Dec 30, 2011

College Students Organizing To Support Reform (Even Though We Don't Really Know What That Means. We're Too Young And Inexperienced)

George Hornedo is currently a junior at Cornell University and has taken a semester off to intern at the White House. George joined StudentsFirst because he believes we need to create a more equitable public education system for all children.
Zak Newman is currently a junior at Yale University. During his last spring break he shadowed an 8th grade teacher in in Hartford’s inner city. During that time, he noticed that she had very little support or feedback about her work. Zak believes that a great education is key to ending poverty and we must support teachers to have a quality education system.

We came to StudentsFirst as interns last year because we both believed that every child deserves a quality education and we knew there were many things standing in the way of that. When we started, we realized that there was a critical group underrepresented in the reform movement: college students. Every day, we read letters from students wanting to get involved and wanting to make sure all young people get the same opportunities to go to college that they had. As recent graduates of our nation’s K-12 system, college students have especially strong and insightful views on improving public education.

With this in mind, we launched StudentsFirst on Campus in October at Cornell University to a packed crowd of more than 500 students and community members. The campus outreach arm of the organization, StudentsFirst on Campus is an opportunity for college students across the country to work with this bipartisan grassroots movement on their campuses.

The Campus Directors have accomplished so much since the launch last October. In just two short months, our four Campus Directors have organized 25 events across the country with local and national partners, brought in more than 1,000 new StudentsFirst members and have become leaders in education in their communities.

For example,
  • At The Ohio State University, Campus Director Justin Schulze, organized an “Innovative Pathways to Teaching Fair” for students to learn about teaching opportunities available to them from Teach for America and various teaching fellowships.
  • At Morehouse College, Campus Director Jonathan Wall hosted a Waiting for Superman screening with other student groups to introduce people to some of the issues behind this movement.
  • At Cornell University, Campus Director Geoffrey Block helped organize the StudentsFirst on Campus launch, during which Michelle Rhee spoke to a packed crowd at her alma mater about the need for college students to get involved in education reform.
  • At the University of San Diego, Campus Director Mariko Peshon helped organize the first stop of the StudentsFirst California Listening Tour in which Michelle Rhee heard what southern Californians had to say about the policies and practices working for and against kids in their communities.
With the spring semester coming up, we’re looking to bring on more dedicated and passionate students to the StudentsFirst on Campus team. Campus Director applications are available now and are due on Friday, January 16. We believe that the next generation of education leadership will put an end to income and race-based gaps in student achievement. We hope that you will help carry that vision forward.

Dec 28, 2011

New Study Shows Need For Academic Accountability With Charters (Also, New Study Shows Need For End To Money In Politics)

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According to a new study from the Center for Education Reform, though 15% of charter schools have historically closed since 1992, only 3% have closed for academic poor performance. Reports the Huffington Post on the study:

In nearly two decades, only 3 percent of charter schools have ever been closed for underperforming, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter advocacy group, traced charter-school closures since 1992 in what it called the "first-ever national analysis" of its kind. It found that 15 percent of 6,700 charter schools have been shuttered, and 18 percent of those closures were attributed to academic underperformance. Other prevalent reasons charter schools were closed include financial deficiencies (41.7 percent), mismanagement (24 percent), district-related issues and facilities problems.

While the report identifies key levers of accountability – such as the charter quality measures StudentsFirst members and allies recently pushed for in Michigan – it also should serve as a clear call for greater academic accountability and quality measures. The information presented shows a startling low number of charters being closed for poor academic performance. While we know that many charters deliver particularly outstanding results in difficult circumstances – and that charters typically do as well as public schools – not all charters are performing at the same high levels we expect for our kids.

In Michigan, we proposed requiring charter authorizers to close bottom-performing schools, to require annual reviews and parental notification of performance, and to create pathways and incentives to allow high-performing charters that are doing a great job educating our kids to replicate and expand. StudentsFirst members will continue to push for these important reforms. This coming year, we hope that Michigan legislators – and leaders across the country – will do more to ensure academic accountability in schools serving our kids.

Dec 14, 2011

2011 Impact -- Our Member Annual Report (A report about Rhee's member?)

One year ago we launched on Oprah with a vision:  To transform America’s schools through building a national grassroots movement of parents, teachers, students and concerned citizens who demand change.

U.S. education standing in the worldWe had a core belief that every child can learn and that equal access to a quality education is a civil right.  But the stats show that we are failing our kids:  two-thirds of  fourth graders are unable to read and American students rank 25th out of 34 developing countries in math.

Outdated policies have to change in order for every child to have the opportunity to succeed and for our country to be competitive in the global economy.  However bucking the status quo isn’t easy – the only way to create lasting change is to tap into hopes of the American people who share the belief that we can ensure the right to high quality education for every child when we put students interests first – change will only occur from the ground up.   

This year we are proud to announce that within the coming weeks, we are projecting our grassroots movement will reach the one million member mark.   Our members come from every state and include teachers, parents, principals and school board members. They are Democrats, Republicans and Independents; they are union members and corporate executives.  And they range in age from middle school students to grandparents.

States and policiesThrough their organizing, our members have passed over 50 new policies in 7 states impacting the education of 8.7 million students.  These policies include implementing meaningful teacher evaluations, ending the practice of laying off the best teachers under last-in-first-out (LIFO), expanding public charter opportunities, and empowering parents to turn around failing schools.

In Nevada, for example, our members supported a multi-million dollar ad campaign starring local teachers, and also lobbied both the Democratically controlled houses of the state legislature and the Republican Governor to pass student-centered reform into law.  This bipartisan blueprint for reform surprised some observers but was replicated in some capacity elsewhere, including in Michigan and Maine.  Our members also acted to successfully pass student-focused reforms in Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and Indiana.

When state bureaucrats in California threatened to weaken parental power to fix failing schools, our members rallied quickly and gathered nearly 2000 thousand petition signatures within 15 hours, presenting them at a State Board Hearing, and helping to implement a meaningful parent-trigger law.
But we are only at the beginning and we have a lot of work ahead.  Our success has provided a rallying point for the special interest groups who oppose reform.  We need your help to grow our movement and to take action in your community.

Sign the pledge to put StudentsFirst and recruit your friends, family and colleagues to join you.
Together we will fight on behalf of students until every American child get the quality education they deserve.

Thank you for your support and I look forward to working with you in 2012.