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January 18, 2010 standard

If only if this was the Redskins instead of the Jets. Photo courtesy of ESPN.

What’s happening in the dropout nation that doesn’t involve pigskin:

  1. In New York, Randi Weingarten’s successor as head of the American Federation of Teachers’ New York City local is using the language of Gary Orfield and Richard Kahlenberg in his opposition to the lifting of New York State’s charter school cap. In the Daily News , United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew declares that “charter schools are actually becoming a separate and unequal branch of public education”, citing the low levels of ELL students in some charters. Could it be that the parents of these students, mostly immigrants themselves, don’t have the sophistication or access to information about charters to make a different choice than send their kids to traditional public schools? Or could it be that, like parents of special ed students, ELL parents tend to think that traditional public schools can handle those children better than charters, even though the evidence of this is sparse (and often, would lean against that conclusion)? Mulgrew doesn’t ponder either of these matters. But certainly he wouldn’t. Mulgrew isn’t thinking about equality or integration. Or even about the kids under the care of his rank-and-file.  He’s thinking about the best interests of his union.
  2. Meanwhile in Albany, the notoriously dysfunctional state legislature is looking to strip the State University of New York of its power to authorize charters, according to Cara Matthews. This is the price Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (and his ally, the AFT’s New York State affiliate, which opposes charters altogether) hope to extract in exchange for lifting the cap on charters. As you would expect, Gov. David Paterson and charter school advocates oppose this exercise in school reform futility. This isn’t exactly New York’s Race to the Top.
  3. Even worse, as the New York Times reports, the New York City Department of Education, one of the most-aggressive charter authorizers, would also lose the authorizing role under the plan. Apparently, Silver and the AFT’s New York State local wants to make sure that either New York State is out of Race to the Top or that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his schools chief, Joel Klein, lose as much as possible under the plan. Although I am generally against allowing school districts to have authorizing power (mostly because they tend to never use it and keep out charters), New York City has been the exception and should keep the authorizing ability. As usual, this is typical teachers union/Sheldon Silver politics. Neither are worthy of respect.
  4. Meanwhile Paterson proposes to give SUNY and the City University of New York freedom from state budgeting, reports the Press & Sun-Bulletin. This includes allowing the universities to raise tuition without legislative approval. As I’ve noted in a 2008 Hechinger Institute report, such freedom tends to not work out well for college affordability or for expanding access to higher ed among poor students.
  5. As for higher ed, InsideHigherEd reports that public funding for state universities is on a “historic” decline. Now this depends on what you mean by decline. As their chart notes, higher ed funding has still increased by more than 19 percent (and a 29 percent increase, if you add federal stimulus funds into the equation). Cry me a river.
  6. San Diego Union-Tribune writer Dean Calbreath looks at the recent Alliance for Excellent Education, EdWeek and Bureau of Labor Statistics data and concludes that dropping out equals fewer job opportunities.
  7. The L.A. Times opines about the Matthew Kim teacher termination saga and concludes that the entire system of teacher hiring and compensation needs an overhaul.
  8. Speaking of teacher compensation: Battles over teachers pensions and retirement benefits are starting to heat up. Vermont is the battleground this time around. The NEA’s Vermont affiliate is already on the warpath.
  9. John Fensterwald reports on the growing opposition to Common Core Standards, especially among mathematicians. This battling over the value of a national curriculum — some would say it already exists — is going to be an undercurrent in the battle over the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.
  10. Entrepreneur Sramana Mitra takes a look at how technology can be deployed to improve education.
  11. EducationNews‘ Michael Shaughnessy interviews Anthony Rao, who looks at how schools teach boys and girls and how it may contribute to the former’s achievement gap issues.
  12. Jay Mathews thinks the Brookings Institution’s recent study on education news coverage overstates the problem of mainstream reporting on ed news.
  13. Don’t forget to check out this week’s Dropout Nation podcast. The commentary focuses on the need to improve leadership throughout school districts. Sure, teachers unions are part of the problem. But leadership at the district and school levels are also the reasons why so many school districts are in academic and bureaucratic freefall.
  14. And given this is Martin Luther King day (and courtesy of Eduflack), don’t forget to listen to the famed ” Have a Dream” speech today. And remember, when it comes to education, we are far away from fulfilling either the dream and even further from the Promised Land. But we will get there soon.
January 13, 2010 standard

The dropout nation is brimming with news:

