Monday, July 23, 2012

The Experiment

Monday, may 22's showing of The Experiment couldn't have gone better: the film is amazing (see the trailer at; I've arranged a special deal with the producer/director, Ben Lemoine, to make the DVD available to any of my readers for only $10 – just contact my assistant Leila at and the panel knocked the cover off the ball. Among the most interesting comments (from my recollection):


·        John White noting that when New Orleans parents ranked their school preferences, their choices, collectively, EXACTLY mirrored the data on which schools are evaluated, so don't let anyone tell you that poor parents can't figure out which are the best schools.

·        Richard Barth's three sobering assessments: 1) The students at the KIPP schools in New Orleans are making gains comparable to the best KIPPs in the country, yet after four years the New Orleans kids are still well behind the NYC KIPPsters because they start so far behind – so we should not declare victory yet; 2) The life challenges faced by New Orleans kids in general are little short of catastrophic – as challenging as any city in which KIPP has ever opened schools, yet New Orleans, as a city, has almost NO resources to support these kids (message – we need great people to go to New Orleans to provide all kinds of non-school-related services); and 3) the idea that lots of other cities can quickly shift to a relinquisher/all-charter model in the way New Orleans has – and get the results that New Orleans has been able to produce so quickly – is a pipe dream unless they have already made similar human capital investments. New Orleans has benefitted from a HUGE influx of human capital/talent thanks to TFA, KIPP, New Leaders for New Schools, New Schools for New Orleans, etc. that most other cities can only dream about. The principles of the relinquisher model make absolute sense – but we need to encourage folks not to get disillusioned if this is a much longer term effort in cities that have not yet built up their human capital.

·        Neerav Kingsland pointed out that Newark is ideally suited to adopt the relinquisher model given that it has two of the top charter networks in the country already there in size, KIPP and Uncommon.


(Forgive me for not having better notes – if you were there and have additional recollections you think are worth sharing, please email me.)


Here are four photos:


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Teachers must make the grade in charter schools

Speaking of New Orleans, here's a great op ed in the Washington Post that addresses the difficulty of evaluating teachers: just adopt the New Orleans relinquisher model!

But there's a way to sidestep those problems, too, or at least take them out of the hands of unwieldy bureaucracies: Just leave it to the school.

Under this model, parents would be given comparable information about a host of available schools. They could send their children to schools that are succeeding and avoid those that are failing. School leaders would be free to hire, evaluate and reward staff as they thought best, with no bureaucratic interference. But if they failed to develop and retain talented teachers, they also would fail to attract enough students, and their schools would go out of business.

This model exists. It's called charter schools. In post-Katrina New Orleans, as my colleague Jo-Ann Armao recently described on this page, more than 80 percent of students are in charters, and they are doing better than before Hurricane Katrina. In the District of Columbia, 31,562 students — 41 percent of public school children — attend one of 53 public charter schools (on 98 campuses). Enrollment has been growing 7 or 8 percent per year. On current trends, more than half of D.C. students will be in charter schools within a few years.

The District has been fortunate, since 1996, to have a law that promotes charter school quality and independence.


Fred Hiatt

Editorial Page Editor

Teachers must make the grade in charter schools

Washington Post

By Fred Hiatt, Published: May 20

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D.C. children left in the lurch

 The Washington Post with a good editorial calling on Obama and Duncan to lift the cap on the DC voucher program. Relax everyone – this is just a big kabuki dance; just like last year, this is a negotiating chit with Boehner and the program will continue. However, a friend points out: "the effect is that by the time budget gets done, no new kids would be able to join and some current families are at risk of not being renewed and therefore forced out of current schools."

Mr. Boehner has made clear that Congress will provide the funds for this program, but because the group in charge of the program is now being forced to abide by the artificial cap, many students will unnecessarily be deprived of scholarships. In other words, when the money becomes available, it will be too late.

Now is the time that families are making decisions about schools for the fall. Unless Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan are intent on denying hundreds of underprivileged D.C. students the chance for a quality education, they should work with Mr. Boehner to ensure the uninterrupted continuation of this important program.


D.C. children left in the lurch

By Editorial Board, Published: May 22

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Gwen Samuel

Tue, May 22nd I gave my school reform presentation (slides at and had the pleasure of meeting Gwen Samuel, the founder and president of the Connecticut Parents Union. This is one of the many grassroots parent organizing efforts popping up all over the country, which scares the pants off of the unions/Blob because, while it's easy to demonize me, it's harder to do so to her – though that didn't stop the union from having her fired from her part-time job with the New Haven Public Schools' Head Start program (see: Their thuggery really knows no bounds… She needs our support, so if you want to help her organization, financially or otherwise, email her at: Here's a picture of us from the event:


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Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools

This front-page NY Times story yesterday about abuses in a number of states' tax credit scholarship programs is very troubling. Florida is a model, but other states have passed much weaker laws resulting in all sorts of scams benefitting lobbyists, etc., but actually helping few needy kids.

Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs are operating in eight states and represent one of the fastest-growing components of the school choice movement. This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization. Legislators in at least nine other states are considering the programs.

While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show. Even some private school parents and administrators have questioned whether the programs are a charade.

Here are comments by John Kirtley, who's one of the key guys behind the Florida program:


I have for years feared a story like this about the Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania programs. This is an excellent demonstration of two truths about the battle for parental choice:


Bill design matters tremendously

Opponents to choice will skillfully exploit any weaknesses in the movement


Our national choice organization, The American Federation For Children, has been adamant that any bill it supports have the following design aspects:


Means testing


Portability—scholarships must be transportable to any eligible private school


Academic accountability—scholarship students must be tested, with either the state test or a nationally recognized test (the school can decide). Further, scores must be reported to an independent research entity who will publish the learning gains of the students. We have taken this a step further in Florida, and if a school has enough children on the program learning gains are reported by school. Our latest report shows:  1) The students who choose the scholarship are among the lowest-performing in the public schools they leave behind; 2) They achieved the same gains in reading and math last year as students of all income levels nationally; 3) Their gains were slightly greater than low-income students who remained in public schools; 4) the more a public school has children participating in the program, the higher the learning gains for the children remaining at that public school.


Fiscal accountability and transparency for scholarship organizations—how can you not require audits to be submitted to the state when you are handling so much money?


Fiscal accountability for schools—in Florida, if you take $250,000 worth of scholarship kids, you must submit to the scholarship organization a review by a legitimate third party CPA showing you used the money properly.


There are many other accountability measures.  So why have they not been incorporated into the laws in these three states? The Arizona law was created in 1998, before our national organization existed, and legislators there have resisted any attempts to increase accountability since.  Pennsylvania's bill was also created before our national organization was active, and they too not been interested in any attempts at imposing provisions after passage. Our organization lobbied heavily to include many of the above accountability provisions in the Georgia bill when it was passed, but we were overruled by the legislative sponsors.


There is an avid debate within the parental choice movement about means testing and how much accountability is needed in these programs. There are very intelligent, well meaning people on all parts of the spectrum. I am at one extreme. At the other extreme would be those who say that the programs should not be means tested, the scholarships need not be portable beyond one school, and there should be little government interference on accountability.


Advocates of the programs in AZ, PA and GA will tell you that there's nothing wrong with their laws, that they work just fine. Many of the scholarship organizations in those states are accountable and serve low income kids. But articles like this hurt our movement's ability to bring choice to low income children in other states. It also allows Democrats (and some Republicans) to say, "see, we told you that parental choice is just a front to enable well off, white parents to get their tuition paid." It makes it harder for us to make choice a bipartisan issue.


We invited the writer on several occasions to come to Florida and observe our operation, but she declined—of course it didn't match her narrative. But the movement left itself wide open on this one.


And below is a response by Checker Finn and Adam Emerson, which begins:

It's hard to get past the New York Times's animus toward anything "private" or profit-seeking in the realm of K-12 education, particularly when investigative reporter Stephanie Saul applies her own biased and acidic pento the topic. And Tuesday's interminable "expose" of state-level tax-credit scholarship programs certainly deepens one's impression that the writer (and, presumably, her editors) is in love with anything that smacks of "public dollars" or "public schools" and at war with anything that might be seen as diverting even a penny from state coffers into the hands of parents to educate their kids at schools of their choice. Never mind whether the public schools they are exiting are good or bad, nor whether the dollars being spent by those schools are well-targeted on high-quality instruction or frittered away on over-generous benefits for underemployed custodians and their retired pals.

Having gotten that out of the way, it's also worth learning that while some of these state programs (especially Florida's) are models of sound policy, efficient administration, and careful targeting of available resources, some others appear to be burdened by dubious practices on the part of schools, donors, elected officials, and maybe parents, too.


Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools

Niko J. Kallianiotis for The New York Times

THE MONEY FINDS A HOME Hadyn Packer, 8, at a check presentation at St. John Neumann Regional, a Catholic school in Williamsport, Pa.

Published: May 21, 2012 243 Comments


Tax credit scholarships need a critical, not hostile, eye

Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Adam Emerson / May 22, 2012

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Romney Wades into the education debate

Here's Andy Rotherham's take on Romney's education policy statement today:

The long rumored Mitt Romney education doomsday weapon was revealed today.  And it's basically President George W. Bush's education policy – but without the accountability.
Let's take the major parts quickly.  The emphasis on school choice is politically smart but unlikely to have a big impact given how much it is fundamentally a state by state issue.  Mostly, this will help Romney draw contrasts with the President, which will help at the margins with independents and certainly help with his base.  In the early 1980s when Nation At Risk was being published someone told President Reagan that the report would outrage the teachers union and other vested interests.  Another presidential aide apparently responded something to the effect of 'that's fine, the Democrats can have them, we'll take the parents.' This is an extension of the logic of those politics, leave Democrats with the stakeholder adults, take everyone else.
The higher education ideas are more risky.  Pell Grants are certainly due for an overhaul both because the costs are becoming unsustainable and also because structural reforms could improve the effectiveness of the program.  I'm going to write about that for TIME tomorrow.  But while there are problems with the "Gainful Employment" rule intended to improve the regulation of for-profit higher education (in short, there is a potential for perverse consequences because this is a complicated area to regulate and at the same time accountability for poor outcomes should apply more broadly because for-profits are not the only bad actors in higher education) politically it seems unwise for Romney to stand with the for-profits, the lenders and banks, or even the higher education institutions themselves given both the substance of the argument and also the political mood right now.
In other words, on higher education the reverse of the K-12 political logic is true – Obama is getting the students and the parents, Romney is getting the institutions. This year – given how higher education seems like a more salient issue than K-12 – that looks like a much better deal for the President.

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More good news from Dallas

No sooner did I send out an update on all of the great things happening in Dallas then more good news comes. From a friend:


To follow on all of the good news from your ed blog last week regarding the major progress being made in Dallas ISD (160,000 children, 95% non-Anglo, 87% socio-economic disadvantaged), our new reformist superintendent, Mike Miles, announced today the hiring of Charles Glover, Executive Director of the Dallas/Ft. Worth region for Teach of America, as his new Chief Talent Officer (see links below).  That announcement is not only significant on its face, its especially important because Mr. Miles also recently announced that he will hiring upward of 60 principal candidates who will be incubated and trained during the 2012-13 school year and then eligible to apply for principal positions in 2013-14.  To put that in perspective, there are roughly 225 schools in Dallas ISD.  Mr. Glover, who oversaw one of the fastest growing and well supported TFA regions in the country, will be playing a significant role in recruiting that principal pipeline into Dallas iSD.  The momentum in Dallas continues.


Below is the letter from Charles Glover:

I will be transitioning from my role as the founding executive director of Teach For America – Dallas/Fort Worth.  I make this decision after much discernment and only for an opportunity that will afford me the privilege to contribute directly to the trajectory of a district that serves 160,000 kids on a daily basis.  Effective mid June, I will be joining Supt. Mike Miles' cabinet as Chief of Talent and Innovation for the Dallas Independent School District.  The opportunity to ensure that talent is sourced, cultivated, and developed at scale and help bring in and develop innovative strategies; is one that I take on with great zeal and optimism.  I believe under the leadership of a new superintendent, a community and board galvanized around putting our students first, incredible teachers and principals driving hard for their student's everyday, and scaling what works, that Dallas ISD has all the potential in the world.  It has many successes already and I look forward to ensuring that we create an environment where those can maintain and grow.  I am humbled by the opportunity to serve in this capacity.


Letter from Charles Glover

It seems like only yesterday that we started out on the journey of becoming a charter region in Dallas/Ft. Worth.  We had grand plans from Day 1 and with a lot of lessons learned over our organization's 20 year history, an incredibly dedicated and talented team (that consisted of 5 people at the time), a relentless pursuit that would not be denied, and a community of stakeholders that had come together to help bring Teach For America to the Metroplex, we launched as TFA's 33rd region.  A type of entrepreneurial spirit that can only be found in the Metroplex led us to push the boundaries and limits of what we knew could and would be possible.  We have operated with a singular purpose; one that is focused on teacher effectiveness, student achievement, and relationship building with those that had been doing this work well before us.  During that inaugural year, it became clear that this region, the corps members, and the staff that comprised it were going to set a new mold.  The data did not lie and there was an unprecedented response from the schools in which we had served.   A new trajectory for what was possible in our work and how we approached training, teaching, and informing the corps member experience would be our foundation for success.  Over the next three years with your support we expanded that work three fold, into 4 different counties, with 300 teachers in over 90 schools, and 250+ alumni impacting over 23,000 students on a daily basis.

It is with these things in mind that I share bittersweet news.  I will be transitioning from my role as the founding executive director of Teach For America – Dallas/Fort Worth.  I make this decision after much discernment and only for an opportunity that will afford me the privilege to contribute directly to the trajectory of a district that serves 160,000 kids on a daily basis.  Effective mid June, I will be joining Supt. Mike Miles' cabinet as Chief of Talent and Innovation for the Dallas Independent School District.  The opportunity to ensure that talent is sourced, cultivated, and developed at scale and help bring in and develop innovative strategies; is one that I take on with great zeal and optimism.  I believe under the leadership of a new superintendent, a community and board galvanized around putting our students first, incredible teachers and principals driving hard for their student's everyday, and scaling what works, that Dallas ISD has all the potential in the world.  It has many successes already and I look forward to ensuring that we create an environment where those can maintain and grow.  I am humbled by the opportunity to serve in this capacity.

This transition is not taking place without strong planning and foresight.  Over the last month we have been working as a regional team, board, and organization to ensure that the region is positioned for success.  The region is in a very good place with senior leaders in both program and development and myself and the board have invested significant capacity into our development and placement strategy, ensuring that we are on pace to meet goals in all functional areas by our last quarter (ending September 30).  The DFW region will be in the capable hands of a strong and growing board and I am thrilled to announce that our Managing Director of Teacher Leadership Development, Alexandra "Alex" Hales will be stepping in as interim executive director. 

Many of you have had the opportunity to interact with or work with Alex directly. She has been a member of our DFW staff since the region's launch in 2009 and she has directly managed our TLD team for the past three years. A member of the 2007 South Louisiana corps, Alex was an outstanding teacher herself and brings an unyielding commitment to the children of Dallas/Ft. Worth. I know you will welcome her as the Interim ED and please know that there is no greater person that could be taking this role.  I am still in my official role through my district start date in late June, so please don't hesitate to reach out with questions, comments, or anything on your mind.  It is with great respect and admiration for the work we have accomplished, are accomplishing, and will accomplish that I make this transition and each of you has made that work possible.  I look forward to the challenges of my new role and continuing the fight for educational equity in the Metroplex.

I look forward to collaborating closely with our many supporters as I continue the work to expand educational opportunity in this new role. Working together, we can bring One Day closer for all students


With my deepest appreciation and respect,




Links to articles:


Charles Glover

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Full Disclosure for Student Borrowers

A spot-on NYT editorial, following up on the recent article I sent around on more and more college students getting saddled with huge debts:

Federal law requires schools to provide students minimal "entry" and "exit" loan counseling. Melanie K. Weaver, the director of financial aid at Ohio Northern, told The Times in an e-mail message that parents and students needed to monitor debt, adding, "it is difficult for our office of 10 staff members to stay on top of every student."

That answer is unacceptable.

Many schools market themselves to students without explaining the real costs of attendance. Letters informing them about financial aid awards often blur the distinction between loans and grants to make the school look like a better deal than it is. And once students enroll, they are generally left on their own as they borrow year after year.

The Obama administration has taken some important steps to address these problems. A proposal would require colleges to clearly disclose costs in a standardized "shopping sheet" that would let students see the aid they are receiving and the debt that they would incur. Later this year, it plans to post an Internet "scorecard" that rates each college nationally on affordability and value — defined by graduation rates and whether graduates earn enough on average to repay their debts.

A bill pending in the Senate would require both colleges and lenders to educate students about the differences between federal loans and riskier, more expensive private loans — and their borrowing options. Congress should also require schools to provide in-depth, annual loan counseling to students and set criteria for the information that must be provided. All schools should be required to disclose annually the average debt load of their graduates.

Before students borrow to pay for their education, they need to understand the obligations they are taking on, and how long it will take to pay them off.


May 22, 2012

NYT editorial

Full Disclosure for Student Borrowers

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Gates Puts the Focus on Teaching

Joe Nocera with an op ed in yesterday's NYT:

A few months ago, Bill Gates wrote an Op-Ed article in this newspaper objecting to New York City's plan to make public the performance rankings of its teachers. His central point was that this kind of public shaming was hardly going to bring about better teaching.

In the course of the article, Gates mentioned that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which spends around $450 million a year on education programs, had begun working with school districts to help design evaluation systems that would, in his words, "improve the overall quality of teaching."

That caught my attention. Wanting to learn more, I went to Seattle two weeks ago to talk to Bill Gates about evaluating teachers.

…Teaching has never really had the kind of sensible evaluation system that business takes for granted. Seniority used to be all that mattered. Now, test scores have become dominant. Neither system has had as its goal getting teachers to improve what they do in the classroom. That is what Gates is trying to change.

"We're technocrats," Gates said toward the end of the interview. By that he means that for all its might and wealth, the Gates Foundation can only hope to try things — through experiments like in Hillsborough — that school districts across the country will want to adopt broadly. It is early yet, and the possibility certainly exists that the Hillsborough pilot project will founder, just as the small-school initiative did.

But the signs, so far, are promising. And it sure makes a lot more sense than shaming teachers on the Internet.


