How To Fix Education In America

by Robert Reiss
November 17, 2015

Pretty much everyone in America agrees on the importance of our education system. And yet, consider these numbers: America spends $810 billion annually on our school systems and still we are in 17th place in reading and 32nd place in math globally. Shouldn’t that be unacceptable to us?

In an effort to understand how to fix the American education system, I went to a leader in one of the fastest growing and most successful segments of our school system – charter schools. Below are direct answers from Jon Hage, Founder and CEO of Charter Schools USA on our challenges, actions, a unique strategy for CEOs, insights on presidential candidates and recommendations for the future.

Robert Reiss: Describe the state of education in America and the most significant challenges we face.

Jon Hage: Our hunger for better education in this country never stops. It is the foundation of what makes America great and the key ingredient for global competition. Children are being left behind and the statistics are overwhelming yet worth repeating. Recent studies show that Hispanic and African American students are still graduating 10-15 points behind the national average. The number of students who leave eighth grade without the ability to do grade-level math and reading is closer to 66 percent.

Read the rest here.

MD Union Pushes Work-to-Rule Effort

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Surprise Surprise, unions are at it again, this time in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County, pushing a work-to-rule effort that limits teachers to doing just the bare minimum of their contract, which already is narrow in scope and not in the best interest of students.  The Capital Gazette has the scoop:

  • The Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County and the school board approved a contract for the next year giving teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living raise, but cutting a $2,000 stipend for teachers who work at challenge schools — those with a high percentage of students who get free or reduced-price lunches.
  • Teachers upset over the elimination of that stipend, along with the lack of any raise based on experience, organized work-to-rule protests in which they worked only the hours required in their contracts. Some have stopped writing college recommendations and supervising clubs.
  • Students have been emailing County Execs to push for “fair salaries for teachers”
  • County Exec. Steve Schuh has pushed back on students, challenging them to think for themselves, telling Capital Gazette “he believes students are being used by union leaders to tout personal agendas.”

This is why CER pushed for a stronger charter school law for Maryland families and students earlier this year. A charter school law that frees schools from collective bargaining allows school leaders and teachers to work together under their own terms according to what’s best for their students’ needs.

In the meantime, check out this toolkit the union has been circulating to drive its agenda.

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Unions Eye L.A. Charter Schools

Efforts to organize teachers in the country’s largest system could have nationwide repercussions

By Kris Maher
Wall Street Journal
Nov. 16, 2015

As teachers unions ramp up efforts to organize the fast-growing charter school movement, one of the biggest and most contentious fights is taking place at a chain of schools in Los Angeles.

In March, 70 teachers at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the city’s largest charter system with 26 schools and more than 600 teachers, announced they wanted to join United Teachers Los Angeles, the 31,000-member union that represents all of the city’s public school teachers and about 1,000 teachers at 12 independent charter schools.

Alliance officials counter that being free of union rules has helped their charter schools operate with greater flexibility and smaller class sizes and ultimately send 95% of graduates to college each year. They also question why a union fighting the expansion of charter schools wants to organize charter teachers.

“They spent the last 10 years saying how terrible charters are when we’ve been trying to educate poor kids and have been doing a great job at it,” said Catherine Suitor, a spokeswoman for Alliance. “What is it they’re trying to fix?”

The unionization campaign, currently the largest at a U.S. charter school system, could have wide repercussions A union win could validate a new wave of organizing drives at charter schools in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and other states. A protracted campaign that doesn’t go anywhere would be a costly and demoralizing defeat for unions.

The Los Angeles union, which is affiliated with the nation’s two biggest teachers unions—the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers—has so far not said whether it wants to organize the teachers through an election or an alternative process.

A quarter of the Alliance teachers have signed a public letter supporting the union and asking the charter system to remain neutral.

Tensions have grown in recent weeks amid charges from teachers that administrators have illegally intimidated them, which Alliance denies.

On Oct. 29, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge granted a temporary restraining order sought by the union, and ordered Alliance administrators to stay 100 feet away from union organizers and not coerce or threaten teachers for participating in union organizing. The court also ordered Alliance to allow the union on school property after work hours and said it couldn’t block union emails to teachers’ work addresses.

“The charter industry should want accountability,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT’s president. “The bottom line is we want charter schools to have the same accountability and transparency as neighborhood public schools.”

Pro-union Alliance teachers say they want job security and input into the curriculum and other decisions now handed down by administrators and a board that includes Antony Ressler, a billionaire who bought the Atlanta Hawks earlier this year, and Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles.

