NEA Today The National Education Association online news and information resource. Tue, 23 Sep 2014 18:14:57 +0000 en hourly 1 Career and Technical Education Back From the Brink Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:48:50 +0000 twalker By Brenda Álvarez
Five years ago, Sandra Rhee was a freshman at Esperanza High School in Anaheim, Calif.

As she walked through the school to turn in a paper, the AP student took a turn around the theater and passed an open door. What she saw that day would change her forever.

“I saw a group of kids building robots,” says the 19-year-old, who is working toward a material science and engineering degree at the University of California Los Angeles. “I was so intrigued that I went inside, talked to the group, and got connected to Mr. Walt.”

Walt Walters (before his retirement in July) was the engineering and manufacturing instructor. In short, he was the shop teacher.

The word “shop” can easily invoke memories of an auto body garage, with young men in greasy jumpsuits hovering over the dirty engine of a 1950’s era car. At one time, shop classes were synonymous with specific trades: wood, metal, and mechanics. Shop was often connected to students who were good with their hands or struggling academically. The classes were a one-way track to a job, not a college education, creating a stigma that’s been hard to break.

“For the last 25 years, shop was viewed as a dirty old word,” says Walters, who is also chair
of the NEA Vocational, Career and Technical Educators’ Caucus. The group works to change this perception by informing parents and school counselors about the various paths that can lead to college or career.

“Post-secondary training is what we have to get across to them,” says the 38-year veteran
teacher, emphasizing that this could mean a college degree or a trade certification. The idea is to provide students with options.

Sandra Rhee, a 2009 graduate of California’s Esperanza High School, and Walt Walters, engineering and manufacturing instructor, operate a lathe, used to shape wood, metal, or other material via a rotating drive.

The strategy appears to be working. Walters believes that vocational and CTE programs are coming back from the brink of extinction. He attributes the resurrection to growing industry sectors, such as manufacturing, which is expected to add more than 350,000 jobs to the payroll by 2015, as cited by the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation.

This growth, paired with the need for highly skilled laborers, means CTE programs have more appeal.

Not Your Father’s Woodworking Class

Career and technical programs are more advanced today than in years past, with high-end shop classes offered by high schools across the U.S. At Esperanza, students work with a water-jet cutting machine—a $75,000 piece of equipment typically reserved for colleges, universities, and professional settings—which offers accuracy, speed, and no alteration in material properties. The school also has a 3-D printer—Rhee calls it a “crazy” piece of equipment—which allows students to produce models in little time.

Today’s shop classes also include a heavy dose of academics, which employers’ want, as backed by a 2011 report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Pathways to Prosperity revealed that a high number of U.S. employers complained about young adults—specifically, high school students—lacking the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century, especially in oral and written communication, critical thinking, and professionalism.

The shop classes at Esperanza offer A through G approved courses, which are required for admission to the University of California and the California State University systems. This means, students must apply core subject standards, such as English Language Arts, whenever possible. Walter’s students spent a year working on a fully functioning racecar. They wrote and presented a design report, detailing cost, manu- facturing process, engine design, and its energy efficiency. Critical thinking comes into play when designs don’t turn out as planned. In one instance, the racecar turned right instead of left. Students were quick to reassess and determine that the A-Arms were inverted.

To help students boost their professionalism, Walters stresses the importance of “soft skills,” like timeliness, efficiency, and a strong work ethic—practices that are as valuable as rigor, especially for young people who have been hit hardest by the Great Recession.

“Mr. Walt’s class was equally intense as my AP classes,” Rhee says, adding that he was a tough teacher.

The toughness encouraged her to earn an industry accreditation by obtaining SolidWorks certification before graduating high school. “People are impressed when I say I work with SolidWorks,” she says, referring to the software program that provides mechanical CAD, design validation, and data management skills, which employers seek.

Although Rhee chose to attend a four-year university, other students picked up internships or jobs at nearby companies, earning $20 to $30 an hour. Whether they lead students to higher education classrooms, or to the workplace, these types of opportunities grow from existing relationships between shop teachers and employers. In turn, the opportunities contribute to the success of CTE programs because they illustrate the value of real-world experiences.

