Friday, July 29, 2011

With D.C Already Allergic to Compromise, Even the States Are Catching the Bug

The ongoing debate about reaching a deal to raise the debt ceiling has, for many Americans, more starkly than ever made the case as to the declining state of our ability to compromise. That this debate has dragged on so long, and produced so little, has created many more Washington cynics than the large number that already existed before these "negotiations" began.

But an inability to cooperate is not simply a symptom of politicians in the nation's capital. Buoyed by the fire that was lit in February during Wisconsin's collective bargaining debate, legislators and lobbyists in the Badger State have been unable to solve their problems with each other, too. Instead, they brought forth a set of costly recall elections (for which both parties are responsible) that effectively served as an admission that compromise was impossible.

And when earlier this month we saw two traditional political foes in the state join together in the name of education reform, we were optimistic about how the education conversation might proceed from here.

Unfortunately, last night proved we still have a ways to go.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Benefits of School Sharing in Action

On the heels of the positive news this week that 15 New York City charter schools can proceed with plans to open in space formerly belonging to traditional public schools (despite ongoing and disappointing opposition from the NAACP), Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott did what many education heads don't do often enough—he paid a visit to the schools affected by his policies.

It's a contrast with the actions of many anti-reform groups, who oppose various forms of school choice not based upon actually seeing how they work, but instead based upon a premeditated ideology that won't change, no matter the practical context.

A recent local news report very clearly highlights this contrast. In the first portion, you'll see Walcott visiting a model for how public charter and traditional public schools can co-exist in the same space. In the second portion, you'll see a group of citizens protesting similar charter openings in other part of the city. Is their opposition based upon the fact that shared space doesn't work? Of course not. Instead, they're wedded to a system that they don't want changed, no matter if suggested reforms might be useful.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"What Would You Think of a Chef Who Wouldn't Eat At His Own Restaurant?"

There was a big kerfuffle last week when Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel got very impatient with a local reporter after she asked him about his decision to send his kids to private schools, despite the fact that Chicago Public Schools fall under mayoral control. Here's a video of the exchange:

"Roads? Where We're Going, We Don't Need Roads"

As we approach the next few Tuesdays in Wisconsin, expect a fair amount of heated rhetoric from both sides of the aisle in their attempts to sway voters ahead of the state's numerous recall elections.

Such was the case last night in Portage, Wisconsin, where two legislators met for a pre-election debate. State Sen. Luther Olsen is defending his seat against the challenge of State Rep. Fred Clark, and though it's reported that the two candidates have a large amount of mutual respect—certainly far more than has been shown in other races—it appears that level of respect doesn't extend to all of the state's constituents. Below is a local newspaper's characterization of a quote from Clark, where he makes a startling analogy about school vouchers:
Clark also took issue with Republican moves to increase the number of vouchers, paid for with state money, for students attending private schools. 
That, Clark said, is as absurd as it would be to build a network of private roads because some people don’t like state highways.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

School Choice Builds Bridges in Nation's Capital

Sometimes, instead of providing our own commentary to make a point, it's better to let the images speak for themselves.

That's very much the case when it comes to Bridges Academy in Washington, D.C., where recipients of the recently-reauthorized D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program are thriving in a way that warms the heart. Take a look at the video below, courtesy the pro-reform-minded folks at the Education Action Group. At just about six minutes long, it serves as a great reminder about how commonsense school choice programs can really work:

They have a host of other videos on their site too, so be sure to take a look.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

Monday, July 25, 2011

Before She Departs, D.C.'s School Choice Champion Has One Final Message

We told last month about the impending departure of Virginia Walden Ford, and, most importantly, how much we'll miss her. You'll recall that the foremost champion for school choice in the nation's capital will be heading down to her hometown of Little Rock at the end of this month, and we take solace in knowing that our loss is Arkansas's gain.

But in typical Virginia fashion, she's determined to help kids down to the very end. She wrote a piece published in today's Washington Examiner, reminding readers that despite the reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program in April, the work doesn't stop:
We must fight vigilantly to protect and preserve this program so families will never again be turned away from the chance to access a quality education for their children. 
In the mid-1960s, I was among more than 130 students picked to desegregate public high schools on a large scale in Little Rock. Our nation has made great strides in improving education for all children since then; but our work is far from finished. 
Success is not defined by waiting lists and lottery systems; success is providing all children with an education that will prepare them for a productive and fulfilling life.
She's exactly right. And she would know, because it was Virginia who was there in the 1990s when the thought of introducing a voucher program to Washington, D.C. was dismissed. She was there in 2004 when the program began and enthusiasm was high. And she was also there in 2009 when prospects for the program's future looked especially grim.

