Posts by Nora Kern

 

Nora Kern

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Public Charter School Alum Will Swim for Olympic Gold

Have you succumbed to Olympic feverWe certainly have. So we were excited to discover that Andrew Gemmell, who will be representing the USA in the Men’s 1500 meter freestyle race (a.k.a. the marathon of swimming), proudly hails from a public charter high school. Gemmell graduated from the Charter School of Wilmington—which has been recognized as one of the Best High Schools on the U.S. News & World Report rankings—in 2009. The Men’s 1500-meter freestyle has heats on Friday, August 3, and the medal round is on Saturday August 4 at 2:36 p.m. ET. Best of luck to Andrew! Andrew Gemmell Picture                 Photo: Andrew Gemmell, via USA Swimming National Team Bios
Nora Kern

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Spelling out Success: A Wyoming Public Charter Student’s Path to the Scripps National Spelling Bee

When you ask the average twelve year-old, ‘what’s the hardest word you’ve ever had to spell?’ most probably couldn’t give you an answer. Then again, Lia Eggleston isn’t your typical twelve year-old. After a moment’s reflection, the poised 8th grader, who attends Snowy Range Academy—a public charter school in Laramie, Wyoming—definitively responds, “koan.” Not only do I have no idea what this word means, I have to ask Lia to spell it for me. Lia is the winner of the 2012 Wyoming State Spelling Bee. With that accomplishment comes a next step that has been a dream for Lia: being a competitor in the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee. The event, which has captivated audiences and Hollywood (fiction and nonfiction films), will be held in National Harbor, Maryland on May 29-31, 2012. Lia’s path to becoming a spelling bee champion was inspired at home: her brother participated in a state spelling bee, so she decided to give it a try. She admitted that her first year of competition included a few lucky guesses, such as Japanese-rooted word “koan,” and Lia ended up placing 2nd in the 2010 Wyoming State Spelling Bee. From there, she became more dedicated in pursuit of the state title. She began studying and memorizing words from Spell It!, a list of a approximately 1,150 words created in cooperation with Merriam-Webster as a study aid for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In her second attempt, Lia placed 3rd in the 2011 Wyoming State Spelling Bee. Spelling Bee Headshot (1)               Photo: Lia Eggleston’s official headshot for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. With her mantra “the only place left is 1st” keeping her motivated, Lia began working with a coach, University of Wyoming student Jen Black, who was a former Scripps Spelling Bee competitor. Together, they study word origins—Lia notes that the Greek and Latin derived words are easy once you have roots memorized, Spanish and Japanese-based words are more phonetic, but words with Germanic and Slavic bases are really hard—and practice the most challenging words on the Spell It! list. Lia estimates that she spends at least a few hours on the weekend and an hour after school with Jen once or twice each week practicing, adding in a half hour a day before school doing computerized spelling tests over the past month.  The study limit permitted by Scripps is four hours a day, but Lia’s eighth grade schoolwork at Snowy Range Academy Charter School, and her other extracurricular activities—cello, dance, and theater—mean that she has to make tough choices about how to spend her time. With the support of her Snowy Range Academy and dance school classmates (see picture below), who Lia says are “pretty excited” for her, and teachers (“they already knew I had won the state bee before I could tell them”), Lia has her eye on the prize. She will just have time to finish her school year (classes end on May 25th) before flying to the East Coast for the competition on the 27th. As a representative of the public charter school movement, we will “bee” cheering her on. You can follow Lia and the National Bee on www.spellingbee.com, Facebook, or on ESPN during the week of the Bee. G-O Lia! Even I can spell that one. Spelling Bee-Pfeffernuss             Photo: Lia Eggleston (bottom row, second from right) spells her favorite word (Pfeffernuss–a German spice cookie) with help from her friends in the Laramie Dance Center’s Advanced Irish Step dance class. Photo credit: Anne Brande, photographer at Ludwig Photography.
Nora Kern

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Systemic impact: E.L. Haynes, (Washington, D.C.)

In conjunction with the release of our newest issue brief, the Charter Blog is looking at ways public charter school leaders design their school mission to meet diverse community needs. Previous blogs (see here> and here) looked at how a school and school model were growing and adapting to the needs of their community. Today, we take a deeper look at mission-based activities conducted by E.L. Haynes, in addition to the practices noted in our issue brief. E.L. Haynes, a year-round public charter school that opened in the 2004-2005 school year, is based on a mission that encompasses racial, socioeconomic and home language diversity.  Through strategically locating in a central neighborhood that is accessible by the city’s public bus and subway systems, the school is able to attract families of various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds from every ward in D.C.  Our issue brief <insert hyperlink> explores E.L. Haynes’ practices in attracting a diverse student population and the instructional staff’s rigorous use of data to drive continuous improvement. E.L. Haynes serves grades pre-school through nine, with plans to grow through grade 12. However, the school does not have plans to expand into another school campus. So the school governance board is looking to expand its impact on education reform in the District of Columbia and across the country. To do this, E.L. Haynes has taken its data-driven decisionmaking model and made it a platform for creating a broader impact beyond its walls. E.L. Haynes has launched collaborative projects with other D.C. charter and district schools which build on the insights gained at the school. The four systemic reform areas and the current initiatives are: building human capital (The Capital Teaching Residency Program with KIPP DC), convening practitioners (D.C. Race to the Top’s Professional Learning Community of Effective Strategies), launching innovative practices (LearnZillion and D.C. Race to the Top’s SchoolForce Consortium), and shaping policy (special education, competency-based high school graduation, teacher evaluation).  E.L. Haynes believes that these four high yield strategies will help elevate the learning of all D.C. public school students. EL Haynes Performance (45)             For more information on E.L. Haynes, please see their case study in our issue brief and visit their website. Photo: E.L. Haynes students performing at the 2009 Champion for Charters Reception.
Nora Kern

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Expanding the school model: Citizens of the World Charter Schools (Los Angeles metro area)

In conjunction with the release of our newest issue brief, the Charter Blog is looking at ways public charter school leaders design their school mission to meet diverse community needs. Building the school model Citizens of the World Charter Schools (CWC) aims to provide an excellent public education that is academically rigorous and socioeconomically, racially and culturally diverse, and builds community both within and outside of the school. Their flagship school, CWC Hollywood, opened in fall 2010 after a full planning year, delivering an intellectually challenging, experiential learning environment that is designed to build each students confidence, potential, and individual responsibility as citizens of the world in which we live. The Hollywood school is the first of a network of schools to open in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with two additional schools approved to open in Silver Lake in the fall 2012 and Mar Vista in fall 2013 . CWC deeply believes that demand for high performing, neighborhood schools exists within many communities across the country.  Citing the hundreds of families who sit on waitlists for other strong, diverse charter schools, CWC feels compelled to meet the demand, and sees strategic, aggressive growth as the lever to do so. Taking it national CWC evaluates potential school markets by analyzing the demographics of neighborhoods and identifying neighborhoods that could attract a diverse student population through organic growth and community outreach (as opposed to employing a weighted lottery). Taking this into account, as well as the potential state’s charter school law, per pupil funding, parent demand, and talent on the ground, CWC selects new sites and begins to identify parents and community leaders who are supportive of the mission and vision.  CWC—which sees itself as somewhat of a hybrid between a charter management organization (CMO) and charter school incubator—strives to build high quality teams to run schools with the CWC mission, yet leave enough room within the CWC brand to give school leaders true autonomy to make school-level decisions that are responsive to and reflective of the community it serves. Recognizing that this takes time and grassroots organizing, CWC works to identify new sites early enough to ensure comprehensive outreach to the community. CWC’s involvement in the California and New York  markets has yielded different lessons in terms of adapting to local policies. In California, which ranks as the 43rd lowest state for per pupil funding allotments when labor is factored,  employing non-classroom staff to conduct community outreach is nearly cost prohibitive. So school location in diverse neighborhoods is of the utmost importance, since that will be the primary means to attract the desired student population. Other funding issues, like deferrals and mid-year cuts, create pressured revenue streams for charter schools. In New York, charter schools are held accountable for matching the enrollment population—not neighborhood population—of district schools. Therefore, CWC’s focus on student diversity could be difficult because schools with a focus on diversity would seem to be faced with inherent challenges in complying with this requirement. CWC will test the national pulse for creating K-12 schools that open a pathway to college while learning in diverse school settings as it strives to build a network of schools across the country. CWC Blog           For more information on Citizens of the World Charter Schools, please visit their website. Photo: Citizens of the World Charter School website.
Nora Kern