Alliance’s pay scale is based on performance and teachers can and do earn more earlier in their careers than public school teachers, Ms. Suitor said. The Los Angeles union contends the pay is comparable to the $50,000 to $80,000 that teachers earn on average at the city’s public schools.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, represent a threat as well as an opportunity to unions, as their growth booms and membership at many unions declines.

Today, unions represent just 7% of the nation’s charter schools, the first of which was launched more than 20 years ago as an alternative to traditional public schools. There were about 6,500 charter schools in the U.S. in the 2013-2014 school year, more than twice as many as in 2004-2005.

About 68% of public school teachers and 31% of private school teachers belonged to unions in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Several states, including Maryland, Hawaii and Alaska, require charter schools to be unionized, but many charter school proponents oppose unions, arguing they hinder the schools’ missions to innovate and bring a higher degree of flexibility to education, including being able to fire underperforming teachers.

Los Angeles already has more than 100,000 students attending charter schools, the most of any city in the nation. Charter school supporters in Los Angeles want to boost the percentage of students in the city who attend charters to 50% from 16% currently.

The UTLA opposes those plans, which some charter school proponents believe will make it tough for the union to organize teachers in charters.

“It’s not surprising that teachers that work at charter schools would not want to join a union,” said Alison Zgainer, executive vice president of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter organization in Washington, D.C. “They want more autonomy in the classroom, and being part of a union you lose that autonomy.”

Read the rest of the article here.

If Not Here, Where? Ask Hawkins Charter School Students

Remembering John Chubb

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Washington, D.C.
November 13, 2015

The following statement was issued by Jeanne Allen, Founder and President-Emeritus of The Center for Education Reform:

We were devastated by the news of the passing of John E. Chubb, one of the truly most impactful people of the entire school choice movement and an intellectual giant. Scholar, executive, educator and friend, he will be sorely missed.

When I meScreen Shot 2015-11-13 at 3.44.13 PMt John Chubb he was at Brookings and I was at Heritage. His path breaking book – with Terry Moe – Politics, Markets and America’s Schools transformed the way we think of school choice. His was a dispassionate, non-ideological conclusion, grounded in science and effective schools research. It would unite people from across the spectrum and influence the rise of common sense education reforms. Choice IS a panacea, he and Terry dared to say. They were – and are – right. I reached out to John when I founded the Center and for more than 10 years he was one of our most engaged board members. His contribution was enormous. John was also among the most generous and serious of scholars – and would share his time and his intellect to teach and mentor those who sought his help.

Beyond the sadness we all feel for John and his family, I am personally sad for the education reform movement. This individual, whose contributions are not as well-known today to the newer generations, wrote and spoke and worked on behalf of the conclusions his science first revealed were the right formula for improving schools. He implored us, as recently as the class he taught for our EdReformU students last winter, to consider that parental choice is the most effective and highest level of accountability for education.

Many who should know better no longer know this, or remember it, or even believe it. On behalf of and in tribute to John, The Center for Education Reform will provide ever-constant reminders, continually, until we as a nation get it right.

Our prayers go out to Angela, the kids and his entire family.



Hillary’s Charter Backflip

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November 12, 2015
Wall Street Journal

The Center for Education Reform talks to Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal about Hillary Clinton’s comments on charter schools while on the  campaign trail, and how backing from national teacher unions has likely swayed her opinion on these alternative public schools.

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The Power of Education Innovation: A Cautionary Tale

by Jeanne Allen
November 11, 2015

One of the most prevalent education reforms will soon turn 25.  Started in 1991 to disrupt what was considered the traditional school districts’ exclusive franchise over education, charter schools broke philosophical ground by uniting people on both sides of the political aisle.  The goal of charter schools was to make public education more responsive to the individual needs of its students, more nimble in facing ever-evolving issues, and more innovative in discovering solutions to complex problems.

Charter schools today serve more than 2.5 million students in almost 7,000 schools across 43 states.  These schools have changed how education is delivered, measured and met, including playing a large role in creating the online education movement, state accountability systems and new career pathways for teachers. The fact that the public system itself has adopted many of the same reforms is cause to celebrate. When innovations become established, they can have a larger impact. However, when innovations become too established they can lose the very conditions that made them able to innovate; this is the precarious position in which the charter school sector currently finds itself.   The operational flexibility and freedom once afforded to charter schools almost universally has caught a regulatory fervor that its own advocates have invited, slowly “morphing” them into organizations like those they sought to disrupt- they have become more bureaucratic, risk averse, and fixated on process over experimentation. This organizational behavior is, in academic parlance, called isomorphism– the behavior that allows once innovative organizations to resemble those they once disrupted.

