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Fighting for school choice ‘on every frontier’: Q & A with Ken Campbell

Ken Campbell headshot

Late last month, the Black Alliance for Educational Options announced Ken Campbell will step down after five years as president of the organization, where he has served in various leadership roles since its founding. Jacqueline Cooper, BAEO’s chief of staff, will be filling in as president while the organization prepares a national search for a new leader.

In the meantime, we caught up with Campbell via a spokeswoman to ask him about what lies ahead and about the he’s seen in the education reform movement during his tenure.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be supporting BAEO until the National Symposium in late March, and my focus right now is on helping facilitate a smooth transition. Other than that, I’m taking a little time to recharge to get ready for the next challenge.

Over your tenure, do you think the tenor of the school choice and education reform has changed? Does it better reflect the voices of low-income and working-class black communities it’s trying to reach, or has it slid backward in some ways?

I do think the tenor of parental choice and education reform has changed in a number of ways. First, we continue to mature as a movement, and we continue to grow each year as states adopt new programs and pass new legislation that focuses on reform in a comprehensive way. We are giving parents more options in places where they are most needed.

However, I think we still have a lot of work to do to level the playing field for our most vulnerable citizens – children from low-income and working class Black families. We need to accelerate the work on increasing the number of high quality educational options available to them, and we need to ensure we stay true to our principles about equity for all children.

I am worried that many Black community stakeholders who should be on our side helping to drive reform are either joining the opposition or standing on the sidelines because they feel like their concerns about the way reform is being implemented are being ignored or because they have no power to help implement the change.

So, I think we must place efforts to authentically engage the Black community more broadly in conversations about education reform higher on our list of priorities. If we are going to sustain the progress we’ve made and continue to grow our efforts over the long haul, we must ensure the people we are trying to help have a voice in shaping and leading the reform efforts in their communities.

Now, more than ever, we need to increase efforts to identify and support Black education reform leaders, like Kaya Henderson in DC, who are on the front lines driving change in their communities; we deeper investments in high-quality Black-led schools of choice; and we need deeper investments in organizations like BAEO that are organizing parents and other community stakeholders in support of reform.

Just last week BAEO helped organize a major rally for school choice in Alabama, one of the last remaining holdouts among states that don’t allow charter schools. What do you see as the next frontiers for progress in the school choice movement?

BAEO understands that we must be willing to fight for the changes our community needs. That means we must organize our families so that at critical points in time, we are ready to march, rally, or take other public action to demonstrate with real clarity, just how critical and urgent this issue is for our children. Having more than 2,500 people – most of them Black – come together to stand up for their right to have access to a high-quality education in Alabama was huge.

I believe we should watch Alabama closely this year, as I think the chances of getting a strong charter school law passed there are very good. I’m also very optimistic that we’ll get a voucher bill passed in Tennessee. And, I don’t think it will happen this year, but we soon will have a good charter school law in Kentucky. Our children need us to continue to fight for them on every frontier of this movement.

Eric Garner and the soul of education reform: Derrell Bradford, podcastED

Eric Garner protest

Photo via Graeme Stoker.

The tragedies that drew thousands of people into the streets in cities around the country this past weekend have also prompted soul-searching in the education reform movement.

If our goal is to respond to the educational needs of disadvantaged communities, can we ignore the other injustices in their lives? How can we help transform the institutions that failed Eric Garner, long before he died at the hands of New York City Police?

Derrell Bradford, executive director of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, wrote this reaction to the non-indictment of the officers responsible for Garner’s death, which is worth reading in full:

These children, overwhelmingly black and brown, are financial assets of the highest order. Despite this, they graduate from high school with limited economic possibilities and, very likely, broken souls. And like many other young black men whose God-given potential has been squandered in schools with long histories of underperformance, they act out in a manner that ultimately becomes criminal. Here we find Garner, who despite being described by his minister as a “gentle giant,” was arrested almost 30 times during his life-cut-short, and more than once for selling loose cigarettes. And while he spent nights in local precincts, and other men like him spent nights in prisons, they again gave the city and the state the right to tax on their behalf. This time, however, it was not for his or their own freedom or safety, but for the ostensible freedom and safety of others. According to Pew, in 2010 black men were six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men. In New York City it costs $167,000 a year to keep a person jailed. The average corrections officer with 10 years on the job makes $60,000 annually.

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Private school in Haiti gets help from U.S. charter school company

Charter Schools USA is one of the nation’s largest for-profit charter school management companies, with 58 schools in seven states. But the Florida-based organization also has a charitable arm that’s helping a hardscrabble private school in Haiti.

Students of the Genecoit School of Excellence in Haiti may have a new school building by the end of this year. Charter Schools USA, through its charitable arm, is raising money to help build the private, tuition-free school.  PHOTO: Charter Schools USA

Students of the Genecoit School of Excellence in Haiti may have a new school building by the end of this year. Charter Schools USA, through its charitable arm, is raising money to help build the private, tuition-free school. PHOTO: Charter Schools USA

The Giving Tree Foundation has pledged to raise $250,000 to build a new tuition-free school in Francois, a remote mountain village about an hour and a half outside of the capital of Port-au-Prince. In addition, Charter Schools USA founder and chief executive officer Jonathan Hage has offered to match the funds.

