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A Rush to Judgement

judgeSenator Durbin used Wednesday’s hearing on Washington, DC public schools to broadcast what feels like a last ditch effort on his part to remove continuation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program from consideration, and frankly, making thinly veiled accusations of mismanagement and fraud when he himself admits to lacking all of the details speaks of desperation.

While there may be a legitimate question of the program’s transparency, if that truly is an obstacle to continuation, it is one that can easily be removed. What cannot be questioned is the fact that DC OSP families have seen the education and futures of their students dramatically changed for the better because of their participation.

Perhaps the most scrutinized and vetted federal education reform program in history, mountains of research and hours of testimony before Congress by experts, educators, parents and students should speak for itself, pointing to increased student achievement, safety and satisfaction.

This small $14 million program has proven itself to be effective on many levels, and yet billions upon billions are heaped into pork legislation, pet projects and favors without so much as a raised eyebrow? This year, public schools across the country have been the recipients of the largest influx of monies ever allotted to education. Rather than fighting what works, Senator Durbin and his teachers union supporters would better serve the kids he so strongly “defends” in his war on the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program by thoroughly following the $100 billion pledged to the country’s schools and ensuring that it not continue to fund failing and broken programs.

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Proper focus

allaboutme(This post originally appeared on Politico‘s The Arena)

The noise about President Obama’s impending speech to schoolchildren Tuesday is muffling the real issues.  While the President has every right to address any segment of the nation on any subject – and we all have the right to voluntarily listen or not – it’s both the way this thing was rolled out and the predicted content that should be most alarming to people – Republican or Democrat.

First, let’s talk about process, i.e. the rollout.  Rather than simply announce that the president was making a back-to-school speech, the policy/PR/other sundry staffers attached to this wrote and distributed superficial lesson plans as if they knew anything about education to begin with and as if this speech was indeed about the president, not the nation’s education crisis.  Telling teachers they should consider engaging students in a dialogue about how President Obama inspires them is ludicrous, not because some may not agree with him, but because it suggests this speech is after all about HIM.  To then go ahead and attack people for attacking the speech is like smoking and then getting outraged when someone says they smell smoke on you.

The speech massagers were clearly set about getting the president press. While I don’t doubt the president wants to give a great, meaningful speech to kids, his handlers messed up and have thwarted that potential now, not Bill O’Reilly or dozens of other known detractors.  The president’s “men” fell on their swords on this one, and President Obama should take full responsibility for that.

Second, the president’s predicted content which we’ll all now see prior thanks to the defensive posture the White House has had to take on this, should not just be about

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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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