Los Angeles mayor: Education is our civil rights struggle
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visits Gompers Middle School, which is run by Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.
February 19th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

Los Angeles mayor: Education is our civil rights struggle

City of Los AngelesEditor’s note: Antonio Villaraigosa is the 41st mayor of the city of Los Angeles.

By Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Special to CNN

(CNN) - My story began like far too many people across this country. My father left when I was 5 years old. My mother, sometimes working two jobs, raised four children on her own in East Los Angeles. She was always my touchstone, the person who taught me my core values. It was her quiet grace, strength in the face of adversity and unflinching will that served me so well in life.

However, despite everything she poured into our family, we kids didn’t always make it easy for her. By age 16, I was kicked out of the Catholic school she had worked so hard to send me to.

I found myself at the local public high school, Roosevelt. It was a “drop-out factory.” I was put into remedial classes, which I found boring and unchallenging after my previous education. But even worse than that, I felt like the school had given up on me. So, I gave up on myself and dropped out.

My story could have ended there.

City of Los AngelesI could have become one of my many peers who didn’t graduate. But my mother would not accept that fate for me, and a Roosevelt teacher named Herman Katz took an interest in me. They saw my potential and fought for me. They pushed me back into school. They pushed me to finish what I started - and I did, graduating in 1971.

From there, I went to East Los Angeles Community College and transferred to UCLA, one of the finest institutions in the world. At UCLA, I was the beneficiary of affirmative action. Some would say I walked in through the back door. But one thing’s for sure, I went out the front. I had a diploma in hand, a future ahead of me and my head held high.

For me, public education really was the great equalizer.

That’s why I believe education is the civil rights issue of our time. As a high school dropout, I see a part of myself in every kid who wants to give up because they think the system has failed them. Sadly, the United States now enjoys less economic mobility than Canada and most of Western Europe. Those born into poverty in America lack genuine opportunities to change their fate because they lack access to great public schools.


December 13th, 2012
03:00 PM ET

270 students from 30 countries in 1 school

By Radina Gigova, CNN

Decatur, Georgia (CNN) - Most students are not exactly thrilled when it comes to school and homework but three international fifth-graders might be an exception to the rule.

Igey Muzeleya, 11, grew up in Tanzania. His family moved to the United States six years ago to escape the wave of violence.

Eleven-year-old Aung Zawl is from Myanmar, also known as Burma. He has been living in the U.S. for about two years.

Paria Foroughi, 10, was born in Iran. Her parents wanted better educational opportunities for their children and the family also immigrated to America.

Muzeleya, Zawl and Foroughi are students at the International Community School in Decatur, Georgia, and they rarely miss a day of school.

"I like the school, because it's a fun place to be, fun place to learn and it's really cool to be in the school with all your friends," Muzeleya said.

“I like all the classes,” Foroughi said. “They all teach you something interesting, something that I haven’t learned before.”

The charter school enrolls about 270 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The real challenge, though, is educating students from more than 30 countries, some of whom have never before attended school or don't speak English.

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Washington, Georgia voters weigh in on charter schools
Georgia voters like Jaime Grant were asked to consider an amendment to the state constitution involving charter schools.
November 7th, 2012
02:57 AM ET

Washington, Georgia voters weigh in on charter schools

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - In an election year when education didn’t draw much attention, some voters considered Tuesday the future of charter schools in their states.

In Washington, there was a narrow lead for an initiative that would allow the opening of the state’s first public charter schools.

Washington is one of nine states that doesn’t have any public charter schools. Initiative 1240 would allow eight charter schools per year in the state, up to 40 over five years. At the end of that period, the charter system would be up for review. The system would be free and open to all students, and independently operated.

Critics argued the initiative was an expensive proposition at a time when schools were already underfunded, and that it didn’t serve enough students.

Supporters said the schools would create competition among schools and increase the choices available to parents and students. They liked that the schools wouldn’t be bound by district curriculum mandates or teacher unions’ contracts.

In Georgia, with most ballots counted, voters favored a constitutional amendment that would allow a state commission to approve school charters, even if local and state boards deny them.


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All eyes on Georgia, Washington as voters consider charter school initiatives
November 6th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

All eyes on Georgia, Washington as voters consider charter school initiatives

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) On Tuesday, voters in two states – Washington and Georgia – will be weighing in on charter schools.

