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Marian Wright Edelman Tells Educators “U.S. Is Going To Miss The Boat”

Mike Klein

Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan were blunt about the failure of American education to prepare children for a brave new world when they addressed the National Charters School Conference Wednesday in Atlanta.

“The United States is going to miss the boat to lead and compete in our globalizing world because we are not preparing a majority of our children for the future,” said Edelman.  “This is a disaster.  If children cannot read in this globalizing world they are being sentenced to social and economic death.  They are being sentenced to the prison pipeline.”

“One of the most insidious things that happened in the country over the past couple decades is the dumbing down of standards for children,” said Duncan who appeared by satellite from his office in Washington, D.C.  “In far too many states, including the state that I come from, Illinois, we’ve been lying to children and lying to families, telling them they are prepared for college and careers when in fact they are nowhere near ready.”

About 2 million students attend more than 5,200 charter schools nationally.  Here in Georgia, more than 72,000 students attend 177 schools.  That is a tiny fraction of the state’s 1.65 million public school students. By comparison, the Gwinnett County public school system has about 160,000 students.

The celebration tone that existed at Tuesday morning’s opening general session was replaced by Wednesday’s reality check that whatever charter schools have accomplished, there is a long and difficult road ahead for students in all schools, charters, traditional or any other kind.  Edelman told charter educators they should take risks, plan ahead and not be deterred, adding, “The Ark was built by amateurs.  The Titanic was built by professionals.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Duncan’s presentation included one Georgia specific headline.  Responding to an audience question, he said the state cannot use Race to the Top Dollars to assist any of 16 former state commission charter schools.  “We are holding the states accountable to the plan they put in place and this was not in there,” Duncan said.

Georgia will receive $100 million annually for the next four years from the Race to the Top federal grant program.  Duncan said he has spoken with Governor Nathan Deal about the impact from last month’s Georgia Supreme Court charter schools decision.  “We’re talking through a range of different issues. Whatever we can do to help, we’re prepared to do that.”

Wednesday morning general session attendance was noticeably smaller than the 4,000 who heard former President Bill Clinton’s keynote address on Tuesday morning.  Those who did manage to find the ballroom were treated to a tour de force from Marian Wright Edelman.

“Incarceration is becoming the new American apartheid.  Poor children of color are the fodder.   As educators you must see it, understand it, sound the alarm and make sure that this threat to American unity and community stops,” said Edelman, who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom eleven years ago for her lifelong devotion to seeking rights for disadvantaged people.

Marian Wright Edelman

“We have got to stop the growing criminalization of children at younger and younger ages,” Edelman said.  “Schools are a major feeder system into the cradle-to-prison pipeline.  We’ve got to challenge low expectations, poor quality education in charters and traditional public schools. Children are entitled to a quality education wherever they are.”

Nationally, Edelman said one child drops out of school every 11 seconds on school days and one child is born into poverty every 32 seconds.  A majority of children in all racial and income demographics cannot read or compute proficiently in 4th, 8th and 12th grades.  She said that disturbing percentage grows to 80% for Latinos and blacks who have not already dropped out.

“Education is the civil rights issue, the human rights issue of this time,” Edelman said.  “We’ve all got to be mindful of the responsibilities that we have to get it right, to do it right because so much is at stake.”  Edelman noted that state governments spend on average three times more per prisoner than per public school student.  “I can’t think of a dumber investment policy.”

The conference will end Thursday with a late morning rally outside the Georgia State Capitol.

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

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Bill Clinton to Address Charter Schools Conference Tuesday in Atlanta

Mike Klein

Former President Bill Clinton will headline Tuesday’s opening session of the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Georgia where the state has become a national battleground over alternative authorization of public charter schools.  The 42nd President will receive the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award and deliver an acceptance speech to 4,000 attendees.

It is entirely coincidental that the year’s biggest annual charter schools conference is being hosted in Atlanta about one mile from the state Supreme Court.  Last month a one-vote majority of the state high Court’s seven justices declared that the state Charter Schools Commission is unconstitutional, ending a three-year experiment with alternative authorization.

Implications from the Georgia Supreme Court decision and the path forward will be discussed Tuesday afternoon during a conference session in the Sidney Marcus Auditorium.  Scheduled panelists include Georgia House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones who was the chief sponsor of 2008 legislation that created the state Charter Schools Commission.

Speaking off-the-record, two sources who are familiar with behind the scenes events said the combination of new charters with acceptable funding will probably not happen for some schools that received 2011– 2012 year approval from the state Charter Schools Commission.  Sixteen schools that planned to enroll as many as 16,000 students were affected by the Court’s opinion.

Former President Bill Clinton

Georgia Cyber Academy and its brick-and-mortar cousin Odyssey School received state board of education charters on June 9.  DeKalb County offered one-year temporary charters to The Museum School of Avondale Estates and Peachtree Hope Charter School.  Ivy Preparatory Academy turned down a Gwinnett County charter because of unequal funding.  The state board is expected to vote next Tuesday on charter applications from any schools that still want one.

Thousands have traveled to stifling hot and humid Atlanta for the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference at the Georgia World Congress Center.  Former President Clinton will be honored for kick starting the public charter schools movement.  The number of public charter schools grew from one prior to his 1992 election to more than 2,000 during his Presidency.

Tuesday morning’s general session will include musical performances by eighth grader Mariana Guzman from Ivy Prep Academy in Georgia and Pride Percussion ensemble which represents Pine Lake Preparatory, the largest charter school in North Carolina.  Other Tuesday speakers are Success Charter Network founder Eva Moskowitz and Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will appear by teleconference Wednesday. This year Georgia will receive the first of four $100 million annual Race to the Top grants from the U.S. DOE which approved Georgia in part because of leadership in the charter schools movement.

Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman will also speak Wednesday and the Junior Academy Dance Ensemble of Atlanta’s Drew Charter School will perform.  The conference will conclude with a rally Thursday morning at the State Capitol.

Click here to learn more about the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference.

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

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment