Posts by Nina Rees

 

Nina Rees

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5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About Education

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Though it’s easy to get lost in the myriad of negative stories and feuds swirling around American education, as we approach Thanksgiving I’d like to pause and reflect on all the positive trends impacting our education system and students. Here are my top 5 reasons for being optimistic…Read more here.

Nina Rees

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National Alliance November Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesThis month’s elections shifted the political landscape in Washington, D.C. and in state capitals across the country, and supporters of public charter schools in both parties scored solid victories. Now that attention will turn from campaigning to governing, we look forward to working with members of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate to advance sound education policy and increase support for the federal Charter Schools Program that has helped so many charter schools open their doors and begin serving students. We will also work with our state-level partners to build and strengthen relationships with new and returning governors and other state leaders. For more on our thoughts on the impact of the elections, check out this interview Todd Ziebarth did for Education Week or view my latest U.S. News column.

I encourage you to do your part, too! One great step is to take our pledge to fight for the day that parents in every community and from every walk of life will have the opportunity to send their child to a high-performing public school. With more allies on our side, we’ll have an even greater impact for students and families.

As always, thank you for all you do to support and grow our movement. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


A Revolution in Educational Innovation

1776The public charter school movement is all about quality innovation in education, so we are thrilled to partner with 1776 to connect public charter schools with innovative K-12 startups. 1776 is a global incubator and investment fund dedicated to creating opportunities for promising startups, and our partnership will help connect some of the most innovative and creative business and policy entrepreneurs with the teachers and school leaders who are working every day to improve educational opportunities for all students.

As part of the collaboration with 1776, the National Alliance will provide mentors for 1776’s Challenge Cup 2015, a global competition spanning 16 cities in 11 countries to identify the most promising startups to solve the world’s biggest challenges. In addition, this year’s Challenge Cup winners will have the opportunity to attend the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference and present their ideas to school leaders and teachers from around the country.

We’re excited to work with 1776 over the coming year to explore new and innovative ways to strengthen public education for all students.


New Report Shows Public Charter School Students are Globally Competitive

OECD ReportPublic charters schools are on a constant mission to improve quality and results so that students are prepared for the demands of a competitive global workforce. A report released last week by the National Alliance reveals the results of four public charter schools that participated in an international exam to measure their academic success against both students in the U.S. and those in developed countries. All four schools outperformed U.S. averages and demonstrated their students are prepared to compete with students across the world in reading, math, and science.

On Top of the World: Public Charter Schools and International Benchmarking, 2013-2014 examines the success of Peak to Peak Charter School (Lafayette, Colorado), NYOS Charter School (Austin, Texas), Sturgis Charter Public School (Hyannis, Massachusetts), and University Laboratory School (Honolulu, Hawaii) – and takes a look at the practices and philosophies that place them among the best schools in the world.

If you’d like to measure your school against your international peers, the OECD Test for Schools is being administered again in 2014-15. Thanks to a grant from the Kern Family Foundation, the National Alliance will pay for up to 28 schools to take the test. Click here for more details about how to participate.


Raising Our Voice for Equitable Funding

Obtaining equitable funding for public charter schools is a challenge across America. In the nation’s capital, a group of public charter school parents are asking a federal court to insist that the D.C. government live up to its charter school law and provide equal resources for public charter schools. In an op-ed published in the Washington Times, I note that D.C. charter students have been shortchanged by as much as $770 million over eight years and urge D.C.’s leaders to erase the current inequality: “By underfunding [public charter schools], the D.C. government is not only breaking its own laws, but penalizing often excellent schools to subsidize schools that aren’t doing nearly as well.” We’re hoping for a positive result from the lawsuit, so that the 45 percent of D.C. public school students who attend charters get the resources they’re entitled to. Read the full op-ed here.


Welcome to Our New Team Members

Robert Reed, Jr. has joined the National Alliance as Senior Director of Legal Affairs. Robert comes to us from the Vera Institute of Justice, where he was a senior policy adviser. His 14 years of experience as a litigator and policy leader includes service in both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, as the Associate Director of Legislative Affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and as oversight counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Robert previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., a senior judicial law clerk for the D.C. Court of Appeals, and as a litigation attorney with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C. Robert holds a B.A., with honors, from Stanford University and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. He has served on KIPP DC’s inaugural associate board, as well as the board of the Luke Moore Academy in Washington, D.C.

A writer, photographer, and self-described information geek, Riya Anandwala joins the National Alliance as Manager of Communications and Marketing. Riya started her exciting journey in the field of journalism halfway around the world in Mumbai, India, and continued her passion for writing in the American Midwest. She wrote for the Indianapolis Business Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Peoria Journal Star, and many other news websites before moving into higher education communications. Riya worked as a communications specialist for Waldorf College in Iowa and as a media relations specialist for Saint Louis University’s medical center, where she focused on promoting the institution’s cutting-edge research. Riya has a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University, Bloomington and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Mumbai, India. Riya loves talking about geography, social issues, current affairs, and all things India. She also loves to travel and try out new restaurants with her fiancé.

