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Articles: Reform

Create CA arts

“Everyone likes the arts—people like the idea—but public support doesn’t equal political will,” says Craig Cheslog, principal advisor to Tom Torlakson, California’s superintendent of public instruction. For this reason, Cheslog, along with other California officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, and organizations such as the California Arts Council, have joined together to form Create CA, an initiative to make arts education a priority.

PCAH Turnaround Arts

The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) has a theory: that placing robust arts education programs in low-performing schools will narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement. To test this theory, the committee, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, the White House Policy Council, and numerous private organizations, has developed the Turnaround Arts Initiative, a pilot project in eight schools deemed low-performing around the country.

Daniela Pelaez, DREAM Act

Daniela Pelaez is the valedictorian of the north Miami (Fla.) Senior High School’s class of 2012. Pelaez, who was offered scholarships to numerous universities, ultimately chose to attend Dartmouth College in the fall. Although the world was seemingly at her fingertips, Pelaez faced deportation in March because she had been brought to the United States from Colombia illegally by her parents at the age of 4. After a series of student protests and pleas from educators and legislators, Pelaez was offered a two-year reprieve and will work on her case to get a visa while at Dartmouth.

La. Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards

Formerly, vouchers in the state of Louisiana only existed in New Orleans and for students with special needs in eligible districts. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest bill to expand the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program is set to change that. The bill, signed by Jindal on April 18, will allow low-and middle-income students attending Louisiana public schools graded “C,” “D,” or “F,” to receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools.

There was a time when it seemed a day didn’t go by without reading about Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Rhee, known for her passion for raising student achievement—and for her aggressive style—became a symbol for the new school reform movement.

Kaya Henderson’s childhood in one of New York’s most affluent areas, Westchester County, could not have been more different from that of the middle school students she taught at Lola Rodriguez No. 162 in the South Bronx.

As school districts have made improvements to teaching and learning, and raised student achievement in the process, reform-minded superintendents have usually led the way. When they move on, they leave a legacy of programs and policies that have worked. That’s just where finding the next superintendent can get tricky.

School Improvement Grants

The $3.5 billion in School Improvement Grants (SIG) funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have undoubtedly made a positive impact in more than 13,000 schools deemed low performing around the country. The money, which is intended to close the achievement gap, improve graduation rates and overall student achievement, will run out by the end of the 2012-2013 school year, and what will happen to these improvement efforts is unclear.

Conn. Gov. Dannel Malloy, education reform

Since the inception of No Child Left Behind in 2002, Connecticut has held the unfortunate distinction of having the highest achievement gap in the nation—and the disparities are not just found in urban areas. In February, Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed a sweeping education reform bill, S.B. 24: An Act Concerning Educational Competitiveness, making 2012 “the year of education” in Connecticut.

If we as educators could successfully teach all children by ourselves, then it seems that we would have already done so. We haven’t, and that should be all the motivation to promote family engagement in districts nationwide.

Without question, America’s greatest social experiment—it’s greatest social contribution—is public education. Educate all children until the age of 18 for free? It was an unprecedented idea, but the system it led to is now broken.

I interviewed Jerry Weast last year soon after the announcement that he would be retiring as superintendent of the Montgomery County (Md.) School District. Over his 12 years as superintendent, he became renowned for his bold whole-district transformation, which included raising academic standards and narrowing the achievement gap for over 145,000 students in the 17th-largest school district in the nation. I also kept up with Joshua Starr, who from 2005 was the superintendent of Stamford (Conn.) Public Schools, a district that happens to lie next to our Norwalk office.

It’s becoming clearer by the minute that, as Web technologies open more and more doors for learners, they also pose more and more challenges to traditional thinking about schools. At the center is figuring how best to prepare students for the vast learning opportunities they have outside of the traditional education system. While the challenges are different for each individual school and district, all will be forced to come to terms with five new realities in the short term.

Michelle Rhee is back. Rhee’s grassroots organization, StudentsFirst, metaphorically descended on the state capitol in Alabama last month, ready to persuade state legislators to reform K12 education. With more than one million members, including parents, grandparents, teachers, principals and policy makers, StudentsFirst advocates for education reforms, via state or federal legislation and policies, that will improve student achievement.

For the last decade, in districts big and small, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has emerged as the largest private funder of educational efforts. This began with an initiative around small schools in the early to mid-2000s, mostly abandoned now, and has gained traction in the past few years in areas such as teacher evaluation, the Common Core State Standards and district-charter collaboration.