Posts by Nina Rees


Nina Rees


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National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Monthly Newsletter

I had the good fortune last week to be part of three inspiring education-related events, on two different coasts. In New York, I represented our growing movement at NBC’s annual Education Nation conference on Monday, and the following day I marched across the Brooklyn Bridge alongside an estimated 20,000 charter school parents, students and teachers. A few days later, in Seattle, I attended the Charter School Growth Fund’s annual retreat where I had the honor of spending time with some of the nation’s highest quality charter school operators. See below for highlights from a few of these events – thanks for your continued support!

Best Regards,

Nina Rees
President & CEO

March for NYC Kids 

The next mayor of New York City is likely to be Bill de Blasio, and he has committed to a moratorium on charter school growth in the city. De Blasio has called for an end to the city’s innovative practice of co-locating charter schools with traditional public schools that are under-enrolled. He also plans on charging rent to charter schools that use city facilities. We think this would be an enormous step backwards.

Girls (3)








New York City has been able to attract and grow some of the nation’s best charter schools thanks partly to the city’s generous facilities finance arrangement. On Tuesday, almost 20,000 charter school parents, children, and teachers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall to urge Mr. de Blasio to reconsider his plans. I was so glad I could be there to support these passionate people and communities across New York City. You can look at some of our favorite pictures from the march on Facebook. You can find more about this issue in this New York Times story.

Education Nation

What does it take – as a nation – to ensure students are successfully prepared for college and beyond? This past week, NBC posed this question as the theme of “Education Nation,” a summit the network has hosted for the past four years, attracting some of the brightest minds in education policy to discuss what’s working in our public schools. We posted the profiles of seven charter schools that have the answer. At each school, 100 percent of graduating seniors are accepted into a four-year college or university. I encourage you to share these tremendous success stories as evidence of what can happen when devoted educators are given the freedom to manage their schools with a “no excuses” mentality focused on results.

What Does ‘A Good School’ Really Mean? 

Under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, states are currently required to report to parents about how their schools are performing. Each state has created its own quality assessment criteria and labels, meaning we now have a wide variety of “quality” assessment strategies.

In an effort to come up with a common measure of quality, we recently teamed up with Public Impact to take a comprehensive look at the various approaches in place today. In addition to government assessments, the report also looks at quality assessments and rankings done by private organizations and news outlets, such as the California Charter Schools Association and U.S. News and World Report. You can read the report, Quality School Ratings: Trends in Evaluating School Academic Quality, here.

STEM in Charters

Last year we surveyed charter schools nationwide and found that nearly 20 percent focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). This is good news given the growing demand for a STEM-trained workforce. In an effort to further promote the topic, the National Alliance recently joined STEMConnector, an initiative aimed at connecting organizations, states and companies working to promote STEM education. You can read more about STEM in charter schools in a recent interview I did with Washington Executive magazine.

Conference Session Proposals Being Accepted Now  

With a successful 2013 conference behind us, it is time to start planning for next June’s 2014 conference in Las Vegas.  We are looking for excellent speakers, informative sessions, and topics that will be engaging and relevant for attendees. We are also looking for presentations on instructional strategies, leadership, effective operations, state and federal policy, and the latest innovations in the field. This is an opportunity for you to share your great work with more than 4,000 people from the charter school community. I encourage you to submit a session proposal online through October 28. If you have questions, or if you’d like to talk to someone about your idea before you submit a proposal, please feel free to reach out to our conference director,Angela Christophe.

Tell Your Story! 

StarGroup International is publishing a book next year called Charter Schools: A Choice for Excellence. They are looking for great schools to highlight; parents, students, and teachers to interview; and stories that will help illustrate how charter schools are changing lives. You can read more about what they are looking for here. I hope you’ll take a minute to send in your story or ideas. A book like this can’t come soon enough.

Donate Now. Giving is Easy. 

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization committed to ensuring that every child in America has a high-quality public school option. To do this work, we need your support. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you!

Nina Rees


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National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Monthly Newsletter

I have just returned from Columbus, Ohio, where I spent the day with some outstanding state charter school organization leaders. I meet with these leaders a few times a year to talk through what is happening on the ground and what’s around the corner for charter schools. I spend a lot of time encouraging my Washington, D.C.-based colleagues to get outside of the Beltway and visit a charter school in their home state. Talking to a local charter school principal or teacher can really demonstrate why we need even more federal support for charter school growth. If you’re ever on the road and you’d like a recommendation for a terrific charter school to visit, please let me know.

