Education Breakthrough Network

We advocate for School Choice and education reform in the United States.

Category: edbreakthrough

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Apparently Not.

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Apparently Not. – Allowing good schools ( that parents want to send their children to) to share facilities with bad schools ( that parents want to get their kids out of) offends the New Jersey Teacher Union bosses. Here’s a nice battle highlight:

“Say No to peaceful co-existence in the same school building!” said an e-mail that went out to all 4,800 teachers of the Newark Teachers Union asking them to appear at the regular meeting of the Advisory School Board.

I read these things and wonder how anybody can say this is about what’s best for students. Read Barbara Martinez’s story for yourself in today’s WSJ:

Then battle on!!!…

Indecent Decision

Indecent Decision

Indecent Decision – ” We understand the argument against using public funds for private, and especially parochial, schools. But it is parents, not government, choosing where to spend the vouchers. Given that this program takes no money away from public or public charter schools; that the administration does not object to parents directing Pell grants to Notre Dame or Georgetown; and that members of the administration would never accept having to send their own children to failing schools, we don’t think the argument is very persuasive. Maybe that’s why an administration that promised never to let ideology trump evidence is making an exception in this case. “


There is just no decent answer for why Congressional lawmakers and the President would prevent students from attending schools that work FOR THEM. At half the cost of the public schools that didn’t.

If Sidwell Friends is not demonstrably better than the local public school for the DC scholarship students, it can’t be better for the Obama girls. I can only assume that the Obamas did not read their administration’s assessment and suddenly decide to move their own children to the DC public schools.

Joel Klein is fond of asking crowds if they would be okay with letting him randomly assign their children to one of New York’s public schools. Ummm…no.

So if it’s not okay for our own children, it cannot be okay for somebody else’s. The US House votes the SOAR bill today that will renew the scholarship program in DC…weigh in with your Rep.…

Congress should help parents help their kids

Congress should help parents help their kids – Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently indicated that he would consider waiving the supplemental educational services (SES) provision of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

This is troubling. Not only would this be a major policy change, trumping Congress’ current deliberation on the law’s reauthorization, it also undermines one of the most innovative and sensible strengths of the law – serving the interest of parents and their children before that of adults.

Parental involvement has long been a part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but the 2001 reauthorization, NCLB, provided parents with greater control over their child’s education.

Under the law, schools must report to parents on the status of their achievement in an understandable format and language.

When a school underachieves and is identified for improvement, parents must be notified and can use the information to transfer their child to another public school.

If the school does not improve in the subsequent year, parents may get immediate help by choosing from a list of approved tutoring services (SES providers) for their child.

The law is innovative and sensible, because it allows parents the option of doing something for their child immediately while the school works out whatever may be going wrong.

The child is the priority and the parents, as consumers of education, are valued.

This is a significant change for school districts, and it has not come easily.

The funds designated for tutoring represent lost revenues in their eyes, so too many districts do not provide parents with adequate information about their choice and SES options.

According to the most recent National Assessment of Title I survey, only about half of eligible parents were aware of their tutoring options, and those parents were notified about school choice options after the start of the school year.

Of those who knew about their choice and tutoring options, many found the notification letters and process confusing.

Consequently, the participation rates for choice and SES have been low.

According to a recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report, “[D]uring the 2008-2009 school year 2.7 percent of all students eligible for public school choice took advantage of this option.

[…] In addition, 15.6% of eligible students took advantage of the availability of SES.” [See “Accountability Issues and Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (CRS: Dec. 15, 2010).]

Denying parents their right to choose help for their students is not new, and recent headlines illustrate the point.

Ohio mother Kelley Williams-Bolar ignited national furor when she lied about her residency to get her daughters into a better school district and ended up in jail.

How could wanting better academic services land a good parent in jail? The consensus, not surprising, has been wildly in favor of the mother’s right to do what is best for the child.

Both research and anecdotes indicate that parents care deeply about access to quality education choices and services. What’s fair for the rich, it turns out, is also fair for the poor.

The Bush administration tried to improve on district implementation at the close of its term.

In 2008, former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued new regulations to better inform parents about their options.

Districts now have to provide parents an explanation of the available school choices sufficiently in advance of, but no later than 14 calendar days before, the start of the school year.

Districts must also provide timely and accurate information on the status of choice and SES on their websites by posting easily accessible and understandable information on students who were eligible and the number of students who participated in choice and SES.

The new requirements, however, have not gained much traction with districts.

The Obama administration has also beat the drum for parental choice and information.