Charter schools are independent public schools that have flexibility in certain aspects of education like curriculum and length of the school day. In return for this flexibility, they are held accountable for student performance.

The research is mixed on whether students in charters perform better than their traditional public school counterparts. Some cite the CREDO study from Stanford University, which found that “17% of charter schools provide superior education opportunities for their students.” According to this study, about half the charters did not fare any better or worse than their traditional school counterparts, and about 37% of the charters fared worse.

Others cite research like that found in the “Informing the Debate” study from the Boston Foundation,  which “found large positive effects for Charter Schools at both the middle and high school levels.”

Currently, 41 states and the District of Columbia have charter schools.

The topic of charter schools, including how they are established and who gets to attend them, stirs up a lot of emotion among parents, educators and policymakers.  Because it’s relatively new territory, shaping legislation on charters has become a public tug-of-war. The states of Washington and Georgia have charter school initiatives on their ballots.

Washington’s Initiative 1240

Washington has put ballot measures on charters in front of voters three times before, each one rejected – most recently in 2004, when the measure failed by 16 percentage points.  There are no charter schools in Washington.

The latest attempt is Initiative 1240, which would allow for the establishment of eight charter schools in the state per year – 40 over five years. At the end of that period, the charter system would be up for review. The state-approved charter schools would be free and open to all students and be independently operated.

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My View: Why Mitt Romney is a better choice for education reform
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets students at Fairfield Elementary school on October 8, 2012 in Fairfield, Virginia.
November 1st, 2012
04:21 AM ET

My View: Why Mitt Romney is a better choice for education reform

Courtesy Center for Education ReformBy Jeanne Allen, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:  Jeanne Allen is the founder and president of The Center for Education Reform (CER). The center was founded in 1993 to bridge the gap between policy and practice and restore excellence to education.

Schools of Thought has published and will continue to publish other views on this topic in the days up to the election.

“We can fix our schools because we don't get the biggest share of our campaign donations from the teachers' unions.”

This short, simple statement from Gov. Mitt Romney in an October 24 speech in Nevada sums up the real distinction between education reformers and protectors of the status quo, and reveals why when it comes to education policy, Romney would be a superior president - because he promised to put children, parents and teachers first, and to “put the teachers' unions behind."

The day has passed when that could be considered a partisan statement. We’ve heard stronger words, for example, from many Democrats, from former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein (also of the Clinton administration) to former New York City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz (now of Success Charter Network) who pressed the unions to explain why their contracts were protecting mediocrity instead of boosting high-performing teachers.  Pennsylvania Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams helped then-Republican Gov. Tom Ridge push through a charter school law in 1997.  And in 2010, Williams ran for governor on a platform of school choice. His core message was that parents and teachers should come ahead of unions. Sound familiar?

Education reform is not, by any stretch, a “Republican” issue.  The national Democratic Party has always viewed the education establishment as its bedrock constituency – from unions to school districts.  But it’s different at the state and local level, where Democrats often reject the status quo, joining in a diverse coalition of voices pressing for significant reforms at every level.

While individually most of those Democrats will vote with their party, they are nevertheless closer to Romney’s view of education than they are to Barack Obama’s. Many have confided to me that their hope is to change the Democratic Party’s culture from one that favors teachers unions to one that favors parents.

But we cannot wait another generation or more for that to happen.  Our children only get one chance at a decent education, and the clock is ticking. As former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it, “Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk.”

October 9th, 2012
02:11 PM ET

Can lawsuit, charter takeover save Highland Park, Michigan, schools?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

Highland Park, Michigan (CNN) - A few weeks before school began here, parents filed into the high school cafeteria to meet the people just hired to revamp one of the state's worst-performing districts: their own.

They came with questions. What time would the school day start? What were these new uniforms they’d heard about? Would all the schools stay open? Would the same teachers be there? The same kids? Was there anything worth saving?

For years, financial and academic turmoil plagued Highland Park schools. The state of Michigan says the district ran at an operating deficit five of the last six years. Barely 800 kids still attended its three schools, and even those buildings were overgrown with weeds and tagged with graffiti.