And for many employers, when it’s time to consider applicants, experience is often the missing element. “We’re finding that many of today’s engineers are theory with no practical application,” Walters says, referring to college graduates entering the field. “They can design, but cannot build.” His students can do both.

Industry Input
Esperanza is among many U.S. schools that hope to become more relevant to students and responsive to local economies and national trends. To help, employers and educators are partnering on advisory committees, which are required by the Carl D. Perkins Act—federal legislation that provides support and funding for CTE programs at the state and local levels.

At California’s Esperanza High School, students spend a year building a fully functioning race car, using skills and techniques they learned in shop classes and applying core academic concepts.

Joe Bryne started his own manufacturing business at the age of 21. By the time he retired, nearly 20 years later, the company was worth millions of dollars. Bryne understands business and he knows how it’s supposed to work. When Walters, eight years ago, recruited him to sit on an advisory committee he immediately saw some issues.

“There is a disconnect between education and real-world experience in terms of what we need as employers,” he says, adding that high school and college graduates act as if they are doing the employer a favor just by showing up to work. “We need them to go back to basics,” starting with work ethics. Another issue he saw with new employees was that they didn’t understand current technology and industry standards.

The input from Bryne and other committee members help educators keep CTE programs up to date by offering support and advice to schools, as well as help students manage employer expectations. Committees can also help plan outlines, course structure, or content. Additionally, they provide real-world workplace examples and help students understand employers’ expectations.

Walters says advisory committees have helped him change or implement new curriculum based on industry need.

The Perkins Act is up for reauthorization, and NEA has offered Congress six guiding principals to consider, including the creation of a strong pipeline of quality, credentialed, and experienced educators. But the big challenge, says Walters is “not enough teachers.” Moreover, many of the teacher preparation programs for CTE programs have dwindled.

As the legislation for teacher recruitment and retention is renewed, CTE instructors must receive appropriate training in pedagogical practices and mentoring by experienced teachers. Provisions should also ensure that more CTE teachers are involved in decision-making activities.

Despite the challenges, Walters is optimistic about the survival of CTE programs. He says industry sectors are speaking louder than before about the skillsets that are needed from employees and the education community and legislators are finally listening.

“We didn’t know what industry needed and they didn’t know how we worked—and that’s where I saw the opening to be an advocate, expand my connections, and help create awareness,” emphasizing that eight years ago Esperanza’s advisory committee had only 10 members. Today, there are 40 people from the business community.

And if Rhee is any indication of the benefits these programs offer, the U.S. has a lot to gain. The programs may be the catalyst that provides students with viable options to college or career, while helping to address industry sector growth and workforce shortages.

“I didn’t know I wanted to go into engineer- ing,” says Rhee, “but after I joined the engineering and manufacturing academy I found it was a new challenge for me, not just learning the academics, but working with my hands, too.”

Now, the UCLA student is studying the science and chemistry of materials, composites, and plastics. Her personal interest is in renewable energy, but says she can go into other fields that produce lighter weaponry for the military or manufacture gorilla glass, which is the glass used to cover smartphones and tablets, for tech companies.

Had it not been for this one shop class that occurred every Thursday for three hours after school, Rhee says she would have simply majored in biology or chemistry—great fields, but subjects that were not for her.

Says Rhee: “I am a problem solver [and] a hands-on learner. I am the type of person who would choose robots and mechanics over lab work or chemical analysis. I enjoy the process of creating something—the brainstorming, the design process, the manufacturing…I have found my place in how I want to impact the world: helping develop economical alternative energy sources,” says the student who found her passion just by going through an open door.;

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Schools Experiment With Different Ways of Testing Tue, 23 Sep 2014 13:07:36 +0000 twalker Because complex thinking skills can’t be measured by traditional standardized tests, educators nationwide are turning to new ideas like “stealth assessments” hidden in video games and student roundtables that work like college dissertation defenses. “The problem is traditional standardized paper-and-pencil tests measure a very narrow slice of what we want students to know and be able to do,” says Dan French, executive director of the Center for Collaborative Education. Source: District Administration