May 21, 2012

Gates Puts the Focus on Teaching


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Making Schools Work

An op ed in the NYT recently arguing for more integration. I agree that it would be a good thing if our schools were less segregated – but I'd love to eliminate childhood poverty too, but that's not going to happen either. You gotta pick your battles and decide what you can change – and what you can't…

AMID the  ceaseless and cacophonous debates about how to close the achievement gap, we've turned away from one tool that has been shown to work: school desegregation. That strategy, ushered in by the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, has been unceremoniously ushered out, an artifact in the museum of failed social experiments…

…To the current reformers, integration is at best an irrelevance and at worst an excuse to shift attention away from shoddy teaching. But a spate of research says otherwise. The experience of an integrated education made all the difference in the lives of black children — and in the lives of their children as well. These economists' studies consistently conclude that African-American students who attended integrated schools fared better academically than those left behind in segregated schools. They were more likely to graduate from high school and attend and graduate from college; and, the longer they spent attending integrated schools, the better they did. What's more, the fear that white children would suffer, voiced by opponents of integration, proved groundless. Between 1970 and 1990, the black-white gap in educational attainment shrank — not because white youngsters did worse but because black youngsters did better.

Not only were they more successful in school, they were more successful in life as well. A 2011 study by the Berkeley public policy professor Rucker C. Johnson concludes that black youths who spent five years in desegregated schools have earned 25 percent more than those who never had that opportunity. Now in their 30s and 40s, they're also healthier — the equivalent of being seven years younger.  

Why? For these youngsters, the advent of integration transformed the experience of going to school. By itself, racial mixing didn't do the trick, but it did mean that the fate of black and white students became intertwined. School systems that had spent a pittance on all-black schools were now obliged to invest considerably more on  African-American students' education after the schools became integrated. Their classes were smaller and better equipped. They included children from better-off families, a factor that the landmark 1966 Equality of Educational Opportunity study had shown to make a significant difference in academic success. What's more, their teachers and parents held them to higher expectations. That's what shifted the arc of their lives.


Making Schools Work

Published: May 19, 2012 204 Comments

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Uplift Education charter schools in Dalla

Kudos to Uplift Education charter schools in Dallas:


Yesterday both the Washington Post and Newsweek released their top 100 public high school lists. Uplift Education was thrilled to have all 5 of our high schools on the top 100 list for the Washington Post.  See the specific ranks below:


Uplift Education North Hills Prep - #23

Uplift Education Summit International Prep - #28

Uplift Education Peak Prep - #33

Uplift Education Hampton Prep - #40

Uplift Education Williams Prep - #68


We were also pleased to have 4 of our schools on the Newsweek top 1,000 public high school list and 3 of them on the Top 25 Transformative List (which accounts for stellar performance at schools with high Title 1 populations):


North Hills - #14 nationwide


Summit - #59 nationwide, #3 Transformative


Williams - #264 nationwide, #8 Transformative


Peak - #537 nationwide, #16 Transformative

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District Grant Contest Unveiled

Kudos to Duncan and the Obama administration:

School districts will be able to submit proposals for innovative educational programs this year to compete for federal grants of up to $25 million under a new national contest, part of the three-year-old Race to the Topprogram. Rules for the competition were to be announced on Tuesday by the Department of Education.

Like the department's state-level competition for federal grants that preceded it, the program will require systems for measuring student progress and assessing teachers and administrators and will target low-income communities. Under the department's rules, the schools included in each application must have at least 40 percent of students qualify for federally subsidized school lunches.


May 22, 2012

District Grant Contest Unveiled


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Why the Obama Administration’s Move to Include Districts in Race to the Top Matters

Here's RiShawn Biddle on why this is important:

So it is good to see that the Obama administration is finally embracing most of our suggestion with the launch of its fourth round of Race to the Top later today. This round doesn't do all that we suggest. Districts are neither allowed to become enterprise zones of sorts that can allow them to ditch collective bargaining arrangements, nor required to expand school choice (either through abandoning Zip Code education policies such as zoned schooling or by authorizing charters or voucherizing funds) or embrace Parent Trigger provisions that would allow families to take control of schools. But it does allow traditional districts, charter school operators, and American Indian and Alaska Native tribes to possibly gain federal money may finally push school operators on the ground — especially districts — to embrace systemic reform the way earlier rounds of the competitive grant program have made it easier for states such as California and New York to expand charter schools, require the use of student test data in teacher evaluations, and enact measures such as Parent Trigger laws.

One of the least-discussed aspects of advancing reform is the array of political challenges faced by those districts who do embrace the effort


Why the Obama Administration's Move to Include Districts in Race to the Top Matters

May 22, 2012 No Comments by RiShawn Biddle

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The NAACP’s Failing of Our Black Children

And here's RiShawn Biddle on the NAACP's ongoing disgrace:

It is nice to see the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's announcement this past Saturday that it is supporting the state recognition of gay marriages. While I may not be a fan of gay marriage from a religious perspective, the Founding Documents make it quite clear that governments have no right to restrict gay men and women from the same privilege of civil marriage (and the accompanying benefits) given to heterosexuals such as myself. So the NAACP is perfectly right to demand that all Americans gain the same civil liberties they have earned from birth and by naturalization as citizens of our nation.

