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Parental school choice spurs surprising reactions from advocates of the poor

by John Kirtley
redefinEd
August 26, 2013

As a white person from Iowa, I am always hesitant to write about the racial aspects of ed reform and parental school choice. I feel it is always better to have others with more credibility speak of it. But this weekend I saw two things that compelled me to write.

On Saturday, I read that the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state of Louisiana to block vouchers for students in public school districts that are under old federal desegregation orders. The statewide voucher program, officially called the Louisiana Scholarship Program, lets low-income students in public schools graded C, D or F attend private schools at taxpayer expense. This year, 22 of the 34 school systems under desegregation orders are sending some students to private schools on vouchers.

The Justice Department’s primary argument is that letting students leave for private schools can disrupt the racial balance in public school systems that desegregation orders are meant to protect. Sounds like a good idea, right?

But here’s the thing: according to the Louisiana Department of Education, 86 percent of the children on the program are black. Only 9 percent are white.

If roughly 90 percent of the kids on the program are black, I don’t really understand how them moving to private schools that would better serve them would worsen segregation in the public schools. Are they leaving schools that are mostly white? If so, should they be forced to stay there even though they aren’t being well served? How would you explain that to their parents?

On the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s great speech, a black attorney general working for a black president filed a lawsuit to halt a program that is helping low-income black families in Louisiana choose a better school for their

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Obama Administration Flips on School Vouchers

WASHINGTON, DC – In a stunning turn of events, the Obama Administration today reversed course on the issue of school choice and vouchers, detailing an ambitious plan to create national school choice options through a competitive grant program for states.

“Unfortunately, I had not actually sat down and read the research on school choice and achievement for myself,” Obama admitted during a press conference this morning. “I trusted the counsel of those who supposedly had. I can admit when I am wrong, and in this case, I see that offering options to parents is not only changing lives, but, on a large scale, can lift our entire school system to new heights. That’s exactly what this White House is all about.”

Joined at the podium by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the President outlined their proposal to launch a competition that, like its predecessor ‘Race to the Top’, asks states to collaborate with stakeholders to win gobs of cash. Only, this time, according to Duncan, “the stakeholders will not be teachers unions and school boards, but parents and students. We screwed up last time and relied on the input of those we thought had the best interests of kids in mind. We wanted urgency. What we got was a pile of promises that have not only been sitting in limbo for over a year, but in some cases abandoned entirely.”

Duncan also revealed that no outside consultancy would be accepted to boost the chances states have to win. “For ‘Race to the Top’, my staff was reading the same application over and over again. Only the state names changed.”

To prove his point, he brought up the winning applications of Maryland and Hawaii. “Honestly, we were just flipping coins at the end,” he said.

Details of the plan are still being put in place, but

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Fast Tracking the Status Quo

clock(Originally posted to the National Journal‘s Education Experts blog.)

Perhaps it’s not so unusual that the same person who fought to get a waiver from NCLB’s tutoring requirement is the same person who is pushing a fast track for making the bill’s requirements more flexible. When some of Arne Duncan’s Chicago schools were failing kids, he asked then Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings for a waiver from the requirement that students be permitted to leave and take their tutoring money elsewhere. Arne Duncan thought he could do tutoring better than the private sector, so he sought to deliver tutoring rather than send the money out of house. There’s no data on whether it worked, and some in Chicago say not much changed during that period of time following NCLB, other than a heightened awareness of the problem and a tenacity by Duncan to pursue some modest, external reforms (charters, some contracting). Once a school superintendent, always a school superintendent. And while Duncan is not the issue, his brand of reform puts Superintendents and school boards in the driver’s seat. Problem is, last time they drove that car, it kept getting banged up.

But it was NCLB’s teeth – the threat of loss of money or worse – that got people motivated. The hard, fast consequences of accountability, and the spotlight on data, however challenged by differing vantage points, prevented the country from hiding the shameful state of education in our schools, from the world or ourselves…

Read the entire post HERE.

(*Image courtesy of yellowcloud)

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All in the family

duncannea(originally posted on Politico‘s The Arena blog)

Unpopular positions? Tough love? The teachers unions want you to believe they are being punished by the president’s policies. It makes for great copy and provides cover for both the unions and the Education Department as they manipulate Capitol Hill for a second multi-billion dollar bailout. But the truth is, it’s all in the family.

The administration’s education policy, including the “Race to the Top” initiative, has been easy on unions and their members. States have received money for saying they are going to factor performance into evaluations, when in reality to make meaningful performance pay work, you must either require performance to trump local union contract provisions or change the contract itself. Additionally, districts have been paid money for saying they will turn around failing schools. No one in the status quo is hurting or being forced to change very much because of what the president is saying. The talk is good and strengthens reformers’ hands, but the teachers unions won’t feel any discomfort until someone or something cuts into the lock they have on how schools operate and how policy is crafted.

Read the entire post over at The Arena

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From the cutting room floor

trash canFour things you are guaranteed not to hear in Wednesday night’s SOTU:

  • “While a little nerve-wracking for us around the White House, November elections by the people of New Jersey and Virginia solidified what will be an exciting opportunity for those states to break from the status quo and embrace the education reforms of their new governors and the incredibly bold leaders they have chosen to steer schools in their states. At the very least, McDonnell has kept Gerard so busy he hasn’t been able to bother me about DC scholarships.”
  • “Frankly, my Education Secretary and I were disappointed with the results of special legislative sessions and bill proposals regarding charter schools. Our crack public affairs team spun things so R2TT would come out smelling like a rose, but, come on. Caps lifted when states weren’t even near them, Louisiana? Strengthening collective bargaining, Illinois? And two little guys out of New England – I’m talking to you Rhode Island and Connecticut – giving charter schools money you had already promised then taken away? Really? I hope that wasn’t used to support your applications. We went to Harvard, you know.”
  • “The one real win in R2TT goes on the scoreboard for teachers. Check this out. In addition to $100 billion dollars to keep them employed through the stimulus, we figured out a way to take it a step further with R2TT and teacher evaluation methodology. You could drive a truck through the holes in state proposals regarding teachers. You should see some of the emails Arne sends me late at night with examples cut straight from the applications. It’s all I can do to keep from falling out of bed. I can’t wait for round two.”
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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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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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Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

wizardofozI have many colleagues who insist that deep down, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a real education reformer, and is a reflection of an administration that is reform-minded on critical education issues.  Because he hired this or that person, because he talks about charter schools, and because he told the press he thought that children currently in the DC scholarship program should be allowed to finish even if it is discontinued.  There are some who believe he’s “one of us.”

The Denver Post today, like Toto in The Wizard of Oz, pulls back the curtain on the image of Duncan as reformer to reveal some hard truths behind the talking points.  Like many of us, they wanted to know why a Congressionally mandated report on the DC voucher program – providing evidence of success – was released on a Friday, after Congress recessed, and as millions of Americans were leaving for their spring breaks.  Duncan denied knowing about the findings, though senior department officials have had a chance to review them since November.  Even if they deliberately kept it from the Secretary, it still begs the question as to why, knowing the Congress was moving to kill it, did he not ask where the study results were?  As the Denver Post columnist argues, Duncan discards the program as being too small to care about.  He dances around his opposition by advocating that kids already in the program continue — without demanding legislation that would allow that to happen, by the way.  Thus my colleagues’ “hopes” that he’ll come around, that reason will prevail.  They are so blinded by their dreams for this Administration that they find it impossible to believe its people could oppose something so good.

But

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How do I react?

Nancy: Joe, did Barack just endorse charter schools as an example of what’s working in public education?
Joe: I think he did.
Nancy: Everyone looks like they are about to applaud. What should we do?
Joe: Do you think the cameras are on us right now?
Nancy: I don’t know. Maybe they’re taking a shot of Landrieu. She’s all over charters down there in Louisiana.
Joe: My state has given charters a real rough time lately, and I don’t think my constituents donors would appreciate my showing any support.
Nancy: Mine neither. What should we do?
Joe: Let’s just scowl. It always worked for Cheney. I don’t know if he ever smiled at these things.

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Viva Viagra! Rambo’s in Town!

headbandAll stimulus—all the time. There is nothing like a raucous action film filled with exploding cars and high-powered weaponry to distract you from your troubles and take your mind off your real obligations back home. Like it or not, this is the net effect of the Stimulus package now furiously hurdling through Congress like some action hero implausibly decimating everything in his way while the world around watches in awe—numb, but invigorated by the spectacle—waiting to be rescued.

Has Obama gone Rambo? Or has Washington become a Hollywood set—a gleaming fasçade, supported by nothing, but intentionally built to allow our superhero to shine?

For those in need of a tonic from so much stimulus—still reeling from the whiplash of the high-speed chase with stolen dollars flying everywhere—read Michael Gerson’s magisterial treatment of how real education reform signaled by the Obama campaign has already been abandoned in exchange for Obama’s empty pragmatism.

No purple pill or action hero bravado for him. Gerson is a real man, a man of principle, who reminds us what is required to effect fundamental reform. Among the remedies are test-based accountability and merit pay to drive improved teacher quality—not payola stolen from children yet born to buy off one’s political supporters.

Gerson writes, “It is still early in the Obama era. But it is already evident that pragmatism without a guiding vision or a fighting faith can become little more than the service of insistent political interests.” It is precisely for this reason that Mandate for Change was recently sent to every state and federal legislator in the land.

Got Mandate?

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