Best Regards,

Nina Rees
President and CEO

Federal education spending: more of the same

With Congress unable to work through its normal budgeting process, the federal fiscal year will end on September 30 without a budget to begin the next year. At this time, Congressional Leadership is working to pass a continuing resolution, which would fund all federal programs at the current levels through December 15, at which time Congress would have to pass another funding bill. That means the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter School Program and all other programs that provide funding for charter schools will hold steady at current levels. We will begin working with lawmakers in the coming months to break this logjam and try to get funding for charter schools back up to pre-sequestration levels and increased to account for growth in the sector.

Back to work for Congress

The start of the school year also marks the end of the congressional recess. And this fall, Congress’s education “to do” list includes updating the federal statute governing America’s public schools. If Congress doesn’t act this year, there may not be any action for another four years (owing to the political pressures connected to the midterm elections in 2014 and the presidential election in 2016). With the left and the right agreeing that reform of the law is long overdue, there’s an urgent need for action this fall. President Obama has a role to play, too.

National Alliance weighs in on E-Rate reform

The National Alliance joined with other education reform groups yesterday in a joint comment letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking for reforms to the federal E-Rate program to ensure that charter schools receive their fair share of funding. The E-Rate program was created in 1996 to give schools discounted rates to connect to the Internet. The same rules that were in place when the program was created are still in force today—even though the technology landscape for schools has changed dramatically. The letter asks the FCC to streamline the application process for schools, to give schools more flexibility in how they use E-Rate funds, and to leave room for the technologies of the future to qualify for the program. You can read the letter here.

Will Kentucky be #43?

You may remember that last month we joined the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Democrats for Education Reform, and Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul at an event kicking off the effort to pass a charter school law in Kentucky. I’m excited to report that the effort is picking up steam. Last week Hal Heiner, the president of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, Wayne Lewis, a board member of the Kentucky Association, and Ken Campbell, the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, testified before a joint hearing of the state House and Senate education committees on charter schools. We postedphotos from the kick-off event on our Facebook page and if you have 90 seconds to spare, you should watch this terrific TV news story about last week’s hearing.







Student Elliott Kelly talks about why he would like to attend a charter school, as Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell listen.

Are big changes coming to the Big Apple?

The result of last week’s mayoral primary elections in New York City could have a profound impact on one of the nation’s most robust charter school markets. Two Democratic candidates may face each other in a run-off on October 1. Both of those candidates have been openly hostile to charter schools, and the leading candidate, Bill DeBlasio wants to end the city’s policy of allowing charter schools to use public facilities unless they pay rent. No matter who wins the November 5 general election, you can bet it will be a departure from the aggressively reform-minded tenure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. I wrote about Bloomberg’s school reform legacy for U.S. News & World Report. You can also read more about the stakes of the election from our friend Bill Phillips at the Northeast Charter School Network. 

Speaking of New Yorkers

New York-based charter school critic Diane Ravitch has a new book out today called Reign of Error. The book rehashes many of the arguments we have heard from Ms. Ravitch before, but this book focuses on one in particular: that charter schools have been taken over by for-profit companies that are answering to Wall Street, not parents and communities. This concern is unjustified. Just under 13 percent of charter schools are run by for-profit companies, and four states do not allow for-profit charters; 20 percent are run by non-profit organizations that operate more than one school; but 67 percent are independently operated, non-profit, single-site schools. With no wide-spread evidence that networks perform worse than single site schools (and some of the best schools in the country are part of networks), this is hardly a crisis calling out for more restrictions on charter schools. Diane’s suggestion is to ban for-profit companies from managing charter schools and any organization from managing more than one school.

And the survey says…

A recent collection of public opinion surveys show that public support for charter schools is at an all-time high. A PDK/Gallup poll found that 70 percent of respondents supported charter schools and EdNext found similarly high support. This is significant. Charter schools enjoy support from voters and policymakers from all parties at the local, state, and federal levels. And, with one million names lingering on charter school wait lists nationwide, we know parents want more of what we have to offer. By keeping our eye on the ball of opening more high-quality charter schools around the country, public support should keep climbing.

Study finds no evidence of “coaching out”

new study of a large, urban school district with more than 60 charter schools examined seven years of student transfer data and found no evidence that charter schools are pushing out their lowest performing children. This is the second empirical research study to find the same result. It would be great to see more studies examine this issue, so that this oft-repeated myth can finally be put to rest.

Don’t wait for charter school news

Each day we post original, insightful commentary on our blog. We also distribute relevant charter school news stories each weekday and a weekly round up on Fridays, and you can sign up for either of those emails here. You can also follow the National Alliance on Twitter at @charteralliance, or become a fan on Facebook to get the latest. Are videos your thing? Then subscribe to our channel on YouTube. And, for my take on pressing education reform issues, check out my weekly blog on or follow me on Twitter at @ninacharters.

