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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.

Susan Aud Pendergrass

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Charter Schools in St. Louis Giving Students Greater Access to a High-Quality Education, Paving the Way for Even More Success

The city of St. Louis recently released a study that showed public education is improving for their students. The study, produced by IFF, looks at where children live, where they go to school, and if they have access to a high-quality schools, based on state accreditation. The study uses 2013 data and is an update to a similar study produced five years ago. Contrary to what is happening in many of our nation’s urban areas, public school enrollment in St. Louis increased by five percent over the last five years. This is partly due to parents having more options and choosing to keep their children in the public school system. During that time, enrollment in neighborhood schools declined, while enrollment in charter, magnet, and select magnet schools increased. More importantly, access to accredited schools (those that met the state proficiency standards) has increased dramatically. In 2008, just over 6,000 of the approximately 33,000 public school students in St. Louis attended schools that were performing at half of the state accreditation level or better. By 2013, more than double that number (12,500) of students were in quality seats, meaning that their schools were fully accredited or accredited with distinction. Further, 40 percent of the quality seats were in charter schools, even though charter schools only account for 23 percent of enrollment in the St. Louis school district. This means that about 5,000 of the city’s 8,000 charter school students, or 62 percent, are in quality seats versus about 28 percent of students in traditional public schools. One critical contribution of the study is that it calculates a gap between the number of children in a given neighborhood or zip code and the availability of quality seats. This information is being used by the city to prioritize the placement of new charter schools, and to target and close poor-performing schools to pave the way for more high-quality schools in these under-served neighborhoods. “Closing poor-performing schools, including poor-performing charter schools, does not decrease the access to good schools,” said Dr. Doug Thaman, Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association. “In fact, closing poor-performing schools opens the door for the addition of new, innovative and successful options.” This fall, two new charters – KIPP: Victory and The International School – are opening their doors, followed by five additional charters in 2015. Based on the findings of this study, the city’s targeted and strategic decision to place these new charter schools where they are most-needed will continue to improve the quality of public education in St. Louis. Susan Aud is the senior director for research and evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 
Susan Aud Pendergrass

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How are Michigan charter schools performing?

A recent news series by the Detroit Free Press has questioned the performance of Michigan charter schools. Unfortunately, the series fails to acknowledge or glosses over key facts. So here is a look at the evidence regarding the performance of charter schools in Michigan. Michigan charter schools have a proven track record of academic performance. Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been conducting rigorous analyses of charter school performance data to determine how charter school students would have fared if they had attended a traditional public school. In CREDO’s 2013 study of Michigan charter schools, they found that Michigan is among the highest performing charter school states they have studied to date. In fact, charter school students in Michigan gained an additional two months of learning in reading and math compared to their traditional public school peers. Charter students in Detroit are performing even better than their peers in the rest of the state – gaining nearly 3 months achievement for each year they attend a charter school. Michigan charter schools are serving higher percentages of disadvantaged students. Charter schools in Michigan serve greater percentages of low-income and minority students, making their achievement gains even more remarkable. In the 2009-10 school year, 70 percent of charter school students in Michigan were living in poverty, compared to 43 percent in traditional public schools, and 33 percent were White, compared to 73 percent in traditional public schools. Even the students in the feeder schools (the traditional public schools from which students transfer to charter schools) had a lower percentage of low-income students (55 percent) and more White students (64 percent). Michigan charter schools are closing the achievement gap. The gaps in performance gains between White and Black students and between White and Hispanic students is a constant concern in public education. The CREDO study found that both of these gaps were smaller for students in charter schools than for students in traditional public schools in both reading and math. The same result was found for students living in poverty and for the combined groups of Black students in poverty and Hispanic students in poverty. To track the achievement gap in individual schools, the Michigan Department of Education categorizes schools as “Focus” schools.  Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between their top 30 percent of students and their bottom 30 percent of students. Twenty of the 347 schools identified as Focus schools in 2012-13 were charter schools. This represents 6 percent of the group, even though 10 percent of schools in Michigan are charters. Michigan is closing poor performing charter schools. A critical component of the charter school bargain is that underperforming schools should not be allowed to keep their doors open. Between 2005 and 2010, some 94 charter schools in Michigan were opened and 55 were closed, or about ten per year. The effort to hold schools accountable is paying off. In 2012-13, of the 86 charter schools in Detroit, only eight were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings. That same year, 25 of the 129 traditional public schools in Detroit, or nearly 20 percent, were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings. We believe strongly in accountability and welcome any examination into the performance of charter schools. However, it is important that all facts are presented accurately. Susan Aud is Senior Director of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 
Kim Kober

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Charter Schools Make Strong Showing in US News Best High School Rankings

In April, U.S. News & World Report released its 2014 Best High Schools Rankings, and 24 public charter schools are among the top 100. Three of those public charter schools made it into the top 10: BASIS Scottsdale (#2), Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (#3) and BASIS Tucson North (#5). U.S. News teamed up with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to produce the 2014 rankings. Public high schools were evaluated by their students’ performance on state-mandated assessments, minority and economically disadvantaged student performance, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam results to determine preparedness for college-level work. Public charter high schools are consistently over-represented in the top 100 of the U.S. News Best High Schools Ranking. This year, nearly one-quarter of the top 100 high schools are public charter schools, despite charter schools making up only 6 percent of all public schools in the country. A full list of the top public charter high schools ranked by U.S. News is available on their website. Congratulations to these charter schools recognized as the top public high schools in the nation! Kim Kober is the federal policy and government relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern

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Charter School Presence on “Challenge Index” High School Rankings Continues to Grow

Recently, the Washington Post released the results of its annual Challenge Index rankings that looks at college-level tests given at a high school and the number of graduates that year.  This year, the number of charter schools ranked in the top 100 reached an all-time high. Thirty-one public charter schools are among the 2013-2014 Challenge Index top 100 schools. Charter schools also make up half of the top ten—including #1, American Indian Public Charter (Oakland, CA); #2, Uplift Education North Hills Preparatory (Irving, TX); #3, Corbett Charter (Corbett, OR); #6, Signature (Evansville, IN); and #10, BASIS Tucson North (Tucson, AZ). The Challenge Index is calculated by dividing the number of college-level tests given at a school in 2013, by the number of graduates that year (education columnist Jay Mathews answers Challenge Index FAQs here). The Index also notes the percentage of students who come from families that qualify for lunch subsidies and the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career. Public charter schools have consistently grown among the top 100 of the Challenge Index.  Over the past four years, charter schools have comprised:
  • 2013-2014: 31 of the top 100
  • 2012-2013: 28 of the top 100
  • 2011-2012: 25 of the top 100
  • 2010-2011: 17 of the top 100
Public charter schools are over-represented on this ranking list compared to the percentage of charter high schools within the U.S. public high school system (only about 6 percent of all public schools). Congratulations to these public charter schools being recognized for providing a rigorous academic experience for their students. Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nina Rees

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Education Is A Primary Issue

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

Public charter schools and other education reforms have proven to be pivotal issues in several primary elections from coast to coast, with more to come this summer and fall.

In California, incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will head into a November runoff with Marshall Tuck. Tuck was the first head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a body set up by former mayor Demcoratic Antonio Villaraigosa to help improve some of the city’s most struggling schools. Tuck is also a former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a widely acclaimed network of charter schools.

The upcoming general election battle will be fierce, with Torlakson benefiting from heavy support by the powerful California Teachers Association, the state’s largest union. Tuck brings a track record of educational innovation in a state that has proven open to reform. And as the Los Angeles Times noted in endorsing him, Tuck successfully worked with unions at both the Partnership for LA Schools and Green Dot. While the superintendent position holds little policy-making power, the race will be an important barometer of the popularity of charter schools and other education reforms in California…read more here.

Nina Rees

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‘Brown’ at 60: Time to Fulfill the Promise

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

Just as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which officially barred segregation in public schools, we have new evidence that schools are failing to give all students the best start in life.

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card,” show that the performance of high school seniors in reading and math has stagnated in recent years. Only 37 percent of seniors are reading at grade level and only 26 percent of seniors are doing math at grade level. Even worse, the achievement gap between white and black students in reading has widened since 1992. In math, there’s been no improvement.

The stark reality is that despite two decades of education reform efforts, high school students on the whole aren’t registering better results. The effects are potentially catastrophic…read more here.

Nina Rees

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March Update

I just wrapped up two days in New York City at a series of meetings with journalists and others to talk about the role of charter schools in American education. It’s an interesting time to be in New York, in light of the significant media attention and political backlash that Mayor Bill de Blasio has received after his decision a few weeks ago to revoke three charter school co-locations, including one for a school that is already open and teaching children. Success Academy’s Harlem 4 middle school is teaching children so well, in fact, that it is one of the top-performing middle schools in the entire state. While I wish Mayor de Blasio were embracing charter schools, instead of closing them, it has been a true pleasure helping New York’s charter school community share its success stories. In case you’re not familiar with what’s been happening in New York, these short clips from CNBC’s Kudlow Report and MSNBC’s Morning Joe capture what’s at stake. Best regards, Nina Nina Rees President & CEO National Alliance for Public Charter Schools T. 202.289.2700 www.publiccharters.org  

Support Grows for Charter Schools on Capitol Hill

Last week the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on charter schools where five witnesses testified on the progress charter schools are making in closing the achievement gap, helping more children graduate from high school and go on to college, and sharing best practices with their school district counterparts. The chair of our board, Deborah McGriff, testified, along with Lisa Graham Keegan, the chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Alan Rosskaam, the CEO of the Breakthrough network of schools, David Linzey, Executive Director of Clayton Valley Charter High School and Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, Chief of Innovation and Reform at Denver Public Schools. You can read their testimonies and watch footage from the hearing here. Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee praised charter schools—which is good news because bipartisan support will be critical to expanding the federal Charter Schools Program so that more charter schools can open and high-performing networks can grow. There is talk that the U.S. House will vote on a bill to revise the Charter Schools Program this spring. We will work with members of the House to ensure the guiding principles outlined in our publication “Free to Succeed” are included in any bill that is considered. The Charter Schools Program is the only source of federal funding dedicated to charter schools. Right now the program is funded at $248 million dollars—less than 1 percent of the federal money spent on K-12 education. We are asking Congress to fund the program at $330 million. Congress is making funding decisions this month, and if you’d like to see more high-quality charter schools open and serving children, please take just a moment to send a letter to your members of Congress.

Our Work in States

The National Alliance continues its work to help pass strong charter school laws in states that either do not have a charter school law or where the law is weak. We are working actively in Kentucky, Nebraska, and Oklahoma right now. Oklahoma has had a charter school bill on the books since the ‘90s, but the law has allowed charters only in major urban areas. As a result, only two-dozen charter schools have opened. This year we are working with lawmakers to expand the law to allow charter schools to open in any community where there is a need and demand from parents. We expect to have a hearing on the bill by the end of this month. In Oklahoma, charter schools are working, and we want see more of them!

Capture

In Kentucky, the state Senate education committee is expected to vote soon on a bill to allow a charter school pilot program. While the bill doesn’t create the strong law that we would prefer, it is a step in the right direction. A charter school bill has been introduced in Nebraska the last several years, but hasn’t gained much traction until this year. This year’s bill would allow five charter schools to open in Omaha. At a recent legislative hearing, dozens of local charter school supporters came to testify in support of the bill. This is the first year that we have seen widespread grassroots support for bringing charter schools to Nebraska, so we are encouraged about the bill’s prospects.

Charter Schools are Working in Los Angeles, Too!

A new study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that the typical student in a Los Angeles charter school learns more in a school year than a typical student in a district school. Charter students gain the equivalent of 50 additional days of learning in reading and 72 additional days of learning in math. For low-income minority students, the learning gains were even more impressive. Low-income Hispanic students, for example, gained 58 additional days of learning in reading and 115 in math. Considering the average school year is 180 days, that means they are gaining another half-year’s learning in math. You can read more about the CREDO study here.

Save the Date for National Charter Schools Week

The first full week of each May is National Charter Schools Week, when we celebrate the accomplishments of our teachers, school leaders, and students, and thank the policymakers who have helped make charter schools a possibility. Mark your calendar for May 5-9 to join the celebration in your community. More details will be coming soon about events being planned and how you can get involved.

Will We See You in Vegas?

The National Charter Schools Conference is just three short months away and we’re putting the finishing touches on planning. This year will feature inspirational keynote talks from Sal Khan, Steven Michael Quezada, and others, along with more than 100 breakout sessions with practical content that you can take back to your school or organization. The conference is taking place at the fabulous Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas and we hope you’ll register today.

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is the voice of the charter school community in Washington, D.C., and in states that don’t yet have charter schools. To fulfill our mission we need your support. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift to the National Alliance today. Thank you!
Nick Fickler

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News
  •  “Charter School Enrollment Climbs 13 Percent,” Nina  quoted, Budget &Tax News , Mar. 5
  •  “Obama’s Budget Boosts Preschool, Access To Top Teachers, But Freezes Many Education Programs,” Nina quoted, Huffington Post, Mar. 4
News to Know
  • “More Support for New York City’s Charter Schools,” New York Post, Mar. 7
  • “New Jersey Renews 10 Charters, Revokes Two; Launches ‘Renaissance’ Charter in Camden,” Star Ledger, Mar. 6
  • “New York Governor Pledges Support to Charters,” New York Times, Mar. 5
  • “Commission Approves Maine’s First Virtual Charter School,” Portland Press Herald, Mar. 4
  • “New Orleans Goes All In On Charter Schools. Is It Showing The Way?,” Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 3
Audience Favorites Facebook— 194 children, 194 dreams. Don’t let NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio close Success Academy Harlem Central. #SaveThe194 Twitter— Great image from @Fam4ExcSchools, shows impact of @BilldeBlasio‘s latest move against #NYC charters. #SaveThe194 pic.twitter.com/9wLlYduYxs You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

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Media Round Up

National Alliance in the News

  • “The Charter School Tipping Point,” National Alliance mentioned, Voice of San Diego, Jan. 21

News to Know

  • “Spokane Approves Washington State’s First Charter School,” Spokesman-Review, Jan. 24
  • “Washington State Poised for First Public Charter School,” KREM, Jan. 23
  • “New Jersey Bill Would Revise Charter School Law,” NJ Spotlight, Jan. 22
  • “Chicago Needs More High-Quality Charter Schools,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 21

Audience Favorites

Facebook— Chicago Tribune makes the case for more public charters schools: “Parents don’t want to have to ‘negotiate the system.’ They don’t want to languish on waiting lists. They want access to more innovative schools. They want more charter schools. There aren’t enough of them in Chicago.” Twitter— @charteralliance “Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr. #MLKDay2014 You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.