Thursday, December 30, 2010

Education reformers made bold strides in 2010, but what's next for 2011?

I've been working for many years in education and I must say that 2010, was one of the best of them.  From media getting onboard the education reform movement to movies whose power game not from misleading statistics that were left unchallenged, but from a riveting personal story of children trying to get into charter schools who unlike public schools only accept a limited number of students.  Education Reform has arrived.

The year began in January, with the amazing news that Central Falls, Rhode Island had terminated the entire faculty when they balked at accepting new demands from the school district.   Parents, students, and teachers were whining constantly that it wasn't the teachers' fault, but I had to wonder if the teachers were so great, why were they teaching in a district where the median income was $22,000 and had the most transient student population in the state, the highest percentage of students who don’t speak English and a high percentage of special-needs students.  Sadly, the faculty was eventually hired back, but many of them were so demoralized that they have been leaving in droves.  Hey, it doesn't matter how we get rid of teachers as much as that we get rid of teachers.

Michelle Rhee showed herself to be a bold reformer when she showed she wasn't afraid to talk tough, mentioning that some of the 266 teachers she had let go had had sex with children.   She wouldn't name names, but it was good to know if you just didn't hire any of the laid off teachers, you could avoid the risk of accidentally hiring a pedophile.

Arne Duncan showed his experience as a basketball player was applicable for education with his Race to the Top initiative, which proved that the true essence of quality education was competition.  In exchange for federal funds, states jumped through all sorts of hoops, making their schools more accessible to billionaire reformers and improving education along the way.

The big term in education this year was Value Added, which is a way of reading test scores that's revolutionary.  Now, we can see which teachers are consistently in the top 25% every year in improving their children's scores.  Interestingly, the numbers swing so much that teachers who are in the top 25% one year, only have a 30% chance of being in the top 25% the next year.   The Los Angeles Times showed tremendous courage in printing the Value Added scores of individual teachers, which only cost one teacher his life.  Sadly, they should have read the scores closer themselves as they praised teachers for being effective who were rated Least Effective in the Value Added scores.

In New York, Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein were quick to ban a student play that was based on the classic play Antigone and was critical of corporate school reform, but unfortunately, Klein left his post for the Rupert Murdoch media empire shortly after.  We were thrilled to see Cathie Black named to the city's top education post, continuing to push the envelope for just how far we can get away from the monopoly of people knowledgeable about education from running schools. 

In New Jersey, Governor Christie showed himself to be the champion of school reform that many of us believed he would be after watching his sweat emitting rock shows under the stage name Meatloaf.   He let it be known that he would do anything for schools, but he won't do that.

In Washington, Adrian Fenty rode Michelle Rhee's impressive accomplishments to a second place finish in the mayoral election despite doing poorly among parents with children in the city's public schools.

In Chicago, Stand For Children spent a lot of money influencing politicians to push through an aggressive reform agenda.  They were so excited about the agenda, that they later purchased an office in the city to continue pushing their agenda.

Finally, the tax cut compromise that extended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy another 2 years was terrific news for school reform.  With as many as a quarter of American students living in poverty, just think how much the $75 billion that the Walton Families saved in taxes will be needed by the students who benefit from their contributions to education reform.

Entering 2011 with LastStand, I know more than I did yesterday, but not as much as I will tomorrow. We have a difficult road ahead of us to battle against the teachers and education research who have protected the status quo, but we can certainly form a counter force against it.  We can also support the politicians and billionaires who are courageously leading real change in education.

In 2011, we have to act together with groups like Stand for Children, Students First, Children First, Stand for Students, Children and Students First, and Children Stand for Students. We built a great deal of momentum in 2010, but we can’t be complacent if we’re going to see student achievement rise in 2011. There is no better time than now. The children in school today will be the first generation of Americans who are less well educated than their parents.  I have no reason to know that or any statistic to back that up, but I'm guessing that's how it'll be.

November’s elections brought in new mayors, governors, senators, and congressmembers across the country. If they haven’t already, they will soon release their detailed plans for public education. I hope you will read those plans, be clear about what you expect from the leaders voted in to do the job, and hold them accountable for delivering results in student achievement and holding taxes down on top earners.

To our members, I am grateful and proud to have you with me and the staff of LastStand as we enter the New Year. I hope you all are having a peaceful and happy holiday, and if you are not, I hope you will examine your relationship with our Lord and Savior.   With your help in 2011, we'll be on our way to privatizing public education in America.

Myron Miner

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