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You Are Asking The Wrong Questions About Education Technology Tue, 23 Sep 2014 12:18:01 +0000 twalker Educators should certainly embrace tools and technologies that will help them become more effective teachers. But they should do it because it works, writes Jordan Shapiro, not for the sake of modern humanity’s obsession with progress, newness, innovation, and disruption. These buzzwords of the industrial age, let’s remember, paved the road that led to the current landscape of education. The very notion of education as an industry is problematic. School is about transmitting values and principles from one generation to the next, not skillfully organizing labor toward productivity. Source: Forbes

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The Long History of Blaming Teachers First Mon, 22 Sep 2014 14:52:48 +0000 twalker By Tim Walker

A high-ranking education official in a major U.S. city feverishly argues that schools should be operated like a business. Unapologetic about targeting and firing ineffective teachers, the official  pushes for an evaluation system that is rooted in student test scores.

You’re right if you think this sounds like  Michelle Rhee, the former DC schools chancellor, circa 2009. But this description also fits William McAndrew, Chicago schools superintendent. The year? 1924.

The pillorying of teachers and the championing of misguided “reform” policies has a long and exasperating history, chronicled by journalist Dana Goldstein in her new book, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. Anyone who wonders “How did we get here?” -  the divisive and polarizing rhetoric, the  mystifying staying power of discredited ideas and the recent raid on teachers’ collective bargaining rights  - will find the answers in Goldstein’s engaging and valuable book.

Goldstein recently spoke to NEA Today about the origins of the most contentious education debates, the players in politics and media that have heightened the teachers wars, and how a greater teacher voice can help move the national dialogue in a more constructive direction.

The combination of a feminized teaching profession and unionism in the early 20th century triggered a slew of politicized attacks and what you refer to in the book as “moral panics” across the nation. To what extent  does that fact that the profession is roughly 80 percent women today still make it an inviting political target?

Dana Goldstein: We tend to have more of a public debate over teacher pay, teacher job protection, and the cost of teacher health care plans than we do about policemen or firefighters. Teaching is a larger profession, so it’s more expensive – because there is more of them. But I do think that, because this is a job done by women, it makes it easier to vilify.

When I was working on the book, I went back and watched videos of Chris Christie yelling at teachers, which are really difficult to sit through. It’s always a middle-aged woman, and the condescension is seething out of him in these confrontations! It’s like this concept of “mansplaining” – I think that happens a lot to teachers. Their expertise as the practitioners in the classroom is often not respected.

Probably the most contentious issue in education right now is teacher due process or “tenure.” What do you think is most important for people to understand about tenure and its origins?

DG: We have to understand why we have tenure in the first place. At the turn of the 20th century, teachers got fired very often for very stupid reasons. They were pregnant or they were black. Or they disagreed about the mayor about something. Seeing how politicized these firings were, good government reformers and teachers unions agreed about tenure. It was the consensus position in 1909 when New Jersey became the first state to pass a comprehensive tenure bill.

Secondly, at the turn of the 20th  century, like we do today, we looked to other countries for ideas about how to improve our schools.  People wondered  how to  make teaching a more respected profession and a more attractive job, considering the low pay, and tenure or due process was something that was going to help. The idea came from Prussia, where teachers had more job security.

There’s no evidence that suggests ending tenure will lead to student improvement, so why are we talking about it so much?

DG: Yeah, I agree with your take. There is nothing magical that would happen for kids if we ended teacher tenure. That’s partly because recruiting teachers to work in the neediest schools is so hard. Turnover is just as much a driver in poor student performance than those ineffective teachers who are stuck in those schools. There’s a lot of research on this that I cite in the book.

Why is everyone talking about this so much? I use a term in the book that teaching is seen as a somewhat “peculiar profession.” Only 7 percent of private sector workers are in unions. So when we see that teachers have fought and won for themselves a due process right, people ask ‘Why? I don’t have that.’ Because teachers are different from other workers, the way they are different is a source of debate.

There have been many eras in which teachers have been targeted, but this particular wave of concern has a lot to with the weak economy. People want to know – are schools sending kids out with the tools and skills they need to survive what is an unforgiving job market?

Time Magazine taking the teacher wars up a notch in 2008.