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is working to increase support for charter schools at the federal level and to pass and strengthen charter school laws around the country. To build on this work, we need your help.Please join us by making a tax-deductible contribution today.

Nina Rees


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National Alliance Monthly Newsletter

Dear Friends,

I just returned from the KIPP School Summit in Las Vegas and a charter school conference sponsored by Cargill, CliftonLarsonAllen, and the Center for School Change in Minneapolis. Being with visionary leaders in the public charter school sector, meeting teachers, students and parents, and seeing the impact of charter schools on children’s lives always recharges my batteries. I encourage you to take a few minutes towatch some of the powerful videos from the KIPP Summit.

Thanks for your continued support.

Best regards,

State Charter School Laws Improving Nationwide

We recently published an analysis of how many states have strengthened their charter school laws over the past four legislative sessions. We found that 35 states have brought their laws into closer alignment with our model charter law. Sixteen states alone have lifted caps on charter school growth and another 19 states have strengthened the quality of their laws. You can read more about the state changes that have been made in Assessing the Increasing Strength of Charter Laws Between 2010 and 2013.

Round two in Kentucky

On August 22, we will be in Kentucky to kick off our effort to pass a public charter school law in the Bluegrass State. A bill was introduced and passed the state Senate last session, but it died in the House. Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul will join the National Alliance, Democrats for Education Reform, and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, for the kick-off event, which will feature a roundtable discussion with education, business, and faith community leaders in Louisville. Kentucky is one of only eight remaining states without a charter school law and is our top priority state for 2014. You can read more about what’s going on in Kentucky from Lisa Grover, our senior director of state advocacy.

Federal Update

As noted in our last Washington Update, the US House of Representatives passed its reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) last month, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee has passed its version. The full Senate still needs to take up the bill. We are working closely with Senate HELP Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) to make sure the Senate bill reflects the priorities of the public charter school community. Earlier this year, we published a list of guiding principles for ESEA reauthorization that we are encouraging Congress to follow.

The congressional appropriations process has once again come to a halt as the end of the fiscal year approaches on September 30 and none of the funding bills are ready to be signed into law. As a result, most observers expect Congress to approve some form of a short term continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded at current levels while the Congressional leadership and the President negotiate the terms of a year-long spending level. The outlook for additional funding for education programs, including for charter schools, is likely to be another year of level or slightly decreased funding.

National Charter School Conference Videos on YouTube

Videos of the keynote speakers and main-stage panels at this year’s conference have been posted to YouTube. From Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City’s schools, to the expert panel on educating tomorrow’s leaders facilitated by Jane Pauley—and who could forgetPitbull—each video is there for your viewing pleasure. Planning for next year’s conference in Las Vegas is already underway, and if you haven’t shared your feedback with us yet about this year, we would like to hear from you. Please email Angela Christophe, our director of programs, with your thoughts about what worked well and what we could improve for next year.

New Board Members and Staff Join the National Alliance 

I am pleased to announce four new members of the National Alliance board of directors: Tim Hutchinson, former Senator from Arkansas and senior advisor for Dickstein Shapiro LLP; Brian Jones, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Strayer University and former Chair of the D.C. Public Charter School Board; Dan Quisenberry, President of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies; and Jane Swift, former governor of Massachusetts and current CEO of Middlebury Interactive Languages. We are grateful that this distinguished group of individuals has chosen to join us. You can read more about members of our board here.

We have also hired a new Vice President for Communications and Marketing, Starlee Rhoades. Before joining us in July, Starlee was the executive vice president of the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute. She has also worked on a number of political campaigns and in corporate government affairs. Starlee will be working to increase our media presence and help charter support organizations prepare for and respond to media stories about the charter sector.

Need More to Read?

U.S. News and World Report has given me the opportunity to contribute to their policy and politics blog each week. I’ve had three posts published so far, the first explaining why I think the education community should embrace the Common Core. The second offered my take on the A-F school grading policies throughout the country in the wake of the unfortunate grade-changing scandal in Indiana. And my latest blog is on Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World. If you have ideas for future posts, I’d be glad to have them. Please email them to me, or send them to me via Twitter at @ninacharters.

Speaking of more to read, did you know the National Alliance has a blog, The Charter Blog, that offers fresh policy news and insights daily? I encourage you to bookmark and visit it often.

