Posts by Nina Rees

 

Nina Rees

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School Improvement Done Right

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Today, 15,000 U.S. schools are considered persistently low-achieving. The Obama administration has invested heavily in a portion of these schools through a program called School Improvement Grants. Since 2009, nearly $3 billion in improvement grants has been directed at about 1,700 schools. (Fiscal year 2014 funding for the grants is $506 million, and the same amount is expected in fiscal year 2015.) But the grant program’s record has been underwhelming: A third of schools that were given major cash infusions to boost student achievement actually regressed.

While disconcerting, the results shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, nor should they put a nail in the program’s coffin. Overhauling an institution is always hard. In fact, 75 percent of efforts at restructuring in the private sector end up failing, partly because changing cultures and habits is difficult and the private sector is not patient enough with many change management efforts. Put simply, it is easier to close and start over than to restructure… read more here.

Nina Rees

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An Education in Building Local Support

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Last week, the 46th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of public attitudes toward public schools was released, and the headline was the deteriorating support for Common Core standards, to which 60 percent of Americans are now opposed. A similar poll, conducted by Education Next, confirms many of the first poll’s findings. This is not all that surprising, given the onslaught of negative publicity surrounding Common Core, but what caught my attention is the subtext of this opposition, which is centered around Americans’ dissatisfaction with federal involvement in schools.

What to make of this?

Americans dislike one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to how their children are educated. While the Common Core State Standards are simple standards that a curriculum can be built around, and the standards are already in place in many states, the public seems uneasy with a national (or as they see it, a “federally driven”) approach. Whether this is because anti-Common Core forces have done an effective job of vilifying the standards or because Americans have a libertarian streak in our DNA, the brand “Common Core” is now as disliked as “No Child Left Behind.” Education Next found that 68 percent of Americans would favor their state using “standards for reading and math that are the same across the states.” But when standards are labeled “Common Core,” supports drops to 54 percent…read more here.

Nina Rees

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Michelle Rhee’s Lasting Legacy

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

News of Michelle Rhee’s exit as CEO of the education reform organization StudentsFirst generated a flurry of commentary over the past week. One of the few household names in education reform, Rhee launched StudentsFirst three years ago, after leaving her high-profile post as schools chancellor in Washington, D.C. She had big plans for StudentsFirst, including a bold pledge on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to raise $1 billion to promote policies that placed student needs ahead of the needs of the education establishment.

Many felt that her ambitious fundraising plans were destined to fail and that her organization’s top-down approach made it hard to enact reforms that would stand the test of time. While there is some truth to the claim that her blunt moves may have been too divisive for a field that thrives on harmony, I think Rhee’s legacy as a leader is far more complex and long-lasting…read more here.

Nina Rees

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KIPP Leads the Way

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report) 

This week, KIPP, the renowned national charter school network, celebrates its 20th anniversary. The celebration will be held on the heels of KIPP’s receipt of the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, an annual award that goes to the public charter school network with the highest student performance and graduation rates, and the most success in closing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

I first came across KIPP when I was working at a think tank in the late 1990’s. One of my colleagues and mentors, Adam Meyerson (now leading the Philanthropy Roundtable), was on a quest to find high-performing public schools that were overcoming the odds. He wanted to give policymakers ideas for how to replicate these models. The product of this work led to the publication of a short book called “No Excuses,” which featured 21 schools with at least 75 percent low-income students who were scoring at the 65th percentile or higher on national exams…read more here.

Nina Rees

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July Newsletter

I had a fantastic time at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. It’s so energizing to be with the people who are on the ground every day working in America’s charter schools. We can never say thank you enough to the teachers and school leaders who show up before sunrise and head home after sunset, and who take time away from their own families so that they can change the lives of the children from other families.

With the 50th anniversary of the signing of the federal Civil Rights Act just behind us, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity. Not just the diversity of America’s student body today, but the diverse learning environments charter schools offer to millions of families. I wrote about this in my U.S. News & World Report column. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I hope you’re enjoying the summer!


