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June 30, 2011 standard

As Creighton Davis made plain in Tuesday’s Voices of the Dropout Nation commentary, giving our poorest children in urban communities a high-quality education is critical to their success in life. And it takes good-to-great teachers dedicated to their success, caring adults who care about their futures, and cultures of genius that nurture learning, for our children to gain hope, build their confidence and emerge from poverty. Even something as simple as learning to write and perform poetry can help get kids out of educational prisons.

Watch this trailer of the film To Be Heard and listen to the these three young men and women tell their stories in rhyme and verse. Go watch the film at a local film festival near you. Think about what you will do to help young men and women succeed in school and in life. And then, make a difference.

June 4, 2011 standard

There are so many ways that traditional practices in American public education — many of which are tied to the traditional system of teacher compensation — shortchange poor and minority children. From seniority-based pay scales that only reward teachers for staying in place (and not for improving student achievement), to seniority-based rules on school assignment that restrict the ability of schools to keep high-quality teachers in place (and get rid of laggards), to even last in-first out layoff rules that force less-senior teachers out of classrooms without regard for performance, poor and minority kids constantly lose out.

In this presentation, University of Washington researcher Marguerite Roza — whose pioneering work on school spending has revealed many of these inequities — explains how the poorest and minority kids often get thrown to the back of the education bus. Watch, listen, consider and take action.

April 2, 2011 standard

When one out of every three American children drop out of high school and into poverty and prison, there is no time to wait. As important as it is to take on the tough slow work of systemic reform, we must also create new options for getting kids out of dropout factories and cultures of mediocrity into cultures of genius and centers of learning. Whether it be voucher programs such as the now-shuttered D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (which congressional Republicans have taken steps to revive), charter schools or even public school choice within traditional districts, all steps must be made to give kids opportunities to escape academic failure.

Watch this video in which Kevin Chavous and parents whose kids are in the D.C. Opportunity voucher program explain to voucher opponent Danny Davis why it is important to open up and expand choice. Watch, consider and take action.

March 23, 2011 standard

It will take a variety of efforts to reform American public education and stem the nation’s dropout crisis. This includes young men and women talking to their peers about the importance of staying in school. Whether it comes in the form of films such as Beyond the Bricks, through entertainment, or through simple conversations, it is important to enlist every teen and young adult in keeping their classmates and neighbors in school (as well as help them get the remediation at-risk kids may need to get up to speed).

This video from St. Louis rapper Keke Bubbles, one of 11 that are finalists in the DefJam Rapstar Get Schooled competition put on by the Get Schooled Foundation, is one example of the messages we need to help keep kids on the path to graduation. Even as we overhaul curricula and instruction — especially in the early grades — messages about the importance of education to our middle- and high school students also remain important. Watch, listen, consider and take action.

March 22, 2011 standard

The move by Michigan’s state legislature last week to remove control of school curriculum and academics from Detroit Public School’s board to financial czar Robert Bobb is just the latest of many changes to move education from under control of the nation’s most-dysfunctional big city school board. From the scandal involving former board president Otis Mathis (whose illiteracy was as head-shaking as the behavior that led to his resignation) to the antics of David Murray (who defended Mathis), the school board epitomizes the most-publicly worst that American public education governance can offer. But the problems aren’t limited to Detroit alone; while there are plenty of school boards, urban, suburban and rural, who serve their families, taxpayers and children well, there are far many more that have contributed to the nation’s educational crisis.

As you watch this video produced by the Education Action Group Foundation last year, consider what we can all do to end traditional education governance and move to a system in which parents are the lead decision-makers in schools and cultures of genius can be nurtured and sustained. We can’t wait for atrocious and merely mediocre school boards to finally get themselves together. Our kids deserve better.

March 18, 2011 standard

As a D.C. city councilman during the 1990s, Kevin Chavous embraced the parent power movement began by Virginia Walden Ford and helped make the District one of the prime centers for school reform. Then in 2003, he took it a step further and teamed up with then-D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams to get Congress to create the now-shuttered D.C. Opportunity school voucher program. The move may have came at the cost of his career, losing to future D.C. mayor Vince Gray a year later. But he helped thousands of the city’s children escape its dropout factories and improve their odds for better lives.

In this video, Chavous explains why Parent Power and school choice must no longer be a political football, especially for old-school black politicians too stuck in the past (and in their ties to teachers unions) to help the very kids for which they express concern. Watch, listen to this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, and consider how we can ensure that parents are the kings and lead decision-makers in education.