Has the media generally informed the public about public education in a constructive way or has it done more to escalate the teacher wars?

DG: Over history the media has played a big role in both calling attention to quality issues in our schools but also fanning the flames of these “moral panics.” The muckrakers wrote these sometimes overheated exposés of child labor and truancy. They would often point the finger at the school system and ignore some of the systemic causes.

When A Nation at Risk was released in 1983, you saw the media getting very, very excited. A lot of the coverage really fanned the flames and was much less nuanced than the report itself. Also, articles can become talking points. A very famous story by Gene Lyons in The Texas Monthly called “Why Teachers Can’t Teach,” published in 1979, was one. A few years ago, there was Stephen Brill’s “The Rubber Room” in The New Yorker, which failed to mention that these rubber room teachers make up something like only 1/10th of 1 percent of all teachers.

The book describes how the flaws in merit pay were evident back in the late 1980s – typical of what you call the ‘hype disillusionment cycle’ that follows many reform ideas. Are we seeing other policies reaching a similar point today?

DG: Definitely. We’re entering the “hype disillusionment cycle” with teacher evaluations based on student test scores. When you hear Arne Duncan, whose policies have incentivized that to a great extent, coming out a couple of weeks ago and saying that standardized testing is ‘sucking the oxygen out of the room,’ we are at a turning point from where we were in 2009 or 2010.

But what happens next? Are we really going to search for new ideas or are we going to go back and find another failed idea from the past?

You write that the teacher wars can be reined in when we come to a basic agreement about what great teaching is and then work together to support that vision. What kind of training, expertise, classroom climate and other qualities promote great teaching?

DG: In terms of training, I think there’s a good argument to be made that a teacher’s college education be rigorous and focused on a specific content area. When we look at other high-performing nations, teachers learn pedagogy but they are expected to achieve academically in a subject they are going to teach. I think that makes sense. But we can’t just pluck teachers straight out of college and drop them into the classrooms. That doesn’t work to prepare teachers on any large scale. A lot of the student teaching isn’t realistic to the conditions they will find. What I like about the residency model in Memphis that I talk about in the book is that you are there with a master teacher, who has already created the conditions of control in the classroom, on day one. You see how he or she establishes a healthy classroom climate and discipline from the very beginning. We know from surveys that first year teachers really struggle with these issues.

Dana Goldstein

Regarding specific pedagogical skills, we know it is more important to have more conceptual questions be guiding lessons, not simple factual questions. It’s easy to understand why. Conceptual questions teach kids how to think, how to question, and how to learn over the course of a lifetime.

We talk so much about these accountability systems, which are meant to measure teachers, but tell us so little about what great teachers are actually doing. There’s very little systematized structures to take the skills of those great teachers and share them with others.

You include a quote by John Dewey, the 19th century educator and social reformer, in the front of the book that reads in part: ‘The teacher …is not like a private soldier, or like a cog in the wheel. He must be an intelligent medium of action.’ Given how under assault teachers have been recently and the daily pressures of the classroom, what would you tell a teacher who is struggling to find the time and energy to take on such a role?

DG: I’m very sympathetic to that. Demands on the teacher are high and getting higher all the time. Their day is exhausting. So the vast majority of teachers, even if they are interested in the policy debate and the political questions, feel that they don’t have time. And some teachers are afraid that administrative action will be taken against them, which is not an unrealistic fear. But we need teacher voices in the debate much, much more than they are currently.

I do believe that teachers who start a blog or find other ways to get involved in the policy debate will be  listened to. I think of someone like Jose Vilson, a full-time middle school math teacher in New York. He has a successful blog and he’s gotten the chance to meet with Arne Duncan. A lot of doors have opened up for him and people are listening because he has dared – and somehow managed to find the time! – to get involved. So when teachers ask me ‘what can I do?’ I encourage them with the success stories of some of the teachers who have built up a profile and have found an audience. Most people want to learn from teachers and welcome the opportunity to hear from them.