What Happens in Vegas…

We are just back from a fantastic National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas where we had a record 4,800 attendees. Sal Kahn, Frank Luntz, and Campbell Brown inspired us to think bigger about using technology to bring world-class instruction to all corners of the globe and to never give up on our work to ensure all children have access to a great public school. Steven Michael Quezada of Breaking Bad fame opened the conference with a heartfelt story about his own experience in an underperforming public school and how it has motivated him to become involved with charter schools that engage students from all types of backgrounds.

 

It was our best conference yet—and we thank each of you for joining us. Education Week put together a fun roundup of the conference in 13 tweets—each tweet captures the essence of the conference in 140 characters or less.

We hope you will mark your calendar for next year’s conference, June 21-24 in New Orleans. When we convene, New Orleans will have just finished its first school year as an all-charter school district and it will be great to see first-hand how charter schools have dramatically improved the lives of so many students.

If you were with us in Las Vegas, please be sure to take our attendee survey if you haven’t already. The feedback you offer will help us make next year’s conference even better. Also, if you would like to receive a copy of Frank Luntz’s presentation, be sure to sign up for one of his focus groups here.


KIPP Wins Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools

For the past three years, at the National Charter Schools Conference, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has awarded a high-performing charter school network with The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. The prize honors the public charter school network with the most outstanding overall student performance and graduation rates, as well as the ability to close achievement gaps among low-income and minority students. The winner receives $250,000 to put toward college-readiness efforts for low-income students, such as scholarships, a speaker series, and campus visits.

KIPP Schools won the prize this year and it comes at no better time. This year marks their 20th anniversary—an entire generation of students has now had the opportunity to attend a KIPP school. KIPP has 141 schools across 20 states, and serves 50,000 students. In recent years, KIPP closed 21 percent of its racial achievement gaps in middle school reading, math and science. KIPP narrowed 65 percent of its racial and income achievement gaps in elementary school reading, math and science.

Congratulations to KIPP Schools! Because of their efforts, tens of thousands of students have gone on to brighter futures and many more are on their way. Click here to see a video highlighting the work of this year’s three finalists.

Pictured in photo (left to right): Steve Mancini, Director of Public Affairs at the KIPP Foundation; Bruce Reed, President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; Carissa Godwin, Director of Development at KIPP Delta Public Schools; Eric Schmidt, Principal of KIPP Courage Middle School; Nina Rees


Charter Schools Hall of Fame Welcomes Three New Members

Also at the conference, three new members were inducted into the Charter Schools Hall of Fame: Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy Charter Schools; Chester “Checker” E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; and The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund. Hall of Fame members include schoolteachers and leaders, thinkers, policy experts, and funders that have paved the way for the success and growth of public charter schools. You can read more and watch a short video about the work of each of the inductees here. Congratulations and thank you to Eva, Checker, and the Fisher Fund!


Two new members join the National Alliance Board of Directors

I am pleased to announce two new members of the National Alliance board of directors: Jeb Bush, Jr., and Moctesuma Esparza.

Jeb Bush, Jr., is managing partner for Jeb Bush & Associates, LLC and president of Bush Realty, LLC. He has been involved with education reform efforts through the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Moctesuma Esparza is CEO at Maya Cinemas North America and is an award-winning producer, entertainment executive, entrepreneur and community activist. Moctesuma founded the Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise Charter School and has been active in education reform efforts in Latino communities for decades. We are grateful to both Jeb and Moctesuma for joining our board.


Education Insiders Support Charter Schools

Last month, Whiteboard Advisors released the results of a poll of high-level “insiders” in education about their views on charter schools and recently introduced Senate legislation, backed by the National Alliance, to reauthorize the federal investment in charter schools. Ninety percent of the insiders polled want to see the Senate take action on the bill, but only 3 percent think it will actually happen. Also of note, 87 percent of the insiders polled viewed charter schools positively. That’s great news for all the school leaders and teachers in the trenches working hard every day to improve student learning.


