The scoop

Jon Schnur, "ideolocrat" poster boy, will not work for Obama

[This post has been updated to include a comment from Jon Schnur.]

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Jon Schnur, the education policy expert who has been working as an advisor to President Barack Obama and played a pivotal role in writing the federal stimulus plan for schools, will not serve in the Obama administration. He will instead return to running the nonprofit principal-training program New Leaders for New Schools group that he co-founded, according to an e-mail he sent recently to members of New Leaders.

Schnur is one of the most high-profile members of the next-generation “reform” camp of Democrats, who push for dramatic changes in public schools, including strong accountability measures. He had been named as a likely chief of staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and was serving as a senior adviser to Duncan, helping him craft the education part of the stimulus bill.

Schnur’s close role in the administration had been seen as a signal of its direction on education, suggesting that the president was siding with the camp of education advocates that includes Schnur (and for which we singled Schnur out as a spokesman), rather than with the camp that is more skeptical of recent accountability efforts.

As word of Schnur’s plans spread around Washington, D.C., the major question I’m hearing people ask is why he is not entering the administration — and what that says about the administration’s direction. (I am in D.C. for the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association, where I am becoming a board member.)

Duncan addressed the divide obliquely last night in a speech to EWA members, saying that he wants to work with reporters to break through divides and talk about “facts.”

In the e-mail he sent to New Leaders members, which I obtained through a source and which is included in full at the end of this post, Schnur said that he is “excited” to return to the organization. He said he believes the most important work for education advocates right now is to prove that children in poverty can exceed:

…there is nothing more important in  American education right now than to demonstrate how the breakthrough results that have happened in individual classrooms and schools can happen at unprecedented scale (in hundreds of schools and indeed across entire school systems) for children in poverty.  I believe more strongly than ever that we as a community of leaders can and will demonstrate this kind of dramatic student achievement in schools across our country.

I’ve reached out to Schnur for comment. Schnur sent me this comment in which he explains his decision not to seek a position in the federal Department of Education:

President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan are extroardinary champions and leaders who are helping our nation invest in our future and dramatically improve education. I have been so honored to advise and support them over the past several months during my leave of absence from New Leaders. This experience has confirmed for me what drove me to create and lead New Leaders in the first place. First, that breakthrough success in education is urgently needed and possible. Second, there is nothing more important in education than demonstrating and codifying how the breakthrough results that have happened in individual classrooms and schools can happen at unprecedented scale for our students in greatest need. I have decided to return to New Leaders for the same reason I chose to leave the Clinton-Gore White House to found New Leaders a decade ago: to help a community of results-oriented principals and leaders drive dramatic improvements in our schools for hundreds of thousands of students nationwide, demonstrate that success is possible at scale in American public education, and leverage the knowledge we create to change education nationwide.

I am so confident in this Administration and its outstanding education team’s commitment, readiness, and ability to lead dramatic improvements in education. And I look forward to contributing to — and one day celebrating — the results that all of us in education will help achieve for our children and society.

Here’s Schnur’s full e-mail to members of New Leaders:

To the New Leaders Community –
I hope that you, your teams, and your students are having a good, productive school year, and that you and your families are doing well.
As you know, I have been on a leave of absence from New Leaders since September in order to advise the Obama for America presidential campaign, serve on the Presidential Transition Team, and serve as a senior policy advisor to Secretary Arne Duncan.  I am so excited to see the growing potential – in our nation and in the New Leaders community – to achieve our mission of high achievement for every child.
I am writing you today to provide an update on my plans.  As I shared with the New Leaders staff earlier this month, I am excited to share with you the news that I have decided to return to New Leaders.   I will begin to re-engage as an active board member in May (including participating in our spring Foundations in New Orleans with our 130+ member Cohort 8), take some long-overdue vacation time with Elisa and our kids, and return full-time into my role as CEO later by the end of June.
It is an honor to help a new President and Administration leverage what has been learned in schools and classrooms to drive dramatic achievement gains for all students.   The past seven months have confirmed for me two core convictions that have driven our community for the past nine years.
First, that quality education for all children is achievable, essential, and urgently needed to create a better future for our nation and world.
Second, there is nothing more important in  American education right now than to demonstrate how the breakthrough results that have happened in individual classrooms and schools can happen at unprecedented scale (in hundreds of schools and indeed across entire school systems) for children in poverty.  I believe more strongly than ever that we as a community of leaders can and will demonstrate this kind of dramatic student achievement in schools across our country.
In order to act on those convictions, I am excited to return to New Leaders to help drive these changes deeply in our schools and school systems as we support each other and rigorously analyze and share the practices that are and aren’t driving big improvements in student success.  I am also excited to leverage our shared learnings from the New Leaders community to drive even broader impact in our communities, states, and nationally.
I am so grateful for what you do every day – for your commitment to children, for your leadership, and for the results you are making possible for our students.   And I am so grateful for the outstanding leadership and management that my partner LaVerne Srinivasan, our New Leaders management team, and our entire organization have provided over these past months and will continue to provide as we move into this vital next phase of our work together.
Meanwhile on the personal front, it is with great joy that I share that Elisa and I are expecting our third child this fall.  Elisa, Matthew, Elizabeth and I are very excited – and welcome the good counsel and advice from those of you who have parented three small children.
I look forward to reconnecting with the New Leaders community in the weeks ahead, learning deeply from you and your experiences, and celebrating the results of your hard work as they pay off in significant ways for our students.
With respect and admiration for all that you do each day – now and in the marathon that we are in together on behalf of every child,

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.