Help Support the National Alliance

Please consider making a tax-deductible gift to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Your support will help us remain an active voice for the public charter school community in Washington and state capitols across the country.

Nina Rees


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National Alliance Monthly Newsletter

Dear Friends,

School may be out for the summer, but the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has been busier than ever. We just wrapped up our largest and most successful national conference to-date, released the results of a new survey estimating that public charter school waitlists across the nation approached one million names and continue to advocate in our nation’s Capitol for greater federal funding for high-quality charter schools.

We were also pleased to see dramatically improved results for public charter schools in the recently released report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. CREDO found that nationally charter schools do a better job educating low-income and minority students than their district school counterparts. That’s something to be proud of!
Thank you for all you do to make high-quality public charter schools a reality for millions of students across America.

Best regards,

Nina Rees
President & CEO

Conference Update

Thank you to all of our friends and colleagues from around the country who joined us for the 2013 National Charter School Conference. It was our biggest conference yet, with more than 4,000 registrations; and certainly one of our most successful. International superstar Pitbull opened the conference with an inspirational speech about his work to open a public charter schoolin Little Havana in Miami, Florida. I encourage you to watch his remarks and share it with your network.

We were also pleased to provide the Broad Foundation with a platform to announce the 2013 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. The Broad Foundation chose Uncommon Schools for the honor. Even though more than 78 percent of Uncommon’s nearly 8,000 students across Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York are low-income, these students are outperforming their peers statewide. Results like this are indeed uncommon! Congratulations to the Uncommon Schools team, as well as the two runner-ups for the Prize, Achievement First and KIPP, for showing us what’s possible when great schools have the opportunity to flourish.

We also inducted three outstanding public charter school advocates to the Charter Schools Hall of Fame. None of these names will be a surprise to you, as they have been critical to the success of the charter sector across the country. Congratulations toLisa Graham KeeganLinda Moore and the Walton Family Foundation. The charter movement wouldn’t be where it is today without them.

All of the speeches and panels from the conference will be posted on the National Alliance’s YouTube page in the coming days. We’d also love to have your feedback. If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please send them to Angela Christophe, our Director of Programs. We look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas for next year’s conference!

One Million Names

We recently updated our public charter school waitlist survey and found almost one million names on charter school waitlistsacross the country. The survey also found that more than two-thirds of public charter schools—67 percent—across the nation reported having children on their waitlist. It’s heartbreaking that so many families want to send their child to a high-quality public charter school, and are not able to. Especially when this is a problem we can fix! If policymakers lifted artificial caps on charter school growth, ensured equitable funding between charter and district schools and allowed charters to have access to school facilities or facility funding, the sector can rise to meet the demand. A child’s fate should not rest in a lottery ball—policymakers at the federal and state level can and should do better for our children.

ESEA Reauthorization

This week the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to take up the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). We are working to ensure that, under ESEA, public charter schools will be able to meet the growing demand from parents nationwide, including: increasing the funding for charter school start up and replication to $500 million by 2018, offering more flexibility in how some grants may be used, expanding the types of organizations eligible for grants, and eliminating some of the red tape that has recently been required of charter schools. For a deeper look into these recommendations and others, see our report Free to Succeed: Public Charter Schools and the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

School Visit with U.S. House Republican Leadership

This week House Republican leaders will join the National Alliance at the Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. for a tour and roundtable discussion with school leaders and parents. Increasing support for charters is a key objective of the National Alliance’s strategy, and we’re pleased to host lawmakers from across the political spectrum who want to learn more about the great schools in our sector.

CREDO Study Making Waves

Last month’s release of the CREDO study has gotten a tremendous amount of media coverage. The report showed that nationally low-income and minority students in public charter schools outperform their peers in traditional public schools (see our analysis here and here). From the New York Times to the Chicago Tribune, reporters and editorial boards are taking notice. There’s a lot for charter school advocates to be proud of in this report, not the least of which is that charter school students are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading while making significant gains in math. Another key take away from the report is the need to focus on replicating high-quality school models and closing the poorest performing schools as rapidly as possible.

Do You “Like” Us?

If you’d like to be kept informed more regularly about what we’re working on, please “like” the National Alliance on Facebook. We post key news stories, video highlights from our conference, and other news you can use daily. If Twitter is more your speed, you can follow me @ninacharters.

Finally, we hope you’ll take a minute to watch our new video about the National Alliance’s work supporting high-quality public charter schools across the country.

Nina Rees


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NAPCS Monthly Newsletter

Dear Friends,

With June marking the kickoff for this year’s National Charter Schools Conference, we are excited to see many of you in person in our nation’s capital very soon! The largest gathering of the year for the public charter school movement, this year’s conference runs from June 30-July 3 and will feature more than 4,000 attendees as well as fantastic speakers, panels and sessions.

To stay updated on all of our activities and happenings in the public charter school sector, follow me on Twitter along with @charteralliance and #NCSC13 for conference tweets, subscribe to The Charter Blog, and make sure to sign up for our mailings—including news clips, press releases and other important announcements.

Best regards,

Nina Rees
President and CEO

Conference Update—Welcoming Pitbull 
As a sign of the broad reach and resonance of the public charter school movement, worldwide music superstar Mr. Armando “Pitbull” Pérez will kick off this year’s National Charter Schools Hall of Fame induction ceremony. A globally successful musician, performer, business entrepreneur, fashion icon and actor whose career sales exceed five million albums and 40 million singles worldwide, Mr. Pérez will join us to talk about his decision to open a charter school this fall in Miami called SLAM (Sports Leadership and Management) Charter School.

Pitbull_RS014_square (2)SLAM’s mission is to innovatively and deeply prepare students for secondary studies and beyond. Through an emphasis on preparation for sports-related careers, SLAM’s teaching philosophy centers on the “3 Rs”: rigor, relevance and relationships. Operating a middle and high school, the school’s first cohort of students will begin classes in the fall of 2014.

Mr. Pérez is one of the most powerful voices speaking out today on behalf of young Americans and communities. The National Alliance applauds his leadership in drawing attention onto the need to give all young people access to good public schools. You can read more about Mr. Pérez and our other keynote speakers on our website.

ESEA—Reauthorization Sooner is Better than Later
As many of you know, the potentially long process of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the federal statute that governs the majority of federal investments in K-12 education—has begun. I recently put forward a few reasons why Congress and the Administration should focus on reauthorization sooner, rather than later.

First, many of the Administration’s most effective programs—such as Race to the Top, Investing in Innovation Funds (i3) and the Charter School Replication and Expansion Grants—are not etched into law yet. If ESEA is not reauthorized, these programs may fall by the wayside, which would mean that countless future charter schools may never come to pass.

Second, we have seen overwhelming bipartisan agreement on a host of ESEA reforms,such as strengthening the Charter Schools Program, which passed the House with strong majority. Despite disagreement over some other key aspects of reauthorization, because the House and Senate have already been through this reauthorization exercise twice, putting together a strategy that would get a bill to the finish line would be challenging, but would be well within reach.

Finally, if media attention around the Common Core is any indication, America may be ready to have a more substantive discussion about education policy. You can read more here.

To learn more about ESEA reauthorization, read the National Alliance white paper: Free to Succeed: Public Charter Schools & the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

ESEA—Tests taken, lessons learned through NCLB Sanctions
This past month, the National Alliance participated in a forum held by the American Enterprise Institute which explored a new analysis from Duke University that indicates certain NCLB sanctions have proven more effective than others. Specifically, this analysis found that the threat of significant school restructuring raised student achievement in underperforming schools. You can watch the forum in its entirety here.

ESEA Legislation
The Senate HELP Committee approved the Strengthening America’s Schools Act; and on June 19, the House Education and Workforce Committee started its consideration of H.R. 5, The Student Success Act. Both bills would make changes to the federal Charter Schools Program. In particular, both would increase the number of entities eligible to apply for grants from the Department of Education. We are analyzing the bills very closely on a number of important issues related to charter school quality, growth and innovation. We are working with Congressional staff in the Senate and House, and we’ll continue to keep you apprised of what’s going on in Washington, D.C. as these bills advance.

Click hereto view a chart that compares select provisions from the ESEA bills introduced by Senator Harkin, Senator Alexander and Chairman Kline against current law and ESEA Waivers.

According to the responses to our recent national survey, over 20 percent of public charter schools indicated a STEM or math/science instructional focus. Given the prominence of a STEM-focus in public charter schools, the National Alliance was recently invited to join two important dialogues on STEM Education – POLITICO’s Pro Technology team discussion on the current state of STEM education and U.S. News’ STEM Solutions conference.

At the POLITICO forum, I had the pleasure of joining Tom Kalil, White House deputy director for technology and innovation, Becky Pringle, NEA secretary-treasurer, and Eric Schwarz, co-founder and CEO of Citizen Schools, for a conversation focused on the implications of STEM on the American workforce as well as what to expect for STEM policy in the year to come.

Politico STEM Panel






POLITICO’s Jessica Meyers (left) and Tony Romm (right) are joined by Eric Schwarz (second from left), Nina Rees (third from left), Becky Pringle (third from right) and Tom Kalil (second from right).

