Close underperforming charter schools

By Rebeca Nieves-Huffman

(From the Chicago Sun-Times, April 11, 2014)

The debate surrounding Chicago’s education future is becoming more and more polarized. Each side wants you to believe that what they’re preaching is gospel, and what the other side is promoting is heresy. You’re either for kids, or against them; you are a corporate elitist or a union hack; you support Mayor Rahm Emanuel or you support teachers union president Karen Lewis.

While there are many substantive issues that should continue to be debated, the focus on charter schools vs. neighborhood schools is unproductive and further widens this divide. We need to move away from the “us vs. them” rhetoric, and find common ground — and that starts with the gospel of accountability.

Accountability means that every school should be held to the same standard. No child should be denied access to a high quality education provided by motivated and effective teachers, but no school should get a free pass. To be clear, Democrats for Education Reform -—Illinois (DFER-IL) supports increasing education opportunities for Chicago students. This means strengthening our neighborhood schools, more International Baccalaureate schools, more STEM schools, greater access to magnet schools and, yes, more charter schools.

Undermining this vision are reports that charter schools fail to live up to the standard that we would expect, or that our children deserve. More freedom and strong leaders should equal greater student success, but that hasn’t been the case across the board. Charter advocates can do something about this: push for the closure of underperforming charter schools.

Why not? We demand accountability from our neighborhood schools and, as parents, we hold the individuals who teach our children to as high a standard as we hold ourselves. We cannot treat charter schools that fail to make the grade any differently. Period.

Not only does it slander the work of the excellent charter schools in Chicago, it fuels the argument that charters aren’t any better than neighborhood schools — which we know isn’t true. In fact, Illinois ACT results show that of the top 10 non-selective high schools in our city, nine of them are charter high schools. Yet, a 2013 Stanford University study says that one in five CPS elementary charter schools produce student growth in reading and math that is significantly worse than neighborhood schools. That’s unacceptable.

The bottom line is that supporters of charter schools need to practice what we preach. If a charter isn’t up to snuff, shut it down. If a neighborhood school can’t make the grade, turn it around. CPS closed two charters last year, but more work needs to be done. If our mission is for better schools and a better future for our kids, we should demand greater accountability across the board.

We call on the Chicago Teachers Union to join us in promoting Chicago’s highest performing schools, and in identifying those schools that fail to deliver. Both sides of this issue can agree that good schools, whether they’re charter, or neighborhood or magnet, deserve recognition, while chronically underperforming schools should be turned around or closed. Real accountability requires that we reward success, and acknowledge its absence, with equal fervor. We hope they share our goal.

Read the full post here.

Group Slams House Majority Leader for Lack of Charter-Funding Support

By Katie Ash

(From Education Week, April 7, 2014)

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has done less to advance the growth of charter schools in his 13 years in the U.S. Congress than New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the three months he's been in office, argues a policy brief published Monday by Democrats for Education Reform.

Although Cantor has spent much time advocating for the support and expansion of charter schools through speeches, he has done little beyond talking to actually realize those goals, says the brief, written by Charles Barone—the organization's policy director—and Mac LeBuhn, a policy analyst for the group. Only three Republicans, which did not include Cantor, signed a letter in support of a new bill that would increase funding for the federal Charter School Program. (Twenty Democrats supported the move.)

Read the full post here.

Bill De Blasio Is Actually More Helpful To Charter Schools Than Some Republicans, Report Says

By Joy Resmovits

(From the Huffington Post, April 7, 2014)

NEW YORK -- Last fall, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) waged his successful populist campaign in part on reversing his predecessor Michael Bloomberg's education policies -- particularly Bloomberg's dramatic expansion and preferential treatment of charter schools. In a move that pleased many voters, de Blasio threatened to start charging the charter schools rent.

But despite taking the rhetorical hatchet to those 183 schools, which are publicly funded but can be privately run, in the months since the election, de Blasio ultimately has helped charter schools -- even more than some Republicans, according to a new brief from Democrats for Education Reform, released on Monday.

Read more here.

Obama's Budget Boosts Preschool, Access To Top Teachers, But Freezes Many Education Programs

By Joy Resmovits

(From the Huffington Post, March 4, 2014)

President Barack Obama's 2015 budget request increases education funding 2 percent over the previous year, cheering many education advocates, and proposes a revamped Race to the Top competition that focuses on opportunity for all students and a tobacco tax to pay for a previously-announced preschool expansion effort.

Obama announced the budget, which would restore across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, at Powell Elementary School in Washington.

Read the full post here.

Education gets budget love

By Lyndsey Layton

(From the Washington Post, March 4, 2014)

President Obama wants to increase discretionary spending for the Department of Education in 2015 by about 2 percent, from $67.3 billion to $68.6 billion, the largest increase of any agency besides the Department of Defense.

That’s in addition to $14.4 billion the federal government gives in formula grants to states to help educate poor children and another $11.5 billion it provides for special education. In both of those categories, funding would remain flat.

Read the full post here.

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