Archive for May, 2012

Judge rules: I-1053 is unconstitutional

Challenging I-1053, League of Education Voters vs. Washington State

A King County Superior Court judge ruled today that Initiative 1053 is unconstitutional.

“This lawsuit is another important piece in making sure our kids have all the resources they need to get an excellent education,” Chris Korsmo, Chief Executive Officer, said. “LEV was founded on the principle that our kids deserve fully funded schools.”

I-1053 requires a supermajority of the Legislature to raise taxes or close tax loopholes.

LEV is the lead plaintiff in the suit, along with the Washington Education Association, legislators, parents and taxpayers.

“This decision is a victory for the children of Washington state,” said Mary Lindquist, WEA president. “If it is upheld, this ruling will pave the way for the Legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools as mandated by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and the state Constitution. We hope it will be settled soon. Our kids can’t wait any longer.”

The Court held that the Washington Constitution establishes the exclusive rules for determining whether passage of a law requires a simple majority or super majority vote.  Those rules cannot be altered by the legislature passing a law or by the people enacting an initiative.  The Court noted that the Washington Constitution established super majority requirements for a number of types of laws, but not for tax increases.

Judge Bruce E. Heller wrote: “Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. Plaintiffs present a justiciable controversy and have standing to bring this action. RCW 43.135.034(1)’s supermajority vote requirement violates the simple majority provision of Article II, 22 of the Washington Constitution, rendering that provision of the statute unconstitutional. Further RCW.43.135.034(2)(a)’s mandatory referendum requirement violates Article II, 1 and Article II, 1(b) of the Washington Constitution, rendering that provision of the statute unconstitutional.”

“This is a victory for the Constitution” said Paul Lawrence of the Pacifica Law Group, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.  Lawrence explained:  “The Constitution establishes the fundamental rules for how our governmental works.  The framers considered what types of laws require a super majority vote for passage.  Taxes were not identified as requiring a super majority vote.  Fundamental changes in how the government operates have to be accomplished by constitutional amendment, not by passage of a law or initiative.”

Legislators who had joined as plaintiffs expressed similar hope that the case will allow the State to meet its constitutional obligation to fund public education.   Jamie Pedersen, State Representative for the 43rd LD, said:  “I am thrilled that the court reached the merits of this question and recognized that Tim Eyman’s initiatives requiring supermajority votes to raise revenue are unconstitutional and are hampering our ability to fund public schools.  I feel hopeful that the Supreme Court – fresh off of its decision that the legislature is failing to fund education adequately – will give us back the tools to do so.“

Chris Reykdal State Representative for the 22nd LD echoed that that sentiment:  “This is an historic decision for our state.  Our treasured initiative process can clearly amend state law or advocate new laws, but it cannot amend the constitution.  We all have to play by the same rules.  We look forward to the State Supreme Court upholding this decision on appeal by the State.  We have a court mandated obligation to fund basic education, and this decision restores the Legislature’s ability to do that with majority rule.  In the end, our citizens, democracy, and our children are the biggest winners.”

Plaintiff State Senator David Frockt noted:  “There are critical policy implications to this ruling.  The elected representatives of the people should have all policy options available to them to change the downward spiral that we have been on in both K-12 and higher education investments in recent years.  In my opinion, there has been an undeniable “chilling” effect on the development of options to address these issues.  The full range of options are not seriously considered, much less debated, when it is perceived to be a futile effort in light of a minority’s ability to overrule the majority on the House or Senate floor.  I have been appointed to serve on the education funding committee that has been established in response to the McCleary decision.  If this ruling is upheld, as I hope it will be, I believe we will have a better shot at fulfilling our paramount duty to fully fund our educational system in the coming years.”  Frockt further observed that the decision does not undermine the ability of the people to reign in government:  “The people retain numerous checks on legislative power, through legislative elections every two and four years, as well as the power of referendum to overturn any policy changes the legislature may make.  Nothing about this constitutional ruling changes those sovereign rights that the voters hold and will continue to hold.”

Lawrence expects the decision to be appealed directly to the Washington Supreme Court.   He plans to ask for expedited review so that a decision can be rendered before the start of the 2013 legislative session.

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New Orleans charter schools are producing success stories

This article appeared in The Times-Picayune. Learn more about Sci Academy.

As far back as middle school, Tanara Thomas had her future mapped out: Finish high school, attend Delgado Community College for two years and then transfer to LSU. Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in a city with tremendous high school dropout rates, these goals were ambitious, if not unrealistic.

Now polishing off her senior year of high school, Thomas has shelved those plans. She’s going to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, one of the 20 most selective universities in the country. She turned down offers and scholarships from Vassar, Middlebury, Smith, Oberlin and four other schools, several of which paid to fly her in for campus tours. She wants to study English and film.

So what happened between then and now? What lifted Thomas’ sights from community college to the country’s most elite institutions of higher learning?