Rebecca David, a former intern at the National Alliance, is our newest Research Assistant. Rebecca is a D.C.-area native who earned a bachelor of science in communications at Florida State University. As Research Assistant, Rebecca ensures that the National Alliance’s database – a vital source of information about the nationwide charter school movement – is accurate and current. Prior to joining the National Alliance, Rebecca was the Production Assistant at Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, where she edited footage to create TV and radio advertisements for Democrat candidates across the United States. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys volunteering, traveling, and kayaking.


Register Now for the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference

The National Charter Schools Conference will be held June 21-24, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana! As everyone who’s been to past conferences knows, you don’t want to miss this extraordinary opportunity to connect with friends and colleagues from across America who are sustaining and growing our schools. The early registration deadline is December 19th, so be sure to register now for the lowest rates.


Support the National Alliance

You know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard about Giving Tuesday? Giving Tuesday is the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving – December 2nd this year – and it’s a day designated for supporting charities that are especially meaningful to you. We encourage you to support the great charter schools and charter support organizations that are giving hope to more than 2.5 million students and families around America. And, of course, we would be immensely grateful for your donation to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools so that we can continue our work on behalf of the entire charter school community. The National Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so your donation is completely tax deductible. Thank you for your support – and Happy Thanksgiving!

Donate now!

Nina Rees

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Put Money Where Your School Choice Mouth Is

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

One of the outcomes from last week’s midterm elections was the success of school choice. According to the American Federation for Children, “the 2014 midterm elections will go down in history as the election cycle in which parents rose up in support of educational choice.” Despite more than $80 million dollars of expenditures by the teachers’ unions, choice advocates saw supportive governors re-elected in states such as Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, and newly elected in Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland.

Never before has there been more momentum behind efforts to expand school choice – a reform that places parents in charge of their child’s education. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for Republicans at the federal level. On one hand, congressional Republicans generally support efforts to give parents more authority to decide which school their child will attend. On the other hand, many Republicans oppose federal investments and mandates in education as a violation of their principles of spending restraint and local control of education….Read more here.

Nina Rees

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How to Shake Up the Education Status Quo

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Last week, I met with a group of education technology entrepreneurs at 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based startup incubator and venture fund that supports innovators working to solve major public policy challenges. It was inspiring to meet so many people interested in pitching their ideas to schools and to see how much technology stands to help the space. From a platform designed to boost teacher retention by offering peer-to-peer mentoring and one designed to empower data-driven decision-making, to a resource to help Parent-Teacher Organizations and Parent-Teacher Associations with their fundraising needs, these early- to mid-stage ventures are testing the waters with ideas that could revolutionize how our schools operate. Many will fail, some will be able to sell their innovation to larger companies and others will hopefully take off a la Uber one day.

As the former head of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education who later worked for a for-profit company interested in pitching its services to the K-12 sector, I have a keen appreciation for ideas and products that can shake up the status quo in education. There are, of course, countless challenges involved with penetrating the K-12 space, but the odds of success will improve if innovators follow five guidelines…Read more here.

Nina Rees

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National Alliance October Newsletter


It’s been an exciting month at the National Alliance as we’ve released new reports highlighting the quality, innovation, and growth of the charter school movement (more details below). I’ve also spent time over the last few weeks in several states – including Delaware, Missouri, and North Carolina – meeting many of you and talking about the future direction of the charter school movement. Hearing from and learning about your work is motivating and pushes us at the National Alliance to work even harder on your behalf.

One of the most important things we can all do to ensure that our movement continues to get stronger is to support leaders at every level – local, state, and federal – who will fight to give high-quality public charter schools the resources and freedom they need. Please remember that Election Day is only a few weeks away – on Tuesday, November 4th. I urge you to get acquainted with the candidates in your area and to vote for those offering the best future for public charter schools and our students.

Best regards,

Nina Rees,
President & CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

The Health of the Charter School Movement

How healthy is the charter school movement in your state? A groundbreaking analysis from the National Alliance has the answer. The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State-By-State Analysis assesses charter school movements across the nation according to measures of quality, innovation, and growth. At a rollout event on October 1st, we joined our friends at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to reveal that Washington, D.C., has the healthiest charter movement in the nation, with Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York rounding out the top five.

The new report serves as a companion piece to our annual state charter law rankings, and it finds that more than a good legal framework is necessary for a strong and effective charter movement; authorizers, school leaders, teachers, and parents all must work together to give more students the best educational options. Our new interactive web page allows users to explore how the new rankings stack up against the model law rankings. Together, the reports can guide policymakers and charter supporters as they take action to improve schools for all students.