As Duncan put it in his glossy 2009 Time interview, “Arne Duncan: The Apostle of Reform,” “I’m a big fan of choice and competition, and in our country, historically, wealthy families have had a lot of options as to where to send their children.

And families that didn’t come from a lot of money had one option – and usually that option wasn’t a good one.”

Now, however, the secretary has indicated that he would consider waiving the very provision that provides these options.

If the secretary were truly an apostle of reform, he would work with Congress to do the opposite – double-down on choice and SES and help parents get the information and services that Washington promised.

Parents need to receive timely, clear and accurate information. They need real school alternatives and quality tutoring services.

There is plenty about NCLB that Congress should change, but it should maintain one of its prime strengths: putting the interest of the parent and student before the district.

Congress needs to help parents like Kelley Williams-Bolar, not reward districts for dragging their feet.

Lisa Keegan is the former Arizona superintendent of Education and founder of the Education Breakthrough Network.

Kevin Chavous is board chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options & Democrats for Education Reform.…

Breakthrough Goes to Washington

Breakthrough Goes to Washington

Breakthrough Goes to Washington – Last week I had the opportunity to testify before the US House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce.

That is always an honor, made more so this time by the presence of friends (to me and to school choice) Tony Bennet, the Indiana Commissioner of Education, Andrew Coulson of CATO, and Ted Mitchell of New Schools Venture Fund.

As is usually the case these days where education is being seriously considered, it was hard to predict political party from answers.

All of us basically gave testimony in some version of “Let excellent choices emerge.”

Which was added to by a secondary message “Please don’t do this from DC…seek advice from the schools, leaders, and organizations who have discovered how to solve the education crisis for their students what they need…and give them what they need.”

Only scary moment was when a question came about how best to create one teacher evaluation method in the ESEA law that “everybody” could buy into.

I tried to suggest that “everybody” was better off deciding that in their own school…and that even “local control” has lost any local flavor and is now all about national group control. It’s a tough slog to get people focused on allowing teachers to create excellence.

But there seemed to be good support for the new realities.

Chairman Kline is a known school choice advocate, and Representative Miller advised his colleagues to bear in mind the significant changes brought about not only by a decade of new data, but the advent of new school choices and technologies unheard of in 2001.

The question will be whether there is willpower to resist the national organizations whose power is weakened by this new face of American education.

They like one solution for “everybody”, because they have been the biggest, richest “somebody” in the room.

Gives you a big voice.

So…it matters a great deal now that those of us who believe in the power of choice and innovation make our own voices heard, and provide timely and useful information to leaders of Congress and State Houses.

Which is why the Breakthrough network helps enormously.

Make sure you, your colleagues and all of the innovative, succesful schools and groups you know are partners there…that’s a great way to help policy advocates find the solution they are looking for.

Otherwise, they may believe there is no answer… and that they need to make one up.


You go, Montana…

You go, Montana…

You go, Montana… – I am struck happy today by the number of school choice bills being considered nationwide. (Check out the “News and Views” section of for a great summary of daily news stories)

Today’s highlight comes from Helena (go Montana!) where advocates are seeking what would be Montana’s VERY FIRST school choice law. They remain one of only 8 states who do not offer public charters, tuition tax credits, etc. So I am pulling hard for these guys.

And wondering why anybody pays attention to the overtired and illogocal statement that offering students a choice of schools “takes money away from public education.” No, it doesn’t. Ever.

Public education is an investment that we make in a child’s education. Consider it money in the child’s backpack. What we are seeking is not to enrich “public education” as though it were a mutual fund. We are seeking to enrich the child. Laws that make the investment directly reponsive to the needs of every child reflect simple sanity.

If you are on Medicare and you choose to use your own doctor versus the county health clinic, that does not “drain the health system of resources.” Neither does choosing a private, online, home, or public charter school “drain” resources from public education.

You moving your child to a preferred school only drains resources from a school that is not educating your child. What would you pay them for?

So here’s to all of you in Helena and across the country who are fighting for choices in education… may sanity reign, and let us know how to help!…

School Board Members Advocating Real Choice

School Board Members Advocating Real Choice – Alright kids…here are a few more reasons to be checking every day or so. You will see things you thought you would never see. I was checking our news headlines and favorite blogs, and had to read these twice.

School board members are actively supporting school choices.

Read the “Choice Remarks” blog from Oklahoma today. Their story will take you to Pennsylvania (love our network) where local school board members have started a petition of sorts in support of the scholarship bill under consideration in the Assembly today.

Add this to the story on our Breakthrough headline news about the Douglas County, Colorado school board that is proposing parents in their district should be able to request a scholarship for private schools if they prefer that to their local assignment. 