  1. Matt Yglesias argues that some conservatives are moving past charters because they “don’t do anything to entrench the privileges of the wealthy.” As usual, Yglesias weakens his arguments with class warfare material instead of making a strong case for his position. For one, plenty of conservatives are supportive of charters; it’s usually hard-core libertarians — who, on principle, are opposed to any state intervention in education — and moderate Republicans representing suburban school districts (which oppose vouchers and charters altogether) who have issues with charters. Two, as seen in the case of D.C.‘s soon-to-be-shuttered voucher program and the pioneering program in Milwaukee (along with programs run by private foundations), all the kids attending private schools on vouchers are poor. If Yglesias is going to play the class warfare game, he should at least get it right.
  2. In any case, charters and vouchers can both foster educational equity, especially for the poorest children, who couldn’t otherwise afford even the highest-quality Catholic schools. As I’ve reported in The Catholic World Report, Catholic archdioceses across the country struggle to maintain their position as the private schools of choice for poor immigrant, urban and rural families largely because of the costs. Allowing for both charters and vouchers, along with improving the quality of public education overall, helps to bring equity to all.
  3. Speaking of charters: Diane Ravitch is at it again. At least she admits charter schools do work (even if it is a tad backhanded).
  4. And the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools releases its rating of states today. The Washington Post has its take.
  5. The Orlando Sentinel notes that only 14 Sunshine State districts have so far signed onto the state’s Race to the Top reform plan. Meanwhile the head of Florida’s PTA has taken a stand for Race to the Top participation.
  6. Speaking of Race to the Top, Tom Carroll speculates on whether the state’s dysfunctional legislature will get the job done. Of course, the AFT’s New York State affiliate is key in this discussion — as as noted yesterday, aren’t exactly playing nice.
  7. Speaking of the AFT, here is the video of union president Randi Weingarten’s announcement that it will begin supporting the use of student test score data in teacher evaluations. How much of this is proverbial rope-a-dope? As Andy Rotherham notes, Weingarten declares the union is turning over a new leaf every year with little in the way of follow-through. Weingarten’s letter in Monday’s Wall Street Journal (along with her classic “Bush II” comment last year) justifies the skepticism. But, as I’ve noted, the location of the AFT’s locals in hotbeds of reform, along with its history and demographics, makes it more likely that the union will actually walk the walk. Besides, as pointed out by the Education Equality Project, it’s a sweet way to stick it to the rival National Education Association (which has historically lagged behind the AFT in everything).
  8. Meanwhile the guy causing all these dust-ups, Arne Duncan, gets a bashing from one outlet for lacking teaching experience. As if the most successful education reformers this past decade (or for that matter, this past century) have been teachers. By the way, my take on Duncan and the problems in reforming school districts is officially up today.
  9. EducationNews’ Michael Shaughnessy interviews The Month of Zephram Mondays author Leslie A. Susskind. Short and interesting.
  10. Chad Ratliff observes the appointment of a charter school-friendly state education chieftain in his home state of Virginia — a notoriously difficult state in which to start them — and is excited by the possibilities.
  11. Joanne Jacobs comments on the latest round of charter school activity in L.A. and notes that charters are doing well by their students even if they have to admit all children– unlike magnet schools, which Richard Kahlenberg fails to point out in a screed dedicated to yours truly. As an aside: It is interesting that those arguing for equity support a form of public education that is inherently unequal and anti-family choice.
  12. And for those interested in the role of broadband in education, here’s a PowerPoint presentation on distance learning and broadband given yesterday at the Broadband Breakfast by the Federal Communications Commission’s education director. Enjoy.
November 30, 2009 standard

The Los Angeles Unified School District has long been renowned for its academic failure and bureaucratic intransigence. But, as I report today in National Review, the dysfunctional district is now looking to bring school choice of a sort to the district. Read more and check out the special gallery with statistics on the district’s academic and bureaucratic troubles.

November 22, 2009 standard

Leading a parent revolution.

Back in 2003, when I was a reporter in Los Angeles, I had begun work on a piece about Steve Barr, whose Green Dot Charter Schools was simply a handful of charter schools in Tinseltown’s gritty neighborhoods. What was fascinating at the time — which my editors could never fully grasp at that time — was the revolutionary (for L.A.) ideas he espoused: That city’s Latino students, often cast off as future gang-bangers, potential Chicano revolutionaries or likely cleaning staff, could actually achieve academic excellence, graduate from college and become contributors to the city’s — and nation’s — socioeconomic fabric; and that L.A. Unified and its sister school districts owed their taxpayers far better than substandard teaching and curricula.

These days, it seems difficult to realize how dispirited most were about the possibilities of achieving a high quality education in L.A. schools. The gamesmanship of maintaining a residence in Beverly Hills to attend the schools, as shown in the film Slums of Beverly Hills was no movie fantasy. For the poorest parents, many of whom were (and still are) undocumented immigrants, the struggle to achieve the American dream on behalf of their children and themselves made such activity the last thing on their minds. The simple idea that every neighborhood should have a great school, a concept that had already taken hold in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New York through the charter school movement and school district overhauls, was not even considered in L.A. Unified, a district which managed to squash Jaime Escalantes and Richard Riordans alike. Especially odd given that California was the second state to legislate charters into existence.

Barr wanted to make this happen by gathering parents and focusing them on the basics. Back then, he had a few believers, notably boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya (the namesake of one of Green Dot’s schools) and the parents left behind by the region’s educational establishment. This was two years before Barr and his crew began staring down L.A. Unified, first in an unsuccessful attempt to convert Thomas Jefferson High into a charter school — and four years before he and parents at Locke High finally wrested control of that school from the district’s bureaucracy. And certainly long before national attention noted that in the City of Angels, another model for education reform — one both eschewed the inside-the-Beltway game and evolved independent of the Teach For America school — was coming to fore.

Now, with L.A. Unified talking and (mostly) walking school choice and accountability, one can now fully get what Steve Barr was doing. And as he leaves the board of the charter school organization he founded, it will be interesting to see what he does next.

By the way: More on L.A. Unified will appear in National Review Online this week.