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President Obama Should Seize Opportunity To Address Education Reform in Omaha

Today, President Obama will visit Omaha. This will be the President’s first visit to Nebraska since taking office in 2008. He should seize this opportunity to address an education system in Omaha that is failing too many children, and children of color in particular. The President also has an opportunity to address shocking and ongoing disparities in Omaha with regard to unemployment, violence, the juvenile justice system, and over the incarceration of black men. The President’s leadership has the potential to put Omaha on a better path.

Sixteen months before President Obama took office, the Omaha World Herald published an article called “Omaha in Black and White: Poverty Amid Prosperity.” The article addressed troubling disparities based on race. The worst black child poverty rate in the country, was but one example of such disparity. Omaha’s Mayor at the time pledged to address the academic achievement gap. The President of the Chamber of Commerce discussed a development plan for North Omaha, the heart of Omaha’s black community.

There was also reference in the 2007 Omaha World Herald article to new initiatives aimed at alleviating poverty and improving educational outcomes for black and Latino children. Within one year, many of Omaha’s most generous philanthropists launched the Building Bright Futures initiative and, shortly thereafter, the Avenue Scholars Foundation to do just that. A retired Omaha Superintendent served as CEO of both. Within six years, Building Bright Futures shuttered after spending $50 million and showing no significant progress.

During this same time, urban charter schools rapidly expanded around the nation. Children attending urban charter schools, on average, gain an additional 40 days of learning in math and 28 days of learning in reading each year. The benefits for

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Quality Counts: A Closer Look at Education Week’s Report

While still big on inputs and spending to rank states (giving New York inflated scores over Florida despite achievement gains of the latter over the former) Education Week’s Quality Counts is a welcome and informative tool in the area of student achievement. If you break out the results from the inputs, the story of American education progress is clear — states that are innovators and have created and sustained structures that challenge the status quo do better with students who are behind and improve schooling for all as a result.

Given the passage of the Student Success Act (NCLB’s Successor) just signed into law, the 20th Annual Quality Counts appropriately focuses on accountability as its theme. Education Week’s research team looked at trends on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, over the time NCLB helped set the tone for state accountability from 2003-2015.

While the research and corresponding reports are well-summarized on the site and don’t require additional summary, here are a few key takeaways for reformers:

1) States are graded in three large categories, comprised of 39 indicators, and while less weight is put on state inputs as in past years (parent’s income, educational level and property taxes), these indicators still play a major role in how states score.

2) States like Vermont and Maryland, which consistently score at the top of the rankings have more to do with the inputs (money) than achievement gains those states make with students. Indeed Maryland’s educational standing is often misquoted by its leadership and the press, giving credit to schools for having advantaged families with all the educational support that permits, as opposed to making progress.

3) The District of Columbia was ranked 28th overall but its K-12 achievement gains and progress

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Support for Rebecca Friedrichs: Rally Unites Those Standing For Teacher Freedom

“We trust the teachers!” “Stand with Rebecca!” “Do it for the kids!” These were the overwhelming chants heard from the small but mighty forces of the rally on the steps of the Supreme Court this morning. These supporters came out and bared the freezing temperatures to stand by Rebecca Friedrichs, the public face of the heavily discussed court case, Friedrichs V. California Teacher’s Association. Teachers, political figures, and different organizations all spoke valiantly this morning to state why they “Stand with Rebecca”. Even though the numbers were few, those who were physically on Capitol Hill this morning stood to represent the innumerable other supporters across the country.

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These past few weeks have been filled to the brim with several different people looking to show their support for this case, all leading up to the hearing this morning. If you didn’t already know at this point, Rebecca Friedrichs is an elementary school teacher from California working to exercise her First Amendment right. She, along with many other teachers, wish to have the ability to choose where the money in their paychecks go. The point that was continuously reiterated in this morning’s rally, and what many people don’t seem to fully understand, is that this case isn’t about the unions. It’s about allowing the teacher’s the choice to either join the union, or opt out. Currently, even those teachers who choose not to participate in the union still have to pay agency fees for the collective bargaining of the unions, even if they don’t agree with the union’s policies.

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While the union argues that the money they collect from their non-members goes towards their efforts in supporting all

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