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“We Know the Kids Can Achieve”

By / 6.18.2010

The following is an excerpt from Rep. Jared Polis’s (D-CO) remarks at the PPI Capital Forum — Turnaround Schools: Rising to the Challenge:

Let me start by thanking the Progressive Policy Institute for their pioneering work, their work that led to the explosion of the charter school movement…as well as the support of PPI for education reform generally, which truly is a civil-rights issue. This is an issue of how does our society achieve equality, equality of opportunity, regardless of your race, your income bracket, your geography. The fact that you should have equality of free public education, regardless of your ZIP code, is the civil-rights issue and challenge for our current generation.

On the current blueprint for the administration: I’d give it an A-minus….If you’re asking me how to get it to an A, I would say, more of a focus on early childhood, as well as a focus on the continuum of early childhood all the way through higher education. And Colorado and other states are doing great things around access to higher education at the high-school level, moving to dual-enrollment options. I would love to see more of a federal emphasis on some of these programs that are successful on a state-by-state basis.

Two, I personally would like to see more explicit preservation and support for what had been done under No Child Left Behind with supplemental services and after-school programs, some of which have been proven effective, some of which haven’t been — but letting the data drive the process, in terms of making sure quality after-school programs are available in schools where the kids need it, be they provided by private providers or the school district itself.

…Personally, I would also like to see as much focus on career readiness as college readiness. I think that the plan gives short shrift to what we traditionally call vocational education in favor of college readiness, which, of course, is critical….But there is the reality that half of our kids or more will not necessarily be matriculating for a four-year university. Let’s look at what real, employable skills they can get from our public education system, even if those services are delivered by community colleges at our high school campuses or the kids are taking college courses while they’re there. Let’s look at that career-readiness piece at the same level as the college-readiness piece.

Kids really need to graduate and a diploma needs to mean both career and college readiness. They always put the career and college readiness piece in the verbiage, but really, everything below it is about college readiness, not career readiness. So that’s a personal issue that I would have….

Clearly, the turnaround area is one of the most topical and important areas. These provide a toolbox approach for capable and competent superintendents to take the reforms that they need at the schools that are persistently failing. Now, first of all, we need to acknowledge there is no excuse for a persistently failing school. People love to make excuses.

They say, well, they’re all – you know, none of them speak English or they’re all from poor communities or none of them have good home lives – and those are all very real challenges, and we all support a holistic approach to public policy. I think our health-care bill that the Congress recently passed will go a long way toward making sure that families from all economic background have the kinds of health care they need.

But again, we have seen models succeed with kids from diverse demographic backgrounds. We have seen schools in my district in Colorado, a charter school, Ricardo Flores Magon Academy, third-grade, 80 percent ESL, 90 percent free and reduced lunch, and yet, they reached 95 percent proficiency on the state test in reading and 100 percent proficiency in math. Again, you look at the demographics and you can say, why is this school succeeding, whereas another school that serves the exact same demographic – low-income, ESL, has almost, you know, the reverse, with only 10 to 15 percent of the kids proficient at grade level?

So no excuses. We know the kids can achieve. Let’s make sure that they have the opportunity to attend a school that allows them to fulfill their potential.

For a full transcript of the event, click here (PDF). For the video, click here.