redefinED blog stars: On reform-minded school boards, the promise of virtual charters and the NAACP’s betrayal

Editor’s note: For those new to redefinED, “blog stars” is our occasional compilation of good stuff from other ed blogs (with a newspaper op-ed thrown in now and then, too).

Huffington Post: In search of the elusive, reform-minded school board member

What most people don’t understand is that managing failure is just as hard as managing success. And this is, I believe, part of the reason school boards don’t improve schools. Stability and coherence are watchwords in both the high-achieving and low-achieving systems. Administrators want to keep their staff happy and their board at arm’s length. In both successful and failing districts, “micromanaging” by the school board is considered a no-no. I recall a woman addressing our board not along ago. “We’re not supposed to rock the boat,” she said. “But the trouble is that the boat has tipped over and we’re lashed to our seats.” Rocking the boat is exactly what must be done to effect change — change, one hopes, that leads to better student outcomes.

I spent most of the last 10 years, on and off the board, pushing for a rigorous curriculum, stopping the disproportionate disciplining of African-American students, and complaining about the over-identification of special ed students (almost a quarter of our student body). But, for the most part, no matter what I proposed — a new bus route, a paint job for the flag pole, or a curriculum — I was mostly ignored. In order to get a pile of old lumber and rusty nails removed from the edge of a playground I had to threaten to dump it in the superintendent’s driveway! Full post here.

Dropout Nation: The NAACP should listen to Romney (and Obama) on school choice

By embracing an education traditionalist thinking and Zip Code Education, the NAACP is aiding and abetting the damage to black children that it is supposed to defend. By taking money from NEA and AFT affiliates (including the $16,200 picked up by its New York branch from the AFT’s Big Apple unit during the union’s 2010-2011 fiscal year), the association is also betraying its obligations as a civil rights group to oppose policies that promote the same denials of equal educational opportunities against which it supposedly fights. In the process, the NAACP refuses to be a much-needed public policy voice and activist on behalf of transforming a failed system, alienating the very school reformers and black families (especially in urban communities) who are looking to build schools that black children (and all kids) deserve.  And by adhering to the thinking of aging members who have a vested interest in maintaining failed ideas about how schools should serve black children, the NAACP has also lost opportunities to gain support from a new generation of African-Americans who realize that education is the most-important key to achieving social and economic equality.

When both Romney and Obama share common cause on systemic reform and on expanding choice, it is clear that the NAACP is on the wrong side of history. Now it is time for it to do the right thing. Full post here.

Getting Smart: North Carolina Should Welcome Online Schools

Even the most ardent supporters of online learning recognize that online schools may not be the best fit for all students, and quality assurance and accountability should be a high priority. At the same time, we must recognize that the traditional school model is also not the best learning environment for all students. If it were, then surely we would not be facing the problem of 27 out of every 100 North Carolina public school students failing to graduate, and nearly 300 students every day dropping out of school. If the proposed online charter school saved a fraction of those students from dropping out, it would make sense. Not to mention other serious issues facing children in schools today including bullying and medical challenges that make learning in a traditional school difficult or impossible.

Sixteen years ago I had the honor of being a pioneer in the field of online learning by helping to launch an online school program that would reshape what it means to “go to school.” The goal was to leverage technology to provide highly individualized learning programs that connected students and teachers outside the constraints of classrooms and inflexible school schedules. It enabled parents and students more ownership and choice in public education – in some cases, the only choice — despite their zip code or income level. Full post here. State has virtually no reason to not give online charter schools a shot

Rather than worry about specific students, New Jersey is concerned about the lack of robust research on whether full-time virtual schooling works for students in general. That’s the wrong concern. Research that explores whether traditional classrooms “work” for students in general is just as limited. We ought to be less concerned with the average and more concerned with providing the right options for each student. Although the traditional school experience has been successful for many, there also are plenty of students for whom it is a nonstarter and for whom the full-time virtual experience has not only been successful, but indeed critical for their success.

Policymakers and administrators worrying about full-time virtual schooling are missing another point. Our research shows full-time virtual schools are unlikely ever to be the dominant option for students.

Given the socio-economic condition and family structures for most K-12 students, 10 percent is likely the maximum number of students who could logistically experience full-time virtual (or other home-based) schooling as it exists today. The majority of students need school — a supervised safe place to learn. Full op-ed here.

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BY reimaginED staff