I also joined a fantastic team at the STEM Solutions conference, which included Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd College president, Arthur Levine, Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation president, Camsie A. McAdams, U.S. Department of Education Senior Advisor on STEM Education, Leland Melvin, NASA Associate Administrator for Education, and Richard Middleton, regional vice president of the southwestern region at the College Board, to address the question: ‘Are we moving too slowly?

About the National Alliance
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. Our mission is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter sector.

Nina Rees


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NAPCS Monthly Newsletter

Dear Friends,

On the heels of National Charter Schools Week and the 30th anniversary of the publication of the landmark report, A Nation at Risk, we extend our thanks to advocates across the nation who have mobilized in support of high-quality public charter schools. And we are even more excited to see so many of you in person in our nation’s capital on June 30th-July 3rd during our largest gathering of the year, the National Charter Schools Conference.

I’m also glad to report that states have been continuing to take action to strengthen their public charter school sectors. Strong bipartisan support in Mississippi to dramatically strengthen the state’s charter school law was matched by impressive action on the part of parents, advocates and elected leaders in Massachusetts and Texas, working to lift unreasonable caps on charter schools (read my recent op-ed on Massachusetts).

To stay updated on these and other advocacy efforts follow me on Twitter, @Ninacharters, and through our website.

Best regards,

Nina Rees
President and CEO

Conference Update – 2013 Charter Schools Hall of Fame 
Each year the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducts a special group of individuals and organizations into the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame. The honor goes to individuals and organizations that have: pioneered efforts to develop and grow charter schools; committed to and contributed to charter schools and education; proposed and implemented innovative ideas; and, inspired others in the charter school movement.

We are excited to announce the 2013 inductees to the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame: the Walton Family FoundationLisa Graham Keegan, CEO of the Education Breakthrough Network and former Superintendent of Public Instruction from Arizona; and Linda Moore, founder of the Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Washington D.C.

The 2013 inductees will be officially honored on July 1, 2013 at the National Charter Schools Conference. The conference is filling up – so make sure to register by June 7th, the last day to receive regular registration rates, and stay tuned to #NCSC13 for all the latest conference updates!

Public Charter Schools Rank Among Top Public High Schools in the Nation
The rankings are in! Every year, U.S. News & World ReportThe Washington Post and Newsweek rank public high schools across the nation.

Newsweek recently came out with their Transformative High Schools list, which takes students’ socioeconomic status into account by looking at schools that serve a high percentage of students who receive free- or reduced-price lunches. Sixteen public charter schools were on the list, comprising 64 percent of the nation’s top 25 “Transformative” schools – despite public charter schools making up only six percent of public schools nationwide. Also, no surprise, all top five schools were public charter schools!

Also, according to U.S. News & World Report28 public charter schools were in the top 100 – and three were in the top 10. The Washington Post’s “Most Challenging High Schools” list also put 28 public charter schools in their top 100 – and four in their top 10. In Newsweek’s “America’s Best High Schools” list,13 public charter schools were in the top 100, with two BASIS charter schools reaching the top 10. According to The Atlantic, BASIS students were found to be several years ahead of their classmates when it came to proficiency in basic subjects. As I stated in this article, “[this] is a sign that there is something in their formula that needs to be replicated as quickly as possible because it seems to be producing great results.”

Reflecting Back – National Charter Schools Week 2013
During this year’s National Charter Schools Week, Americans heard from parents, officials and public charter school advocates.

President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation recognizing National Charter Schools Week 2013. U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) expressed strong support for public charter schools, marking the official start of what was the 14th annual week of recognition. Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) editorialized in The Hill about the need for all parents and families to have the option to enroll their children in high-quality public charter schools.

We had the privilege of recognizing this year’s Charter Champions that week: Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Congressman John Kline (R-MN), Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, State Senator Gray Tollison (MS) and Mayor Karl Dean (Nashville, TN) – public officials unmatched in their service to parents and students of the charter school movement.

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Congressman Kline presented with a 2013 Charter Champion award
(Image via the National Alliance for Public Charter School)

In the Golden State, more than 150 school leaders and parents attended the California Charter Schools Association’s 20th Anniversary Advocacy Day, where they met with elected officials to discuss the impact charters are having on students’ success. The Texas Charter Schools Association welcomed more than 700 parents, students, teachers and charter leaders, who rallied on the steps of the state capitol to show their strong support for charter schools. The Illinois Network of Charter Schools hosted more than 500 parents, teachers, and students in Springfield, who called for equitable funding for public charter schools.