Next Generation Learning

Innovation is at the heart of the charter school model. Charter schools are uniquely positioned to use time, talent, and technology to create a wide variety of personalized learning experiences to help every student reach his or her full potential. A new report from the National Alliance shines a light on four schools that are examples of innovation at work. Breakthroughs in Time, Talent, and Technology: Next Generation Learning Models in Public Charter Schools describes what’s working at these four schools and offers recommendations for how policymakers can support high-quality individualized learning. The lessons are not only valuable to school leaders who have the freedom to replicate these models but they also offer lawmakers greater evidence to encourage policies to foster these innovations.

Weighing In on School Improvement Grants

We recently submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education with our suggestions to help strengthen and improve the nation’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. We believe that SIG should be about increasing access to high-quality schools and more focused on the needs of students. Our comments urge the Department to ensure that states have the flexibility to direct SIG funds to turnaround strategies in their state that have the greatest likelihood of producing results, including by opening new public charter schools and expanding existing high-quality public charter schools. We highlight that charter schools are perfect for this work because they have a proven track record of replicating success in a variety of settings and they are sustainable over the long-term. Joining us in submitting our letter were numerous charter school leaders, state chiefs, and partner organizations.

To read the comments we submitted, click here. Or check out the paper we published last month on how to strengthen the nation’s SIG program.

Congratulations to the Latest Charter School Program Grantees

A big congratulations to the charter schools across the country who have received grants in the most recent round of funding through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). From brand new charter schools in Washington State to established high-achieving charter school networks in states like New York and Texas, we’re pleased to see a strong list of grantees. The federal Charter Schools Program continues to be a valuable resource to help new charter schools open their doors and provide funding for existing high-quality schools to expand and replicate. Here at the National Alliance, we are proud to advocate for more federal dollars to support your work and we’ll continue fighting for more funding so that even more schools can take advantage of this important program. To see the full list of grantees, click here.

Washington State Court to Hear Charter Challenge

On October 28th, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear arguments related to the 2012 voter-approved law that made Washington the 42nd state in the nation (plus the District of Columbia) to allow public charter schools. Opponents of charter schools have once again fought tooth and nail to prevent progress for students and parents, trotting out tired arguments we have heard before. Fortunately, these arguments have been defeated in state after state, and we expect Washington will be no different.

To help clarify the arguments, the National Alliance joined with the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools to file an amicus brief with the court. The brief explains the history, growth, and success of public charter schools nationwide in providing millions of students with a high-quality education. It also addresses opponents’ specific claims and details one-by-one how similar claims have been rejected by courts across the country.

Washington’s new law is one of the best in the nation and it is strongly aligned to our model law. And the movement is already growing. After serving homeless children and families for 25 years in southeast Seattle, First Place Scholars has opened its doors as the state’s first public charter school. Seven more authorized schools serving children at risk of academic failure will open in the fall of 2015. We look forward to the state Supreme Court rejecting the latest attempt to stop public charter schools from serving students, and we will update you when a decision is reached.

21 Charter Schools Named Blue Ribbon Schools

We’re thrilled that 21 public charter schools were honored as 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes elementary, middle, and high schools for their academic excellence and progress in closing achievement gaps. Congratulations to this year’s National Blue Ribbon public charter schools for earning national recognition for their outstanding educational programs and accomplishments. For more details and a list of charter schools recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools, click here.

Is Your School World Class?

Is your charter school better in reading, math, and science than schools in top-ranked Shanghai? What about compared with similar schools in the United States? This is your opportunity to get important data to help position your school on a global scale, boost recruitment and fundraising, and validate your school model. The National Alliance is offering a select number of charter schools the chance to participate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Test for Schools at no cost. This is a voluntary diagnostic tool to benchmark your school against the academic success of similar schools worldwide – a valuable learning opportunity for your students, faculty, and entire school community. To learn more, visit www.publiccharters.org/oecd-test-schools and check out this piece highlighting the results from charter schools that have participated in the test.

Parents Want More Charter Schools

A new survey by Education Post reveals that 78 percent of parents support “expanding the number of charter schools so parents have more options.” The survey of 1,800 parents asked a range of questions about the quality of American education. It revealed a strong desire for schools to improve and to offer more personalized learning options. Underlying the need for change is a sense that schools aren’t doing a good enough job preparing students for the future. Eighty-five percent of parents believe that America is “falling behind in competitiveness,” while 73 percent said they are “very” or “somewhat” worried that their child’s education won’t prepare them for success in today’s world. Full survey results are available at Education Post.

Ready for New Orleans?

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference will take place June 21-24 in New Orleans, and early bird registration is now open! Early registration allows you to enjoy the best rates for next year’s event and to start planning for three days of professional development, networking, and fun. We’re also accepting session proposals through October 31st. This is your opportunity to share best practices with colleagues from around the nation, and to benefit from their feedback.

