April 2016


Last week, U.S. News and World Report released their annual ranking of the nation’s best high schools. Schools were awarded gold, silver or bronze medals based on student performance on state assessments, preparing all students for success, graduation rates, and college readiness indicators. Click here for more detailed information regarding the report’s ranking methodology.


The top 500 ranked high schools in the nation received gold medals. No high school in Nebraska fell into this category. Of the 267 Nebraska high schools included in the report, two earned a silver medal: Elkhorn South (#650 in the nation) and Elkhorn (#1785 in the nation). Eighty-nine Nebraska high schools received a bronze medal. Click here to see the Nebraska high school rankings.


The report ranks states overall based on the percentage of high schools receiving a gold or silver medal. South Dakota did not provide enough data to be included in the state by state comparison. Of the remaining 49 states and the District of Columbia, Nebraska ranked last, with 0.8% of the state’s high schools earning a top ranking. Strong education reform states, such as Florida and Massachusetts, had among the highest percentage of gold and silver medal high schools (21% in both FL and MA). Click here to see the state by state rankings.


Of the roughly fifty million students attending public K-12 schools in America, more than 2.6 million attend a public charter school. While this accounts for only 5% of all students, public charter schools account for 34 of the top 100 high schools in the United States, according to the report. Nebraska is one of only seven states in the country without a charter school law. 



The following post is by Educate Nebraska’s Executive Director, Katie Linehan.


Last winter, I treked across the 145th street bridge that connects Harlem to the Bronx to pick up a few items at a store near my apartment. Waiting in line, I began a conversation with the little girl standing next to me. Dressed in an orange and blue plaid jumper and matching orange polo shirt, with navy blue tights and black dress shoes, she stood admiring a book that would soon be hers. I asked her about the book and about her school. I learned that she was in first grade, she loved her school, and she especially loved her teacher. Her uniform gave the rest away.

When I told this little girl’s mom that I worked for Success Academy, her face lit up. She told me how her daughter was reading on her own less than a year after starting kindergarten at her Success Academy school. Then she told me of her son, the little girl’s brother. “He never won the lottery. I couldn’t get him into a charter school,” she said, “Now my first grader is teaching my fourth grader how to read.”

Despite compelling accounts from parents and educators about children thriving in charter schools, some would prefer that this mother enroll her five-year-old daughter in a school that was failing her eight-year-old son.

The Success Academy public charter school network, which predominantly serves low income children of color living in the poorest neighborhoods of New York City, started as one school in Harlem in 2006. Today, more than 10,000 children attend a Success school. On average, Success students perform better than 97% of all students in the state on annual assessments in math and reading. As evidence of effectiveness mounts and failure in the traditional system persists, more and more families want in. This year, more than 20,000 students applied for less than 3,500 available seats. One out of every two kindergartners living in Harlem applied.

While Success Academy has the capacity, will, and demand to expand, political forces, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and the teacher’s union (Success schools are non-unionized), work to curtail the network’s growth. They do so despite the overwhelming evidence that the schools are working for kids and wanted by families.

That charter schools cream the “best” students from traditional schools, making outcomes between the two systems incomparable, is a common myth used to excuse failure, explain away success, and prevent charter school expansion. The theory goes that only the “good” parents will take the necessary steps to enter a charter school lottery, leaving the “hardest-to-teach kids” in traditional district schools.

What’s happening in Harlem puts this theory to rest. Less than one in six kindergartners applying for a seat in a Success Academy school will win the lottery this year, meaning a significant number of the children attending a failing district school do so despite their parents’ best attempts to provide them with better opportunities.

Entry into a high performing school, versus a school that fails year after year, changes the entire trajectory of a child’s life. The odds, dictated by chance and circumstance, rather than children’s potential, can mean the difference between college or incarceration, a life enriched through learning or hampered by its absence. These odds are stacked against low income children of color, making schools like those in the Success Academy network transformational and the need for more schools like them profound.

When fourth graders cannot read at a first grade level, who is responsible? An antiquated and bureaucratic system that recurrently fails to educate children? The adults who put politics and special interest groups before kids? Or parents like the mom I met that night, a woman who, when it came to a choice of schools, overcame the odds for one of her children but not the other?

The growing demand for high performing public charter schools, particularly in communities flooded with failing schools, goes a long way in exposing the truth. Yet, from New York to Nebraska, rather than embracing success, some aim to block it.


Contact:    Katie Linehan

Phone:      402.915.3257

E-mail:      Katie@EducateNebraska.org


LB 930 would make ACT exam standard for all 11th graders in Nebraska

Lincoln, NE (April 4, 2016) – With a unanimous vote, the Nebraska Legislature advanced LB 930 from the first round of floor debate today. The bill would replace the 11th grade Nebraska State Assessment exam (NeSA) with the ACT, a test used to assess college readiness and required by many post-secondary institutions.

Currently, thirteen states require that all students take the ACT. Approximately 88% of eligible high school students in Nebraska participate. “This is a positive step towards adopting higher, college and career ready assessments for all students,” said Educate Nebraska’s executive director, Katie Linehan.

When optional, disadvantaged students are less likely to participate in the ACT, due in part to lower expectations and less equitable access. Many scholarships go unclaimed because students do not take the ACT or do not take it on time.

According to Education Next, Nebraska has low K-12 standards and is one of only two states to lower standards since 2011, the year NeSA assessments began. The ACT will create more consistent standards aligned with postsecondary success and allow Nebraska to assess student performance across school, district, and state lines.

“With LB 930, we can understand whether high school juniors in Nebraska are as well prepared for success as their peers in Minnesota and Missouri and whether students in Lincoln are as prepared as students in York and Waverly,” said Linehan.

For more information regarding additional benefits of LB 930, please visit: http://www.educatenebraska.org/act-assessment-a-good-move-for-students/

Educate Nebraska focuses on expanding high quality school choices, empowering effective educators, and utilizing meaningful data to drive improvement. To learn more, visit www.EducateNebraska.org.


Today the Nebraska Legislature will debate LB 930, a bill to make the ACT exam the standard 11th grade assessment for Nebraska students. This is a wise move that will benefit Nebraskans for the following reasons:


  • Standards vary from state to state. According to Education Next, since 2011, Nebraska is only one of two states in the country to lower standards (and the standards were already low). The current Nebraska state assessments (NeSA) started during the 2010-11 school year. If standards decreased since then, any change in outcomes must be weighed with that in mind.


  • The ACT exam will create consistent, high standards for all students in Nebraska. Because students across the country take the exam, and in many states all students participate, we can compare performance across state lines, as well as across school and district lines in the state. We will know how well prepared students in Nebraska are compared to students in Michigan, for example, and if students in Millard are as prepared as students in Kearney. Until we have 100% participation, any comparison based on ACT scores is unreliable.


  • High standards are good for students. Children suffer when expectations are low. Every teacher, every school, and every district should have high expectations for all students. Unfortunately, disadvantaged students frequently face lower expectations, which contributes to less learning and lower performance.


  • College access will become more equitable. Some students are not encouraged to think about college, or are led to believe it’s not a realistic option for them. As a result, many students never take the required entrance exam. This has a larger impact on students whose parents did not attend college, minority students, and students attending chronically low performing schools. The cost of taking the exam can also be a limiting factor.


  • Related to the previous point, when students do not take the entrance exam, they may miss out on opportunities for financial assistance. Many scholarships go unclaimed because students do not take the ACT on time, or do not take it at all. While college may not be the right option for every student, that decision should be left up to students and not a system that is sometimes flawed.


For these reasons, the Nebraska Legislature should pass LB 930 and move towards higher, consistent standards for all students.