Archive | May, 2011

Indiana’s Mitch Daniels on education reform

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is planning to sign two sweeping education bills into law today — one that will create the nation’s most expansive school voucher program, another aimed at expanding charter schools. During a talk yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute, Daniels said that no longer will Indiana “incarcerate any family’s kid in a school that they don’t believe is working, having tried it for at least one full year.” That portion of his talk is below. The full hour-long discussion can be found here at AEI’s Web site.

Florida expands virtual education with physical limitations

Florida expanded its virtual learning horizon today, even as it once again reminded us that age-old education boundaries won’t easily cede to global technology.

The bill that senators sent to Gov. Rick Scott, HB 7197, was a clear victory for online education, adding more public and private options. School districts will be required to give students access to at least three different providers for part-time and fulltime virtual programs. Florida Virtual School, the nation’s largest and most successful public virtual school, will be allowed to provide fulltime programs for all grade levels and part-time not only for high and middle school students but also for accelerated fourth- and fifth-graders. High school students will be required to take an online course for graduation. All providers will be held to similar academic accountability standards and will receive similar reimbursement.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s foundation and digital learning initiative, helped push the effort. “A decade ago, the idea of providing every student in Florida with a customized education was just a dream,” she said after the Senate vote. “But that dream can become reality through today’s technology. Increasing access to quality digital learning in our schools will bring Florida’s classrooms into the 21st century and prepare our students for success in today’s global market.”

The bill did contain reminders of the obstacles that remain. Legislative staff attorneys and education analysts refused to accept a broader strategy offered jointly by Florida Virtual and its private competitors that would have allowed both to operate statewide, giving simpler options to all students. They deemed, with some justification, that such an approach would be challenged and found unconstitutional. That’s because Florida’s constitution, like that of many states, apportions oversight of education based on the physical location of students and schools. That means school boards are in charge, even when they need not be. Continue Reading →

Meet Newark’s new superintendent

Cami Anderson, an ally of Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s pick to lead the Newark school district, brings bona fides to a school system desperately in need of an alternative vision. Anderson has served the New York Department of Education for the past five years as its director of alternative schools for nontraditional students, a role Andy Rotherham profiled in this 2009 story for U.S. News and World Report. During that time, Anderson had pushed independently for the opening of several charter schools that would serve students at risk of dropping out of the very district for which she worked.

Cami Anderson
Age: 39
Occupation: Superintendent for District 79 in New York City, a network of 300 schools serving nontraditional students, usually over-age, who disengaged from schools or whose education was otherwise interrupted.
Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A. in education and anthropology; Harvard University, M.P.P. and M.Ed.
Background: Executive director for the New York City Regional Office of Teach for America; chief program officer for New Leaders for New Schools; director for policy and strategy for Cory Booker’s Newark mayoral campaign

A proclamation worth noting

A presidential proclamation is rarely news, but Barack Obama’s continued embrace of charter schools is notable for its inclusiveness of alternative forms of public education, as evidenced by this statement proclaiming this week as National Charter Schools Week:

In communities across our country, successful public charter schools help put children on the path to academic excellence by harnessing the power of new ideas, ground breaking strategies, and the collective involvement of students, parents, teachers, and administrators. During National Charter Schools Week, we recognize these institutions of learning and renew our commitment to preparing our children with the knowledge and skills they will need to compete in the 21st century.

The unique flexibility afforded to charter schools places them at the forefront of innovation and in a unique position to spark a dialogue with other public schools on how to organize teaching and learning and enhance curricula. As part of our strategy for strengthening public education, my Administration has supported charter schools and rewarded successful innovation, encouraging States to improve their laws and policies so students can thrive.

Equally important to a world class education system are actions taken by charter school authorizers and the charter community itself to strengthen effectiveness and deliver results that improve educational outcomes. My Administration will continue to encourage meaningful accountability, including closure of low performing charter schools and replication of advances and reforms made at high performing charter schools.

In order to win the global competition for new jobs and industries, we must win the global competition to educate our children. At their best, charter schools provide us with an opportunity to meet this challenge and produce the next generation of great American leaders. Continue Reading →

Let who we empower define public education

Last Friday, I participated in a panel discussion in South Florida on the challenges facing public school administrators, and I was joined by Karen Aronowitz, the president of the United Teachers of Dade. I always enjoy talking with Karen, but we have divergent definitions of public education which lead us to disagree about how parental empowerment impacts public education.

Karen thinks public education includes only schools that are owned and operated by school boards and covered by collective bargaining agreements, whereas I believe public education includes all publicly funded education programs, including charter schools, virtual schools, special education vouchers, and tax credit scholarships for low-income children. Karen’s more narrow definition leads her to conclude that empowering parents to match their children with the learning options that best meet their needs undermines public education when parents choose learning options not owned by school boards. Under my more inclusive definition, public education is strengthened when all parents have access to the learning options their children need, especially if these options are provided through well managed public-private partnerships that extend the purchasing power of our tax dollars.

The size of Karen’s bargaining unit is tied to the number of people the Dade County school board employs; consequently she wants her school board to have as many employees as possible. Parents, especially low-income parents, have other concerns. They want their children to have the best education possible, and they don’t care about a school’s corporate governance. These divergent interests are why Karen and I disagree about how broadly we should define public education. Her union is enhanced by a narrower definition, while the interests of the parents, students and taxpayers are best met with a broader definition.

Teacher unions were once important allies in the struggle for greater social justice and equal opportunity, but they’ve de-emphasized these values as they’ve increasingly put the power of school boards over the interests of families. (In Florida, the lawyer for the state’s teachers union also works for Florida’s school boards association.) Nonetheless, I’m convinced teachers unions will eventually return to their progressive roots and embrace a definition of public education that includes full parental empowerment. Karen’s generation may not be capable of leading this transition, but there is a younger generation of extraordinary teachers in Dade County and elsewhere who will.

A defense of Scott Walker and universal choice from an unlikely source

In today’s Wall Street Journal, John O. Norquist, a former Democratic mayor of Milwaukee, defends an effort from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to eliminate the income threshold regulating entry to the Milwaukee voucher program, which currently is open only to low-income students. The threshold has had the effect, Norquist writes, “of isolating low-income students from other more affluent students.” By contrast, most Western nations have a much greater enhanced form of parental school choice, and their urban centers are economically and racially diverse as a result.

People with children and money don’t cluster outside European or Canadian cities to avoid sending their kids to school with the poor. And the poor who live in cities have the opportunity to attend public, private and parochial schools that are appreciated by a large cross section of parents.

American liberals have been reluctant to embrace school choice, fearing it will drain resources from government-operated schools. Yet isn’t it even worse to support a system that rewards concentration of the rich in exclusive suburbs segregated from the poor? Of course there are affluent people (Bill Clinton and Barack Obama come to mind) who enroll their children in urban private schools like D.C.’s Sidwell Friends, which still has some children enrolled from the choice program. Many more, including middle-class parents, would live in economically and racially diverse cities once school choice was universally available.

If expanded, Milwaukee’s choice program will demonstrate this to the whole country.

Opposition to Walker’s plan to expand the program has come in recent weeks from a stalwart defender of the school choice movement, Howard Fuller. While Fuller has supported raising the income limit of the Milwaukee voucher to include more moderate-income people, he said making the program universally accessible to students in all income levels “essentially provides a subsidy for rich people.”