Being The Change | November 2011

November 3, 2011 –Welcome to October’s Being The Change, the monthly newsletter of the Alliance for School Choice! We won’t be trying to trick you during this edition of BTC, but if we’re doing our job, then you will find a few treats tucked inside.  It was a month filled with positive news, including growing support for school choice in communities, new developments for school choice expansion in some states, and, already, strong indications that some of the country’s newest school choice programs are paying dividends for children in those communities. Plus, another heartwarming Student Spotlight, as well as a few other surprises. Want to know what they are? Start reading to find out!

October’s Over, so Stop What You’re Doing and…

…take a look at a new, comprehensive, and collaborative school choice report, courtesy of our friends at School Choice Ohio and the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice! The two groups came together to assess some of the significant school choice gains Florida has seen over the years, and, on the heels of a significant Buckeye State expansion, find out how to achieve the same success in Ohio. Matthew Ladner, the report’s author, examines how just over a decade ago, Florida lagged behind many states in reading scores, but how a significant expansion and enactment of high-quality, accountable school choice programs has made the Sunshine State a model for others to follow. And with the proposal in September of a new piece of voucher legislation in Ohio—which, if passed, would make it the first and only state with five school choice programs—leaders in the Buckeye State want to make sure their remarkable success in creating options is met by an equally remarkable set of educational outcomes. And there’s really no better place to look than Florida, which has had the most significant academic gains among low-income students over the last eight years. We at BTCcan’t tell you how happy we are to see states working together to share best practices, something that can only make the broader reform movement stronger. In a year like this one, which saw seven new publicly funded private school choice programs created, there’s a wealth of experience in specific communities that can ultimately help kids nationwide. Indiana’s new expansive voucher program is already providing a model for other states as they begin considering new school choice programs, and a Tennessee legislator who recently introduced a voucher plan even mentioned the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program as a successful model he’d like to emulate. With 91 percent graduate rates for program participants, we can’t really blame him! We’re pleased to highlight the collaborative efforts of our allies, and encourage others around the country to work together so we can make sure that everyone is doing all they can to provide all of our children with the quality education they deserve. To read the full report on Ohio and Florida, click here (PDF)!

Choice Quotes

This month’s quotes feature a number of people representing groups that are not traditionally thought to be aligned with school choice. But as you’ll see below, the reality is that support for school choice does not fall along a single party line, ideology, or belief system. And the diverse coalition of supporters who believe in quality educational options is beginning to speak out—and their voices are most definitely being heard.

“It is absolutely wrong that kids who are residents of Camden or any other struggling city should not have the same opportunity as my children or yours…[i]n Camden there are literally a thousand kids who desperately want an education, their parents want that opportunity, and there are no seats left.” – George Norcross, former Camden County Democratic Party chairman, speaking about education reform on October 5 at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

“That is our chance to truly be competitive. We’re keyed into the fact that parents and students seem to appreciate a variety of choices. We’ve tried to provide an opportunity for them that in any other community they’d have to pay for, and it would cost a lot of money.” – Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White, speaking on October 25 about how the creation of the Choice Scholarship voucher program is causing the state’s public schools to improve.

“I have met far too many parents in neighborhoods with failing schools who lacked the financial resources for private school, the political connections for magnet schools, or the luck of winning the lottery for a charter school. Providing these captive parents with broad school-choice options is the only chance to improve public schools as a whole.” – Arlene Ackerman, former Philadelphia Public Schools superintendent, writing on October 17 in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the importance of school choice for low-income families.

Uncharted Territory

Coalition building is at the heart of any strong movement, and that fact was on display earlier this month when our partner organization, the American Federation for Children, joined up with a diverse coalition of education reform and business groups in support of increasing the number of charter schools in Wisconsin. In addition to AFC, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Milwaukee Charter School Advocates, Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, National Alliance of Charter Schools, and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers are together calling for more  high-performing charter schools to be created in districts that have shown their ability to succeed. In addition, they’re aiming to create a charter school authorizing board that works with the legislature to get schools created. The diverse nature of groups involved—from business groups to those promoting private school choice to those focusing specifically on charters to a mixture of the two—runs counter to the popular narrative about contentious Wisconsin politics and partisan agendas. The reality is that groups who might not always see eye-to-eye can still work together, a point that we here at BTC hope legislators nationwide can take to heart as their legislative sessions resume.

Everyone’s a Winner

Here at BTC, we live by the old adage that “one’s a point, two’s a trend, and three’s a pattern.” And if that’s true, then things are looking good for students in school choice communities—all students. You’ll recall that last month we mentioned how the Racine Unified School District was responding to the presence of a new voucher program in the city by creating a committee to examine how it can improve in order to retain students. Then there was the aforementioned report from School Choice Ohio and the Friedman Foundation that used data showing improved performance among Florida public schools as a result of school choice, and how reforms could have a similar impact on Ohio. And now, in Indiana, the superintendent of the state’s largest school district has said that he will be implementing more innovative and versatile practices in schools—as a direct result of vouchers. “That is our chance to truly be competitive,” Superintendent Eugene White said. That’s three very recent indications that communities with school choice programs are winners all around. Earlier this year, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose state has served as an example of how public schools can improve as a result of competition, talked about why the concept is so important to improving educational outcomes. Take a look in the video below.

New Numbers Show New Hope

The successful reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) means that hundreds of new students in the nation’s capital will finally be able to attend the school of their parents’ choice. And with graduation rates at 91 percent, that’s a good thing—especially considering that 92 percent of the new class of OSP students would otherwise be attending a failing school if not for the scholarship program. Think about that for a second: they have essentially the same chance of going to a failing school without the program as they do of graduating from high school with it. If that’s not a lesson in the contrasts provided by school choice, we at BTC don’t know what is. These kids—all of whom come from very low-income families—prove that we should never give up on a child, and if we give them the choice that they deserve, they can all prosper. Opportunities like these are occurring all around the country, and it’s important that we point them out as much as we can, to let people know the immense benefits of school choice. You can find out more about the new class of D.C. opportunity scholarship recipients by visiting www.dcscholarships.org.

Student Spotlight: Menduawor Comgbaye

You might have read about the amazing story of six-year-old Menduawor Comgbaye, the son of African immigrants, when a piece about him ran a couple of weeks ago in thePhiladelphia Inquirer. And when our partner organization, the American Federation for Children, blogged about him the following day—reporting good news in the process—the outpouring made the post one of the site’s most popular. That’s why we think it’s important to share with you the story of Menduawor, who was forced to go to the emergency room because of how badly he was being bullied at his Philadelphia public school. The lack of administrative response forced his parents to keep him out of school for weeks just to keep him safe. He was missing class and falling behind, but the only other alternative was to keep risking his own safety. That is, until he got a call from someone at the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures (FACTS) charter school in Philadelphia, informing him that he could start at FACTS immediately. “We’re happy we’re able to be there for this family and all of our families,” said FACTS Principal Susan Stengel. It remains to be seen how Menduawor will fare in his new schooling environment—after all, he’s been there less than two weeks—but judging from FACTS’ reputation, we’d say he’s on the right track. Parents rave about its diversity and the emphasis it puts on understanding, accepting, and working with people from different cultures. That’s especially important for Menduawor, who used to get made fun of for having a name that was “different.” Now, he’s no longer different; he’s just like everybody else, deserving of a quality education.  By expanding school choice options in Pennsylvania, we could save thousands more kids like Menduawor all across the Keystone State. To watch a video of his family’s story, click the video below.

That’s it for this edition of Being The Change! We hope you had a happy and safe Halloween. Thank you, as always, for reading, and we’ll see you in a month. Have a wonderful November!

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