Public Education Weekender: 2/23/2014

Public Education Weekender
Sunday, February 23, 2014


Last Tuesday, Michigan State School Superintendent Mike Flanagan terminated the state’s contract with the controversial Education Achievement Authority (EAA) just 2 years into the 15-year contract. The decision significantly reduces the EAA’s role in “turning around” Michigan’s lowest-performing schools by removing its exclusive authority to take over the state's most vulnerable schools. In the termination letter sent to EAA Chancellor John Covington, Flanagan states that he asked Covington to discuss the immediate termination of the contract in a Notice of Termination sent earlier this month, but never received a response. Public Education Working Group member, Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods) believes that the decision “signals a profound lack of confidence in the organization.” Rep. Lipton took on the EAA as part of the National Week of Action and has advocated for community-based reform efforts rather than handing schools over to the EAA.  


On Friday a Superior Court judge issued an injunction preventing the N.C. legislature from moving forward with a voucher program that would divert $10 million of taxpayer dollars to pay for private school tuition vouchers.  In December the North Carolina School Boards Association and the North Carolina Association of Educators initiated separate lawsuits on the grounds that spending taxpayer money on private schools is unconstitutional, especially when some of the schools discriminate in their admissions and do not have the academic standards or accountability of public schools. Public Education Working Group member, Rep. Rick Glazier hopes that the decision will allow N.C. legislators to get back to their jobs and truly assist the state’s public schools, educators, and students. “Vouchers are not reform; they are an abdication of public education.” Rep. Glazier said.  Dick Komer, the lawyer from the Institute for Justice, a Koch brothers-backed law firm representing the voucher parents, said he would appeal the decision.  Click here to read Rep. Glazier’s full statement posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog.   


Union City School District is the quintessential rose that grew from concrete.  Union City is a low-income community with more than double the unemployment rate than the national average.  Many of the district's more than  10, 000 students come from Latino immigrant families and 75 percent of the students do not speak English at home.  Like Balsz School District, featured in last week's Weekender, the district was at risk of a state takeover and at one time ranked last in the state.  The New York Times reported on how the district's leadership worked to transform Untion City without closing schools, introducing charters or turning to Teach for America recruits. Instead, “the district’s best educators were asked to design a curriculum based on evidence, not hunch. Learning by doing replaced learning by rote. Kids who came to school speaking only Spanish became truly bilingual, taught how to read and write in their native tongue before tackling English. Parents were enlisted in the cause. Teachers were urged to work together, the superstars mentoring the stragglers and coaches recruited to add expertise."  Prekindergarten, which enrolls almost every 3- and 4-year-old in the district, is another key element of Untion City's success. Currently, 80 percent of the district's students meet state standards, attendance has increased, dropout and absence rates decreased, and students have been clamoring to transfer into Union City schools. Click here to learn more about Union City's approach to curriculum, assessment, professional development, and technology.   


Last week, Pew Charitable Trusts reported on litigation pending in 11 states over inadequate or inequitable school funding. While lawsuits challenging state public school funding are not new, many of the recent cases hinge on higher state standards.  “The states have promulgated content standards, assessment systems—they’ve promulgated lots of accountability,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which advocates on behalf of students in New Jersey and is viewed nationally as a leader in school funding lawsuits. “But what the states haven’t done is determine the cost of delivering standards-based education to all kids.”  Sciarra and others argue it costs more to educate children to the higher standards, and that states need to figure out how much more—and then make the necessary investments.  “The extra money might be used, for example, to shrink class sizes, provide preschool for low-income students, or to beef up instruction for students with special needs, such as those learning English or those with disabilities.” Click here for an overview of state-specific school funding litigation. 


The poverty rate in our schools underscores the need for policies like a living wage and earned sick leave. Children shouldn't have to go to school sick because their parents can’t afford to take time off from work. Fellow legislators in 15 states have already signed on  to stand up for these students and their families by participating in the April 7th week of action for Real Prosperity Across America.  Click here for more information or feel free to contact our Campaign Director, Anne Bailey at

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