Pubic Education Weekender: 3/09/2014

Public Education Weekender
Sunday March 9, 2014


Last week, newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set off a firestorm when he announced plans to halt three charter schools from moving into traditional public school buildings, a practice known as co-location.  While de Blasio approved 14 of the 17 charter school co-location agreements that were hastily approved at the end of Bloomberg’s term, the 3 revoked schools belong to the Success Academy network run by Eva S. Moskowitz.  Two of the revoked co-locations would have housed elementary schools on high school campuses, a practice widely regarded as problematic.  The third would bring an already overcrowded school to 135 percent of its capacity and displace students with special needs.  Yet you would never know this by Moskowitz’s reaction and media coverage of de Blasio’s decision.  Instead of celebrating the approval of 5 new co-locations for Success Academy's network, Moskowitz retorted that de Blasio is anti-charter and is disenfranchising “poor minority kids who want a shot at the American dream.” Moskowitz went as far as to cancel class for her 6,700 students last Tuesday and bus the students and their parents to Albany for a massive pro-charter rally.  The concern with charter schools isn't that an elected official who approved the vast majority of charter co-location applications is somehow "anti-charter"; it's that the practice privileges a few privately-operated schools with public dollars at the expense of public schools serving all children no matter their wealth. For more information about charter school co-locations, click here.


The College Board President, David Coleman, outlined bold changes to the SAT to make the exam more representative of what students study in high school and to close the socioeconomic gap among college applicants. "What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities," said Coleman. For many years, scores on the SAT have been shown to correlate with income level, although the reasons for the trend vary.  Many of the changes go beyond the test itself.  Students from low-income backgrounds will now receive fee waivers to apply to four colleges of their choice when they receive their scores.  The College Board will also provide free test preparation materials.  Among the changes to the actual test, the SAT will no longer contain an essay section, the score will return to a possible total of 1600, calculators will no longer be allowed in the math sections, and the vocabulary sections will reflect words actually used in academia. “It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming, but the learning students do over years,” Coleman said.   


Recognized as a national model, the Cincinnati school district is one of the largest U.S. urban school districts to experience substantial and sustained improvements in student outcomes.  The majority of the district's students are African American and qualify for free and reduced priced lunches.  Ten years ago the district’s test scores were on par with Ohio's other struggling school districts.  Since then, the district has been transformed. In 2007, leaders of local organizations in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky agreed to participate in a coordinated effort called Strive, a partnership of social service agencies, foundations, school districts, universities and private businesses that came together to prepare students with the skills needed to embark on successful careers.  In 2009, the district launched the “Elementary Initiative:  Ready for High School” program to focus on revitalizing 16 struggling schools.  Changes included 90-minute blocks of literature-rich units, small-group activities with teachers rotating among students, and the use of test results as diagnostic tools to provide greater support.  Both efforts are showing promise.  The graduation rate has increased by more than 30 percent and student achievement scores are now comparable to state-wide averages, which include wealthier suburban districts.  


Last weekend, more than 500 public education advocates came together at the first ever Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Austin, Texas.  The conference featured panel discussions strategizing how to coordinate efforts to push back on corporate school reforms that are leading to the privatization of the public school system and culminated with a press conference calling for Congressional hearings to investigate the over-emphasis of high-stakes testing. Conference participants are seeking the state-level conversations about the misuse and abuse of standardized tests used for high-stakes purposes to continue on the national level.  "With groups like this one and so many others, all of which are active in so many ways, in so many parts of the country, we are standing on the threshold of the Education Spring," said John Kuhn, a Texas superintendent. "We're here to shake up the educational world, and our movement is only growing. This is our spring." Click here to access the NPE Grassroots Toolkit, a valuable resource for your constituents pushing back against high-stakes testing in your state.   


People working together are greater than they can ever be working apart. Last September, more than 20 legislators from 12 states came together for the first legislator-led National Week of Action for Public Education.  The movement continues next month when progressive legislators will come together to take part in Progressive States' National Week of Action for Real Prosperity Across America.  Can you join us? Please contact our Campaign Director for more information.  

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