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Losing the race before it's begun

hare_turtleIf the Race to the Top is to have an influence on making sure schools get better, someone has got to figure out how districts can be held accountable directly for their behavior when it comes to reform. Nowhere is this more clear than in South Carolina’s Richland School District – an area where the school board seems to relish opportunities to strike down innovative and independent charter schools.

The Hope Charter Academy saw its charter unanimously rejected by a hostile school board that uses any excuses it can to reject quality school applications.

Founded by a group of long time African-American activists and developed over an 18-month period, the Hope Academy proposal was initially given a temporary green light and thus signed up more than 250 interested parents. However, a hostile school board rejected its pleas despite four hours of convincing public testimony.

While some feel criticism of Race to the Top fever is premature, we use this example (only one of scores across the country) to illustrate why public policy at the federal level takes not just time, but real understanding and action of state influencers, to have any effect. South Carolina districts are the only authorizers that can (if they want to) fully fund charters. The one real alternative created – with support from the local charter association – only provides $3,400 – the state per pupil amount – for each student that enrolls in state charter district authorized schools.

Perhaps racing to the top is, in theory, a good idea. It won’t work, however, unless it transcends state and local politics and business as usual.

Interesting that Hope Academy is pretty darn near the school district the President cited in his (almost) State of the Union

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It's not what you say

homerunIt looks like RNC Chariman Michael Steele beat us to the punch and hit one out of the park for DC kids on last night’s Hardball when he pointed out the disconnect between President Obama’s incredible speech to the NAACP and his near sweeping under the rug of the successful DC Opportunity Scholarship Program.

“You can go to the NAACP and say a lot, but it’s what you do (that matters),” countered Steele when Matthews praised the hardball words of Obama in New York.

Chris Matthews was right on target with the issue, said it was an area he and Steele agreed upon, that “Opportunity Scholarships should be maintained”, and pointed out it was the education Sonia Sotomayor received at Cardinal Spellman High School, a Catholic school in the Bronx, that was a key factor in her success.

Chris Matthews and Michael Steele join a growing list of powerful endorsements for scholarships providing a way out – and a way up – for DC students.

How many more need to speak out before the Administration and Congress listen?

Take a look for yourself (discussion of DCOSP begins at the 6:45 mark).

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Battle Hymn of the Reformers (No Excuses!)

noexcusesA challenge to the NAACP, African-American parents and all Americans…

To rousing applause, the president gave what was perhaps his best education speech to date last night, making it clear that “government programs alone…” won’t solve our problems, instead asking this community in particular to adopt  “a new mind set”, one that doesn’t tolerate failure.

“No excuses,” the president demanded to this audience. “No excuses.”

He has our thanks and our blessing for adopting the Reform Battle Cry.

“No Excuses” he said to the organization that, despite it’s name, has in reality done little in the last 20 years to support the kinds of real reforms that can indeed create a no excuses culture for poor children, children of color, all children in need.

And so the president’s impassioned and bold speech is particularly music to the ears of reformers of all stripes.

“I hope you don’t mind. I want to go on a little detour here about education (to rousing applause). In the 21st century when so many jobs will require a bachelors degree or more… a world class education is a prerequisite for success. You know what I’m taking about. There’s a reason the story of the civil rights movement was written in our schools.

“There is no stronger weapon against inequality and no better path to opportunity than an education that can unlock a child’s God given potential.

“Yet more than half a century after Brown v. Board of Education, the dream of a world class education is still being deferred…” (i.e. Achievement gap, dropouts, corridors of shame…)

“The state of our schools… is an American problem. Because if black and brown children cannot compete, America cannot compete.

“And let me say this, if Al Sharpton, Mike Bloomberg and Newt Gingrich can agree we have to

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