It’s been an arduous path for Thomas, a native of the Lower 9th Ward growing up in a single-parent home. At age 10, she survived the destruction of her neighborhood in the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina, spent years moving around Texas before returning to New Orleans, only to be displaced again before she could graduate from high school.

But she also came back to a public school system in the midst of a transformation. With most of the district now in state hands, autonomous charter schools — publicly funded but operating independently — had begun opening around the city, many in temporary trailers for lack of habitable school buildings.

When it came time for high school, Thomas applied for a spot at a nascent charter in eastern New Orleans called Sci Academy. Drafted into a school culture that focuses relentlessly on lifting expectations and getting ready for college, her ambitions grew.

“It’s just helped me realize myself,” she said. “I don’t think any other school would have done that. Schools here are so focused on the present, what you’re going to do today or this weekend. Sci Academy is focused on what you’re going to do with your future, what you’re going to do for your community.”

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Judge expected to rule Wednesday on I-1053

Challenging I-1053, League of Education Voters vs. Washington State

A King County Superior Court judge is expected to issue a ruling on Wednesday in the lawsuit to overturn Initiative 1053.

The League of Education Voters (LEV), the Washington Education Association (WEA), state legislators, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Utter, and other taxpayers filed the lawsuit in King County Superior Court on behalf of Washington students, parents, educators and organizations.  The suit challenges the constitutionality of a supermajority requirement to raise revenues through the closure of unjustified tax loopholes or taxation.

The judge heard the case in March. The ruling is expected to be appealed directly to the Washington State Supreme Court.

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Rocketship Education: Eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetimes

Rocketship Education currently operates three K-5 charter schools in San Jose that serve overwhelmingly low-income, immigrant students. Through a rigorous college-preparatory focus, Rocketship seeks to transform public education by developing an instructional model that supplements traditional face-to-face instruction with instruction provided via computer-based programs and tutoring.

As part of Rocketship’s school education model, students attend one block of Math/Science, one block of Learning Lab, and two blocks of Literacy/Social Studies during an extended school day (8am to 4pm). In Learning Lab, students focus on their individual learning needs by working on computers and with tutors, if remediation is necessary. The lab is staffed by paraprofessionals, which enables the organization to re-allocate nearly $500,000 a year toward teacher compensation, teacher and principal training and development, and enrichment programs for students. Rocketship students, almost all of whom qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, are among the highest performers among their peers in the state of California. The network wants to expand the Rocketship model to 50 U.S. cities and eliminate the achievement gap by 2020.

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Green Dot charter network raises performance

This article ran in Education Week. Green Dot operates 18 charter schools, which include 14 high schools and four middle schools, in Los Angeles, with a focus on serving impoverished communities.

Students attending a cluster of Los Angeles schools overseen by the charter operator Green Dot significantly increased their test scores and persistence in school, and took more challenging courses than comparable peers, a newly released study has found.

The schools were part of what was originally Alain Leroy Locke High School, an academic low-performer located in an impoverished neighborhood in the south part of the city.

With permission from the Los Angeles Unified School District, Green Dot took over the school in 2007 and began its transformation into a series of smaller charter schools.

“There is no issue with cherry-picking or selecting kids,” Herman said. “Kids are persisting more in [the Locke family of schools], and they have more kids staying in school.”

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Student who couldn't read in 6th grade accepted into college

Achievement First is a public charter school network with schools in Brooklyn and Connecticut. This article ran in the New Haven Register.

NEW HAVEN — Achievement First Amistad High School senior Benjamin Cuevas said that until sixth grade, he couldn’t read a sentence to save his life.

But, Cuevas chose to attend Gateway Community College to pursue a career in graphic novels.

Cuevas was placed in a special education program he said didn’t seem to help. But once he became a student at Amistad, his academic life changed and he found teachers had to ask him to stop reading and do his other work.

For the third consecutive year, as long as seniors have graduated from Amistad, 100 percent of the seniors were accepted to four-year colleges and universities. Parents, administrators and students from AF Brooklyn High School, Amistad Academy Middle School, AF Bridgeport Academy Middle School and Elm City College Prep Middle School filled Woolsey Hall to celebrate Signing Day with Amistad’s seniors, the day they announce the school that will propel them into adulthood.

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Work hard. Be nice. KIPP focuses on character and academics

The high-performing public charter network KIPP blends character development in with the teaching of academic skills. The network is focused on preparing students in underserved communities to get to and through college. Since KIPP began in 1994, over 90 percent of students who completed eighth grade at KIPP five or more years ago have graduated from high school, and over 80 percent have matriculated to college.

Here are some of the ways KIPP’s teachers include character building in the day-to-day course work:

  • Each student in kindergarten brings in five artifacts for their ‘Me Museum.’ Their classmates are asked to show their eagerness to learn new things (curiosity) by asking questions about the curator.
  • “We’ve recently been building our stamina during independent reading. Good stamina requires lots of self-control, because you have to ignore distractions, and lots of grit, because it isn’t easy reading without stopping for 20 minutes. So today, we’re actually going to be practicing both grit and self-control as we develop our reading skills.”
  • “We’ve been discussing some of the attitudes and choices made by leaders during the Vietnam War. Why would hope and optimism be important qualities for the winning side? What would the risks of too much optimism be for these leaders?”
  • “Today we’re going to learn about the scientific method. Scientists are fueled by curiosity. They design experiments in order to explore new things and investigate questions about the way the world works. Today, your curiosity will be key to designing a successful experiment.”