Click here for more information about early registration and proposal submission. Please reach out to the conference team at NCSC@publiccharters.org with any questions. We look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on friends like you to support our work. From releasing important research reports and new data on charter schools, to advocating on behalf of charters at the federal, state, and local levels, and sharing the important stories of how charter schools are changing children’s lives, the National Alliance works every day to make the charter school movement stronger. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to support our work. Thank you!

Donate now!

Nina Rees

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A Real Threat to the Status Quo

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Campbell Brown, the journalist-turned-education-reformer, has been in the news a lot lately. Her Partnership for Educational Justice recently filed suit in New York, challenging the city’s teacher tenure laws. The organization is chaired by David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the contested presidential election of 2000 and recently argued against California’s ban on gay marriage. Brown and Boies have pledged to file several other suits around the country, focused on upending the status quo in education.

Opponents have already cried foul, questioning Brown’s credentials and the motives of her funders. But what Brown brings to the table is not only an ability to fight in the court of law but to win in the court of public opinion. That explains why her advocacy has attracted such vitriol by opponents – they see it as a real threat. For education reformers, the work is encouraging, since she has the potential to galvanize public support…. Read more here.

Nina Rees

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Charter Schools Deserve Equal Funding

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

While all eyes in New York are on a lawsuit challenging teacher tenure, another suit stands to have an even larger impact on the future of the state’s low-income and minority students – and it could set a precedent for other states. Five families in Buffalo and Rochester have filed suit challenging the state’s persistent underfunding of public charter schools. The Northeast Charter Schools Network is assisting the families with the suit, which seeks equal funding for all public school students, whether they attend a charter school or a traditional district school.

The gap in funding between the two types of public schools is sometimes startling. In Buffalo, charter schools receive about $9,800 less per pupil than district schools; in Rochester the gap is about $6,600. This difference is largely due to the fact that charter schools, unlike district schools, have to pay for their facilities costs. Renting space, changing light bulbs and keeping the plumbing in working order all diverts money that should be used for instruction….. Read more here.

Nina Rees

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School Improvement Done Right

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Today, 15,000 U.S. schools are considered persistently low-achieving. The Obama administration has invested heavily in a portion of these schools through a program called School Improvement Grants. Since 2009, nearly $3 billion in improvement grants has been directed at about 1,700 schools. (Fiscal year 2014 funding for the grants is $506 million, and the same amount is expected in fiscal year 2015.) But the grant program’s record has been underwhelming: A third of schools that were given major cash infusions to boost student achievement actually regressed.

While disconcerting, the results shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, nor should they put a nail in the program’s coffin. Overhauling an institution is always hard. In fact, 75 percent of efforts at restructuring in the private sector end up failing, partly because changing cultures and habits is difficult and the private sector is not patient enough with many change management efforts. Put simply, it is easier to close and start over than to restructure… read more here.

Nina Rees

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An Education in Building Local Support

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Last week, the 46th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of public attitudes toward public schools was released, and the headline was the deteriorating support for Common Core standards, to which 60 percent of Americans are now opposed. A similar poll, conducted by Education Next, confirms many of the first poll’s findings. This is not all that surprising, given the onslaught of negative publicity surrounding Common Core, but what caught my attention is the subtext of this opposition, which is centered around Americans’ dissatisfaction with federal involvement in schools.

What to make of this?

Americans dislike one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to how their children are educated. While the Common Core State Standards are simple standards that a curriculum can be built around, and the standards are already in place in many states, the public seems uneasy with a national (or as they see it, a “federally driven”) approach. Whether this is because anti-Common Core forces have done an effective job of vilifying the standards or because Americans have a libertarian streak in our DNA, the brand “Common Core” is now as disliked as “No Child Left Behind.” Education Next found that 68 percent of Americans would favor their state using “standards for reading and math that are the same across the states.” But when standards are labeled “Common Core,” supports drops to 54 percent…read more here.

Nina Rees

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Michelle Rhee’s Lasting Legacy

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report) News of Michelle Rhee’s exit as CEO of the education reform organization StudentsFirst generated a flurry of commentary over the past week. One of the few household names in education reform, Rhee launched StudentsFirst three years ago, after leaving her high-profile post as schools chancellor in Washington, D.C. She had big plans for StudentsFirst, including a bold pledge on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to raise $1 billion to promote policies that placed student needs ahead of the needs of the education establishment.

Many felt that her ambitious fundraising plans were destined to fail and that her organization’s top-down approach made it hard to enact reforms that would stand the test of time. While there is some truth to the claim that her blunt moves may have been too divisive for a field that thrives on harmony, I think Rhee’s legacy as a leader is far more complex and long-lasting…read more here.