And, of course, she was there this year, when her inability to back down from what was right paid off for thousands of kids in the nation's captal. Perhaps no single individual has done more for a single school choice program in this country than Virginia Walden Ford. She was there almost 50 years ago in Little Rock, she's been there for kids in D.C. for 15 years, and now, she's going to be there for a new community.

Everyone is going to be better off as a result.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Some Light School Choice Reading

Jay Greene, a longtime education reform researcher and author, is out with a new mini-book entitled Why America Needs School Choice. If you're technologically savvy, we recommend getting your (digital) hands on an e-book copy, which is selling for as little as $4.19. Or, if you'd like to go the more traditional route, has it for $5.99. Here's the product description to give you an idea of what's in store:
Expanding school choice and competition is the single most important action we can take to improve America's schools. Although school choice faces strong opposition from powerful teacher unions and their entrenched political allies, expanding choice via vouchers, charters, and tax credits has repeatedly been shown to improve student achievement, reduce segregation, promote civic values, and facilitate other productive reforms. This eloquent Broadside outlines the case for school choice and shows how it is the most appealing strategy for anyone serious about educational reform.
Greene recently talked about the mini-book in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. You can view it below:

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

School Safety and Education Go Hand in Hand

The Ohio mother who was jailed earlier this year for falsifying documents in order to send her kids to a different school is back in the headlines today, this time appearing at an Akron Parole Board hearing. The board will make a recommendation to Gov. John Kasich about whether Kelley Williams-Bolar should be granted clemency, as has been advocated by Kasich. The governor ultimately has the final say in whether she is granted clemency.

But the hearing itself is not the news (we’ve known about it for some time). Instead, it’s the characterization of the motives behind her actions, characterizations that suggest she wanted her kids to go to a different school for reasons other than “school choice.” Below is an excerpt from The Columbus Dispatch’s writeup of the hearing:
Gov. John Kasich and others have made the case about school choice, but Kelley Williams-Bolar told the Ohio Parole Board that her daughters’ safety, not their education, was her only concern.

Her attorney, David A. Singleton, said the idea she moved her children to another school so they could get a better education came from school-choice advocates and the media.
First, there is an implication by both Williams-Bolar’s attorney and the newspaper that somehow educational quality and feeling safe in school aren’t inextricably linked. Children perform better in environments where they feel safe, and common sense dictates that additional worries related to safety could distract and detract from the quality of education.

And second, they’re suggesting that “school choice” means giving parents’ choices based on singular reasons only. While we certainly advocate for targeted school choice programs (mainly for low-income children and kids with special needs), there are a multitude of reasons why parents exercise their options: safety is often foremost among them, as are things like class size, structure of curriculum, length of school day, geographic location, and extracurricular opportunities, just to name a few. Of course these are all related to education. To suggest that children who attend unsafe schools are not being shortchanged educationally is to misunderstand the nature of the issues facing our schools today.

We very much stand beside Williams-Bolar in her efforts—she, like far too many parents, deserved more choices for her children, and it’s those lack of options that Gov. Kasich had in mind when he signed into law a large expansion of the state’s flagship EdChoice voucher program.

But we hope those in the media will understand that the safety of her children isn’t an issue separate from ours—it’s in fact a fundamental part of the reasons we do what we do. Whether it’s unsafe schools or something else that impairs a child’s education, parents should be able to choose to send their kids somewhere else.

We hope that Kelley Williams-Bolar and thousands of other parents across the country get that chance.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Across the Pond, Parents Take Charge of Kids' Schooling

Part of the fun of interacting with our friends across the pond in Britain is finding the small differences in their use of the English language and ours. For example, our “garbage” is their “rubbish,” and their “jam sandwich” is our “police car (seriously!),” among other gems you can read about here and here.

But did you also know that our “charter schools” are their…“free schools”?

