot program in Orleans, suggesting that they will likely cover finances and student safety along with academics. White has already visited the Upperroom Bible Church Academy, although he declined to say what his impressions were.

“We’ve been talking with national experts, charter school leaders, traditional school leaders and private school leaders,” White said, “We’re trying to come up with a policy that ensures equality for all without overburdening schools with government and regulation.”

White said the plan should go public in the next few weeks.

The Times-Picayune, 01 July 2012


Obama and Romney Right to Agree on Charters

Charter Schools, Global news, US

As a veteran education reporter, I have some advice for parents listening to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama debate this issue: Tune out the phony disagreements such as school vouchers (which are unlikely to make a difference) and instead focus on where the two agree: Launch more great charter schools.

Even four years ago a push to ramp up approval for charters, which are publicly funded but independently run schools, would have been somewhat rash. Even the high-flying charters, where inner city kids showed impressive academic growth, had weaknesses: teacher burnout, a shortage of great school leaders and an addiction to foundation funding that impeded rapid expansion.

But recent developments give charter schools a promise that warrants the twinned blessings from Romney and Obama.
For those who believe that quality teaching trumps all other factors — and these days it is hard to stir up a disagreement about that — my book research visit to the True North Troy Preparatory in Troy, N.Y., was revelatory. Ever wonder what a school would look like that was staffed entirely by best-in-the-nation teachers, all working together with rhythm, collaboration and purpose? That’s True North, a teaching design drawn up by the school’s founder, Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion.

At True North, all the teachers use Lemov-documented teaching techniques, which accounts for the early academic success seen at that school. The point here is not True North’s success, but rather the rapid spread of successful teaching techniques pioneered by charter teachers. At last count, roughly 400,000 copies of Lemov’s book have been sold, which means “the word” is spreading far beyond charter teachers.

In San Jose, I visited several Rocketship elementary schools. Nearly all their students are low-income Hispanic students, many of them arriving in kindergarten with limited English-speaking skills and no preschool experience. And yet, the academic outcomes for Rocketship students approach those of several white, middle-class elementary schools in Silicon Valley.

Running academically successful schools for poor students, however, is not Rocketship’s most important contribution. What matters more is that Rocketship has figured out a way to run great schools on a modest budget, keep its teachers from burning out at high rates and build a leadership cadre for rapid expansion.

At the heart of Rocketship’s innovation is its “blended learning” model where students pick up many of their basic academic skills in digital learning labs. True, blending learning, now endorsed by many schools, threatens to become the latest education fad. Inevitably, that will unleash ill-advised practices. (Sticking a roomful of students into a classroom with computers loaded with education software does not blended learning make.)

But that’s where Rocketship promises to make a major contribution. Education researchers and reporters can visit Rocketship to learn how blended learning is done at a state-of-the-art level. All schools, charters and traditional, will benefit.

New York’s Relay Graduate School of Education is another place where the charter-generated teaching techniques that have proven effective with high poverty minority students get passed along. Traditional teacher colleges that fail to learn from Relay risk irrelevance.

Obviously, Romney and Obama have no shortage of differences, some of them stark. But the shared desire to expand quality charter schools places both Romney and Obama on the right side of the same issue.
How often does that happen?