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Parents rally at the Texas state capitol
(Image via Austin American-Statesman)

As President Obama said, “… charter schools choose to locate in communities with few high-quality educational options, making them an important partner in widening the circle of opportunity for students who need it most.”

Representing Public Charters on STEM
Last month, the House Education and Workforce Committee requested our assistance with finding a public charter school witness for a Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary hearing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). We secured Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST Public Schools from Denver, CO, to testify on “Raising the Bar: Reviewing STEM Education in America.” In addition to his views on STEM, he emphasized the importance of federal support for charter schools during his testimony.

About the National Alliance
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement. Our mission is to lead public education to unprecedented levels of academic achievement by fostering a strong charter sector.

Nina Rees


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Welcome to National Charter Schools Week 2013!

On behalf of the public charter schools movement, welcome to National Charter Schools Week 2013!

National Charter Schools Week – May 5-11, 2013 – celebrates the great work accomplished by public charter schools, which now serve more than 2.3 million students and provide parents with high-quality public education options. This week gives us, as a community, the opportunity to highlight and share in our successes, lessons learned and achievements, and raise awareness of what public charter schools can offer.

This week the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools will join together with representatives from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas in our nation’s Capitol. We will be walking the halls of Congress to advocate on behalf of public charter schools everywhere, while meeting with many of our elected leaders and supporters.

We are also excited to announce the 2013 Charter Champions on Tuesday, May 7. Given annually during National Charter Schools Week, this year’s Charter Champion awards recognize five public officials for their outstanding service to the students, parents and families of the public charter school movement. Stay tuned to @Ninacharters on Twitter as we reveal this year’s champions.

How can you support National Charter Schools Week?

Check out our toolkit for ways you can participate, take part in one of the many events planned across the country or contact your state charter school association to see what events and activities are planned in your area. You could also write your local newspaper editor to help raise awareness that research shows public charter schools are improving student outcomes, or call your local elected officials and ask them to support more favorable policies and equitable funding for charter schools.

Most importantly, remember that this is a week to celebrate the fantastic accomplishments we have achieved during the last year. With more than 6,000 schools serving over 2.3 million students, there is a lot to be excited about this year!

Boston Collegiate

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Nina Rees


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Will Obama’s Budget Recognize Charter Schools?

President Obama will soon release his federal budget for 2014, and a top priority is likely to be early-childhood education, particularly for the poor. But will the proposal seek much funding for the growth of charter schools—at least more than the paltry 0.4% of federal education spending that currently supports these exciting and demonstrably successful schools?

Last month, the respected private firm Mathematica Policy Research published a multiyear study of students enrolled in KIPP (the Knowledge Is Power Program), a network of 125 charter schools serving 41,000 students in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The study found that after three years students in the KIPP program were 11 months ahead of their traditional-public-school peers in math and eight months ahead in reading. Also after three years (or four for some children in the study), KIPP students were 14 months ahead in science and 11 months ahead in social studies.

These gains are substantial. For every three (or four) years they spend in the program, KIPP students are benefiting from almost a full year of greater learning growth than they would if they remained in traditional public schools.

This success is even more remarkable given that KIPP draws from some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. Some 96% of KIPP students are black or Hispanic. More than four of five come from households with annual incomes low enough to qualify for subsidized school lunch.

What’s more, the typical incoming student at KIPP scores in the 45th percentile in district-wide reading and math exams. That initial achievement level is much lower than for the typical student entering the traditional public school system.

Other studies have found similar results. In a report released last month on charter schools in New York City, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that after just one year, charter-school students had gained one more month of learning in reading and five more months in math, compared with their district-school peers. More than a fifth of New York’s public charter schools post significantly larger learning gains in reading than do their traditional counterparts—and nearly two-thirds of charters outperform traditional schools in math.

KIPP runs 10 schools in New York City, but it also has competition. In 2012, 87% of students in the Uncommon Schools charter network—which operates 15 New York City schools serving 3,900 kids—scored advanced or proficient in math. That is 27 percentage points above the city average. In English, more than half of Uncommon’s kids were advanced or proficient, beating the city average by eight percentage points.

What is the key to the success of schools like KIPP and Uncommon?

For starters, as independent public schools, charters aren’t weighed down by onerous regulations that stifle innovation. Administrators and teachers have the freedom to develop new and creative teaching methods. Charter schools have also attracted a new generation of talented, motivated teachers, school leaders and entrepreneurs through the promise of a new approach to educating underserved children.

