Year: 2012

The Role of the Charter School Authorizer

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Friday, December 28. Bob Bowdon Lisa Keegan is currently on the board of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.  She speaks here about the goals of that group. Previously, Ms. Keegan was elected as both an Arizona state legislator and the state’s education chief.  She remains a leader in the national education reform movement. LISA KEEGAN INTERVIEW All the day’s news in education reform available at ChoiceMedia.TV. © 2012 Choice...

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Mike Van Beek: MI Right-to-Work is ‘Huge’

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Friday, December 14. Bob Bowdon This week Michigan passed right-to-work legislation.  How did it affect public school teachers? I posed that question to Michael Van Beek.  He is the Director of Education Policy at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center, and here is the audio of that interview. MIKE VAN BEEK INTERVIEW All the day’s news in education reform available at ChoiceMedia.TV. © 2012 Choice...

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Jeanne Allen on the State of Ed Reform

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Tuesday, December 11. Bob Bowdon At the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference in Washington, DC, I was able to sit down with Jeanne Allen, the President of the Center for Education Reform, to discuss the state of education reform in America today.   Here is that interview. JEANNE ALLEN INTERVIEW All the day’s news in education reform available at ChoiceMedia.TV. © 2012 Choice...

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IN Supreme Court Hears Anti-Voucher Case

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Thursday, December 6, 2012. Bob Bowdon At the Foundation for Excellence in Education conference in DC last week, I sat down with Robert Enlow of Friedman Foundation to talk about the lawsuit against vouchers, currently under consideration by the Indiana Supreme Court.  Here is the audio of that interview. ROBERT ENLOW INTERVIEW All the day’s news in education reform available at ChoiceMedia.TV. © 2012 Choice...

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Breaking: Voucher Decision May Not Mean Much

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media Special Report on the Louisiana Voucher Decision, November 30th, 2012. Bob Bowdon The headlines broke today that District judge Tim Kelley had ruled Louisiana’s statewide vouchers unconstitutional.  But on closer inspection, the ruling may not as dramatic as some have assumed.   That’s because the judge specifically said he is not striking down the voucher program itself, only its current funding method.  In other words, if the school vouchers were instead paid for by a line item in the state budget, the judge says it would be constitutional.  Moreover, the case is headed for the Louisiana Supreme Court anyway, and the higher court won’t even be considering this judge’s rationale when they get the case. I spoke with Louisiana’s lead attorney defending the voucher program, Jimmy Faircloth, and he began by telling me what the decision did not say. JIMMY FAIRCLOTH TELEPHONE INTERVIEW All the day’s news in education reform available at ChoiceMedia.TV. © 2012 Choice...

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PA State Senator to Introduce Parent Trigger Bill

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Friday, November 30th. Bob Bowdon What is a Parent Trigger law?  The first one was passed in California.  It said that if over 50% of a particular school’s parents decide that the school is failing, they should have the power to force a major remedy, like replacing the principal and 50% of the teachers, replacing all the adults by bringing in a high-performing charter operator to run the school, or simply close the failing school so kids can be re-enrolled at better nearby neighborhood schools.  The selection of the remedy would not be up to education bureaucrats, who might just want to protect their friends’ jobs — it would be up to a simple majority of parents, provided that a majority actually do agree on what should be done. Pennsylvania State Senator Tony Williams wants his state to have a parent trigger law too.  Pennsylvania has interesting politics.   Despite voting for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by five points, 52% to 47%, nevertheless has a state government controlled by Republicans.  That means the state House, the state Senate and Governor’s office are all in GOP hands.  Senator Williams, a Democrat, says he expects a new Parent Trigger bill isn’t likely to have problems in the Senate, or winning the signature of Governor Tom Corbett.  The challenge, he says, will be the...

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IN Ed Reformer Tony Bennett Loses Election

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Friday, November 9th. Bob Bowdon Education reform was on the ballot for a number of states in this November election, and the results were a mixed bag.  Charter schools won big in Georgia, and apparently by a sliver in Washington state — they’re still counting the votes there.   On the other hand, Idaho voters rejected education reforms of traditional districts, like merit pay and more online learning.  South Dakota voters said “no thanks” to a law that would have added merit pay and the use of student test scores as a part of a teacher evaluation. So… a mixed bag.  But of the setbacks, perhaps the one that stung the most to education reformers was the loss of Indiana’s State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Tony Bennett.  He has the same name as the famous singer, but this Tony Bennett helped usher in the nation’s first statewide school voucher program, now in its second year.  To say the voucher law has been popular would be an exercise in understatement.  This year the enrollment has more than doubled to over 9,300.  Bennett also reformed what’s often called social promotion.  He put in place a third grade reading test that kids must pass to advance to fourth grade, rather than just being a year older.  Bennett’s challenger and new state superintendent-elect, Glenda Ritz, has...

