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Myth Busters: Voucher Edition

In a free country where the American dream revolves around dictating the direction of your own life, parents and students are still unable to detach from failing schools. With an overwhelming amount of support for school choice flooding the country, where is the implementation of programs to match desires? What can families do to free themselves of a system that constantly seems to be working against them? Which system could provide economic assistance that supports school choice? Vouchers.

With the recent release of The Friedman Foundation’s 2014 report on school vouchers, the fiscal impact of school choice is undoubtedly making its way into education reform conversation. “The School Voucher Audit,” which concludes that school choice methods save money, takes readers on a field trip back to math class with easy-to-digest equations that break down fiscal impact. “Net savings per student x number of voucher recipients = total net savings”, “Per-student cost burden – public school > cost of voucher = net savings per student”, etc. For those of us less mathematically inclined, what does all of it mean?

As evidenced in “School Choice Today: Voucher Laws Across the States Ranking & Scorecard”, a report by the Center for Education Reform (CER), it is clear to see that vouchers are directly helping students. But there is an urgent need for more; more vouchers, more options, more accessibility, more school choice. When analyzing individual states, the report found that voucher programs available to all students, instead of just for specific circumstances (low-income or special needs for example), were able to reach more people and were therefore more beneficial. The CER report shows that out of 14 states and the District of Columbia, only six states earned an “A” or “B” ranking, evidence that voucher programs can work, there just needs to

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First Fridays at DC Prep Benning: Unapologetically Academic

“Pump, pump, pump it up! Pump, pump, pump it up!” As I walked through the doors of Benning Elementary School on Friday morning, I could feel the hallways echoing with energy as the “DC Preppies” chanted their morning spirit songs. The school elicits a vibrant energy that transcends lesson plans and instead demonstrates a structured enthusiasm for learning. Located in Ward 7, where over half of the public school students attend charters, DC Prep is the highest-performing network of charters in DC.

In order to fuse together developing character and becoming academic scholars, the schools operate under a “warm-strict” model that ensures stringent rules and enthusiastic learning. With their hands folded and their eyes on the instructor, students were very aware of what was expected of them and were mindful of the proper way to sit, speak, and react to both peers and instructors. Despite seemingly choreographed moves and positions, learning in these rooms seemed genuinely fun and exciting as well. Classrooms had songs and dances that related to the curriculum, and there was a very clear focus on team involvement and peer motivation. At the end of a middle school class that I sat in on, students had the opportunity to nominate other hard-working peers for a “hard work and grit” award to recognize their efforts. One student shot her hand up and complimented her partner on catching up with the material even after missing a day of school, when she could have easily fallen behind. These little acts of enthusiasm demonstrate the focus on high standards of student appreciation and unparalleled teamwork.

Not only are the students held to high standards, the school leaders are also very aware of their own expectations. One of the aspects I found the most unique about DC Prep was the implementation of “LEAD”: a

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5 Questions to Ask This Election Season

Education50 offers a toolkit on how to spot the candidate that’s truly focused on how to improve education for students. Joe Nathan, Director of the Center for School Change, offers some great advice on what specifically to ask school board candidates this #Election2014.

 

Here are five questions you might want to ask school board candidates or members running for re-election this fall. Because schools play a huge role in making communities attractive places to live and work, you might also talk with the other board members, whose seats aren’t up for election, about these issues.

–Are you committed to a yearly survey of families, students, graduates, community residents, faculty and staff about what they see as major strengths and shortcomings of the district and its schools? Are you committed to publicly sharing the results? This survey could cover many topics, from school safety to staff morale, whether families feel welcome and respected, and whether there is widespread understanding and agreement with key priorities for the district.

–Are you committed to yearly sharing the major ways you, as board members, evaluate the district’s (and individual schools’) progress? Part of this will be test scores and graduation rates. But there are many other measures that can be used, such as percentage of graduates who have to take remedial courses on entering some form of higher education, or strengths and shortcomings identified in the surveys mentioned above.

–What are your priorities for the district in the coming year? Why and how did you select these issues? No organization can do everything that it might like to do. So priorities must be established. Hopefully budgets are allocated to respond to the established priorities.

–What is your own experience with public education? (I’m indebted to St. Cloud Board Member Jerry Von Korff for this one.)

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