While they don’t have the same process of opening charters as we have here, many of the basics are the same: parents desperate for choices or who yearn for options with specialized learning structures can create their own schools, hence the “free” in their name (which refers to their freedom to specialize). They do it all themselves—securing the building, funding, enrolling children, etc.—and do so at a fraction of the amount it would cost the state to open a new facility, according to Toby Young, an English parent and free school founder. Says Young:
“If [the state] wanted to create a new school, they would do it themselves, and it would cost between 27 and 30 million pounds on average to set up a new secondary school. It will cost between one third and one half of that to set up our school.”
Young’s school is set to open this September, and there are already more interested parents than spaces available. Young and other parents preparing to open schools have taken advantage of the “New Schools Network,” which provides guidance and assistance throughout the process of getting a school up and running. The German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (the equivalent of our Voice of America) recently aired a segment on the proliferation of free schools in Britain:

We’ll see in the coming months whether these schools succeed at giving kids a better education than their alternative, but we appreciate the fact that British parents are willing to go a different route when it comes to schools for their children. Education reform movements cannot be afraid to try new methods in places where the status quo is not working. And, make no mistake—some of those methods might not work, and if that’s the case, we should stop using them. But we need to give smart and innovative reforms a try before we demonize them.

Click here to read our post discussing school choice in the international community, as well as how one of our programs is characterized abroad.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

Monday, July 18, 2011

In the 'Business' of Helping Kids

Business Leaders and Education Programs: A Combination that Works

President Obama is meeting with business leaders across the nation to talk investment options—for our nation’s K-12 students.  According to a piece in the Wall Street Journal today, the Administration and business leaders are on the same side in investing in innovative education programs, much to the chagrin of special interests, like the teachers’ unions.

But businesses (and individuals) can already participate in innovative education programs that work.  Eight states currently operate scholarship tax credit programs that give hundreds of thousands of students immediate access to a quality education.

With 10 programs operating across the country, businesses and individuals can receive state tax credits for donating money to scholarship organizations that help children attend the private schools of their choice.  Often targeted to help special needs and low-income students, these programs give families a choice in the education for their children. Read the details after the jump.

On His 93rd Birthday, We Celebrate a Courageous Champion of Educational Options

Today marks the birthday of one of our generation’s great leaders, a walking embodiment of courage and someone to whom an entire society owes its freedom. Among the remarkable man’s most famous quotes is the following:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
He also said this:
“All children—regardless of where they live—have the right to learn.”
Do you know who uttered those words? It was Nelson Mandela, the former South African president whose 27 years in prison helped destroy the oppressive apartheid regime in his home country. He celebrates his 93rd birthday today.

Nelson Mandela at a 1998 event in Brazil.
Mandela has held a commitment to education since his own early experiences in South Africa, where the educational opportunities he had growing up in the 1930s provided him with the foundation that began his lifelong struggle to spread and fight for the ideals of freedom and democracy.

South Africa shares a number of similarities with the U.S. when it comes to inequity. The end of apartheid in 1994, when Mandela became president, helped integrate South African society but still left wide gaps in the educational options available to children from low-income families. Apartheid’s effects are still being felt, as many of those same inequalities still exist today.

Over the years, Mandela has been a stalwart supporter of giving kids options for a better education. From his time as president up to the present day, he’s done for South Africa what so many in our movement are trying to do halfway across the world: give kids hope. 

We went through some of his inspiring words and discovered a longstanding commitment to giving opportunities to children from impoverished backgrounds. Read those words after the jump.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Join the Fight Against Special Interests in Wisconsin!

Tempers are still extremely hot in Wisconsin, where earlier this week began the process of recalling a host of state senators. Recall elections aren’t especially common in the United States. Many may “recall” (pun intended) how it was a recall election that vaulted Arnold Schwarzenegger into the governorship in California eight years ago, but cases like those are rare—in many states, specific grounds of misconduct in office are required to initiate the recall process.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Wisconsin.

As a result, just a few thousand people can initiate the process in the Badger State, ultimately costing taxpayers thousands of dollars for no reason other than sour grapes. And it’s not just taxpayers who suffer, but kids all across the state, too. This time, specials interests are diverting attention away from actual, tangible benefits for kids—like the recent expansion and extension of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program signed by Gov. Scott Walker—and instead spending millions to recall the very legislators who helped make the historic school choice expansion a reality in the first place.

One of those legislators is State Sen. Alberta Darling, a staunch supporter of educational options who helped pass last month’s expansion of the country’s oldest voucher program. She’s under attack from those out to maintain the status quo, and we here at the American Federation for Children are here to stick up for a champion of choice, and most importantly, a champion for kids. Take a look at the video below to hear the truth about a great leader in the fight for school choice and education reforms, from the people most involved in working for kids every day:

But it’s going to take much more than the words from great teachers to counteract the endless attacks being bankrolled by school choice opponents in Wisconsin.