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Incubating a diversity-focused charter school: Bricolage Academy (New Orleans)

In conjunction with the release of our newest issue brief,  the Charter Blog is looking at ways public charter school leaders design their school mission to meet diverse community needs. The question of which students a charter will serve is a critical inquiry that must be considered throughout all phases of school development (and throughout the life of the school). Schools in the incubation phase can shed particular light on the if/then considerations that founders must balance in order to launch their envisioned charter school. Josh Densen is working with 4.0 Schools—a charter incubator that focuses on talent development to build charter school leadership teams—to launch Bricolage Academy, a proposed New Orleans charter school that is diverse by design. Densen began the inquiry process for his school in July 2011, and, as of January 2012, he has begun to work on the charter application. For Densen, socio-economic diversity is a value to celebrate and a prerequisite for future academic and professional success. Densen does not have an ideal student demographic population; his admissions process reserves 40 percent of each class for free and reduced price lunch (FRL)-eligible students, 30 percent for non-FRL students, and 30 percent for a general population without income preferences. However, there is an “at risk” provision in Louisiana’s charter school statute that requires a charter school’s population to mirror the demographic composition of the district from where the students transferred (roughly 62 percent FRL students to match the state demographic for district schools, and even higher within Orleans Parish). As a result of this provision, Densen has a few considerations to weigh when he submits his charter application for authorizer approval. Densen is considering use of a weighted lottery to achieve the socioeconomic diversity described above. That said, if Densen decides to not use a weighted lottery, he can attempt to influence the demographics of the school’s population with a geographic catchment area preference. Locating the school in an area of New Orleans that is already diverse may result in a diverse student population at the school, however, due to New Orleans status as a near-100 percent charter and all choice district, there is no guarantee that a diverse population will endure if families throughout the system choose to attend his school or the neighborhood demographics shift over time. Using a weighted lottery will further the mission of the school and assure parents and families of the school’s commitment to diversity, a quality valued by many New Orleans residents. Densen recognizes that use of a weighted lottery will make Bricolage ineligible for federal CSP funding. The enthusiastic support he receives from a broad range of New Orleans residents and philanthropies reaffirms his commitment to socio-economic diversity. Josh Densen Blog           Photo: Josh Densen For more information on the use of weighted lotteries, please see our issue brief. You can learn more about Bricolage Academyhere.
Nora Kern

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March Madness: Player of the Year attended a Chicago public charter high school

University of Kentucky star Anthony Davis has won the Naismith Trophy for men’s college player of the year. Davis, who is the second freshman to earn the Naismith Trophy, has another unique line on his resume; he attended a Chicago charter high school that didn’t have a gym. Perspectives Charter School is an award-winning Near South Side school designed by Chicago architect Ralph Johnson. The absence of a gym is one of many ways that Johnson and his clients kept costs down. In an interview, Davis explained why he chose Perspectives despite its notable absence of athletic facilities: “I didn’t go there for basketball. The academic program was great. They have a 95 percent rate of kids graduating and going to college, so my dream was always to go to college, so I decided to go there.” We wish Davis and the Wildcats the best of luck tonight. We love to see successful charter graduates (and a KY win will give me official bragging rights for my bracket)!
Nora Kern

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Protect Charter School Teacher Retirement Funds!

