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A National Imperative: Helping English Learners

  
  
  
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For a long time, I have wanted to offer my perspective on the needs of the nearly six million English learners (ELs) in our public schools. My interest is both professional and personal – I was an English learner myself. My parents came from Puerto Rico in search of opportunity, and I was born in New York City, growing up with Spanish as my first language. 

California Connections Academy combines a charter school with home schooling. Now that is School Choice!

  
  
  
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The California Connections Academy is an online tuition free school that combines the advantages of a charter school with home schooling using modern Internet technology.

The way it works is that students attend class at home, as part of a computer network that includes other students and a teacher. The class, even though the participants are hundreds of miles apart, acts just like a regular classroom. The teacher can give a lesson, using an electronic white board and power point. Students can be asked and answer questions or participate in group discussions. Files and approved educational websites can be shared among the students doing group projects.

Another feature of the California Connections Academy include a personalized learning plan which is tailored to each student according to his or her academic abilities and interest. There is also a certain flexibility built into the system, so that students can participate in outside activities such as field trips or seminars. The online lessons are recorded for later review, useful for students who cannot attend the live versions of the classes.

Parental involvement is encouraged, with many being designated as learning coaches, helping their children with their school work much like home schooling parents do. There is an array of support services that will help the parents in their tasks to guide and facilitate their children’s education.

Finally, in answer to the often repeated criticism of home schooling, that it does not facilitate enough socialization among students, the California Connections Academy sponsors a number of outside activities, including participatory sports, field trips, and parties.









Changing the conversation about Innovation and Education in Latin America

  
  
  
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Twenty years ago, universal access to education was the major challenge in Latin American school system, according to Marcelo Cabrol, head of external relations at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), based in Washington, DC. “And it looks like we have done well in that regard, improving access in both primary and secondary education,” he says.
Cabrol was speaking at the launch of an exciting conversation with leading education entrepreneurs from the US and Latin America, held a few weeks ago in Washington. The event, hosted by the IDB, brought together over fifty like minded individuals working on innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology at a global, regional, and national scale.

Beginning from the premise that access has improved, however, the discussion then turned to the pressing issue: that in terms of improving quality, the education debate has largely stagnated in recent years. Quality has failed to improve despite growing financial investments in education in both absolute terms and relative to GDP.

“There is a need to start discussing terms like ‘leapfrogging,’ to be able to move faster in providing better quality to all students,” argued Antonio Caparrós, manager of Fundacion INICIA, a social investment fund based in the Dominican Republic. “We need to introduce innovation to the system, the education debate needs to focus more on terms like productivity, competitiveness, assessments and benchmarks.”

Such a gathering of several dozen entrepreneurs all working in the education reform space in Latin America is an innovation in and of itself. A decade ago, this type of community didn’t exist – the few private companies and ventures where text-book publishers. And the region’s education conferences would convene government officials and academic experts, but not the private sector or other types of new players.

Cristina Pombo, a leader of innovation strategy at the IDB, was one of the central forces in developing the concept and working to convene the group. “The event was intended to work as a catalyst of new ideas and new players,” she says. But she recognizes that such an event, while motivating, is only the beginning. “The challenge will be to keep consistently organizing, and continuing to generate dialogue between the private and the public sectors.”

Cabrol is optimistic, given the pace of change that he has already witnessed. Just a few decades ago, “traditional methods for delivering education were king, and very few innovations existed,” he recounts. “I could count them on one hand – the Escuela Nueva (New School) in Colombia, Fe y Alegria (Faith and Joy) private schools, the subsidized schools in Chile. And that’s about it.”

Fast forward twenty years, and there are new models surging in every country in the region – mostly private sector, including both for profit and non-profit organizations. For example Utel, an online university in Mexicofounded by David Stofenmacker; julioprofe.net, a digital content website founded by a teacher in Medellin, Colombia, Lumni, a social investment firm offering financing to students who need resources to complete college, founded by Felipe Vergara, and several investors in this sector like Luis Enrique Garcia, from Appian Venture in Colombia, Mark Grovic from New Markets in the US, and Sergio Abramowitz from Debry.  