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Georgia Voters Overrule Court on State Charters

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Wednesday, November 7th. Yesterday, voters in Georgia completed a process that had once been considered impossible — they overruled their own Georgia Supreme Court to legalize state authorized charter schools. It all started back in May of last year when the Georgia Supreme Court in a controversial 4-3 decision, held that only local boards of education should have the power to open and pay for public schools, essentially invalidating overnight 17 state chartered schools.  At the time, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein called those schools “clearly and palpably unconstitutional.” So faced with the finality of that language, what did Georgia school choice advocates do?  They said if those schools were unconstitutional, they’d change the constitution.  They wrote an amendment; introduced it to the statehouse last February where… it promptly failed the required 2/3rds majority by ten votes.  Ten votes short.  So, they submitted it again, the second time it gained 13 more votes, which was enough for passage.  Then in March, it moved on to the state senate where it passed 40 to 13 on the first try. Yesterday’s statewide ballot referendum was the last step, with the public saying yes, loudly.  It passed by an 18% margin, 59% “yes” to 41% “no.”  I asked Tony Roberts, the CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, why it passed. “The major vote for the...

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Teacher Union Power: Ranked By State

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Monday, October 29th. No matter which state you’re living in, health care policy isn’t that much different.  The way electric utilities and garbage collection are run — pretty much the same everywhere too.  Traffic laws, not too different either, except for a new Texas highway that has an 85mph speed limit. Public education policy, by contrast, is a lot different depending on which state you’re in.  And underneath the debates about particular teacher evaluation reforms and school choice efforts lies a key factor that’s often the real driver of whether or not any change ever happens: Teacher Union Power. Today the Fordham Institute released a study comparing the strength of different state teacher unions.  They looked at factors like the percentage of teachers in the union, the level of union campaign contributions to local politicians, and how successful the unions have been in getting their way in that state. On this basis, they concluded the strongest teacher union in the country is in Hawaii.  Dara Zeehandelaar, Ph.D., is with the Fordham Institute, and she co-authored the study.  “Hawaii has the golden trifecta.  It does have mandatory [collective] bargaining laws, but it also has extremely high unionization rates, which is a voluntary teacher’s decision, and it can collect agency fees.  So the union has a lot of money. “Hawaii, in addition to the golden...

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New Site: The Consumer Reports of Schools

This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Monday, October 22nd. If you’re buying a car, you can go to CarAndDriver.com for reviews and information.  If you’re choosing a digital camera, it’s good to have a CNET.com around. But sometimes even the most strident advocates for school choice have spent little time thinking about how parents might get reliable information about school quality, to better inform their decisions on where to send their kids. The people at the Philadelphia School Partnership have been focused on this very question, and last week they launched GreatPhillySchools.org, a comparative website on school quality which could become a model for the country.   This is not a novelty site; it’s real.  It can take an actual street address from anywhere in Philadelphia, and respond with a set of all kinds of schools, district, charter, private, including Catholic schools, all in the same list, ordered simply by distance from the supplied address, along with numerical ratings on academics, safety and likelihood for students from that school to move on to college. Mark Gleason is with the Philadelphia School Partnership. “We anticipate controversy with regard to the [school] grades.  What we’re using these ratings for is to help parents to sort schools, and to help them know what questions to ask and what things to look for as they’re going deeper into a school search.  These ratings...

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New STEM Program Pays Cash to Kids

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Thursday, October 18th. The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is a non-profit group tackling the chronic underperformance of American students in the so-called STEM studies (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  They’ve identified a series of steps that they say regular public schools can take to not only improve the way math and science are taught, but also increase the number of kids who elect to sign up for the more challenging math and science courses.  And this group is making waves. They have a comprehensive program with lots of elements.  For example, a high school usually has only one AP calculus teacher, meaning she typically has no one to talk to about a how best to teach certain parts of a curriculum.  And so their program makes sure all teachers have mentors to whom they can turn for support.  Their plan also brings in free pizza for kids who come in to study on Saturdays. But there’s one particular piece of the NMSI plan that’s getting the most attention.  Kids will get $100 cash for each subject in which they pass an Advanced Placement test.  And their teachers will get $100 as well. Gregg Fleisher of the National Math and Science Initiative told me that the biggest effect of the cash awards is how they motivate kids to take the harder...

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Legal Action in NJ to Compel School Choice

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Wednesday, October 17th. Choice Media regulars know about how lawsuits have been used by the education establishment to stop school choice.  For example, statewide voucher laws have been sued in Colorado, Indiana and Louisiana.  Lawsuits have closed charter schools in Georgia, and sought to kick charter schools out of public buildings in New York.   And in many of those places, lawsuits have been effective in stopping school choice. So today’s Ed Reform Minute may come as a surprise to you.  Dateline Camden, New Jersey, where the mothers of three public schools students filed a complaint with the State Board of Education declaring the city’s public schools unconstitutional because of poor performance.  And if the complaint is not heeded, they may sue to get school choice. “The lawsuit is about a ticket for freedom for children who are in the Chernobyl of public school districts.  There is probably nothing like this anywhere else in America.   It’s certainly the absolute worst in the state of New Jersey.  Does money equal quality in public education in Camden, NJ?  In this case, you can make up your own mind.  Camden schools for at least three years have spent over $22,000 per student.  So for a classroom of 20 that would be $440,000.  The district graduation rate is 44%. “The solution historically in New...

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Unions Sue to Stop Vouchers in Louisiana

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Friday, October 12th. Imagine for a moment you have a job in a failing public school, and your state passed a new voucher law, which gives parents the option of pulling their kid out of your school and instead send them to a private school.  What would you do about it? Support sweeping reforms to increase teacher quality and improve discipline, so parents and kids would be persuaded to stay in your school?  Or just work to kill the voucher law so parents don’t have the option to leave? Dateline Louisiana, where the two state teachers unions and the state school boards association are suing to… kill the voucher law. The case is mostly predicated on a piece of the Louisiana constitution that requires the state to annual develop a minimum school funding formula for all “public schools.”  They’re arguing that since that section doesn’t mention private schools, the omission implies a prohibition against public money to private schools.  Bill Maurer of the Institute for Justice will be one of the lawyers defending the school choice law. “What they’re trying to do is use a procedural requirement in the Louisiana constitution to make a substantive argument to keep money from going from public schools to private schools.” The trouble is with 44% of Louisiana schools rated “D” or “F” by the...

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GA Schools Sued for Anti-Charter Campaign

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Wednesday, October 10th. On November 6th, the same day voters across the United States will be weighing in on a Presidential election. voters in Georgia will also be deciding whether the state should be allowed to authorize charter schools.   Question: Would you be surprised if the Georgia education establishment started using taxpayer-funded facilities, that were put there to serve children, to campaign against the charter initiative?  (We’ll put that down as a rhetorical question.) The use of public facilities to influence a ballot campaign is the subject of a new class action lawsuit filed this last Monday on behalf of all taxpayers in Georgia.  [The group’s press release is here.]  It says that the state school boards association, which isn’t supposed to take sides on ballot measures, brazenly held a training meeting to teach attendees how to fight the charter referendum.  And Atlanta attorney Glenn Delk says they have a secret recording of that meeting. “We obtained an audio tape made by a school board member who attended this training session, on how to defeat this amendment.  This school board member was offended, secretly recorded it.  And the audio tape shows that the Georgia School Boards Association which is funded in large part by taxpayer dollars, is orchestrating this campaign to defeat the amendment.” The suit also says the Georgia...

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Audit Shows Baltimore District Wasting Millions

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Tuesday, October 9th. Another day, another large urban school system shown to be throwing away millions and millions of dollars, while crying poverty. Dateline Baltimore, Maryland, where an independent audit of the school system was ordered by the research arm of the Maryland state legislature.  The independent auditors found $2.8 million were paid in overtime even though there were no records or supervisor approval for most of the alleged overtime hours.  1,400 computers bought by the district could not be located. Marta Mossberg of the Maryland Public Policy Institute told me the school system does not have the incentives to spend their money wisely. “It shows a complete lack of oversight.  It’s a situation where you have people who don’t care about money because it’s not their money, and so they’re not held accountable.  That’s why you see this happen over and over and over again.  It’s not just the 1,400 computers; it’s the fact that so many people were paid for time that they didn’t work, and all sorts of other issues.  Because it’s just the way the system operates.  When there isn’t an incentive to save money, you know no one’s going to do it.” The district paid employees for unused sick days, which is generally legal, except for the fact that this $10 million expense for one year,...

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CA Makes School Assessments More Subjective

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Friday, September 28th.  The education establishment will often say they support concept of teacher evaluation, but the word they use for an actual evaluation that holds people accountable is “Unfair.”  So accountability in principle: Good PR.  Accountability applied: Teacher bashing.   This week the state of California converted this whole concept to school ratings as well. Dateline Sacramento California, where Governor Jerry Brown just signed into law Senate Bill 1458, which will change the way schools are graded in the Golden State, mostly by reducing the student learning component of the school rating, otherwise known as test scores.  Instead, there will be an increase in subjective opinions from committees and non-learning-related metrics like graduation rates and the percentage of kids who get moved along to the next grade. Lance Izumi is with the Pacific Research Institute. “Up ’til now, test scores had to account for at least 60% of the academic performance index.  So that was basically the floor: 60% or more.  Now however, under this new law, it’s going to be a ceiling.  Test scores from the state achievement test and also the high school exit exam can only count up to 60% of the academic performance index.” In some places, social promotion is seen as a problem.  But in California with this new law, moving students into the next...