There was a lot of cash coming in, more than $14,000 per student, but there weren’t enough textbooks to go around. Standardized test scores were embarrassingly low; among 11th-graders, 10% scored proficient in reading and 5% proficient in math. Some kids went on to college, but nobody - 0% - of kids reached the ACT's college readiness benchmarks.

The district drew national attention this summer when the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a "first-of-its-kind" lawsuit against the state, education leaders and Highland Park schools for allegedly failing to teach students to read at grade level.

Now the state-appointed emergency financial manager had handed the district over to a charter school operator, the Leona Group, for a five-year contract worth more than $750,000. In a statement, the Michigan governor’s office said it moved to address “a long overdue fiscal and academic crisis that was crippling the district” because it “can’t and won’t accept academic failure.”

For some here, it was a hostile takeover. For others, a new hope.


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May 14th, 2012
03:34 PM ET

Charter schools: Segregation or choice?

from Starting Point

(CNN) More than 2 million kids are enrolled in charter schools, 32% of which are African American – and of that 32%, more that half attend schools comprised mostly of minority students. This morning, CNN education contributor Steve Perry explains the lack of diversity, saying "We had to convince white people to come to a very good school in the hood."

Perry is the founder of charter school Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, CT. The demographic of his school has, in the past, been primarily black, poor students–until they were given a quota to provide some semblance of balance. Perry explained the reasoning for the so-called "segregation."

"The children who are typically choosing charter schools are the children who don't have the best education options in the nearby neighborhood, which in many cases are people of color and/or low-income students. They choose the schools they feel are going to give the best opportunity to fulfill what they believe is their true potential. So, many of those families choose charter schools and overwhelmingly they are people of color," he says.

But, he vehemently refutes the segregation claim, saying there is a fundamental difference between choice and segregation.

Walton Family Foundation gave $159 million to support school reform in 2011
March 8th, 2012
02:57 PM ET

Walton Family Foundation gave $159 million to support school reform in 2011

by John Martin, CNN

(CNN) – On Wednesday, the Walton Family Foundation announced that it had made $159 million worth of investments in education reform and school improvement in 2011.

The Foundation said it focused on 16 lower-income communities that didn't already have school choice programs in place. Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Denver, Colorado, the top three recipient communities, each received more than $7 million from the Foundation. A press release stated that the Foundation's goal "is to raise student achievement and close the persistent performance and attainment gap between low-income children and their affluent peers."

The Foundation announced strategic investment in three key initiatives: Shaping public policy, Creating quality schools and Improving existing schools. Among the largest grants awarded were to The Charter School Growth Fund, Teach for America, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Kipp Foundation and GreatSchools.

Sam and Helen Walton, who founded the Arkansas retail chain Wal-Mart, started the Walton Family Foundation.

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Filed under: Charter schools • Policy • Practice • School choice
February 27th, 2012
02:43 PM ET

Perry's Principles: Charter schools

CNN Education Contributor Steve Perry gives some helpful advice to parents looking for a charter school for their child.

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Cheating scandal turns foes into allies
February 24th, 2012
06:10 AM ET

Cheating scandal turns foes into allies

Listen to CNN Radio's podcast Jim Roope tell the story of how the former head of the teachers union (who very much disliked charter schools) will now become its principal. And he is getting help from a former school board member who disliked the teachers union as much as the former union head once disliked charters.

By Jim Roope, CNN

(CNN) A cheating scandal at a Los Angeles charter school system last year has resulted in an unlikely partnership in the creation of a new charter school system.

Last year, John Allen, the executive director of Crescendo Charter Schools, a six-campus charter school system in L.A., allegedly told teachers at all six schools to unseal the state standardized tests and create a lesson plan that teaches directly to the test.

Some of the teachers refused Allen’s request as they viewed it as cheating. First grade teacher Elise Sargent said their jobs were threatened if they didn’t comply.

“There was a lot of confusion going on,” said Sargent. “For a while there was a lot of undercover talks about how we are going to get this out. We needed to make sure the Los Angeles Unified School District knows about this,” she said.

Sargent said the hesitation came with the fact that the teachers at Crescendo were not unionized and so were not sure the union would help or protect them. Sargent said they braved a call to then teachers’ union president A.J. Duffy.

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Filed under: Charter schools • Cheating • Podcast • Policy • Practice
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