Posts by Nina Rees


Nina Rees


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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 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 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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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.

Nina Rees


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

KIPP Leads the Way

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report)  This week, KIPP, the renowned national charter school network, celebrates its 20th anniversary. The celebration will be held on the heels of KIPP’s receipt of the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, an annual award that goes to the public charter school network with the highest student performance and graduation rates, and the most success in closing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

I first came across KIPP when I was working at a think tank in the late 1990’s. One of my colleagues and mentors, Adam Meyerson (now leading the Philanthropy Roundtable), was on a quest to find high-performing public schools that were overcoming the odds. He wanted to give policymakers ideas for how to replicate these models. The product of this work led to the publication of a short book called “No Excuses,” which featured 21 schools with at least 75 percent low-income students who were scoring at the 65th percentile or higher on national exams…read more here.

Nina Rees


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

July Newsletter

I had a fantastic time at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. It’s so energizing to be with the people who are on the ground every day working in America’s charter schools. We can never say thank you enough to the teachers and school leaders who show up before sunrise and head home after sunset, and who take time away from their own families so that they can change the lives of the children from other families.

With the 50th anniversary of the signing of the federal Civil Rights Act just behind us, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity. Not just the diversity of America’s student body today, but the diverse learning environments charter schools offer to millions of families. I wrote about this in my U.S. News & World Report column. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I hope you’re enjoying the summer!

What Happens in Vegas…

We are just back from a fantastic National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas where we had a record 4,800 attendees. Sal Kahn, Frank Luntz, and Campbell Brown inspired us to think bigger about using technology to bring world-class instruction to all corners of the globe and to never give up on our work to ensure all children have access to a great public school. Steven Michael Quezada of Breaking Bad fame opened the conference with a heartfelt story about his own experience in an underperforming public school and how it has motivated him to become involved with charter schools that engage students from all types of backgrounds.


It was our best conference yet—and we thank each of you for joining us. Education Week put together a fun roundup of the conference in 13 tweets—each tweet captures the essence of the conference in 140 characters or less.

We hope you will mark your calendar for next year’s conference, June 21-24 in New Orleans. When we convene, New Orleans will have just finished its first school year as an all-charter school district and it will be great to see first-hand how charter schools have dramatically improved the lives of so many students.

If you were with us in Las Vegas, please be sure to take our attendee survey if you haven’t already. The feedback you offer will help us make next year’s conference even better. Also, if you would like to receive a copy of Frank Luntz’s presentation, be sure to sign up for one of his focus groups here.

KIPP Wins Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools

For the past three years, at the National Charter Schools Conference, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has awarded a high-performing charter school network with The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. The prize honors the public charter school network with the most outstanding overall student performance and graduation rates, as well as the ability to close achievement gaps among low-income and minority students. The winner receives $250,000 to put toward college-readiness efforts for low-income students, such as scholarships, a speaker series, and campus visits.

KIPP Schools won the prize this year and it comes at no better time. This year marks their 20th anniversary—an entire generation of students has now had the opportunity to attend a KIPP school. KIPP has 141 schools across 20 states, and serves 50,000 students. In recent years, KIPP closed 21 percent of its racial achievement gaps in middle school reading, math and science. KIPP narrowed 65 percent of its racial and income achievement gaps in elementary school reading, math and science.

Congratulations to KIPP Schools! Because of their efforts, tens of thousands of students have gone on to brighter futures and many more are on their way. Click here to see a video highlighting the work of this year’s three finalists.

Pictured in photo (left to right): Steve Mancini, Director of Public Affairs at the KIPP Foundation; Bruce Reed, President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; Carissa Godwin, Director of Development at KIPP Delta Public Schools; Eric Schmidt, Principal of KIPP Courage Middle School; Nina Rees

Charter Schools Hall of Fame Welcomes Three New Members

Also at the conference, three new members were inducted into the Charter Schools Hall of Fame: Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy Charter Schools; Chester “Checker” E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; and The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund. Hall of Fame members include schoolteachers and leaders, thinkers, policy experts, and funders that have paved the way for the success and growth of public charter schools. You can read more and watch a short video about the work of each of the inductees here. Congratulations and thank you to Eva, Checker, and the Fisher Fund!

Two new members join the National Alliance Board of Directors

I am pleased to announce two new members of the National Alliance board of directors: Jeb Bush, Jr., and Moctesuma Esparza.

Jeb Bush, Jr., is managing partner for Jeb Bush & Associates, LLC and president of Bush Realty, LLC. He has been involved with education reform efforts through the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Moctesuma Esparza is CEO at Maya Cinemas North America and is an award-winning producer, entertainment executive, entrepreneur and community activist. Moctesuma founded the Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise Charter School and has been active in education reform efforts in Latino communities for decades. We are grateful to both Jeb and Moctesuma for joining our board.

Education Insiders Support Charter Schools

Last month, Whiteboard Advisors released the results of a poll of high-level “insiders” in education about their views on charter schools and recently introduced Senate legislation, backed by the National Alliance, to reauthorize the federal investment in charter schools. Ninety percent of the insiders polled want to see the Senate take action on the bill, but only 3 percent think it will actually happen. Also of note, 87 percent of the insiders polled viewed charter schools positively. That’s great news for all the school leaders and teachers in the trenches working hard every day to improve student learning.

New Report on Special Needs Students in Denver Charter Schools

Last month, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report that found students with special needs are less likely to leave Denver, Colorado charter schools than traditional public schools. They also found charter schools are less likely to classify students as special education, and more likely to declassify them. These findings are really important in light of the on-going (and unfounded) criticism by charter school opponents that charter schools push out students who are hard to teach. Click to read the report, Understanding the Charter School Special Education Gap: Evidence from Denver, Colorado.

See You in September!

We’re going to take a break from producing this monthly newsletter in August and look forward to updating you on our work again in mid-September. Have a great summer!

Nina Rees


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Learning the Facts of Financial Life

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report) Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently offered a compelling speech pushing American students to learn about money and finance in school. “Young people, to be successful, to secure retirement, to take care of their families, and to not be in poverty, have to have a level of financial literacy that 30, 40, 50 years ago maybe wasn’t required,” Duncan said. “Today it’s an absolute necessity.”

This is important for several reasons.

First, when tested for financial literacy in 2012, American teens scored below average and far short of those in countries like China, Australia and New Zealand, according to the results of a recently published Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development survey…read more here.

Nina Rees


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Diverse Schools Bring Many Benefits

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

After a long weekend of celebrating America with fireworks, food and family, I was thinking about what Independence Day means to today’s generation. I immigrated to this country as a child, thanks to parents who wanted me to have access to all the opportunities America offers. And I’m forever grateful for the risks they took to get our family here.

I was motivated to get involved in education reform because in some communities, low-income students don’t have access to the high quality education needed to succeed in today’s competitive global marketplace. It’s not for lack of trying. Ever since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago, and then the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the federal government and state governments have been trying to give every child a solid foundation for an exceptional life…read more here.