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued a Proposed Regulation titled “Determination of Government Plan Status.” This regulation would force states to prohibit charter school teachers from participating in state retirement plans. Presently, every single state that authorizes charter schools either requires or permits charter school participation in the state’s retirement system. Therefore, this regulation would negatively impact nearly all charter school teachers in the country. In total, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates more than 90,000 charter school teachers - more than 90% of our country’s charter school workforce – will be affected by the Proposed regulations. All of these teachers will be forced to either leave their charter schools or lose their accrued pension wealth. For this reason, we cannot allow these regulations to be adopted in their current form. We encourage you to take action here. And for a more detailed analysis of the issue, check out the excerpted blog below that was co-authored by our Senior Director of Legal Affairs. Flypaper Blog, Thomas B. Fordham Institute Michael Podgusrky, Stuart Buck, and Renita Thukral / January 23, 2012 Charter school teachers would be hit hard by new Treasury Department ruling on pensions When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did not participate in the state plan. In 2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the Treasury Department approved. The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a plan to be a “governmental plan.” In November, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations on the subject, and the news is not good for charter school teachers in Louisiana, or anywhere, since these new rules would affect charter schools in all states. The legal issues are complex, and in a forthcoming study, two of us (Buck and Thukral) will attempt to sort them out. However, the nub of the matter centers on whether charter school teachers are considered government employees. In particular, are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that they can participate in state and local pension plans?…Click here to read the full analysis.
Nora Kern

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Seeing is Believing

Across the nation, more than 5,600 high-quality public charter schools are providing 2 million students with revolutionary educational opportunities. While many people know that charter schools are working to close the achievement gap and transform children’s lives, some have never seen these inspiring public schools in action. NAPCS, joined by numerous charter school advocates nationwide, want to change that! Today is National Visit a Public Charter School Day, an event that corresponds with National School Choice Week. Charter schools across the country have invited legislators, reporters and community business leaders to tour high-quality public charter schools. These visits are designed to familiarize visitors with the charter school model and demonstrate the benefits of high-quality public charter schools. It is our hope that because of this experience, participants will be more likely to engage in the charter movement as advocates, board members, and financial supporters to help ensure that all students have high quality education options. In addition to charter school visits, state charter support organizations (CSOs) are providing members of the media and state representatives preparing to kick off their legislative sessions with information on the role of charters in education reform. More than 14 states and the District of Columbia are participating in National Visit a Public Charter School Day activities. To learn more about National Visit a Public Charter School Day, we encourage you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see highlights from events across the country.
Nora Kern

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Details from the Dashboard

Do you find yourself lying awake at night wondering about specific indicators of charter school growth? No? Well lucky for you, we do. The Public Charter School Dashboard (Dashboard) contains statistics and indicators about the growth and quality of public charter schools at the national, state, district, and school levels. To make good on our midnight musings—and to help paint a dynamic picture of charter schools across the nation—we’ve created reports on specific indicators pulled from the most current data housed within the Dashboard. These “Details from the Dashboard” provide analysis and context for emerging trends in the national charter school sector. You can spend your waking hours checking out our concise reposts on charter schools managed bynon-profit charter management organizations (CMOs) and for-profit education management organizations (EMOs)charter school openings and closures during school year 2011-2012, and unionized charter schools. With the most pertinent data pertaining to “hot button” charter school policy issues, and the regular addition of new content, these Details from the Dashboard are reports that won’t put you to sleep!
Nora Kern

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The Quest for Quality

A recent op-ed by Douglas Thaman, Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association (MCPSA), makes a strong call for the enforcement of quality in public charter schools operated by Imagine Schools Inc. While the issues generally facingMissouri charter schools—and those specifically perpetuated by Imagine Schools—are extreme, they are problems universally faced by charter schools: high facilities costs, the need for a strong governance body to set policies for sound business operations, and authorizer enforcement of quality and accountability. MCPSA is right to call for a state auditor investigation of the Imagine Schools practices that shortchange its students of a superior education. As a sector, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Whether it is through additional support or ultimately the closure of underperforming schools, or setting a new performance bar for high achievers, the public charter school sector must be vigilant when it comes to enforcing quality. And as MCPSA’s demand demonstrates, enforcement of quality starts in our own back yard.