Related Posts:
Top 5 Myths and Lies About Teachers and Their Profession
Crazy Things People Say To Teachers – And How To Respond
How Bad Education Policies Demoralize Teachers
‘I Was a Bad Teacher’: Five Months In a Corporate School Reform Nightmare
How Blaming Teachers Shortchanges Students

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Why Girls Tend to Get Better Grades Than Boys Do Mon, 22 Sep 2014 02:43:05 +0000 twalker As the new school year ramps up, teachers and parents need to be reminded of a well-kept secret: Across all grade levels and academic subjects, girls earn higher grades than boys. Not just in the United States, but across the globe, in countries as far afield as Norway and Hong Kong. This finding is reflected in a recent study by psychology professors Daniel and Susan Voyer at the University of New Brunswick. Source: The Atlantic

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A School Without Principals? Yes, Really Mon, 22 Sep 2014 01:47:40 +0000 twalker More often, teachers across the nation are looking to restructure their schools’ governance models and run them on their own. At a time when teacher evaluations and accountability have become linchpins in widespread and federally backed school improvement plans, the movement is born partly out of a frustration with the structure of America’s public school system and top-down reform. Source: U.S. News

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Teacher Contract Campaign Puts Student Learning Front and Center Thu, 18 Sep 2014 12:46:58 +0000 twalker By Mary Ellen Flannery

The yard signs multiplied in the snowy front yards of St. Paul, Minnesota, by the hundreds early this year, and they said, often in hand-drawn red letters, “St. Paul children deserve… Small Class Sizes!!” Or, “St. Paul children deserve… Librarians!” Or “St Paul children deserve… Teaching Not Testing!

The answer varied from house to house, street to street, but there was tremendous unity on one point: Parents were working hand-in-hand with teachers across the St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) as they collectively bargained a new contract, and they were counting on that contract to support their children’s public education.

“This isn’t just a story of a successful contract campaign,” said NEA Executive Director John Stocks. “This is a story about parents, educators, and community leaders joining in partnership to co-create solutions. We hope the St. Paul experience becomes a model for others.”

This particular chapter of the story ends with a great union contract that supports learning in St. Paul schools and includes specific provisions around:

  • Smaller class sizes, especially in schools in high-poverty neighborhoods;
  • Additional access for preschool students to St. Paul’s excellent pre-K programs;
  • 42 new positions for library specialists, nurses, social workers, and counselors;
  • The development of school climate teams in school, which must include parents;
  • Expansion of St. Paul’s innovative home-visit program;
  • New language that allows teachers to initiate school redesign processes in their schools, and;
  • A reduction by 25 percent to the time spent on testing and test prep.


But the story begins a few years ago, when St. Paul union leaders began to think about their union in a different way. Traditionally, it had been like a soda machine. (Or a pop machine, if you live in Minnesota…) “You put in your money, your dues, pushed a button, and hopefully whatever you wanted popped out — a pay raise, or resolution to your grievance,” said SPFT organizer Paul Rohlfing. “The problem with that is what do you do when it doesn’t come out? You kick it, right? It’s the machine’s fault!”

Membership in the St. Paul union would become more like a gym membership, said Rohlfing. If folks want results, they have to show up and participate. “If you don’t show up, you’re not going to get stronger!” he said. At the same time, SPFT began connecting their work, as a union, to the reasons that their members wanted to be teachers in the first place: To help kids learn.

In 2012, SPFT’s then-president Mary Cathryn Ricker, now the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, invited her members, plus parents and community members, to participate in a series of group discussions about two books, The Schools Children Deserve by Alfie Kohn and Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Our Public Schools by Barnett Berry. “Parents, teachers, support professionals, and community members built relationships around three basic questions: What are the schools their children deserve? Who are the teachers our children deserve? And what is the profession these teachers deserve?” recalled SPFT vice president Nick Faber.

Eventually the answers to those questions, offered jointly by emboldened parents and empowered teachers, drove the union’s priorities in contract negotiations. And, while these answers were not the typical contract fodder of higher salaries and better benefits, they did represent workplace issues that deeply impact St. Paul students’ opportunities to learn.

From left, Kimberly Colbert, Mary Cathryn Ricker and Nick Faber.