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How Districts Spend Money, Lessons in FOIA

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Wednesday, September 26th.  As school districts across the country grapple with a bad economy, sometimes cutting teachers, somethings asking taxpayers to reach deeper into their pockets, there’s increased attention on just how districts are spending the money they’re already getting. Take the case of the Flint school district in eastern Michigan.  Through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Education Action Group obtained spending records for the district, and you’ll never believe what they found.  Despite facing a $3.7 million deficit, the  district spent $195,000 at restaurants over a nine-month period, including one visit to the Captain Coty’s Family Restaurant on October 15, 2010, where administrators spent over $10,800. That’s one restaurant visit. Kyle Olson is the Founder & CEO of the Education Action Group.  He told me that this broke district also spent over $47,000 in hotel bills.  In one example, it was for a trip to Las Vegas, but in other cases, thousands of dollars were spent on hotels that were within easy driving distance of the school district. “They stayed at hotels that are literally… there’s one hotel that they spent $16,000 at that is about 90 minutes from Flint.  There’s another hotel that’s about 45 minutes away; they spent about five grand there.” “And then what’s interesting to me is then they come back at us and say...

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Pennsylvania Governor Pushing Charter Reform

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Tuesday, September 25th.  Pennsylvania already has 180 charter schools serving 105,000 students.  That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that another 44,000 Pennsylvania kids are on waiting lists for charters, it’s clear there’s a lot more demand than supply. That’s part of why Governor Tom Corbett is not only pushing for a charter school reform bill to be passed in the shortened, fall legislative session before the November elections, but the issue is at the top of his agenda, and that’s what got our attention. The current law in Pennsylvania is that only local school districts are allowed to authorize brick and mortar charter schools, which as we’ve said before, is often like asking McDonalds to authorize a new Burger King.  The new bill, SB-1115, would create a statewide authorizer for the regular, schoolhouse-type charter schools.  [Online charters in Pennsylvania, by the way, are already authorized by a state group.] Bob Fayfich is the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.  I asked him who doesn’t want a statewide charter authorizer. “Mostly the school districts do not want it to happen.  Primarily because they have sole authorizing responsibility right now.  And they argue that local control is best.  That is not a national best practice, however.” The Senate version of the bill would have also...

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Students for Ed Reform Holds National Summit

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Monday, September 24th.  Any advertising professional knows the value of the young demographic.  Younger people are less likely to have solidified their buying habits about toothpaste, running shoes or casual clothes.  So if you can introduce them to Colgate, Nike or Old Navy when they’re young, they might be more open-minded to that messaging. For most of the history of American education reform, this whole “young person outreach” thing has not been happening.  The only place on college campuses that one might expect to hear anything about education policy are the schools of education, mostly known for their staunch defenses of the existing K-12 establishment, with the one genre of reform they generally do advocate being more money thrown at the system. But apart from the just spend more money approach, the principles of Ed Reform have been largely absent on college campuses — until Students for Education Reform came along.  The group held its third National Summit last weekend.   Catharine Bellinger is a Students for Education Reform Co-Founder. “It’s less a conference and more a leadership summit.  So it’s when we bring together our 130 chapter leaders from college campuses across the country.  We bring them together to train them on the leadership skills they need to build successful chapters.  And to give them an opportunity to network with...

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Did the Chicago Teachers Union Win?

[powerpress] This is the Choice Media #EdReformMinute for Thursday, September 20th. The great Chicago teacher strike of 2012 has ended, and it’s time for Ed Reformers to look back and decide what really happened.  We know kids didn’t go to school for 7 days.  We know the union extracted a 17.6% raise from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and succeeded in getting merit pay dropped from consideration. The Chicago Sun-Times today said the Union President Karen Lewis won congratulatory messages from the likes of Gloria Steinem, as well as supporters in Australia, France, Italy & Canada.  It also says she basked yesterday in what some say is her new status as a union rock star. With all this, how are prominent education reformers summing up the results of the Chicago strike? Lindsey Burke is with the Heritage Foundation. “So I think the union actually won big in Chicago after seven days of strike, after leaving 350,000 children on the street. They won, and it’s sad, and this is why they strike, because they know that they will get rewarded when they strike. So, they got a huge increase in pay, 17%, on top of what some people say is the highest teacher salary in the country, $76,000 a year. This will put them well north of $80,000, $85,000 a year. Huge increase in salary. They get plush pension benefits. And so,...

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