Charter Innovation. As a response to decades of declining educational competitiveness and achievement, the idea behind charter schools was to empower parents and teachers to create and choose among diverse learning environments. Charters resonated quickly across states and political lines. Between 1991 and 1999, Democrats and Republicans enacted 36 charter school laws. The result was not only the mainstreaming of school choice, but it was the beginning of a competitive environment that shook the traditional public school establishment, leading to the first state-wide standards and assessments, and consequently, to improved academic performance nationwide. By introducing choice and diversification into public schooling, school districts lost their “exclusive franchise” on their customers, akin to what Clayton Christiansen has argued caused industry giants to lose their competitive edge to innovators able to compete with greater agility to meet consumer needs. While leading firms (in this analogy, traditional public schools) were focused on low-risk “sustaining” improvements that shored up their significant role in their established markets, smaller, cutting-edge firms (i.e., charters) worked to transform labor, capital, materials and information into new “disruptive technologies.”

The Innovator’s Dilemma.  Igniting a revolution in teaching and learning, charters not only disrupted,  but also in some cases displaced or reinvigorated established systems, such as those in New Orleans and Los Angeles. Sometimes, however, innovation in a field reaches a point of diminishing returns after the field is perceived either to need or to have attained legitimacy. As Powell and DiMaggio note, “once a field becomes well established there is an inexorable push toward homogenization.”

For charter schools, the push has come from philanthropists and even some advocacy groups, who have grown increasingly sensitive to critiques of their industry- criticisms that come largely from inaccurate studies as well as misinformation. Supporters demand a certain “look and feel” from charter schools as a condition of their ongoing support, causing the greater movement to begin to adopt constraining language and processes that aim at ensuring continued support. Those networks that are already established and have “proven” themselves are supported over organic “mom and pop” schools (often developed by minority leaders) or non-traditional service providers. What is generally forgotten is the fact that established organizations were once a single unproven school!

Read the rest of the article here.

Court Victory for Louisiana School Voucher Program

The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision rules that the U.S. Department of Justice does not have the right to intervene in Louisiana’s voucher program. This ruling reverses the April 2014 decision in favor of the DOJ for requests for data and oversight.

Judge Edith Jones writes in the Conclusion in Case No. 14-31010:

DOJ’s attempt to shoehorn its regulation of the voucher program into an entirely unrelated forty-year-old case represents more than ineffective lawyering. Despite the district court’s contrary conclusion, it seems plain that DOJ’s expressed concern — how the voucher program affects statewide public schools racially — has nothing to do with the narrow issues considered in the Brumfield
litigation. DOJ’s bold strategy, if upheld, would circumvent the ordinary litigation process in two ways. The reports it seeks do not fall under the auspices of discovery permitted by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which authorize the compelled production of information only after a complaint alleges violations of law. Here, there was no complaint, hence no basis for DOJ to intrude into the affairs of Louisiana and its disadvantaged student population. American discovery follows the common law adversary process,
not the civil law’s inquisitorial process, yet DOJ seeks to be the inquisitor. Even more disturbing, DOJ’s motion, as explained in the November 2013 hearing, essentially foretells its attempt — through pre-award “back and forth” with the state on every single voucher — to regulate the program without any legal judgment against the state. This court may not speculate why DOJ chose to avoid the path of litigation to prove a violation and there after enforce a remedy against the state and its school children. What is clear is that DOJ chose an unauthorized means to accomplish the same result.
The district court did not have jurisdiction over the subject matter of the DOJ’s motion for further relief, which was outside the continuing jurisdiction of the 1975 order and the 1985 consent decree. Therefore, the April Order is void and the denial of the 60(b)(4) motion is reversed.

For the foregoing reasons, the April 2014 order of the district court is REVERSED, the injunctive requirements for “further relief” are DISSOLVED, and the case is remanded with instructions to DISMISS the Motion for Further Relief.

Read the full decision here.

[Click here for more on Louisiana’s voucher program]

The Department of Justice first filed a motion against the Louisiana Scholarship Program on August 24, 2013, acting on a claim that the Program impeded desegregation efforts, which was later debunked by a state-commissioned report. Department of Justice efforts sought to block the further issuance of vouchers in school districts with standing desegregation orders until it could be proven that the approximately 600 voucher-receiving students from those districts were not compromising the desegregation process.