At the same time, it is difficult to take the NAACP seriously on this or any issue because it continues to be on the wrong side of the most-important civil rights and economic issue facing Black America today and this nation as a whole: The need to overhaul American public education so that all children — especially kids from poor, minority, and even gay households — get the high-quality education they need and deserve.

Even as NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous and the rest of the organization's leadership has found time to weigh in on other issues, the old-school civil rights group still hasn't released the education agenda it promised to release back in 2010 during Jealous' appearance at an American Enterprise Institute confab. It did push an effort to increase school funding by diverting dollars from the nation's criminal justice system without consider ing that the nation spends far less on prison construction alone (a mere $1.5 billion in the 2006-2007 fiscal year) than on building schools ($63 billion, including lavish high school football stadiums) — and, more importantly, that the nation spends $228 billion on courts and prisons badly because it spends $562 billion on schools abysmally.

Beyond offering that mishmash of a proposal, the NAACP has remained silent on systemic reform. Save for a few NAACP branches  (including its affiliate in Connecticut, have stepped up in the discussions over Gov. Dan Malloy's school reform effort, and advocated on behalf of Bridgeport mother Tanya McDowell, who will serve five years for trying to provide her child with a high-quality school), the nation's oldest civil rights group offers nothing substantial on addressing issues such as ending Zip Code Education policies, expanding school choice, addressing childhood illiteracy, and revamping how teachers are recruited, trained, paid, and evaluated (especially when it comes to bringing more black men into the teaching profession). Meanwhile it has ceded ground to Parent Power groups such as the Connecticut Parents Union and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, old-school civil rights organizations as the United Negro College Fund and 100 Black Men, and players such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Dr. Steve Perry, who are doing the work  for which the NAACP was once known.


The NAACP's Failing of Our Black Children

May 21, 2012 No Comments by RiShawn Biddle

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South LA first graders talent show raises funds for trip

When I visited KIPP Empower Academy in LA in March, I saw the students preparing to perform a step/breakdancing routine at the KIPP School Summit, which will be the first week of August in Orlando (here are my photos: The students gave their first performance recently – check out the AWESOME video at:

South LA first graders talent show raises funds for trip

A group of 21 first grade students from KIPP Empower Academy (KEA) in South LA are heading to Orlando this summer. The six-year-old steppers and breakdancers, known as StepUP—BreakDOWN, recently won a national competition and were selected to perform at the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) School Summit, an annual learning and community-building event that attracts teachers, school staff, funders and community partners from all over the country who want to transform public education. 

In order to attend the summit, the kids needed to raise funds for the trip. So, they held a talent show fundraiser this past Saturday. The event was a success and now the students will get a chance to participate in the KIPP School Summit.

The support the students received "will give them an opportunity to show people from all over the nation that with hard work and perseverance, they can do anything," said Mike Kerr, KEA founding principal in a statement. 

In order to be on the step and breakdance team, the students must maintain good grades and demonstrate positive character at the South Los Angeles KIPP elementary school.

KEA is a college-preparatory, tuition-free public charter elementary school in South Los Angeles that serves about 230 kindergarten and first grade students in 2011-12, with plans to add one grade each year until it reaches capacity in 2014 with 550 students in kindergarten through fourth grade.

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The New Superintendent of Schools for New Orleans

 I found some interesting articles/interviews with some of the panelists. Here's one with John White:

A 35-year-old former teacher, John White headed to New Orleans in late April to become superintendent of the Big Easy's Recovery School District (RSD), quite an accomplishment for such a young man. But, with his bags barely unpacked, he found himself nominated by Governor Bobby Jindal to be interim chief of all of Louisiana's public schools (thanks to the sudden resignation of Paul Pastorek, who had recruited White), in addition to running RSD. Newspapers claimed that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was calling members of the state's school board, praising White as "an extraordinary leader [who is] committed to reform and is a great asset to the state." Is your head spinning?

John White's wasn't. He told the press that he was flattered by Jindal's offer, that he had come to the Bayou State to run the New Orleans schools, but if they wanted him in Baton Rouge, he'd be glad to help out. Cool. Calm. Collected.

"I've got more gray hair than I should at my age," he says, smiling, during our interview in a first-floor chancellor's conference room at New York City's education department headquarters just a few days before he left for New Orleans. Tall, boyish, soft-spoken, White is cordial, even gracious, but never flip. When I ask if we should wave to the mayor, whose "bull pen" office windows were visible from where we sat, he responds that such proximity to the mayor is "a beacon for accountability and the priority that this mayor has placed on public education." Accountability is a word White frequently used during our talk.

Where did this rising education star come from? The short answer is Teach For America (TFA). He is one of a growing list of wunderkind school leaders produced by this moon shot idea of Princeton University student Wendy Kopp (20 years ago) to put smart college grads in the nation's worst schools.


The New Superintendent of Schools for New Orleans

A conversation with John White

By Peter Meyer

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Fall 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 4

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Straight Up Conversation: New NSNO CEO Neerav Kingsland

And here's Rick Hess interviewing Neerav Kingsland, who was just named the new CEO of New Schools for New Orleans:

I recently had a chance to chat with Neerav Kingsland, recently named CEO of New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO). NSNO has been a pivotal player in New Orleans' post-Katrina reform landscape. A Tulane and Yale Law School alum, Neerav previously served as the chief strategy officer for NSNO. You may also recall him as a former guest star at RHSU. Neerav is taking the reins from Sarah Usdin, the founder of NSNO who is stepping back after a half-dozen years at the helm. Given the centrality of New Orleans to various reform debates, including those over charter schooling and "recovery districts," I thought it worth chatting with Neerav about NSNO and the work of transforming education in New Orleans. Here's what Neerav had to say.

Rick Hess: For those unfamiliar with New Schools for New Orleans, what is it? What does it do?
Neerav Kingsland: NSNO is a city-based organization that focuses on three areas. The first is strategic leadership. We try to work with thought-leaders in the city to set a vision for the future of education in New Orleans. The gateway there is creating the nations' first high-performing charter school district. Right now, 80 percent of kids go to charter schools and that's going to keep on rising. We want to make sure those charter schools are excellent. The second thing we do is launch charter schools and support CMO expansions; so we raise money and fund entrepreneurs and organizations to grow excellent schools. The third piece we do is what we call the landing pad. We invest in the start-up and scaling of support providers, who are then contracting with charter schools to provide some supports that an individual school might not be able to provide on their own.


Straight Up Conversation: New NSNO CEO Neerav Kingsland

By Rick Hess on May 21, 2012 8:04 AM

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The Vallas Effect

Here's an EducationNext article about Paul Vallas:

Little things. Big things. Of the cadre of non-educators—business leaders, military men, government officials, lawyers—who have been called on to transform large urban school districts in recent years, Paul Vallas has been at it the longest and, in the minds of many, is the one with the best track record. Since 1995, he has tackled the third- and eighth-largest districts in America—Chicago and Philadelphia. Both of them are old-politics big cities with school systems long steeped in racial tensions and marked by tough unions, deteriorating buildings, and white and middle-class flight. Intensifying poverty and racial isolation accompany escalating demands for better student outcomes.

Vallas lasted longer in both Chicago and Philadelphia than most urban school leaders, six years in Chicago and then five in Philadelphia, but he wore out his welcome in both places. He left the Philadelphia district in many ways transformed, most agree for the better, but still with a sour taste and a big deficit. While he won converts among longtime district staff for his energy and commitment, he alienated the people who hired him; things had become so bitter that he didn't show up for his own sendoff. A similar thing happened in Chicago, where Mayor Richard Daley, who had installed him to clean up what had been described as the worst school district in America, eased him out after he had done just that.

The saga of Paul Vallas, to hear him tell it, is one of too much success.

"What happens with turnaround superintendents," he said, "is that the first two years you're a demolitions expert. By the third year, if you get improvements, do school construction, and test scores go up, people start to think this isn't so hard. By year four, people start to think you're getting way too much credit. By year five, you're chopped liver."


The Vallas Effect

The supersized superintendent moves to the Superdome city

By Dale Mezzacappa  

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Spring 2008 / Vol. 8, No. 2

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Kira Orange Jones bio

Here's more about Kira from her campaign web site:


Kira Orange Jones is a living example of how education can change a life… and that life can change many.


Raised in an inner-city neighborhood by her mother, Kira Orange Jones learned early the value of an education.


After starting in a low performing public school, Kira watched as her mother worked two jobs to pay for her to have the opportunity to attend parochial school. Although she graduated top of her class in her local parochial school and won a scholarship to the Horace Mann School, not even remedial classes at Mann were enough to fully make up the achievement gap of her early education. She was academically unprepared. Dedicated teachers however, ignited a passion--shared by her mother-- for education.


That changed Kira's life. Teachers helped Kira persevere, graduate, and apply —unsuccessfully— to seven colleges. She at last secured admission to Hamilton College and from there was able to transfer to Wesleyan University, graduating in political theory and film studies.


She then joined Teach For America because she believed that every child deserved the kinds of opportunities she had received in high school and college. For two years she taught fourth grade at Eden Park Elementary in Baton Rouge…


Kira Orange Jones bio!about-kira


Kira Orange Jones is a living example of how education can change a life… and that life can change many.