Even given this sea change, the workshop identified a number of areas where improvement will be key for the future of education in Latin America. Participants focused on how to transmit next generation skills, the technological platforms needed to bring new teaching tools to the classroom, the best methods to foster innovation, and to scale up successful local models. The impact of cutting edge neuroscience on our understanding of how we learn was also a fascinating topic of discussion, along with the practical application of this knowledge on classroom pedagogy and teacher training.

All of the participants agreed that teacher quality was the central issue that impacts all of the rest. Brazil’sRafael Parente summed up the group’s conclusions, arguing that “we don’t do enough to involve teachers from the very beginning.”

There is much debate over the skills students need – the so-called 21st Century skills that combine technological prowess with creativity and leadership capabilities. But there is less discussion about how to recruit and train teachers that are capable of transmitting such skills, or who possess them themselves. Online learning might be able to produce excellent content, streamline teaching processes, and reduce costs overall, but by itself it won’t be enough to teach “soft” skills like teamwork, curiosity, persistence, and tolerance of other cultures.

Improving the quality of Latin American education will depend on bringing innovation into the sector, through the participation of the private sector, which has always been out front in developing new processes, tools, and systems. Encouraging a robust community of entrepreneurs to get more involved in the issue will bring compounding benefits  and dynamic events like the one hosted by the IDB was an excellent start.

Gabriel Sanchez Zinny is president of Kuepa.com, a Latin American Blended Learning company, working in incorporating technologies to reduce drop out rates. Follow him on Twitter at @gzinny. He wrote this column forLatinvex. 
























Three-Minute Video Explaining the Common Core State Standards (Spanish version)

  
  
  

This three-minute video in Spanish explains how the Common Core State Standards will help students achieve at high levels and help them learn what they need to know to get to graduation and beyond.

Zip Codes Should Not Control Lives: Why School Choice Should Be Standard Practice

  
  
  
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Would you be happy if your zip code locked you into one choice of employer with no real option to appeal for a different option? Unless you were one of the luck few who were predispositioned to succeed at that particular kind of job, then you would probably be frustrated and upset. You can't expect everyone to want the same job because they live in a particular zone, so why should public schools be any different? Why should we expect the right educational fit for every child to be the school that happens to be geographically closest to their front door?

Every child has their own unique needs when it comes to their education, and cramming every student in a particular area into one school that may or may not meet their individual educational needs is absurd and often harmful. Having a choice of where your child receives an education can make a huge difference. When Florida enacted their tax-credit scholarship program for school choice, the results were astounding. Students who enrolled in the program overwhelmingly increased their academic success.

Improved academic performance has been the result in just about every state forward thinking enough to allow parents some control over where their child receives their education. The inability to pay private school tuition should never be a reason to leave a student languishing in an educational environment that is not properly serving their needs. Every student deserves an education that brings them to their fullest potential, and that is why it is crucial that parents receive the right of School Choice for their children.





The Growing Disconnect Between the Labor Market and Higher Education in Mexico

  
  
  
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In Latin America, there is growing evidence of a major disconnect between the skills being taught in our classrooms and the demands of the labor market. On the one hand, youth aged 18 to 24 are facing extremely high unemployment rates -- but at the same time, large numbers of positions go unfulfilled due to the lack of qualified applicants.

New Ad: Dolan to Cuomo: "Don't let us down"

  
  
  

Good Morning Communicators:
 
The fight for educational choice is heating up in the state of New York this week. Check out this new powerful ad from Invest In Ed NY, featuring His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan telling Gov. Andrew Cuomo, “Don’t let us down.”



Many success stories behind voucher schools

  
  
  
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When her son Valentin was in sixth grade, Janet Ruiz decided enough was enough. Because of language barriers, Valentin, who is from Nicaragua, wasn’t doing well in public school. In fact, he was failing. He was also being bullied mercilessly because he didn’t speak English well enough. At one point, Ms. Ruiz kept him home for two weeks, but no one from the school even called.

To Fight Inequality, Let's Focus on Education

  
  
  
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By many indications, the world has finally left the worst of the 2008 economic crisis behind. Growth is looking to pick up in the U.S. and Japan, spurring what the OECD labels as a moderately positive global economic environment. Unemployment is slowly but surely retreating, and investors are regaining their confidence in the markets.

Number of applicants for Arizona school-voucher program doubles

  
  
  
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PHOENIX — An aggressive media campaign and expanded eligibility helped double the number of applicants for the state's school voucher program, which allows students to use public funds for a private education.

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