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Gingrich and Sharpton – An Odd Couple for Education, But Not the First

al-newtTomorrow, on his continuing education tour, Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be joined in Philadelphia by two gentlemen who because of their obvious differences on many levels are called the Odd Couple of education.  I applaud strange bedfellows – when they make things happen for kids. With this one, I’m not so sure.

The first real Odd Couples of education led some of the nation’s most fundamental shifts in education, shifts that had once been considered radical.  Looking back through the past sixteen years, it’s clear that while education reform has changed dramatically, broad, mainstream support for bold changes in education existed then, just as they do now.  It was just much less hip to say so.

Then, policymakers who led the fight for charter schools, merit pay (as it was called in those days), vouchers and the like were accused of being part of the vast right wing conspiracy and generally anti-public education, despite the fact that such nomenclature didn’t fit then, just as it does not now. CER’s first work celebrated legislators like Pennsylvania Democrat Dwight Evans, who joined hands with Republican Tom Ridge to pass that state’s charter bill.  Miami Urban League head T. Willard Fair teamed up with Governor Jeb Bush to bring vouchers to Florida, following in the steps of Representative Polly Williams, a former Black Panther, in league with conservative Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.

These were the first, real Odd Couples of the modern education reform movement.  They were bold, tenacious, and courageous to cross party lines, incur the wrath of unions together and suffer all sorts of education establishment slurs. (more…)

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Buried Alive (updated)

shovel“Explosive” results of a comprehensive, multi-year analysis of charter schools in New York City find students in charters more poor, more disadvantaged and from homes with lesser educational background, but closing the achievement gap by as much as 86 percent in math and 66 percent in reading.

So why is that news relegated to Page A27 of the New York Times, and only in a smattering of other papers elsewhere around the country?

This study by a noted Stanford University economist used an apples to apples comparison of real children – students who went to charters with those who did not get chosen by the lottery – rather than use intangible and relatively sketchy methodologies involving virtual students.

A less robust and, frankly, largely flawed study released in June by independent researchers at Stanford used that flawed methodology and made national headlines within a day of its press releases hitting the wires.

Their press roll out was criticized by charter advocates nationwide for misleading reporters. Indeed, the headlines then actually warned of charter students being behind in almost every state, without much credence for that or the general conclusions that now have every state legislator – along with union officials – saying charter success is overrated.

But the reality is: it’s not overrated. Charter schools do make an enormous difference in the life of a child and their family, particularly the longer they stay in a charter school.

The true gold-standard report issued Tuesday by Caroline Hoxby and her colleagues at the National Bureau of Economic Research tells the real story of a very big state that has the longevity and experience worthy of study and reporting.

It should not be buried in the depths of newspapers behind smaller, less

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Too much credit

sneechesEven when research studies come from prestigious universities like Stanford, they can be flawed. That’s the case with data cited in “The $5 billion bet on education,” Al Hunt’s recent New York Times commentary about the Obama Administration’s education agenda and its reliance on less bureaucratic, more accountable public schools known as charters.

A small research unit at Stanford (not the university itself) piloted a methodology pairing virtual twins in charters with students in traditional public education, producing results at odds with most state and national assessments that show far better results. And the longer students are in charters, the better they do.

Obama’s Race to the Top would not be complete without such reforms, but Hunt errors in giving credit to states that have done little to create strong laws that allow for high numbers of high performing charter schools to flourish. The real test will be whether, when state legislators return to work, they will be willing to allow charters to start outside of school board control, free from union contracts and other constraints and funded equitably.

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