Policy makers should encourage such educational entrepreneurship. One way they can do so is by eliminating state caps on charter schools, which currently apply in 21 of the 43 states (including Washington, D.C.) that have charter laws. With over 600,000 students on waiting lists to attend charter schools nationwide, this should be an easy task.

Legislators at the state and federal levels should also strive to attract new entrepreneurs to the charter-school space. Schools like KIPP and Uncommon succeed in the cities where they operate, but other geographic areas may demand different approaches. The next great public charter school may deploy a digital learning model or a hybrid of several models. Officials should be open to such experimentation.

At the same time, all charters should be regularly and rigorously reviewed. Those that consistently fail to meet achievement standards should be closed.

The federal government, meanwhile, should make sure that charters receive their fair share of funding. The current pot reserved to finance startup, replication and expansion of charter operations has just $254 million in it, or less than 1% of federal education spending. That share should grow.

The data are in. Charters can—and do—deliver top-notch education even to the most disadvantaged of American students. The White House, Congress and policy makers in state capitals must do their part to support successful charters, promote their replication, and encourage new entrants to adapt their best practices.
Ms. Rees is the president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

A version of this article appeared March 27, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Will Obama’s Budget Recognize Charter Schools?. It was also published on The Wall Stree Journal online on March 26, 2013 here.

Nina Rees


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Letter to the Editor: ‘Charters are Providing Hope’

To the Editor:

Re: “Better Charter Schools in New York City” (editorial, Feb. 23):

While rightly acknowledging the success of charter schools in New York City, you missed the mark in calling the national charter movement a “disappointment.” Interestingly, in 2011 you praised New Orleans, where 75 percent of all schools are now charters and the number of students attending a failing school is down threefold since Hurricane Katrina.

Whether they are 5 percent of public schools, as in New York, or 75 percent, as in New Orleans, charters schools are providing hope. In the last five years, the movement has added 1,700 schools and a million students. Another 610,000 are on wait lists.

The movement took the 2009 report by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford seriously. Since then, nearly 500 charters have closed. The center’s more recent research has found that charter students from low-income families are outperforming their traditional public school peers.

When you review the evidence, you will find what millions of parents already know: the charter movement is a resounding national success.

President and Chief Exec.,
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
Washington, Feb. 24, 2013

This letter to the editor originally ran on the New York Times website, and was published on March 3, 2013.

Nina Rees


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Public Charter Schools Provide Real Options for 2.3 Million Children

A recent article by Stephanie Simon in Reuters, highlights a number of charter schools that appear to be engaged in selective enrollment practices. If there are charter schools violating the state and local statutes governing admissions and enrollment, we want to know about it, the overseeing authorities should investigate, and the practices should be corrected. Procedures that place a burden on kids and parents who want to enroll in a charter school are contrary to the spirit of the charter school movement. While every charter school (or traditional public school) may not be the best educational setting for a particular child, charter school operators should not create high barriers to entry, and parents should be the ones to make the ultimate choices for their children.

But we should not lose sight of the proverbial forest amidst the trees. There are thousands of high-quality charter schools that admit students by lottery, they serve an extremely diverse population, and they produce high-achieving students. Let’s consider each of these points in more detail.

First, there are over 6,000 charters schools, in 40 States and DC, serving 2.3 million students. The majority of the schools are over-subscribed, meaning they have to rely on randomized lotteries for admissions. Last year, more than 600,000 students were not admitted to charter schools because they were not selected in these lotteries.

Second, the public charter school movement is predominantly opening schools in communities with high concentrations of low-income students of color and low-performing district schools, focused on closing the nation’s persistent academic achievement gap. As a result, public charter schools across the nation enroll a greater percentage of low-income students than traditional public schools (46 percent versus 41 percent), black and Latino students (27 percent versus 15 percent and 26 percent versus 22 percent, respectively), and students who perform lower on standardized tests before transferring to public charter schools.

Third, students in charter schools are increasingly outperforming their traditional public school peers. This is not simply a function of charter schools skimming the best and the brightest from public schools. Randomized field tests show that students in charters outperform their peers who applied to a charter but were not chosen in the randomized lottery. In other words, regardless of the motivations of the families who are drawn to charter schools, these schools are able to raise the academic achievement of their students. They do this by stretching the school day and the school year, providing individualized student support, and by attracting teachers who are empowered to do what’s right by their students.

In an ideal world, every parent who wanted to send their child to a charter school would be able to do so. Perhaps unwittingly, the Reuters article underscores the popularity of charter schools and why more are needed. Indeed, that would be a great subject for another article, and we would welcome the opportunity to work with Ms. Simon on just such an article.