One was the “education of the whole child.” In St. Paul, before the new contract was ratified, more than 39,000 students had access to just 10 licensed media specialists. “There is nothing like a licensed media specialist to update your collection, engage kids in reading, and help them access books and do research,” noted Faber. Schools shared nurses, getting one for just one day a week.  And art, music, and physical education programs were rare at Farber.

Another issue was parent-family engagement. “We have a whole lot of parent-family engagement in St. Paul, but the problem is it doesn’t usually mean parents have been partnering with teachers,” said Faber. The new contract would not only expand the union’s excellent home-visit program, but it also would allow teachers to pilot “academic parent-teacher teams,” requiring parents and teachers to meet three times a year for at least 75 minutes a time to talk about academics.

Parents wanted more access to St. Paul’s public preschool programs, which had annual waiting lists that topped 600 kids, and teachers wanted them to get it. Everybody talked about smaller class sizes — “No surprise there. Any time you put parents and teachers in the room, you’re going to hear this is a priority for improving our schools… Our proposal allowed for differentiation so that that high-poverty schools would have lower class-size caps,” said Faber. Teachers also called for expansion of the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program, which helps to support and strengthen new and probationary teachers, and the need for more culturally relevant education. Everybody said, “Test less! Teach more!”


When the union and the district sat down at the bargaining table last year, the union insisted that negotiations be open to the public. They had nothing to hide. But after a few months, the school district’s negotiators walked out of bargaining, filing for state mediation. The move to mediation automatically closed negotiations to the public, and also opened the door to a possible strike by teachers.

Things got serious: More than 4,000 signatures from parents, students, and community members were delivered to the school board, urging them to settle for the good of students. Teachers and parents joined forces around “walk in” demonstrations, arriving at school together in a red sea of color-coordinated scarves and hats. “We made over 1,000 red-fleece scarves in one week!” said Faber.

And then, the signs started sprouting up, by the hundreds. The union had provided a blank canvas for families to ponder: Each sign said, “St. Paul Children Deserve…” And then parents and children sat down together to consider their answer. Do they deserve smaller class sizes? Less testing? “It reinforced what we know our community actually thinks about teachers,” Ricker said.

Just a few days before the SPFT’s scheduled strike vote, teachers and community members met for the largest rally ever at the school district office building. The union walked into negotiations, hearing the cheers of hundreds of parents and students. No less than 23 hours later, on the morning of February 20, they walked out with a contract agreement.

Teachers, parents, and students had won on every issue, but union leaders still consider their contract a “work in progress.” It’s only a start toward building the schools that St. Paul children deserve, said Ricker. More action—collective action—is ahead in St. Paul.

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L.A. Schools Police will Return Grenade Launchers Thu, 18 Sep 2014 12:01:40 +0000 twalker Los Angeles Unified school police officials said Tuesday that the department will relinquish some of the military weaponry it acquired through a federal program that furnishes local law enforcement with surplus equipment. The move comes as education and civil rights groups have called on the U.S. Department of Defense to halt the practice for schools. The Los Angeles School Police Department, which serves the nation’s second-largest school system, will return three grenade launchers but intends to keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle it received through the program. Source: Los Angeles Times

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Guess What? Millennials Are Readers Thu, 18 Sep 2014 11:21:15 +0000 twalker Millennials may be thought of as the iPhone generation, but it seems plenty of them still enjoy an old-fashioned book. Pew Research surveyed 6,000 Americans ages 16 and over for a report called “Younger Americans andPublic Libraries.” They found that 88% of adults under 30 read a book in the past year, while only 79% of those 30 and over read one. Adults 65 and over were the age group least likely to have read a book this year, according to Pew. Source: USA Today

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A Call for New Charter School Standards Wed, 17 Sep 2014 10:33:36 +0000 twalker A new report just released by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University calls for increased accountability, transparency and equity in the taxpayer-funded charter school sector. The Institute is proposing standards to be implemented into state and charter authorizer policies that would better serve all students and protect the public’s investment in public education. Approximately 2.57 million students are enrolled in over 6,000 charter schools nationwide. “Charter sector standards are key to making sure that more of our charter schools serve their students well and do not make the job of our traditional public education sector even more challenging,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. Source: National Education Association

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