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After Supreme Court: “How We Answer Will Define Us For Generations”

Mike Klein

Georgia became the national battleground over charter public schools alternative authorization last month when the state Supreme Court ruled the three-year-old charter schools commission is unconstitutional.  So it was not surprising that there very pointed references to that decision Tuesday when the 2011 National Charters School Conference opened in Atlanta.

“Fifteen thousand students have been left in limbo by a dreadful decision from the Georgia Supreme Court,” said National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Peter Groff.  “How we answer will define us for generations.”  Groff invoked the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he called for a “next generation of high quality schools fueled by technology.”

Moments earlier, and not entirely in jest, Georgia Charter Schools Association President Tony Roberts welcomed some 4,000 conference goers to “Georgia where anyone can grow up to be a state Supreme Court justice even if you cannot read the state Constitution.”

President Bill Clinton

Charter school educators have come from across the nation to discuss alternative authorization, digital learning applications, crisis message management, how to start and fund schools, learning accountability and literally dozens of other educationally relevant topics.

During a 45-minute address former President Bill Clinton told charter educators to “put our country back in the future business” after accepting the NAPCS inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.  Clinton described the current “food fight” in most contemporary political dialogue.  Click here for additional coverage of the former President’s address.

Tuesday’s opening session included two of the charter schools world genuine superstars, New York City educator Eva Moskowitz and Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker.

“I understood a long time ago that schools and politics are inextricably linked,” said Moskowitz who opened the first Harlem Success Academy five years ago in New York City.  “Our schools are knocking the ball out of the park which now means we are considered a threat, not only to public schools, but to the political establishment.”

Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success Academy

The Harlem Success Academy story was chronicled in two charter school movement films, “The Lottery” and “Waiting for Superman.”  Moskowitz encountered stiff opposition from the New York City teachers union and also some community groups.  Two years ago the New York Times cited Harlem Success Academy as #1 in math statewide among all 3,500 public schools.  Six more Success Academies have followed in just five years, with plans to open 40 more.

“We are tasked with building a better mousetrap, introducing innovation to a sector that has long resisted it,” Moskowitz said. “I believe we are on the cusp of a golden era in education.  I raise the question, what is possible for our children?  I don’t know but it is our job to find out.  We must innovate every day.  We must resist the temptation to do things the same way they have always been done and we must question our own perception of what is possible.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is well known for creating a partnership with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who contributed $100 million to improve Newark student success and champion great teachers.  Booker is energy unleashed; his magnetism compels attention.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker

“We are in the most important fight for justice in generations,” Booker said.  “Audacity, audacity, always audacity.  We have underestimated the profound genius, the ability of our children.  We have become comfortable with failure and it is time for a wake-up call.  We are here to disturb the comfortable.  We were not born for mediocrity.  We were born to stand out.”

Booker issued fair warning to underperforming schools:  “We cannot accept mediocrity or failure in the charter movement.  I don’t care how a school came into existence.  I distinguish between schools of excellence, and I distinguish between schools that suck.  If that school happens to be a charter school then that school should either improve or move out of the way and let somebody else do the job.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman will speak Wednesday.  Duncan’s address will be by satellite from Washington.  The conference ends Thursday with a rally at the State Capitol, across from the Supreme Court.  Click here to learn more about the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clinton Tells Charter Educators: Put America Back in the Future Business

Mike Klein

Former President Bill Clinton challenged charter school educators to “put our country back in the future business” during his keynote address Tuesday morning that opened the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta.

“People look to you to keep America changing for the better,” Clinton said toward the end of his nearly 45-minute address. “Too many people have given up on us and it looks like a food fight half the time in Washington and across the country because we’ve forgotten that evidence, experience and the aspirations of everyday people tells us what works.

“This is not about ideology.  It’s not about theology.  It’s about what we can do to give our kids a better tomorrow by putting our country back in the future business. Charter schools showed we can put our schools in the future business.  Now we have to do what is clearly called upon to grow and expand charter schools and have that idea infect every other part of our lives.”

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools honored Clinton with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.  Public charter schools nationwide grew from one when he Clinton entered the White House to 2,000 after eight years.  His administration also established a $256 million grant fund to benefit charter schools.  Today two million students attend 5,277 public charter schools, which are 5% of all public schools nationwide.

Former President Bill Clinton

The former President’s address made 4,000 attendees half an hour late for lunch as he waded through historical data about improvements to Arkansas public schools while he was governor, cost issues associated with Medicare, why cholera has spread across Haiti, his initiatives to put millions of Americans back to work and other subjects.

Clinton discussed several of his Foundation initiatives, including putting Americans back to work retrofitting schools and public buildings for energy conservation and his Alliance for a Healthier Generation which combats childhood obesity.  The 42nd President also encouraged charter educators to have their students take advantage of the reworked federal student loan program.

“The real challenge for America is to get back into business,” Clinton reiterated.  “The government should be no more immune from change than the private sector.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Clinton at Charters Conference; Deal Meets With Gates Foundation Today

Mike Klein

Good morning from the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.  Former President Bill Clinton will deliver the morning keynote address to some 4,000 conference attendees.  The 42nd President pushed charter schools development during his eight-year administration, increasing them from virtually none to more than 2,000.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has learned Governor Nathan Deal, state schools Superintendent John Barge, legislators and several influential business leaders will meet with a representative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today to discuss Georgia education reform and potentially, financial assistance for the former state commission charter schools.

Topic Number One in Georgia is the fallout from last month’s state Supreme Court decision that overturned the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  The state is determining how many of 16 state commission schools can re-open in August, serving about 15,600 students.  Two sources have said it is unlikely that all 16 commission-approved schools will re-open in August.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a significant education footprint, noting on its website, “The foundation has set an ambitious goal in K-12 education: to graduate all students college-ready. Currently, only a third of students graduate on-time with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed beyond high school.  Together with our partners, we are working to provide all students—especially low-income and minority students—with the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

Mike Klein Online and the GPPF Forum will update today and Wednesday from the Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment