2018 Best Kept Advocacy Secrets
September 6, 2018

Big Wins You Haven’t Heard of, Yet

The Eddies!—annual, advocate-nominated awards—celebrate excellent policymaking and advocacy campaigns across the country.


Below are the nominations for Best Kept Secret—a big advance in policy (or defense of) that didn’t get big press. Click on a specific nomination to see more. You can see the complete list of Eddies! nominees in other categories here.

Best Kept Secret Top Finalists:

Additional Eddies! Nominees:

Arkansas Learns

Aligning School Board Elections with Primary or General Elections

Historically, local school board elections in Arkansas were held the third Tuesday in September, a date that didn’t align with any other local, state or federal elections, and, in fact, benefited incumbent school boards, contracted administrators, district employees, teachers union, and county clerks.

In 2015, Arkansas Learns worked to pass a bill that gave districts the option to hold their school board election either in September or on the same day as the general election. While no districts proactively chose the November option, the state required it for two districts returning from state to local control. In those districts, voter turnout for school board seats set records and served as irrefutable examples of how this legislative change could increase civic engagement.

In 2017, after six years of work, legislation replacing the September option with the Primary (currently May) was finally enacted statewide.  As a result, school board elections in May 2018 set turnout records across the state, with more to come this November.

In the Pulaski County Special School District, voter turnout increased from an average of 1,163 voters in contested races in its last election to 6,399 voters in its most recent, empowering six of seven student-focused candidates to be elected. That was a 550 percent increase in turnout in a seven-zone district that decreased in size by 25 percent because of the separation of a new district.


Crafting Placement Protocol to Ensure All Students Can Access Advanced Courses

Each year, tens of thousands of high-achieving North Carolina students—disproportionately low-income and minority—are deprived of access to advanced math classes. In 2018, BEST NC successfully advocated for legislation that changes this practice. HB986 (part II) requires that all students who score in the top level of the EOC/EOG assessment be enrolled in advanced math the following year.

The fastest growing occupations require STEM skills, making math an imperative to ensure students reach their highest potential. Giving qualified students access to advanced math provides a gateway for college access and success while improving the overall strength of our workforce.

Despite considerable opposition, HB 986 passed both chambers unanimously and was signed by the governor. This is happening nationwide, and yet advocates believe that NC is the first state in the nation to establish statewide, objective math placement protocols as early as third grade, to and through the critical secondary grades.

Educate Nebraska and ExcelinEd

Creating Support to Improve Early Literacy

One of the greatest indicators of success in school and life is the ability to read on grade level by the time a student leaves third grade. Studies show children who are not reading on grade level by fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school, making them ineligible for 90 percent of the jobs in this economy. In 2018, Nebraska enacted LB 1081, which includes The Nebraska Reading Improvement Act, designed to comprehensively address stagnant literacy rates. Highlights include: creating early literacy screening to identify students with potential reading difficulties; requiring parent notification for parents of students identified with a reading difficulty in K-3; developing individual reading plans, with parents, that prescribe research-based reading interventions for the student; providing parents with reading strategies to support their children at home; and offering access to summer reading camps for struggling readers.

Parent Revolution, Teach Plus California, Center for American Progress

Establishing a School Performance Framework for Los Angeles Unified School District

California has launched its new system of accountability and support, reflected in its multicolored California School Dashboard. Parents, educators, and other advocates have expressed frustration with this dashboard with its confusing hodgepodge of colors and pie charts. In 2017, with the technical help of the Center for American Progress, Parent Revolution and Teach Plus California released a report, The Future of California’s School Accountability System, outlining how the state could incorporate an overall school quality rating into its existing multiple indicator system. After that statewide effort was unsuccessful, Parent Revolution and its partners directed its attention locally to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). In April 2018, the LAUSD School Board passed a resolution, Achieving Excellence for All: Establishing a Framework for Continuous Improvement, which would establish a districtwide school performance framework that is holistic, reliable, accurate, and consistent across all school models—reflecting the needs of parents, educators, and community members shared in the original Parent Revolution and Teach Plus report.


Education Reform through a Conservative Lens

ReadyCO has worked in bipartisan coalitions to equalize funding for charter schools, broken down barriers to school transportation, and helped defeat attempts to weaken the state’s accountability system. A ‘Republican version of DFER’, ReadyCO exists to define and advance the conservative vision for education reform using both policy and electoral strategies. They were originally launched to bring Republicans back from the brink after the uproar around standards and assessments. By framing education policy change through a conservative lens, they are creating a national model for changing the game in states where Republicans have backed away from reform, showing how ditching the bipartisan branding and focusing on identifying common ground based on a shared ideology can create results for kids. A Ready organization is needed in every purple or red state.

Additional Nominees

Teach Plus New Mexico

Adoption of State Science Standards

In fall 2017, New Mexico’s teachers fought to keep the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) intact. The successful campaign was largely under the national media radar, and yet it’s poised to positively affect a generation of New Mexico’s students. The New Mexico Public Department of Education (NMPED) pushed to update the state’s science standards, suggesting changes that would drastically change what students learn―changes that included, among others, eliminating concepts such as evolution and the human causes of climate change. In partnership with the National Education Association of New Mexico and the New Mexico Science Teachers’ Association, Teach Plus circulated a letter to support the adoption of the NGSS as written, which garnered more than 500 signatures. Teach Plus Fellows also testified and submitted letters. The NMPED subsequently announced that it would use the Next Generation Science Standards without revision. The campaign can serve as a model beyond New Mexico on what can be accomplished by bringing smart, informed teacher voice to bear on an issue.

