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Articles: Policy & Compliance

Memphis (Tenn.) City Schools will forfeit its charter after a landmark vote in the city on March 8 mandated the district allow Shelby County—its neighboring suburban district—to regain control of its school system. Memphis, which has been separate from the county, has long been deemed the struggling district, while Shelby County (Tenn.) Schools has been regarded as the successful one.

At education conferences, as well as in professional association reports, as a target area of funding for nonprofit foundations and in the literature of industry vendors, the term, "personalized learning" has taken center stage in an arena already crowded with complex and long-standing issues and concerns.

Why personalized learning? And why now?

I've been personally and professionally blessed to have had the opportunity to serve some very diverse and large urban school communities in several states as superintendent of schools. These varied locales have given me the unique opportunity to look at the world of system reform through a broader range of lenses. These multiple perspectives have provided me with insights into the role state policies and infrastructure play in the pace at which systemic reforms can be implemented and accelerated.

If you think your district needs further preparation to implement the common core state standards (CCSS), you're not alone. According to a poll conducted by the Leadership and Learning center, an organization providing solutions to districts and school leaders, 96 percent of respondents reported they were unprepared to implement the standards in their district. The poll consisted of 115 thorough responses from district leaders and, while far from scientific, sheds light on some specific concerns facing administrators.

The No Child Left Behind Act dates back to Lyndon Johnson's 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, part of that president's ambitious signature policy, the War on Poverty. After a 36-year conflict, however, poverty was officially declared the winner in 2001. As a result, the ESEA was revamped and renamed the No Child left Behind Act by George W. Bush in 2002, and was apparently part of the president's ambitious signature policy, the War on Terror. After nine years of terrorizing schools nationwide, however, the bill is about to be reformed, but even more importantly, renamed.

There is nothing new about the fact that school superintendents come and go. Some retire, and some are recruited into other school districts or opportunities. But let's face it, some are let go.

As the incoming New York City schools chancellor was gearing up to take office, a state senator suggested in December that Chancellor Cathie Black consider establishing an immigrant school in Queens to solve overcrowding in nearby Newtown High School, which is also on the state’s persistently lowest-achieving school list. “With immigrant English-language learners who would otherwise attend Newtown receiving the intensive language- development help they need in a different setting, Newtown could provide more individualized and direct services to students,” Sen.

Forty one states, to date, have jumped on the Common Core State Standards bandwagon, adopting common curriculum benchmarks for general education courses in language arts and mathematics. The standards, created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, are raising the bar for special education students as well. According to the standards, students with disabilities— defined as students eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA ) "must be challenged to excel within the general curriculum."

Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government requires school districts to use 1 percent of Title I money to fund programs that involve parents in the schools and provides another $39 million annually for 62 Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs) that provide training and information for both parents and district personnel to bolster family engagement in schools.

A recent move by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education will soon relieve many of the financial mysteries involved in the college search. Under the Higher Education Act of 2008, all higher education institutions are required to post a net-price calculator on their Web site by October 2011.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation—famous for its annual $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education award to innovative districts—has awarded $1 million to Rocketship Education, a small nonprofit elementary charter school operator based in San Jose, Calif. The funding, in addition to $6 million recently awarded by the nonprofit venture capital firm Charter School Growth Fund, will help Rocketship expand from the three San Jose "hybrid" charter schools it now operates (with two more slated for fall 2011) to 30 nationwide by 2015.

On Nov. 3, the Supreme Court heard arguments for a school choice case challenging the precedent set for the Establishment Clause—the separation of church and state. Winn v. Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization disputes whether a tax credit program that directs public funds to private religious schools is constitutional. Since 1997, Arizona taxpayers have had the option to divert $500 of their owed taxes to school tuition organizations (STO) for student scholarships. The taxpayers can decide if their money is given to a religious or nonreligious STO.

Back in the 1990s, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in Charlotte, N.C., were plagued with racial equity issues and low academic performance. In 1996, only 66 percent of the students met state reading standards and just 40 percent of the district's black students performed at grade level in reading and math.

That same year, the board of education and school administrators started to map out a turnaround plan to ensure that all CMS students would have the chance to receive an education that would prepare them for college or for success in the workforce.