Huffington Post, 21 June 2012


Romney attacks Obama’s education policy

Global news, US

WASHINGTON: Calling it a “national education emergency,” Mitt Romney said Wednesday that poor and disabled children should be allowed to escape failing public schools by using federal dollars to pay for private schools and other alternative settings.
Under a banner that read “A Chance for Every Child,” the likely GOP presidential nominee seized on K-12 education, an area that had so far been overlooked on the campaign trail. It is also considered one of President Barack Obama’s strengths, bringing him more bipartisan support than any other issue and winning him accolades from Republican governors such as Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio.
Romney borrowed from Obama, calling education “the civil rights issue of our era,” but then tried to draw a sharp contrast, saying the president was beholden to teacher unions and blaming him for escalating college costs, among other things.
During a speech before the Latino Coalition’s Annual Economic Summit in Washington, Romney said he would “do everything in my power to reverse this decline” in America’s schools, adding that if it were not for the economic recession and housing crisis, education would be “the great cause of this campaign.”
Romney said he wanted to expand choices for families so that children can flee failing schools. His campaign released a white paper highlighting his support for federal vouchers — a plan to reroute tax dollars sent to public schools to help educate poor and disabled children and instead let those dollars follow the children to private schools. The federal government will spend $48.8 billion this year to help educate poor and disabled children.
Progressive groups said Romney’s approach would return the country to the days without accountability. “We have a long history in this country, and you can see it in the civil rights struggle to desegregate schools, of states and districts not doing anything to provide an equal educational opportunity for all students,” said Cynthia Brown of the Center for American Progress.
Romney slammed the Obama administration for failing to fund next year’s budget for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, created by Congress in 2004 as the first and only program to provide federal money for private school vouchers for low-income children. He said he wanted to expand the city’s voucher program to make it a “national showcase.”
A 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education found “no conclusive evidence” that the program improved achievement, noting that students with vouchers had reading and math test scores that were statistically similar to those without them, although they were more likely to graduate high school.
Congressional supporters of the program, including House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., have been pushing the administration to fund the vouchers.
But Obama believes vouchers drain needed resources from public schools and do not help most students, James Kvaal, policy director for the Obama campaign, told reporters Wednesday. “Vouchers, which might serve a small number of students, will do nothing for the vast majority of students left behind in public schools,” he said.
Teacher unions are steadfastly opposed to vouchers.
“What Romney fails to understand is that when teachers and public schools have the resources they need, students win,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Real public education improvement comes from teachers, administrators, parents and communities rolling up their sleeves and working together to help all kids, not just some kids, succeed.”
Vouchers, an idea that has floated around for decades, began gaining traction across the country in 2010 after Republicans took majorities in several states. Louisiana, Indiana and other states have passed voucher programs that allow poor and even middle-income children to use state tax dollars toward private school tuition. Some legal challenges have arisen regarding the constitutionality of giving public dollars to private religious schools.
The Friedman Foundation for Educational Freedom, created by the late economist and free market advocate Milton Friedman, welcomed the injection of vouchers into the presidential campaign. “If you want to dramatically improve education, you have to give all parents the freedom to choose,” said Susan Meyers, a spokeswoman for the foundation.
In his speech, Romney lashed out at teacher unions, which he said were entrenched interests opposed to common-sense reforms.
“When your cause in life is preventing parents from having a meaningful choice or children from having a real chance, then you are on the wrong side,” Romney said. “You might even be in the wrong vocation, because good teachers put the interests of children first.”
Earlier this week, Romney announced a team of education advisers that included Rod Paige, the former education secretary who drew fire in 2004 when he called the National Education Association, the largest teacher union, a “terrorist organization.”
Romney also attacked Obama for his connection to the politically powerful unions, saying that the president is talking about reform while “indulging” the groups that are blocking it. “He can’t be the voice of disadvantaged public school kids and the protector of special interests,” Romney said. “We have to stop putting campaign cash ahead of our kids.”
Leaders of the teacher unions were attending a conference Wednesday about ways to work with management to improve schools. “His speech demonstrates a complete disdain for public schools and educators, ” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “… He’s completely out of touch with what is happening in schools and classrooms across the country.”

Daily Herald, 23 May 2012


Integrating Rich and Poor Matters Most

Global news, US

Fifty-eight years after Brown v. Board of Education was decided, segregated schools – particularly those segregated by economic status – remain wholly unequal. While the news media routinely shower attention on high-poverty schools that work, research shows that middle-class schools are 22 times more likely to be high performing than high-poverty schools.
Poor children can learn to high levels, but they are much more likely to do so if they are surrounded by peers with big dreams, a community of parents who are in a position to volunteer in class and know how to hold school officials accountable and talented teachers with high expectations.
These conditions are much more likely to be found in middle-class schools. It also explains why low-income students, given the chance to attend more affluent schools, tested two years ahead of low-income students stuck in high-poverty schools, on the fourth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics. Controlling for the issue of self-election, research in Montgomery County, Md., found that low-income students randomly assigned with their families to public housing units in low-poverty neighborhoods and schools performed much higher in math than comparable students assigned to higher-poverty neighborhoods and schools – even though the latter spent $2,000 more per pupil.
Socioeconomic integration is being pursued in 80 school districts throughout the country, educating 4 million students, with very positive results. Well-designed plans don’t rely on compulsory-style busing like that used in the 1970s but instead on voluntary choice, and incentives like magnet schools. Socioeconomic integration policies avoid the legal problems associated with using race in student assignment.
Ninety-five percent of education reform is trying to make “separate but equal” work, but far more effective are policies that return to 19th century educator Horace Mann’s very American idea of the “common school,” where rich and poor sit together and schools seek to provide genuinely equal opportunity. To reinvent the common school today, we need better zoning policies that allow low-income families to live in middle-class neighborhoods, more funding for magnet schools that voluntarily produce integration and financial incentives for middle-class schools to welcome low-income students who wish to attend.

The New York Times, 21 May 2012

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