A+ Education Partnership

New Summative State Assessment

After being named a “truth-teller” two years in a row by Achieve for the honesty of its summative state assessment, Alabama’s State Board of Education (SBOE) abruptly cancelled its contract for the ACT Aspire, due to seemingly political reasons. In the wake of that event, it appeared that “the fix” was to choose a new, untested assessment without discussion or meaningful input from stakeholders.

A+ successfully steered the process for selection of a new summative state assessment to be based on research, discussion, and inclusion of diverse perspectives from across Alabama. It helped state leaders build a relationship with national experts (the Center for Assessment), who went on to successfully facilitate the work of an Assessment Advisory Committee made up of diverse stakeholders from across Alabama.

In July 2018, Alabama’s SBOE voted to begin using a new vendor for an assessment that meets the needs of Alabama—and was overwhelmingly the choice of educators, parents, state officials, and advocates on the Assessment Committee.

HawaiiKidsCAN / 50CAN

Increasing Computer Science Access and Opportunities

HawaiiKidsCAN is a brand new organization, launching a few months before the start of its first legislative session. For that reason, there were low expectations and little awareness at the outset. However, buoyed by the “Future of Education in Hawaii” Vision Guide, David Miyashiro and his team were able to make the case for Act 51, a smart and innovative way to set up local kids for college and career success, specifically with regards to access and equity for girls and students in low-income communities. Act 51 will improve access to computer science education for students in the state by requiring each public high school to offer a computer science course, create a computer science curriculum plan for K-12, and appropriate a half million dollars for professional development in computer science. Given that 2,260 bills were introduced during the 2018 session, just 407 were sent to Governor Ige for signature, and only 19 out of 600 education-related bills passed, this was a big win for the new HawaiiKidsCAN team. It is also the first tangible takeaway from the Hawaii “Vision Guide,” which sets the stage for future policy successes that fall under four guiding stars of innovation, multilingualism, options and excellence. In order to pass this bill through nine committee hearings, the team was innovative in using student advocates, but had to overcome challenges related to scheduling, logistics, and preparation to ensure the effectiveness of the students.

Tennessee Charter School Center

Helping Solve the Facilities Problem in Tennessee

The TN Charter School Center (TCSC) devised a unique multi-prong approach to help solve the pervasive “facilities problem” in the Volunteer State. Because this is an issue that plagues almost every charter school geography across the country, TCSC is hoping to serve as a national model to help alleviate their facilities challenges. TCSC has worked to address the facilities issue via a creative combination of state-level grants; technical assistance for individual schools plus sector-wide education regarding facilities planning; local advocacy; and federal-level collaborations.

With this in mind, TCSC worked to secure up to $18 million dollars of state funding via a charter school facilities fund (the first in charter school history in TN); TCSC worked to save over $40 million dollars of public and private dollars via providing critical technical assistance to schools across the state who were not well equipped to craft effective facilities plans aligned to growth needs; TCSC worked with LIIF to secure an $8 million dollar federal grant to be leveraged for upwards of $50 million in credit enhancement for public charter school facilities (TCSC is one of only two charter associations to ever receive this federal grant); TCSC led the local efforts in Memphis to secure free facilities for certain high quality charter schools, also a first in the history of charters in TN; and TCSC is currently in the running for another federal grant that will better allow TN to share their facilities work and provide technical assistance to other associations across the country.

Other PIE Network members played supporting roles as well. TennesseeCAN and SCORE helped to advocate on key pieces of legislation pushed by TCSC and to establish a state facilities fund, while Stand for Children was a supporter of the work to secure free rent for charter schools in Memphis through the Charter Compact.

This is important work because every dollar in a charter school’s budget that has to go to facilities is a dollar that leaves the classroom. In TN, the majority of students served by public charter schools are low-income and/or students of color that have been historically underserved. So for TCSC to help solve facilities challenges is to bring more equitable access to a quality school for all students.

Tennessee SCORE and TNTP

High Standards and Improved Literacy Proficiency

The LIFT Network, 13 districts comprising nearly a third of Tennessee’s students and educators, focused on improving the quality of literacy instruction through the use of stronger aligned instructional materials and technical assistance from TNTP. This work has produced significant literacy instruction improvements in their elementary classrooms. LIFT used this experience to advocate for broader adoption of strong curricula with district leaders, state leaders, and peers across the country. They’ve done this through presentations at conferences, blog posts, and critical conversations. Their advocacy has led at least five other districts to pursue stronger aligned curricula. Their experiences gave SCORE critical insight that has allowed them to influence the state’s textbook adoption process. This advocacy will ensure that the adoption of English language arts materials in 2020 will give all Tennessee students access to high-quality, aligned curricula.

Winners will be announced at the PIE Network 2018 Summit on Thursday, Oct. 4.

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    Ashley Schmidt

    Ashley is PIE Network's Senior Director of Member Engagement & Communications

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