New Report on Special Needs Students in Denver Charter Schools

Last month, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report that found students with special needs are less likely to leave Denver, Colorado charter schools than traditional public schools. They also found charter schools are less likely to classify students as special education, and more likely to declassify them. These findings are really important in light of the on-going (and unfounded) criticism by charter school opponents that charter schools push out students who are hard to teach. Click to read the report, Understanding the Charter School Special Education Gap: Evidence from Denver, Colorado.


See You in September!

We’re going to take a break from producing this monthly newsletter in August and look forward to updating you on our work again in mid-September. Have a great summer!

Nina Rees

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Learning the Facts of Financial Life

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently offered a compelling speech pushing American students to learn about money and finance in school. “Young people, to be successful, to secure retirement, to take care of their families, and to not be in poverty, have to have a level of financial literacy that 30, 40, 50 years ago maybe wasn’t required,” Duncan said. “Today it’s an absolute necessity.”

This is important for several reasons.

First, when tested for financial literacy in 2012, American teens scored below average and far short of those in countries like China, Australia and New Zealand, according to the results of a recently published Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development survey…read more here.

Nina Rees

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Diverse Schools Bring Many Benefits

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

After a long weekend of celebrating America with fireworks, food and family, I was thinking about what Independence Day means to today’s generation. I immigrated to this country as a child, thanks to parents who wanted me to have access to all the opportunities America offers. And I’m forever grateful for the risks they took to get our family here.

I was motivated to get involved in education reform because in some communities, low-income students don’t have access to the high quality education needed to succeed in today’s competitive global marketplace. It’s not for lack of trying. Ever since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago, and then the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the federal government and state governments have been trying to give every child a solid foundation for an exceptional life…read more here.

Nina Rees

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Graduating Against the Odds

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report)

June is graduation season and this year, in particular, it’s nice to take a step back from often contentious debates over Common Core, teacher tenure, school choice and an array of other education reform issues, and recognize those students who have overcome the odds by graduating from high school and being the first in their families to attend college.

For instance, there are students like AB Bustamante. Bustamante just graduated from Uplift Peak Preparatory High School in Dallas – the first member of his family to graduate from high school. Throughout his years at Uplift, he also worked part-time to help his single mom pay the bills. Dedicated to hard work and excellence, he not only graduated high school, but secured acceptance to the United States Naval Academy. This summer, he will head to Annapolis with his sights set on becoming a Marine Corps Officer and one day working in public policy…read more here.

Nina Rees

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Education Is A Primary Issue

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Public charter schools and other education reforms have proven to be pivotal issues in several primary elections from coast to coast, with more to come this summer and fall.

In California, incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will head into a November runoff with Marshall Tuck. Tuck was the first head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a body set up by former mayor Demcoratic Antonio Villaraigosa to help improve some of the city’s most struggling schools. Tuck is also a former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a widely acclaimed network of charter schools.

The upcoming general election battle will be fierce, with Torlakson benefiting from heavy support by the powerful California Teachers Association, the state’s largest union. Tuck brings a track record of educational innovation in a state that has proven open to reform. And as the Los Angeles Times noted in endorsing him, Tuck successfully worked with unions at both the Partnership for LA Schools and Green Dot. While the superintendent position holds little policy-making power, the race will be an important barometer of the popularity of charter schools and other education reforms in California…read more here.

Nina Rees

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‘Brown’ at 60: Time to Fulfill the Promise

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Just as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which officially barred segregation in public schools, we have new evidence that schools are failing to give all students the best start in life.

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card,” show that the performance of high school seniors in reading and math has stagnated in recent years. Only 37 percent of seniors are reading at grade level and only 26 percent of seniors are doing math at grade level. Even worse, the achievement gap between white and black students in reading has widened since 1992. In math, there’s been no improvement.

The stark reality is that despite two decades of education reform efforts, high school students on the whole aren’t registering better results. The effects are potentially catastrophic…read more here.