Tuesday, February 11, 2014

School Choice Week Must Be a Call to Action

Every child should have the opportunity to achieve his or her American Dream. Sadly, right now, not every child has a fair shot. Far too many young students are stuck in failing schools. They don’t receive the quality of education they deserve; they lack the resources to learn and thrive.

In twenty-first century America, this is unacceptable and unfair.

As champions of school choice and opportunity, I believe Republican leaders can play a major role in fixing this problem. Last November I travelled to New Orleans to hear first-hand from students and parents who have benefited from Governor Jindal’s Louisiana Scholarship Program. This program has allowed kids to escape failing schools and enroll at better schools that offer them a quality education.

In 2013 alone, 8,000 children – 90 percent minority, all low-income – were given scholarships. These students mostly came from schools rated “D” or “F” for their poor performance. This program was a great step with measurable results, but unfortunately, not all American children are being given the same opportunity.

President Obama’s White House has not supported parents who want to have options when it comes to their children’s education. In fact, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Louisiana’s program. It appears this administration is more interested in winning political points with teacher unions, who oppose school choice, than in guaranteeing children equal opportunity in education.

That’s why this past week has been so important. School Choice Week gives a platform to students, parents, influencers and everyday Americans to speak up in favor of better education. It provides us all an opportunity to combat the destructive rhetoric and actions coming from the administration.

But while School Choice Week is an important tool to bring school choice to the attention of all Americans, it’s not enough. There’s work to be done. Our nation’s education system is broken, and on behalf of our children, we must fight urgently for reform. They’re falling behind their international peers.

So to all those who stood up for educational choice this week, I want to say thank you. But our fight isn’t over yet.


Teaching Program Requires Classroom Effectiveness

A new kind of teacher training program requires candidates to prove they are effective in the classroom before they can earn their master’s degree. Match Education operates charter schools and a graduate program that trains teachers for high-poverty schools. The latter graduated its first class of 21 students in December 2013.

“What’s unique about Match’s program is that our teachers have to do more than just pass their classes to earn their degree,” said Scott McCue, COO of Match’s two-year teacher residency. Candidates who enroll in the residency can also pursue their master’s. Approximately 150 public school teachers have completed the residency.

To receive their master’s degree as well, residents must prove they are effective as a first-year teacher through several tests: classroom observations, student test scores, student survey results, and principal evaluations.

In their first year of the residency, prospective teachers tutor, student-teach, and receive coaching in Boston, along with taking classes. In the second year, residents teach full-time in schools across the country.

One of the new master’s graduates is Veronica Gentile, who says Match’s hands-on approach and high standards helped prepare her to teach math at Boston Preparatory Charter Public School, where she is now a second-year teacher.


NYC School Cuts Gifted Program because few blacks can handle it

Another case of political correctness gone awry: a school in Brooklyn has decided to scrap its gifted and talented program after accusations that the program was not "diverse" enough.

Citing a lack of diversity, PS 139 Principal Mary McDonald informed parents in a letter that the Students of Academic Rigor and two other in-house programs would no longer accept applications for incoming kindergartners.

“Our Kindergarten classes will be heterogeneously grouped to reflect the diversity of our student body and the community we live in,” McDonald told parents in a letter posted on the photo-sharing site flickr and obtained by Ditmas Park Corner.

The school is roughly two-thirds African American or Hispanic. Asian and white students account for almost 30 percent of the student body. Exact ethnic breakdowns of the Students of Academic Rigor program were not given, although the program was described by some as being "overwhelmingly Caucasian."

This move infuriates me. It would be insane for a school to cut its special education program for developmentally disabled students due to a "lack of diversity" among those who need the services. Students on both ends of the special education spectrum — either gifted or developmentally delayed — need the specialized classes to reach their highest potential as a student. It would be insane to suggest someone with an IQ of 70 (the benchmark for mental retardation) should be grouped in the same classroom with students with an IQ of 100 and treated like everyone else, and it should be considered equally insane to suggest that students who have an IQ of greater than 130 (gifted) need to be in the same classroom as average students to fill some sort of "diversity" quota. That is not fair to both the above-average students and the average students. Studies have shown that grouping gifted children with their non-gifted peers has a negative effect on both parties.

This is a bad move by PS 139. I hope the principal reconsiders her decision, and I hope the parents of children enrolled in the gifted education program are able to successfully advocate for their kids.


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