And that’s where you come in.

By the August 9 election date, we need to make clear to people across the state that we can’t be bullied by opponents. We need to make clear that politics is not a reason to strip kids of the opportunities all children in this country deserve. We need to make clear that our kids can’t afford it.

We can’t do it without you, and neither can the children who depend on school choice to rescue them from the failing schools.

People like Sen. Darling have done the right thing, standing up for kids their whole lives, and now they’re under attack. Let’s show her opponents that despite their attempts to fracture our coalition, we stand together!

- American Federation for Children, MAG

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Agnostic As to the Delivery Mechanism"

At our 2011 National Policy Summit, held two months ago in Washington, D.C., we were honored to welcome renowned education reformer Michelle Rhee, who discussed the evolution that ultimately brought her to support school choice and endorse reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Of particular note was the following portion, in which Rhee explained what she'd say to people who questioned why, as the then-Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, she supported giving kids the choice to exercise options outside of the District. Here's what she said:
I do not believe that my job is to protect and defend and preserve a district that is doing a disservice to children. I believe that my job is to make sure that every single child in this city gets a great education. I am agnostic as to the delivery mechanism.
Not surprisingly, this has been a sentiment she has echoed many times before and since. In some ways it gets to the heart of our support for school choice. We do not believe in any one system as better or worse than another. We simply believe that if low-income families get the opportunities afforded to others as a result of  socioeconomic variables, they can then choose the schools that will help children flourish. We could not care less whether the schools were traditional public, charter, or private—we just want kids to get the best education possible.

Let's remember that there are many great traditional public schools, countless high-performing charter schools, as well as private schools. But there are failing public schools, unaccountable charters, and private schools that miss the boat, too. The point is that no system is perfect and every system excels in certain environments.

In the same way that Rhee isn't willing to support a system as an idea, it doesn't make sense for our fellow voucher advocates to oppose a system as an idea. That's why we took notice of some quotes we found in an otherwise misguided piece that characterizes the fight for the Opportunity Scholarship Act in New Jersey as an effort to privatize education. The overwhelming majority of voucher advocates there and elsewhere care about helping giving opportunities to kids who otherwise couldn't afford them. It's the driving force behind prominent school choice advocates like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Rev. Reginald Jackson, and, we believe, Gov. Chris Christie. But the story also quotes the following from a state tea party advocate:
Our ultimate goal is to shut down public schools and have private schools only, eventually returning responsibility for payment to parents and private charities. It’s going to happen piecemeal and not overnight. It took us years to get into this mess and it’s going to take years to get out of it.
Let's set the record straight right now: this is not what we believe. Our foe is not a system, it's people who are blindly protecting a system without acknowledging its faults and embracing ways to improve it. While we're happy to embrace a diverse coalition of allies and school choice advocates, it will always be the ends—not the means—that matters to us. If all public schools were excellent or all private schools were abysmal, we'd be in a different line of work. But as long as there is nuance in the nature and quality of the choices, there should be an equally nuanced debate. This has never been about either/or. Through vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and quality charter schools, this is about permitting choice where it would otherwise not be present.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

Monday, July 11, 2011

From Political Differences Comes Some Common Ground

Accountability is a paramount part of any successful school choice program. Not only are transparency and accountability smart public policy, but they provide our movement and our advocates with readily available data and information to describe the successes of the programs.

But accountability can also go far in forming some unlikely political alliances.

You’ll recall last month that Wisconsin passed a state budget that included historic expansions of school choice in both size and scope. Heralded and ultimately signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker, it was met with strong opposition from State Superintendent Tony Evers. And while we disagree with Evers, we respect his difference of opinion and believe that, at the end of the day, he really does want what he thinks will best serve kids.

That’s why we’re happy to hear about the two improbable allies joining forces to create a new accountability system to cover all schools in Wisconsin that receive public funds, including schools serving students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. In the past, both Walker and Evers have criticized the federally-mandated No Child Left Behind Act, which has proved problematic in accurately and efficiently gauging school effectiveness.

A local news report provides some of the details on the plan, as well as the players behind it:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Setting the Record Straight in Louisiana!

We here at School Choice Now! are all for healthy debate about our programs—and education reform proposals in general—to ensure that, above all else, they're helping kids. But what we don't like is when people take potshots at school choice programs based upon single snapshots of slanted data, and especially when such potshots disregard a host of other metrics that tell a completely different story.