The new school is slated to open in the fall.

A half-a-million dollars will go a long way in a village where few residents have access to running water and electricity, said Richard Page, vice president of development for CSUSA. Page traveled to Haiti in December with his wife and their two daughters to see the school and help deliver 700 Christmas presents to the local children. For many, it was the first Christmas gift they had ever received.

For now, the Genecoit School of Excellence is in a one-room, dilapidated building. It employs about a dozen teachers and serves 119 students in K-6. There are no laptops or Smart Boards, or even enough books.

“The conditions are so far from what we as Americans could ever imagine,’’ said Page, whose recent trip was documented on CSUSA’s Facebook page. “Yet, the children are bubbly, excited and happy. They put on a fashion show for us. They were on fire for life.’’

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Rolling across Florida to raise awareness about Catholic schools

Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg helps celebrate the growth of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Florida, and other Catholic schools across the state during the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education bus tour.

Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg helps celebrate the growth of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Florida, and other Catholic schools across the state during the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education bus tour that made a stop in the Tampa Bay area.

Nearly two decades ago, Sacred Heart Catholic School in Pinellas Park, Fla. was on the “death watch list,’’ said Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Families struggled to afford private school tuition, enrollment dwindled and tough decisions loomed for school leaders.

But instead of closing the school, Lynch forged a partnership with the University of Notre Dame and the Alliance for Catholic Education, a graduate program that trains future Catholic teachers and leaders.

Nearly 17 years later, Sacred Heart has more than 200 students and, like other Tampa Bay area Catholic schools, is expecting more growth in the years to come. It’s a success story that owes a lot to ACE.

“It saved these … schools,’’ Lynch told redefinED Wednesday, during a celebration that brought a giant blue RV emblazoned with the University of Notre Dame and ACE logos onto the grounds of Sacred Heart.

The stop was part of a national 50-city tour called Fighting for Our Children’s Future. It’s designed to raise awareness about the value of Catholic education and the profound impact it can have on children’s lives. It also stresses the need to keep Catholic schools relevant, active – and open. More than 1,300 U.S. Catholic schools have closed in the past 20 years.

“I just knew ACE coming to our diocese would be a blessing,’’ Lynch told an audience of students, parents, school donors and ACE leaders. “ACE is grace. It is the catalyst. It’s been the yeast that has raised the leaven – and the Catholic education.”

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Military families: Charter school would be closer, better, more responsive

For retired Air Force Sgt. Greg Parmer, having a K-8 charter school at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., would give military families more and better options for middle school.

For Amanda Madden, who lives on the base with her husband, a technical sergeant, and two sons, such a school would also be an opportunity for something better at the elementary school level.

“I’m more trusting of a school on base as opposed to a public (district) school,” she said.

Quality, convenience, a better fit for military families – supporters of a proposed charter school at MacDill have raised those points repeatedly in recent months as one of the best-known military bases in the country squares off against one of the nation’s biggest school districts. But conspicuously absent from the debate has been the voices of military families themselves.

In interviews with redefinED, Parmer and Madden echoed many of the concerns that other supporters have already raised. At the same time, they offered more detail about frustrations they say led them – and perhaps other military families – to consider the possibility of a charter school.

Greg Parmer, far right, poses with his family recently at MacDill Air Force Base. Parmer is among supporters of a proposed charter school on the base.  PHOTO provided by family.

Greg Parmer, far right, poses with his family and Col. Barry Roeper, far left, recently at MacDill Air Force Base. Parmer is among supporters of a proposed charter school on the base. PHOTO provided by family.

“Most of our families live in Brandon and Riverview (on the other side of town),’’ said Parmer, a father of three who lives near the base. Having a K-8 on base would be a huge plus for them, he said.

The proposed MacDill Charter Academy would serve up to 875 students and is being considered as the base expands housing to accommodate 600 new families. The Hillsborough County School Board voted down the academy application in December, citing problems with the school’s governing structure and other issues. But the school’s backers have appealed, with the state Charter School AppealCommission set to consider the matter on Feb. 24.

Parmer’s concerns focus on middle school options.

MacDill families have few complaints about Tinker Elementary, the A-rated elementary school that’s run by the district on base. But there is some grumbling about Monroe Middle School, which is near the base and earned a C grade from the state this year.

Parmer said he and his wife, Kimberly, who works as a secretary on the base, weren’t necessarily expecting a private-school atmosphere when they learned their daughter and son, and a nephew who lives with the family, would attend Monroe in 2011. But the school turned out to be culture shock for the Parmer kids, who had gone to U.S. Department of Defense schools in Germany and Japan. Continue Reading →

Florida schools roundup: Charters, gender-specific, Charlie Crist & more

Charter schools: The Franklin Academy charter school is opening a second campus next fall in Palm Beach Gardens. Palm Beach Post. The Leon County School district could soon be running a charter school on one of its existing campuses. Tallahassee Democrat. Lee County school officials are seeking $99,793 from Richard Milburn Academy of Florida Inc., which ran three charter high schools until closing for financial reasons. Fort Myers News-Press. florida-roundup-logoWoodmont Charter School, an F-rated elementary and middle school run by Charter Schools USA, is advertising on television for more students – but not mentioning its state grade. Tampa Bay Times. A Pasco charter school approval may hit some snags. Tampa Bay Times.

Gender specific: Hoping to score public funding to create single-gender schools, Duval County’s superintendent gives Rep. Erik Fresen, chairman of the House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, a tour of a local middle school with classes that separate boys and girls. Florida Times-Union.

Private schools: Tampa’s Berkeley Prep plans to build a 75,000-square-foot arts and sciences center that will feature classrooms equipped with the latest technology, college-level laboratories and performance studios, as well as an art gallery, study areas, a recital hall and meeting spaces. The Tampa Tribune.

District schools: Pinellas County public schools are closer to securing a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant that Superintendent Michael Grego says would “totally transform the school district.” The Tampa Tribune. A Pinellas County “turnaround” school takes its best shot at academic success. Tampa Bay Times.

Charlie Crist: An opinion on charter-school funding by then-Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist is at odds with a portion of the Democratic base whose help he now needs to become the next governor. Florida Times-Union. 

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redefinED roundup: Charter fraud in CA, vouchers under fire in LA, charters worried in NYC but hopeful in NJ

MondayRoundUp_magentaAlabama:  Former Gov. Bob Riley becomes chairman of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund (Southeast SunEducation Week). Step Up for Students President Doug Tuthill sets the record straight regarding false accusations about the program (

California: Money may be the real motivator behind charter school conversions (Education Week, Hechinger Report). A man pleads guilty to stealing $7.2 million by establishing fake charter schools (Seattle PI). A charter school in LA partners with homeschool parents (Education Week).

D.C.: An official at the DC Charter School Board is accused of accepting $150,000 to help managers of Options Charter School avoid oversight (Washington Post).

Florida: More students than ever use tax-credit scholarships to attend private schools (Tampa Bay Times). The number of charter schools has tripled in Pinellas County over the last five years (Tampa Bay Times). Julie Young, president of Florida Virtual School, says virtual schools are sustainable and accountable (News Press). Florida Virtual School offers students flexibility if they need it (Watchdog). A Polk County charter school applicant appeals to the state, arguing the local district’s rejection was arbitrary and “disrespectful” (The Ledger).

Georgia: School choice is more than just test scores (News-Times). Some Georgia lawmakers want charter schools to help pay for public school pension debt (Cherokee Tribune).

Idaho: A nature-oriented charter school becomes Blaine County’s first charter (Magic Valley Times-News).

Illinois: Charter school critics in Chicago still oppose charter schools after the board takes community input from supporters and opponents alike (Chicago TribuneChicago Reader).

Indiana: The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette gives former state superintendent of public instruction Tony Bennett an “F” grade.

Kentucky: School choice leads to more local control and more fiscal responsibility says Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute (Paducah Sun).

Louisiana: Columnist James Gill says private schools which teach creationism should be banned from accepting vouchers (The Advocate). The state auditor says vouchers do not ensure a quality education for students (Daily World, The Town Talk, Education Week). Gov. Bobby Jindal criticizes the Justice Department’s report on vouchers and racial segregation (The Advocate). A school choice opponent argues that choosing a school is too difficult so it shouldn’t be an option (The Advertiser). A group in Lafayette forms to oppose charter schools (The Advertiser). Continue Reading →

Reform-minded Catholic schools push to close reading gaps

It’s the benchmark for long-term academic success – having every student reading at grade level or higher by the end of third grade. And it’s the lofty mission of a new reading program for Catholic school students developed by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Academies.

ACE Readers is an innovative program for Catholic elementary school children in Arizona and Florida.

ACE Readers is an innovative program for Catholic elementary school children in Arizona and Florida.

ACE Readers is working with five Catholic schools in Arizona and Florida to beef up reading programs by purchasing hundreds of books for classrooms, sponsoring summer camps and giving teachers learning strategies that help target instruction. There also is a learning specialist assigned to each region to assist teachers and principals with training, and with implementation of tests and lesson plans.

The undertaking is funded by the big-box chain Target and orchestrated by ACE, an outreach program that trains future Catholic school teachers and administrators to strengthen the schools and the communities they serve. ACE Readers is an extension of that effort, with an eye on eliminating the achievement gaps that plague at-risk students.

Christian Dallavis

Christian Dallavis

“Literacy skills and reading ability are at the core of what kids need to know to do well at school,’’ said Christian Dallavis, senior director of leadership programs at ACE. “Our focus is on reading because we believe that without it, students don’t have the tools they need to succeed in high school, college and beyond. We want them to learn to read so they can read to learn.’’

Accomplishing that feat also helps with other goals – reviving Catholic schools and giving parents more high-quality options, Dallavis said.

“Having strong fundamentals like reading, math and other instruction has driven our enrollment up and provided more revenue to restore P.E., music and art – classes that had to be cut when the budget was to the bone,’’ he said. “It’s allowed us to be able to offer students and parents more.’’ Continue Reading →