In April 2014, the initial injunction against the program was dropped, with a District Court Judge ruling the State of Louisiana could continue with the overwhelmingly popular School Choice Scholarship Program without unwarranted intervention, however federal requests for data and oversight were not dropped.

[Court Ruling Protects Louisiana Voucher Program, but Federal Overreach Persists, Adam Peshek, State Policy Director for the Foundation for Excellence in Education]

Jindal scores a win with appeals court voucher ruling (Politico)
Federal Court Rules in Favor of Louisiana School Children (American Federation for Children)

Hillary Clinton wades into the internal Democratic battle over public schools

By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post
November 11, 2015

Hillary Clinton long skirted the internal Democratic Party conflict over the best way to improve public schools. She avoided the fight between teachers unions, which want heavier investment and less blame for educators, and those who believe non-unionized charter schools should be expanded and teachers held accountable for student achievement.

But Clinton’s neutrality has started to fray.

By early October, she had pocketed presidential endorsements from both major teachers unions. Before she got the nod from the National Education Association, Clinton told a private gathering of NEA leaders she wanted the country’s largest union to be “at the table, literally and figuratively” as she formulates policy, according to excerpts published in an NEA publication.

At a town hall meeting in South Carolina on Sunday, Clinton was critical of public charter schools, saying “most” intentionally exclude or expel children who are difficult to educate.

“Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them,” Clinton said in response to questions at an event hosted by the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.

By contrast, she said, traditional public schools do “thankfully, take everybody, and then they don’t get the resources or the help and support that they need to be able to take care of every child’s education.”

The remarks lit up the world of K-12 education policy, prompting outrage from organizations that have been fighting to expand charter schools as an alternative to traditional schools. Some alleged that the presidential hopeful is out of touch.

“That is absolutely false,” Jeanne Allen, the founder of the Center for Education Reform, said of Clinton’s claims about charters. “She sounds like an aloof, elite candidate from a bygone era, before ed reform was a reality.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Hillary Clinton gets pushback for anti-charter schools comment

by Jason Russell
Washington Examiner
November 10, 2015

Most public charter schools don’t take hard-to-teach students, or at least that’s what Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said in an interview.

“Most charter schools — I don’t want to say every one — but most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them,” Clinton told TV One host Roland Martin this weekend.

First of all, charter schools have to take every applicant that comes their way. When space runs out, they are required to use a random lottery system to admit students. Charter schools don’t have admissions officers saying, “This student looks like they’ll be difficult,” before giving them the rejection stamp.

Second, charter schools serve hard-to-teach kids at higher rates than traditional public schools. We can’t know exactly what Clinton meant when she said “hardest-to-teach kids,” but the implication is children from low-income families or racial minorities. Charter schools serve both of those groups at higher rates than traditional public schools. There’s also no difference between public and charter schools in the portion of students learning English as a second language.

Charter schools are publicly-funded and do not charge tuition. Compared to traditional public schools, charter schools have more independence in their operations and curricula, which is why so many families find charter schools desirable.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was quick to respond to Clinton. “Distorting the role charter schools play in transforming lives in order to placate the teachers unions is beyond the pale, @HillaryClinton,” Bush tweeted.

Clinton is endorsed by the two largest teachers unions in the country: The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools also responded to Clinton, in a statement from its president and CEO Nina Rees. “We do take issue with Secretary Clinton’s overgeneralizing of charter schools not serving these so-called ‘hardest-to-teach’ students, particularly when the facts are so strong to the contrary,” Rees said. “There is no difference in the percentage of English Language Learner students served between charter and non-charter public schools.” Rees also pointed out that charter schools in New York City retain students with disabilities better than traditional public schools, and that proficiency in Los Angeles’ charter schools is triple the rate of the traditional public schools there. She also noted that Clinton has supported public charter schools for decades.

The Center for Education Reform also responded with a statement from its founder, Jeanne Allen. “The vast majority of charter schools in the United States serve children who were not succeeding in their traditional public schools,” Allen said. “The vast majority of charter schools serve children who live in poverty, or close to poverty. The vast majority of charter schools transform the lives of the kids they serve at a fraction of the cost of traditional public schools. And the vast majority of charter schools not only have to fight to educate children, they have to fight the daily attacks from bureaucrats and special interests who place paychecks and adult jobs over the futures of disadvantaged kids.”