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From CER to TFA

I have been an intern at The Center for Education Reform (CER) for six months and I am very excited to be ending my first semester of senior year with a job offer through Teach for America (TFA). Though controversial in the media, I believe Teach for America is the best place for me to expand my interest in education policy. By entering the classroom as a special education teacher, I will witness firsthand the struggles CER works to overcome at a state and national level. Going from CER to TFA is a logical and exciting jump that I am eager to take on.

My path to CER began in a junior year Foundations of Education class, with a zealous professor who was not only a TFA alumna but who also had worked in curriculum development at Elsie Whitlow Stokes and the Yu Ying Academy, two case-to-point examples of charter success in urban education here in DC. She showed our class Waiting for Superman, and I was hooked. One teacher or school district could not solve the problems facing the schools chronicled in Superman: public schools, particularly in low-income, high-need areas, were simply not working; whereas charter networks that focus on high standards were. Charter school success was so prominent in these areas that parents and students agonized to join them on waitlists. Two TFA Alumni founded the KIPP network, and current Chancellor of DC Public Schools Kaya Henderson is also an alumna of the organization. I am excited to join the ranks of such prominent education reformers.

Like charter schools themselves, TFA is often maligned for following a non-conventional path. Charter schools succeed by making their own standards for students and allowing for teachers to take autonomy in the classroom. TFA teachers, though not following a

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The Future of Education Reform in Washington, D.C.

On October 15th, I attended an event regarding education reform in our city, Washington D.C. This event was hosted by the Progressive Policy Institute and featured speakers who work and advocate for education reform, including former mayor Vincent Gray, Richard Whitmire, David Osborne, Jennifer Niles and Scott Pearson.

The speakers laughed, joked with each other, and spoke in a way that was straightforward and easily understood. This made the event much more pleasant for me as at times the ideas can be very complex, and I am no pro when it comes to education reform. However, I was able to keep up with every conversation between the panelists, which left me feeling in the loop, rather than bewildered and disconnected from the topics. I was somewhat familiar with many of the topics discussed, but as always, there were many astonishing takeaways.

First, one of the speakers touched upon standardized testing and graduation rates. He lectured that test scores should not be the main focus; the percentage of graduating students should be the focus.

“The most important outcomes are not test scores. The most important outcomes are peoples’ lives,” he said.

This inspired me very much. While standardized test scores are important, they aren’t the only factor indicative of a student’s success. The attention should be on student outcomes as a whole, setting up students to have the tools and skills they need to earn a degree and have an active role in the workforce.

Charter schools focus heavily on a myriad of academic outcomes. If a charter school performs poorly and the outcomes of the students are negative, the school will be shut down. In this way, charter schools are held more accountable in Washington, D.C. (and across the nation) than their traditional public school counterparts. “If you don’t get better, you’re going

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Principal Re-Evaluation

“Developing Excellent School Principals to Advance Teaching and Learning: Considerations for State Policy” by Paul Manna is a complex and extensive study that explains one main concept: “how states can ensure schools have principals who advance teaching and learning.” Currently in America, principals’ roles are vital but rarely recognized, and unfortunately overlooked by policy makers in state policy. Manna offers policy solutions meant to solve this issue and to ensure that principals’ status and work can improve dramatically.

First, Manna suggests we need to “assess state and local contexts” since each state runs very differently. We need to recognize these differences to satisfy the individual needs of each district, school, and family. The research on differences in demographics can “help inform state policy decisions designed to improve local practice,” and thus recruit principals depending on differing needs of students.

Next, once we assess state and local context, Manna says we need to identify particular policies that will bring about positive change: leadership standards, recruitment policies, training and development, and evaluations. In regard to evaluations, the National Conference of State Legislatures has found that 36 states demand principal evaluations. These states, however, have limited experience implementing principal evaluations and “much remains to be learned” according to Manna. In fact, he recommends that states remain flexible in implementation as best practices are identified and states can learn from one another.

Once these best practices are known, principal standards can be made, training programs can be more effective, and most importantly, principal evaluations and accountability can become a priority.

Currently, teachers receive two to four times more attention than principals do. Teachers have a significant impact on a child’s education, however principals are meant to guide teachers, so if principals are a low priority on state agendas, there may be negative consequences for teachers. Manna suggests

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