Music to our ears.

Listen to a local parent: “It’s cracking the door open and starting that conversation,” said Piper, 39. “I am excited about a board that is adding options and testing the border a bit about where the line for school choice and families should be.”

I am excited about it too!

It’s not a full scale freedom revolution in school districts yet…but it’s progress. I am betting there is much more of this going on than we know. If you know about it, tell the rest of us so we can support these guys. These “early adopter” school board members are going to take quite a beating from the usual suspects.

But at the end of the day, they will be the first of what becomes a landslide. Congratulations and many thanks to all of you. This is a long time coming.…

Speaking Freely…

Speaking Freely…

Speaking Freely… – Isn’t easy, even among the best of friends.  

Our National School Choice Week coalition is hard at work … (sign on and get IN now for Jan. 24-30, 2012).  

While we meet this week during Freedom Fest in Las Vegas,  often the ONLY thing we have in common is our commitment to the rights of families to choose excellent schools run by excellent teachers. (check the group logos of those here for this planning session, just a fraction of the larger coalition!) 

I am always amazed as we plan for NSCW that we can see the world through such different social and political lenses.

We all work on issues of school choice, we all share what one friend calls “a narrow strip of agreement” which is school choice. But we see it differently.

We can be discussing exactly the same issues or events, and we see vastly different impacts or possibilities.

We disagree, we say intemperate things, we argue, we try again. We work it out, and we move ahead. Better, stronger, more committed for the struggle. 

That’s freedom for you. Messy, passionate, committed. I would frankly trust any of these people with my life.

Because when it comes down to it, our differences are minuscule compared to our shared vision for all children’s access to excellent education.

And these people just get it done. For all of us…different as we are. 

And that’s history in the making…be a part of it.  …

Style is more than Sartorial…

Style is more than Sartorial…

Style is more than Sartorial… – If you check out Derrell Bradford’s second appearance here on the CoffeeBreakthrough and our Home Page at Breakthrough, you will understand the very high premium our school choice community places on self expression.

And this issue of who we are and what we value has been dancing around my head since Derrell sent me his “rule-breaking” photos earlier this week…by all means, hit the link and travel to D”s matching tie. Gentleman, it’s on.

I had a further encounter with the power of personal style driving with my kids through our son’s new neighborhood in downtown Phoenix, which is by far the most exciting part of the city for me.

It was kind of a scary place when I was younger, neglected and overrun by anonymous buildings and abandoned homes.

Today, it is a genuinely hip village of sorts, with a bounty of very small restaurants, coffee houses, artist galleries, local markets and apartment homes.

This is not a place built by the numbers; it is a collection of individual and artistic efforts, where you feel surrounded by others who value the sense of place they have created.

I told my kids that this kind of energized revitalization, driven by gifted artists and visionary community members, reflected my highest aspirations for a new day in education.

We had just driven by one of the state’s best schools, the Arizona School for the Arts, which is happily nestled in this section of town, directly across from the Phoenix Art Museum.

As we drove by, we discussed how ironic it is that excellence, high art, and unique expression…all of which are the hallmarks of a great education…have been wrung from so much of our one-size-fits-all school system.

The irony begets a discussion longer than the CoffeeBreakthrough blog can support, but the simultaneous push for school choice and shared academic standards has been a confusing issue for many.

To cut to the chase on this…standards should support highly diverse and creative schools in the same way that the foundations of any structure support a myriad of architectural styles and purposes.

What a gift it will be when many more great teachers who understand this duality reclaim the unique art and excellence of their profession by starting their own schools.

Speaking of which, check out Arizona Charter Schools Association’s “Charter Starter” program…and pass it on to a gifted teacher in the hopes they will be inspired to bring their own style to the brave new world of school choices.

And break a few rules in the process.…

School Choice…What is it?

School Choice…What is it?

School Choice…What is it? – Well, not to be overly simplistic, SCHOOL CHOICE is the act of choosing a school that meets the needs of your child.

Traditionally, families have been assigned to schools based on where they live.

In fact, families with sufficient resources choose the neighborhoods they live in, in order to be assigned to a good school.

That is actually a pretty active choice.

But school choice means actively choosing a school versus being assigned to one.

And it doesn’t matter what kind of choice that is, they can include private schools, public charter schools, online schools, home schools, special needs schools or even preschools.

School choice advocates believe in the rights of parents to choose a school that meets their child’s needs, and in the rights of teachers and all educators to create, manage, and/or choose to be employed in those schools.

The Education Breakthrough Network exists to explain and advance effective school choice…from its simplest definition here to our very detailed database here.…

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