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Born To Rise

A driving passion to create for students a school that meets, even exceeds, standards she had for her own children’s schools is what drove Deborah Kenny to jump headfirst into the raging sea of opening a charter network, the Harlem Village Academies. In a storytelling-style book, Born to Rise, Kenny offers not only her personal motivation to be a charter trailblazer in Harlem, but a down and dirty look into what it takes to open the doors on that first day of school – from funding to securing a building to finding the best teachers.

Much of what she writes about her inspiration is common among many charter school founders – social justice concern for children in the throes of poverty who can make it if only given a chance, despair over bureaucratic mandates that impede true student growth and an annoyance with union rules that handcuff teachers to doing less or keep teachers who work at sub-par levels in contact with students for way too long. Yet, Kenny holds a unique approach to the type of school she wants to open, one that puts people and culture first. Her belief, based on research and reading, particularly Peter Drucker’s Management Challenges for the 21st Century, is that building a culture where people enjoy work and empowering teachers to take ownership of their jobs will result in top outcomes for students. Like many education leaders, Kenny understands how critical it is to have a quality teacher in every classroom. But, rather than script teachers to get a top performance, she wants to give them the freedom, along with accountability, to make their own decisions. It goes without saying that she also puts a lot of time and energy into hiring the right teachers.

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Assault On Accountability

Whether one questions college and high school national rankings or not, everyone grabs for U.S. News & World Report’s issues that rate schools nationwide.  We may quibble with which one is assigned top dog and which comes in third, but overall there is a sense that somehow the rating does justice to the service provided.

Not any more.  Nevada’s Green Valley High School came in a respectful 13th place out of thousands.  But, that pretty top score made the school principal go slack jaw. How could that be?  The first major error is in the simple calculation of how many students are enrolled.  U.S. N&W noted 477.  Jeff Horn, the school’s principal, says think again.  It’s more like 2,788.  And the data went downhill from there.

So what happened?  A consultant programmer, paid by a federal grant to input data that eventually is sent to the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data, input the wrong numbers for Green Valley High.  The consultant’s contract ended and the individual moved on to Texas.  Human error, albeit costly, is not unexpected.  Safeguards to ensure accurate data fell apart at the federal level and never were in existence at the state level due to not having “a bunch of people sitting around a table, adding up the numbers, making sure things are right,” according to the state’s Education Department director of assessment.  “It’s an automated process.” Automated or not, it failed.

Clearly, this is not the only error in federal data.  Pacific Palisades High School, a very affluent and high-achieving California school, is considered to be a dropout factory thanks to NCES data errors.  These types of errors are unequivocally major obstacles to improve education in all schools for all kids.  The reform movement rests on the base of accountability, assuming the

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What's Wrong with This Picture??

Why is this woman protesting the creation of new options for parents – as some of those parents look on – when she most likely doesn’t live in a bad school zone and clearly doesn’t have a clue as to the plight of people who do?

Crusading for universal pre-school is all fine and dandy, but who works in her ideal universally-funded pre-school and where do those pre-schoolers attend school as they age? These are the issues with which most parents are concerned. Is the quality of staff guiding our children first rate? Are they accountable for performance? Are they well educated? Will the children enter schools that are personalized and aware that if they don’t succeed in doing do they can loose the funding the students represent?

Get with the real picture. Put down your sign and visit a few schools. Or not.

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Weekend Reading: What School Choice Has To Do With National Security

‘Do not Pass Go’, ‘Do Not Collect $200’, unless you’ve read “National Security Issue” from the Las Vegas Journal:

“It could hardly get more clear: The performance of the public schools has become so bad that even a bipartisan, middle-of-the road panel says the low educational attainment of our younger generations threatens American security.” READ MORE…

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NCLB Waivers: The Ultimate Ego Trip

The move by states to secure waivers to NCLB requirements is intended to provide more flexibility to their school districts so that – as the theory goes – states and communities can respond to mounting national pressure to deliver better education.

If only it were that easy.

The reality is that these chiefs – regardless of their interests, their power and their ideological leanings – cannot do any better than those in power before NCLB was enacted unless the incentives for change — and the consequences — are no longer voluntary.

True, we have witnessed a sea change with respect to state education policy at the hands of great Governors and school chiefs over time, only to then watch helplessly as it all turned around at the conclusion of a disappointing election cycle. NCLB was intended to finally shake up a system seemingly impervious to change in all but a few pockets of the country. It wasn’t a perfect law. No law is. It relied upon people of varied interests to respond to the challenge and the consequences clearly set forth.

Because of NCLB, we have learned more each year about the dismal state of education through data that, for the first time, was publicly available and disaggregated for all to see.

For decades, student achievement was masked behind the averaged results of a school – results that really meant very little. Good schools had money. Bad schools were impoverished. That’s what the public — and the policymakers — thought. NCLB data-demands unearthed real achievement data — and helped us to throw away the excuses that created a persistent achievement gap.

But instead of responding to the challenge (as we learned more and more each year about the dismal state of education) school districts and Supers began to fight back. They claimed they were being

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Counterproductive Charter Rankings

The fight for true educational justice and equality for kids suffered a setback this week with the release of a much-hyped report purportedly offering a broad overview and ranking of the country’s 42 charter school laws.

Only 20 or so of the 41 states (and the District of Columbia) that provide a home to charter schools truly have the components necessary to provide the educational justice that was and is the driving force behind these schools’ creation. We know this because we’ve been studying this very issue since 1993 and have produced at an almost annual rate a comprehensive report assessing, year to year, the strength and execution of every state charter law. The Center for Education Reform’s research and analysis is based not just on reading and re-reading each law and regulation, but also on a personal, hands-on involvement with schools throughout the country, firsthand accounts and continuous discussion with both parents and leaders affected by the law, as well as with legislators who often don’t realize that a law’s plans and its implementation can vary greatly.

CER’s research and rankings – cited for over a decade by media and political leaders alike – are solid, accepted, and show that when states have great laws, they will have great schools.

If only it were so easy to ensure sound policy be adopted and grown.

On the road to educating lawmakers and promulgating strong charter laws (no simple task with legislator turnover, not to mention their susceptibility to daily outside pressure), another group has decided that a second analysis of existing laws is necessary (regardless of whether or not it might cause confusion, deter policymakers from doing the hard work required, or clash with existing best practices). And so, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) has released a

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Charter Closure Report Clarification

A longtime debate surrounding charter schools is whether or not those that are not working – for whatever reason – are closed. Our new report, which provides the first-ever national analysis of charter school closures, finds a movement very much accountable for its contract and commitment to quality educational options.

Since 1992, 15 percent, or 1,036, of the approximately 6,700 charter schools ever opened have been closed for five primary reasons – financial (41.7 percent), mismanagement (24 percent), academic (18.6 percent), district obstacles (6.3 percent) and facilities (4.6 percent). There are 500 additional charter schools that have been consolidated back into the district or received a charter but were unable to open.

This level of analysis and transparency is critical for the public to understand that poorly performing or problematic charter schools are being closed. And that charter schools are working. Knowing what happens to charter schools that fail is critical, but one must be careful in making assumptions with data that does away with the full context.

Huffington Posts’ Joy Resmovits took the initiative to explore and report on the number of academic closures within the full universe of charters ever opened to make the case that charter schools are rarely closed for academic performance. However, this type of analysis takes the report findings out of context and maligns the high-level of accountability currently in place.

Our report found that the majority of charter schools close for financial or operational deficiencies and do so within the first five years of the school’s existence. Academic closures usually take longer because it takes the whole charter term to gather enough sound data and make proper comparisons.

This is a good sign. One cannot expect charter schools that face financial or mismanagement issues to achieve high levels of academic success. These issues present themselves

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You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town.

I might not be Santa, but I love his philosophy! There comes a time in everyone’s life (and for me it’s now) where one’s tolerance for injustice becomes too much. For the Occupy movement, that means taking over public parks and becoming an ever-present obstacle to remind people of their positions. Like it or hate it, you can’t get too far from it.

As long as I’ve been at the helm of CER, I’ve been proud to stand alongside individuals within the organization and without who don’t let people stray too far from what their positions and obligations are all about. We’ve taken on Democrats and Republicans alike, including presidents. We’ve called out the Blob, and we’ve challenged those who are allies or friends. We’ve called out non-profits and for-profits. We’ve both praised and torn apart the media.

My personal responsibility is to those who turn to us for help and those who support us to do so. They run the gamut from $10 donors to big foundations. They fund many of the same people we support and some that we criticize. I’ve often repeated to my kids that old but true saying, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is looking.” So it gets to me, in particular, when people conduct themselves poorly because they think no one is watching, particularly public officials.

Take New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education, whom I’ve been proud in the past to stand by when he called or asked for help in numerous positions he’s held. Yet lately, he’s stood by a flawed charter review process and has decided to turn personal on the business issue at hand. After reading Newswire’s critique of his department’s stepping aside to allow the Garden State Virtual Charter to take a dive, one example of the

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It's Not Just The Education System That's Been Dumbed Down

What’s wrong with the NY Times article, “Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools”?

Let me count the ways:

1) Alex Molnar — used as an expert. Has been a known ideological opponent of reform since I was in college. Literally. Crazy man. Has no academic standing.

2) Gary Miron — a little better and sometimes a fairly good researcher, but who’s devoted a lifetime to studying for-profit companies, always with a slant as to how they hurt charter schools. Not much credibility here, either.

3) Jack Wagner — PA State Auditor, who wants to be governor some day with the support of the teachers union. Has been saying for years that having charter schools funded from same pool as other public schools is unfair. Strike 3

4) Lawyer for school districts used as a source

5) By page 5 (online), we still haven’t heard from someone with a different point of view. Now the NEA is being used as a source for policy and data.

6) CREDO — Yep, that study. Too bad there’s no corollary provided. More on that here and here.

6) Reagan. Had to bring him up. PR guy for local Ohio choice group used to work in that Administration. Clearly this is all the former president’s fault!

And this reporter won a Pulitzer Prize? Obviously, it’s not just the education system that’s been dumbed down!

For the facts on online learning, check out the Center for Education Reform’s Digital Learning Toolkit.

For another analysis on the story, visit this post on Getting Smart.

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DC Charter Scores Prove Success

Demonstrating once again the power of being number 1 (as in, the NUMBER 1 Strongest Law in the nation), the independent authorizer for DC charter schools has created and yesterday announced the results of a new performance accountability system aimed at tracking in real time the performance and growth of all the students in its 58 schools — nearly 42 percent of all DC public school students, period!

And to naysayers that say charters don’t work, that they don’t close and that they are not accountable, I’d like to know what you call this.

It’s so good that not only can you see superior gains in charters versus traditional public schools (Sorry, Macke!) but there is a tier of schools under review that the data — using child by child performance scores — suggests either needs to buck up or be closed, something this independent, superior authorizer is willing to do.

A model to be sure for other states, and a proud moment for DC. Kudos, DCPCSB and charter school leaders!

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