Newswire: April 18, 2017

EVERYTHING’S UP TO DATE IN KANSAS CITY? Well, not exactly, but it’s a work in progress. We offer a hearty welcome to the Ed Reform arena to the new SchoolSmart KC, an education organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap in the Kansas City public school system in the next ten years. One big lesson that we hope will drive your work: remember that the ingredients for successful parent empowerment are Innovation – with real flexibility for schools to be innovative and personalize learning; and Opportunity – the opportunity to control your child’s school choice, and for teachers and school leaders to control how they allocate and spend dollars. For more on why, get to know the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform.

THIS IS PROGRESS? The District of Columbia State Education Agency submitted an ESSA plan that commits both traditional public and charter schools to a “common accountability system,” with the blessing of the charter leadership in the city. It’s extraordinary that there was so much support to capture charter schools under the SEA state plan umbrella, when no such requirement exists in federal law and the charters themselves are LEAs, accountable for federal law through their authorizer, not the district/state. It’s as if they believed that pulling all charters under one accountability umbrella is consistent with their mandate to offer diverse options across all D.C. students attending public schools and charter schools. Does anyone know that ESSA plans become the foundation for federal intervention (no matter what administration comes and goes)? Guess not.

ACTUALLY ­THIS IS PROGRESS. Show me a state that is moving the needle for kids and I’ll show you a state where opportunity and innovation have been deeply seeded into the educational terrain. In this case, the state is Florida where an annual Department of Education study reveals that in 2015-2016 the state’s charter school students made greater learning gains than their peers in traditional public schools and outperformed them on state exams in 65 out of 77 comparisons. It also found that racial achievement gaps were smaller in charter schools, and that charter students learned more from one year to the next in 82 of 96 comparisons that focused on learning gains. Also, in 20 out of 22 comparisons, charters had smaller achievement gaps in math, English and social studies between white students and their black and Hispanic peers.

A quick glance at Florida’s education department website also earns the state a big thumbs up. Not only is it user friendly, it also offers a state-supported array of information and options that empowers educators and parents.

GAO STUDYING CHOICE? That’s like asking the teachers unions to study teacher performance. Originally called the Government Accounting Office, and set up as the “Investigative arm of Congress charged with the auditing and evaluation of Government programs and activities,” they are now used as the personal play thing for some lawmakers who want to challenge policy proposals with which they don’t agree. Concerned about the potential progress of a new federally supported school choice program, Democratic Senators Patty Murray, Sheldon Whitehouse and Ron Wyden want the GAO to investigate the “schemes” that are currently helping millions of students with scholarships to attend schools that meet their needs (and who, unlike most members of congress, can’t afford to pay on their own!). For years the GAO has been asked to conduct misleading and politically charged studies without qualification or a legitimate role.
Maybe the Trump administration should defund this agency, too.

TRUMP ED STAFF. But first he should engage one of his head honchos to uncork the bottleneck that seems to be preventing critical and qualified high-level hires at the US Department of Education. It’s not possible to drive innovation, flexibility and change in the status quo without a leadership team fighting for it every day. Hundreds of qualified leaders from the Ed Reform front lines are battle worn and tested and ready to aid and abet serious federal policy efforts. What’s the hold up? Inquiring minds want to know.