Raised in an inner-city neighborhood by her mother, Kira Orange Jones learned early the value of an education.

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Illiterate teen's chance encounter with teacher put him on path to college

This profile of a young man in New Orleans who turned his life around with the help of dedicated TFA teachers and a KIPP school captures what this struggle is all about:

As focused and self-possessed as the 18-year-old is today, it's hard to imagine Troy needing to have crossed paths with anybody to get on the road to success. Still, his biking past Sarah Bliss after an Uptown parade is textbook serendipity. She called out to him and immediately pulled him into a network of Teach for America teachers who resumed the work they'd begun with Troy when he was in Houston after the storm.

He remembers that fifth-grade year at New Orleans West College Prep (a KIPP school that evacuated to Houston) as the first time teachers told him, "We're going to help you accomplish your goals."

And not just pass him along?

"Second grade, I don't know how I made it to third grade," he said. "Third grade, I don't know how I made it to fourth grade."

It wasn't because he could read. He didn't recognize any words, not even cat or dog. Predictably, he failed LEAP. But he was too old to be held back again.

Nicole Cummins, his fifth-grade reading teacher, wondered, "How could this have happened? How could a kid get this far behind?" Despite his skills being "incredibly deficient" -- a team including Bliss and Ben Ochstein started Troy on phonics -- Cummins saw something special in him that "made me want to make sure that he didn't slip through any more cracks."

And yet, he did. He was arrested several times when he came back to New Orleans. In seventh grade he wore an ankle bracelet. As a peddler of marijuana, he had to decide if he was going to take the next step: push crack.

He knew, "Once I make that decision there's actually no backing out." So that's where he stopped. Others were expecting him to live a gangsta life, but Troy was honest with himself: "I didn't have the skills."

But nor did he have the skills to do the right thing, which is why his encounter with Bliss was like a prayer answered.

"He really just wanted to learn to read," she said. "He wanted to pass LEAP." She offered him tutoring, and he said, "Ms. Bliss, I want to take you up on your offer."

Troy can read now, well enough to have made it through New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy, well enough to have earned admission to college.


Illiterate teen's chance encounter with teacher put him on path to college

Published: Friday, May 18, 2012, 9:30 AM

By Jarvis DeBerry

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Feedback regarding Navy SEAL analogy

I got more feedback from my Navy SEAL analogy (see last email) than any in quite a while. Many said that the SEALs aren't comparable to education because the SEALs are so selective, the training and the subsequent job are grueling, everyone except the best are weeded out, etc. To those folks I'd say: you need to visit a KIPP (or other high-performing) school. There are obviously many differences – the teachers aren't risking their lives every day, for one – but I maintain that the very best high-performing schools in this country are the educational equivalent of the SEALs in terms of the caliber of people, how they're trained and organized to carry out their mission, and the achievement of astonishing, heroic results.


Of course only a small number of schools can ever be astonishingly good, just as SEALs are only a tiny fraction of those in the military. They key is to use the specialized resources wisely, where they can have the greatest impact. The military gets this right: it identifies the best people, gives them the most rigorous training and best leadership, and then uses them for the toughest missions. But our schools do exactly the opposite: the least needy kids get the best teachers and schools, while the (mostly poor, minority) kids who need the best teachers and schools to have any chance in life instead overwhelming get the worst. This is insane and immoral.


For more comments, here's Tony Klemmer, Founder & President of the NAATE Program & The Center for Better Schools (


Another interpretation is that Special Operations (including SEAL's) ALWAYS work in conjunction with conventional forces and the combination gets the job done. Special ops personnel are carefully selected, trained and deployed. They are drawn from the ranks of exceptional "conventional forces personnel," who have already demonstrated high accomplishment. No whole school is like a special ops unit. Think of the really exceptional schools as having a special ops unit within their midst, specially trained and deployed. That is more realistic, that is also far more achievable. (we would need less than 200,000 such personnel [basically exceptional teacher leaders] across 30,000 high need schools to accomplish the task – very achievable for the United States of America). Special ops represent <10% of our military service. They can't function without the coordination and support and collaboration of their conventional forces brethren.


We have spent a great deal of time studying military deployment of special ops and its application in public education. See attached paper which we vetted with SEAL team members and instructors and other military personnel. We think it makes a compelling argument for how to identify, train and deploy a kind of special ops teaching force WITHIN each high poverty school alongside "conventional teachers."


We also believe the NAATE program (which will have 70 plus top performing teachers this summer coming in small clusters from high need schools from across the country) is just such a selection, training and deployment effort.  Time will tell. We have given this a lot of thought. Just had another SEAL commander to dinner this week discussing these principles and applications.

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