Learn more about KIPP’s focus on character on the KIPP website (they have some great videos).

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Equity and quality in top-performing schools

Using data from Equity and Quality in Education: Supporting Disadvantaged Students and Schools, Education Week reports on methods which ensure that schools have high levels of both equity and quality. According to the data, the United States is at the bottom when it comes these two characteristics.

Here are the key strategies to fix it, according to Education Week:

Postpone tracking until upper secondary.
Students that show promise in math in seventh grade are often placed in algebra in eight grade, which then leads to higher level coursework in high school, meaning they are held to higher educational standards than the rest of the student body. By getting rid of tracking and expecting high standards from all students, and not just the ones that show high ability, lends itself to all students meeting those expectations. Education Week notes that in other countries with high equity and quality have the same curriculum for students in grades nine and ten.

Eliminate grade repetition
The article states, “The solution to eliminating grade repetition is not pushing students ahead who are not ready. It turns out to be making sure that all students are pursuing a demanding curriculum and all students are keeping up with that curriculum.” This means that teachers are consistently assessing their students to make sure they understand the coursework. Using this method, teachers would be able to catch students who are falling behind more quickly and have one-on-one time with the student.

Make funding responsive to needs
As it is now in the U.S., schools in wealthy areas tend to get more funding. In top-performing countries, they make sure that most of their educational resources go to more difficult and low-come areas.

Manage school choice to avoid inequities
In top-performing countries, school choice is highly valued. These countries also take steps to make sure hat school choice is also fair, using strategies such as moving high performing principals and teachers to low-performing schools or limiting choice when it negatively impacts equity.

Design equivalent upper secondary pathways
According to the article, “The most successful nations design their upper secondary school programs so that all paths lead to jobs that can provide a good living and a rewarding career.” This means ensuring that all students are enrolled in a rigorous curriculum and are college and career ready.

Read the whole article here.

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Slowing suspension, keeping kids in school

Slowing suspension, keeping kids in school

A recent article in TIME looks at suspension and expulsion policies of schools in both New Orleans and Baltimore. In conversations with students, parents, teachers and administrators, TIME found that there’s broad agreement on suspension: it doesn’t work.

“[Suspension] makes no sense, because students are losing class time,” Daniel Losen, a senior education law and policy associate for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, told TIME. “They are often not being supervised. They are not learning anything. No one is teaching them about misbehavior. No one is making sure they are prepared to return to school.”

Despite this, suspension rates have more than doubled across all grade levels in the past 30 years. Suspensions and expulsions have affected students of color in particular: black students are three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers, and in the 2009-10 school year one out of five African American boys received an out-of-school suspension.

Some administrators and teachers say that the reason suspensions continue is that at a certain point a student’s behavior disrupts other students’ learning, and it is not fair to those other students to keep disruptive students in the class. But as a teacher and then as the chief of Baltimore public schools, Andres Alonso had a different approach. He made a drastic shift in Baltimore’s code of conduct, eliminating suspension as an option for many first-time offenses like talking back to a teacher, requiring principals to obtain permission from him or a designee if they wanted to suspend a child for more than five days at a time, and establishing Success Academy, an alternative school for students on long-term suspensions or expulsions, inside the district’s central office. The last move was designed partly to send the message that troubled students are at the center of the district’s mission.

Some Baltimore schools adopted a “restorative justice” approach to discipline. With this approach, instead of automatically suspending students when there is a problem, staff and students sit together to talk through the point of contention. Often, the end result is a punishment tailored to the specific infraction. The change was difficult for some adults in her school, said elementary school principal Rhonda Richetta. “I think people are giving up on our kids because of their behavior,” she told TIME. “They are not seeing that that behavior is really reaching out for help.”

Read the whole article here. Learn more about school discipline here.

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Check out Bridge Conference 2012 and help empower youth voices!

Our friends at School’s Out Washington are hosting their 10th annual Bridge Conference: The Bridge From School to Afterschool and Back. This two-day conference is a great opportunity to join in a dialogue with a spectrum of people working with and on behalf of youth. The Conference focuses on research, cutting-edge resources and strategies relevant to strengthening the services that youth (in grades K-12) receive both in and out of school. This year’s Bridge Conference will focus on empowering youth voices.

Keynote speakers will be:

  • Mr. Jakada Imani, Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, addressing the voices of incarcerated youth and the inequalities in the justice system.
  • A live episode of “Please Speak Freely” hosted by Eric Gurna, Executive Director, Development Without Limits.

The conference will be held October 8-9, 2012 in Seattle. To register or learn more, visit the Bridge Conference page.

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