In Louisiana, data was recently released comparing standardized test scores of some students participating in the New Orleans voucher program to their public school peers. Putting aside the host of data and feedback that illustrates great satisfaction (not to mention increased demand) with the program, one analysis of the data in particular fails to take into account some of its glaring flaws.

In a release that went out today on behalf of the Louisiana Federation for Children, we aim to set the record straight. Read the full details here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Interested in Getting More Involved in the Political Process?

Have you ever had political aspirations? Do you want to change politics and spur reform in our education system from within? If so, then the American Federation for Children invites you to attend our next Campaign Training School, to be held on Saturday, July 23, 2011, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana! The training school will be held at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry from 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM Central Time.

AFC Board Member Kevin P. Chavous recorded a message about the work that we do to help pro-reform candidates, and why having reform-minded folks in office is so important.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's School Choice Signup Time Around the Country

Things happen fast in Ohio!

The very day after Gov. John Kasich signed into law a state budget that significantly expands school choice options across the Buckeye State, the program was already benefiting from some of the new provisions. Between now and August 15, parents can once again apply to enroll their children in Ohio's EdChoice voucher program—welcome news for families who missed out on receiving a voucher when there were more applicants than available scholarships after the program's original deadline in April.

Not only is the cap on the number of applicants rising, but eligibility requirements have changed to allow more families to apply, too. All parents need to know is that they have an additional month and a half to give their kids a shot at escaping their current, failing schools.

Below is a video from a local news station that details the new application period and how parents can apply:

But while parents have until the middle of next month to apply in Ohio, the clock is ticking even faster in the nation's capital! There are just three more days for families to apply for the newly-reauthorized D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, and we're participating in an event on the final day of signup: this Saturday, July 9, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at St. Anthony's School at 12th and Lawrence St. NE in D.C. Please encourage any families looking to help their kids to fill out an application! We'd be happy to help with the process.

There's so much at stake not just for the families involved, but in terms of how this will shape our broader discourse surrounding school choice and how we should all rally to help families once the politics ends. In that spirit, check out this great op-ed from Kevin P. Chavous that ran in yesterday's Washington Times. Right now we should only have one thing on our minds—helping as many families and children get the best education they can!

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Indiana Lawsuit Again Proves That Special Interests Are Out of Touch

Indiana's sweeping school voucher program became law on Friday, and the powerful special interests out to block the program wasted little time in standing up for the status quo. The Indiana State Teachers' Association (ISTA), along with the National Education Association (NEA), filed suit against the program Friday morning, claiming that it's unconstitutional.

It's a refrain we've heard before from opponents of educational options, but it's becoming more and more clear that school choice opponents are beginning to get their own forms of opposition confused. Are they opposing the program because of claims that it violates separation of church and state, despite the fact that no public dollars are directly going to any institution, non-secular or otherwise (instead, they go to parents; that's the crux of choice)? Or are they against vouchers because they claim that choice will hurt public schools? The video below details that flawed argument. (In fact, the program will actually save Indiana taxpayers substantial dollars. See a comprehensive report of school choice savings here.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Where We Are, Where We're Going, and a Happy (Early) Independence Day!

We'll be taking a break during the long holiday weekend, so we at School Choice Now! just wanted to wish you a very Happy Fourth of July, wherever you are. Our Independence Day is a time to celebrate where we are as a country, as well as where we're going.

To that end, we wanted to do the same when it comes to school choice. We've already told you about the record number of states considering school choice legislation this year, but now that we're right at the halfway point, we wanted to let you know just how significant our 2011 progress has been. It has truly been a historic year.

We here at School Choice Now! are all about context, so here's some from our chairman, Betsy Devos:
This has been a significant year for educational freedom nationwide. To put these victories in perspective: it took the school choice movement 20 years to enact the first 20 private school choice programs. In just the first half of 2011, legislatures across the country have enacted seven more programs, demonstrating that this year is truly 'the year of school choice.'
We couldn't have said it any better ourselves. So on this, the eve of our celebration of Independence, we wanted to thank you for all your work throughout 2011. Though we've got much more to do in the second half of the year, we're proud of all that's been done to open up so many educational options to so many students around the country in need.

In the spirit of the sentiments embodied by our Independence Day and what makes our country great—acceptance, freedom, and understanding—take a look at a recent video starring our own Kevin P. Chavous. The former D.C. Councilman sits down with the Rumi Forum, an organization that fosters interfaith and intercultural dialogue, where he discusses why our work is so important.

From the entire American Federation for Children, Happy Fourth of July!

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG