Nora Kern


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Charter Schools in Tennessee’s Achievement School District Show Top Growth on State Assessment

The Achievement School District (ASD) is a statewide school district that was conceptualized four years ago to move schools performing at the bottom five percent (“Priority schools”) in Tennessee to the top 25 percent within five years. The ASD relies heavily on public charter school autonomies and operators as a reform tool. And the original schools that joined the ASD are showing great progress towards this audacious reform goal: 2014-15 test results show that schools in their second and third years in the ASD earned the state’s highest possible growth rating (averaging a Level 5) on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAS).

Other great news from the ASD 2014-15 test results include:

ASD Results

Source: Achievement School District

The results show that the longer students stay in the ASD, the greater they improve. ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic notes, “As we move forward, we will continue to monitor progress, hold our school operators accountable for results, and expand what works.” At the start of the 2015-16 school year, 29 ASD public schools in Memphis and Nashville will be serving over 10,000 students zoned to Priority schools.

Public charter school supporters have the opportunity to visit Nashville, Tennessee next year for our National Charter School Conference. Please save the date—June 26-29, 2016.

Nora Kern is the Senior Manager for Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Russ Simnick


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

In Indiana, Good Policy Leads to Better Results for Children

There is a real link between good education policy and improved outcomes. This theory shines through in a recent Chalkbeat article that discusses the growth of public charter schools in Indiana after the state strengthened its law in 2011.

Some background first: the 2011 policy improvements for charters in Indiana date, in part, to when the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its first state charter school law rankings report in January 2010. This report assesses the strength of each state’s charter law as compared to our model law and found that Indiana ranked a paltry 29 out of 40 (which is the number states with charter laws at that time). This low ranking was quite a surprise in a state where policy makers believed they had a high-quality law. The Indiana Public Charter Schools Association (IPCSA) seized upon this dissonance by working with the National Alliance to build legislative support and coalition partners to draft a bill that would significantly improve charter policy in Indiana.

Around the same time, Gov. Mitch Daniels made charter schools a legislative priority for the 2011 Indiana General Assembly and Speaker of the House Brian Bosma authored a bill with all the proposals from IPCSA and the National Alliance that session. Specifically, HB 1002-11 created a new statewide authorizer and a system of authorizer accountability, increased oversight of schools, and provided more access to facilities.

After HB 1002-11 passed, it propelled Indiana to the number 2 position in the National Alliance state rankings in 2012. More importantly, it had a significant effect on the state’s charter school movement.

Let’s look at some recent numbers as evidence. The article points out that when HB 1002-11 passed there were 49 public charter schools operating in Indiana. Fast forward to today: 14 schools were approved and are slated to open this fall, which means the number of charter schools operating in 2015 could be 86, a 75 percent increase since the bill passed in 2011.

Also important to note, at the time when new schools were opening, authorizers redoubled their focus on accountability. Seven schools sponsored by Ball State University and five schools sponsored by the Mayor of Indianapolis that were open when the law passed in 2011 are no longer in operation.

It is doubtful that either of these results – the growth of new schools and the closure of low performing charters – would have occurred without the complete overhaul of the law in 2011, making a strong argument for the impact of policy on results.

The work continues in Indiana, though. Just this year, the National Alliance worked with partners there to address two shortfalls of the 2011 law. First, HB 1636 closed a loophole that allowed some failing schools to jump to another authorizer before being closed. Second, HB 1001 provided facilities funding and a sizable facilities loan program allocated on a per-pupil basis tied to the charter school’s performance.

If the trend of good policy translating to strong performance continues in Indiana, look for a movement that has its best days ahead.

Kim McCabe


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Parents Taking Big Risks for School Choice

Washington D.C. has cracked down on parents from Maryland and Virginia who lie about where they live so that their children can attend D.C. schools. Education Watchdog reports that D.C. officials conducted 70 investigations for residency fraud last year. The stakes are high for these parents: those who commit residency fraud face up to 90 days in jail and may be required to pay back tuition, which can come in at $15,000 per year.

Why would parents be willing to take this kind of risk? Most likely, due to a lack of school choice in their home school districts. While Washington has a healthy school choice environment—about 76 percent of students in D.C. attend a school other than their assigned school—the city’s suburbs offer few options for families. Parents who feel that their child’s school isn’t the right fit can either pay for a private school education or they can move. For most families, those aren’t options.

Perhaps that’s why 70 percent of Americans support charter schools. They don’t think it’s right that a student’s education, and their future, should be tied to their zip code. All students, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make, have the right to a high-quality education at a school that works for them. Some students are thriving in arts-focused charter schools while others succeed in a bilingual program.

One-size education does not fit all and the growing number of parents taking great risks to access school choice for the sake of their children’s futures agree. Likely, there are many more families that, while unwilling to break the law, wish they had more options. We know that’s the case for the more than one million student names on charter school wait lists.

You can make a difference for these families without options. Join the charter schools action network to make sure that charter schools continue to grow and give families real school choice in public education.


Kim McCabe is the Advocacy Manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Jed Wallace


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

California Charter Schools Association Responds to LA Times Oped on Public Education

Following the publication of an opinion editorial in the Los Angeles Times that directs a series of unfounded criticisms at public charter schools, Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association wrote the following response:

Today the Los Angeles Times posted an op-ed written by Diane Ravitch in which she espouses the same incendiary messages we’ve heard from her before. Repeating the same messages over and over again doesn’t make them true. Ravitch accuses charter schools of excluding students, but the data here in Los Angeles says otherwise. Independent charters in LAUSD serve 1 percent more English learners and 2 percent fewer students with special needs than traditional schools do. In other words, there’s basically no difference in the students being served. It’s also worth noting that both English learners and students with special needs perform better in local independent charters than in traditional schools.

Ravitch laments charter schools’ lack of accountability, but charter schools are held to greater accountability standards than other public schools. How? Each charter school has to petition for renewal every five years; if it has failed to perform, it gets shut down. No other type of public school has to prove that it is actually helping students learn.

Ravitch also complains that charter schools have influence in Sacramento. Meanwhile, the California Teachers Association has long been the single most powerful and well-funded lobby in the Capitol by any measure. Ravitch’s rhetoric is forceful, but it’s not grounded in fact.

Even worse, Ravitch demonizes parents who exercise their right to choose the best education for their children. Ravitch seems to suggest that charter school students are traitors or second class citizens, and she seems intent on punishing them for seeking out learning environments that meet their needs.

Does LAUSD need a superintendent who shares Ravitch’s polarizing, politicized views? No. LAUSD needs a superintendent who will advocate for all students, regardless of the type of public school they choose to attend. 

Nora Kern


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

What the Data Actually Say About Teacher Turnover

There is a persistent criticism that charter schools have dramatically high rates of teacher turnover due to burnout or dissatisfaction. However, national data paint a different picture.

Education Week’s Charters & Choice blog recently revisited the only national representative data on the rates at which teachers in charter and traditional public schools stay, move, or leave their teaching positions. The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), administered by the U.S. Department of Education, acknowledged that the rate of teacher turnover has declined over the last three survey administrations.

According to the SASS Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS), between 2011-12 and 2012-13, about 84 percent of all teachers stayed in their job at the same school, eight percent continued to teach but moved to a different school, and eight percent left teaching. The overall teacher turnover rate has remained steady at around 15 percent for nearly 25 years.

However, the turnover rate for charter school teachers has declined over the past three rounds of the TFS, from about 24 percent to 18 percent. The most recent data (2012-13) show no statistically significant difference in the turnover rates between traditional public schools and charter schools for either movers or leavers.

map_teacher turnover

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Teacher Follow-up Survey (TFS), “Current and Former Teacher Data Files,” 2012–13.

Additional EdWeek coverage does a good job a good job of noting complications with the data (see here and here), especially the difficulty in capturing variations at the school- and district-level. However, the national-level data do not indicate that on the whole charter schools have a problem with teacher retention.

Nora Kern is the Senior Manager for Research and Analysis and Susan Aud Pendergrass is the Senior Director for Research and Evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

DFER’s Marianne Lombardo Gets It Right about Brown Amendment to ECAA

As I read the news clips today, I had to pause and applaud DFER’s Marianne Lombardo and her article she published today on DFER’s blog about Senator Sherrod Brown’s amendment that would have, in the words of Lombardo, “crush[ed] public charter schools.” The National Alliance had deep concerns about this amendment. We were glad to see that it didn’t make it far in consideration. Regardless, it’s important that it’s understood why this amendment was so harmful to the charter school movement nationwide. Read more below.

Sen. Sherrod Brown Wisely Withdraws Charter Amendment

JULY 16TH, 2015

Here, we would like to think, is why.

By Marianne Lombardo

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) offered an ESEA amendment to “improve accountability and transparency” of public charter schools. DFER, and other organizations, believed the amendment would crush public charter schools.

Although the amendment will not be voted on, it’s important that the implications be addressed.

Policy affects people’s lives, so let’s take the case of one particular wealthy suburban school district in Brown’s home State of Ohio.

Of the 84 fourth graders that went to school in the district in 2007, 18 kids didn’t graduate high school with their fourth grade peers.

What happened to them?

  • 7 moved
  • 1 died
  • 1 transferred to Catholic school
  • 9 transferred to public alternatives

In other words, other than the kids that moved, 10 percent of the original fourth grade class chose or was directed to another public school option. Even though they lived in one of the best school districts in the state, the district was not meeting their needs and they needed an alternative.

Even in “good” districts, some kids need something different.

This illustrates what was wrong with Brown’s amendment that was intended to bring greater accountability and transparency to public charter schools.

In Cleveland, 39 percent of students attend public charter schools. In urban areas, kids leave district schools not just for personal reasons, but for better academics. And to be clear, the majority of Cleveland’s public charter schools are not for-profit and do outperform comparative district schools on achievement and student growth – according to Stanford University’s gold-plated CREDO study.

Now to be fair, Brown, the NEA, and other critics were right that not all charters do well. Financial and operational mismanagement by some have sullied the reputation of all. Ohio’s long battle over charter reform, particularly with authorizer quality, is a frustrating example of politics at its worst.

Senator Brown’s ESEA Amendment, however, took the “nuclear option” approach to fixing charter school problems that are primarily in Ohio and a few other egregious states.  What exactly did it propose?

  1.  It put the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Brown would have had local school districts (the competitor to charters) draft impact statements assessing any newly proposed charter school’s impact on a district-wide multi-year school plan. Only after the statement was made public and after a public hearing was any determination to be made to approve or disapprove a new charter school application.


First, how an interested party – the district – can objectively and legitimately represent the needs of students – particularly those that are in conflict with the district – and not their own needs, is hard to understand.

Second, districts use a variety of tactics to thwart charter schools, such as denying transportation and access to buildings and preventing payments. And, districts have had their own scandals involving attendance, grades, test scores, and use of funds (see OhioGeorgia, and Texas, for example).

In the Brown-NEA scenario, a district would have had an unfair advantage in determining the fate of a potential competitor. And of course it also would have had more capacity and communication channels to organize support around its interests. As a result, districts can easily out-muscle a nascent charter group, especially one without a management company.

  1.  It made transparency good for the goose, but not for the gander.

Brown’s amendment required charter schools to publically disclose:

  1.  Annual student attrition rates by grade level;
  2.  Staff qualifications and languages spoken;
  3.  Annual teacher attrition rates, disaggregated by grade level, subject, years of experience and credential;
  4.  Fees, and if they are waived for certain students;
  5.  Attendance and the number of suspensions and expulsions by school year, in total and disaggregated by category.

Never mind that bureaucratic paperwork is antithetical to the charter concept. What’s stunningly ironic and inequitable is that districts and the entities they do business with don’t have those same requirements.

Brown wanted charter school management companies to be audited annually because they receive public funds. But a fair extension of that would be to audit the use of public funds by all entities doing business in the public education sphere, including:

  1.  Public funds transferred to unions and other organizations.
  2.  Public funds paid to lobbying, membership, and other organizations.
  3.  Public funds paid to other organizations that contract services to schools, such as transportation and food services.

Senator Brown believed that districts could balance their own as well as community and student needs. But, how did the district cited above react when students chose other educational options?

Initially, they chose to limit parent options by not agreeing to send tuition to the early college high school parents wanted their child to attend. Only a legislative change made it possible for students to attend regardless of district cooperation. Also, the district banned students educated outside the district from participating in district extra-curricular activities. The clear message is that if you’re not educated in the district, you’re not part of the community.

Across settings – underperforming urban schools to well-resourced suburban schools – public charter schools are needed for kids that aren’t well-served by the district. Yet, Brown’s amendment put kids’ futures in the hands of the very same district that isn’t helping them. Good thing it’s withdrawn.


Robert Reed


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

New Report Provides Clarity on the Use of Weighted Lotteries in Schools That Receive Federal Charter School Funding

This week, the Senate began debating the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Tucked in the law is a program called the Charter School Program (CSP) that provides critical funds to help launch and replicate new charter schools. As a condition of receiving federal funds, these schools must conduct a blind lottery if they receive more applications than they can accommodate. This provision was put in place due to the long-held belief that charter schools are open enrollment schools and to guard against the potential for some schools to cream the best and the brightest. In reality though, this provision has had a negative impact on charter schools that are trying to attract the most disadvantaged students – as every child gets equal weights when they enter a lottery.

To address these concerns, in early 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance on weighted lotteries for charter schools. Under the new guidance, charter schools receiving CSP funds were allowed to give educationally disadvantaged students slightly better chances for admission through the use of a weighted lottery if state law permits.

That caveat—if state law permits—has some cause for concern because few states have language that clearly permits weighted lotteries. In a new report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, State Laws on Weighted Lottery and Enrollment Practices: Summary of Findings, we studied state laws and policies to better understand the potential impact of the new guidance. What we found was that most states did not have a clear answer.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Four states expressly permit the use of weighted lotteries (Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Rhode Island).
  • No states expressly prohibit the use of weighted lotteries.
  • There are 16 states with statutes that may be interpreted to prohibit the use of weighted lotteries (Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin).
  • Seven states are silent on the issue (Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, and Maryland).
  • Nineteen state statues may be interpreted to permit the use of weighted lotteries (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah).

Fortunately, both the House and Senate versions of the reauthorization bills include our policy recommendations to ensure that weighted lotteries are permitted unless state law specifically prohibits the practice. Since our findings show that no states expressly prohibit the practice, this proposal would make it significantly easier for schools to take advantage of weighted lotteries to serve more educationally disadvantaged students.

Riya Anandwala


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Ashley Judd to Speak at 15th Annual National Charter School Conference

Actor, activist and humanitarian Ashley Judd will address the National Charter Schools Conference general session in New Orleans on Monday, June 22.

Actor, activist and humanitarian Ashley Judd will address the National Charter Schools Conference general session in New Orleans on Monday, June 22. Best known for her performances in Ruby in Paradise, Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy, De-Lovely and most recently the Divergent franchise, Judd is a longstanding advocate and supporter of education.

 A devoted humanitarian, Judd is committed to telling personal stories and being the voice of the underprivileged locally as well as internationally. Her remarks at National Alliance’s conference will focus on the power of political activism and the ability of education to empower young people and defy poverty – two principles closely aligned with the charter schools movement.

The National Charter Schools Conference, which runs from June 21-24, is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, leaders, administrators, board members and advocates from across the country. The two and a half day event will provide keynote sessions, breakout sessions, and numerous networking opportunities for more than 4,500 charter school professionals and policymakers.

For conference agenda details, visit






Riya Anandwala


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Hall of Fame 2015

The National Alliance has announced its 2015 Hall of Fame Inductees: Senator Mary Landrieu, Nelson Smith and Dr. Deborah McGriff.

Mary Landrieu Former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu spent 35 years in public service, demonstrating her passionate commitment to children and families as a Louisiana state legislator, state treasurer and U.S. senator.
Nelson Smith Nelson Smith is senior advisor to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. From 2004 to 2011 he was president and CEO and then senior advisor to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Deborah McGriff Deborah M. McGriff is a managing partner with NewSchools Venture Fund where she focuses on closing the demographic gap between students, executive leaders and governing boards.

These individuals are being recognized for their pioneering efforts in the growth of charter schools, their long-term commitment and contributions to charter schools, and their innovative ideas and successful implementation of those ideas.

Congratulations to our new inductees! We are grateful for their contributions to the growth of effective, high-quality public charter schools that now serve nearly three million students.

Riya Anandwala


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Study: Charter School Students in LA Report Higher Graduation Rates, SAT Scores

According to a new study by the California Policy Center, Los Angeles Unified School District’s charter high schools perform significantly better than the district’s traditionally operated public schools, despite receiving a lower per student funding amount.

This report offers more evidence about the positive impact of charter schools on students, communities and the public education system. Specifically, the study found charter students had higher performance rates on three counts:

Academic Performance Index scores: 762 vs. 701

Graduation rates: 92 percent vs. 84 percent

Normalized SAT scores: 1417 vs. 1299

Just last month during National Charter Schools Week, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report that profiles ten big cities with a large wait list of student names to attend charter schools. Los Angeles has the second largest wait list with more than 68,000 students. The wait list numbers – which are over a million nationwide – along with strong academic performance is case in point for the need of additional federal money to help start new charter schools, especially in cities where the wait lists are in the tens of thousands.

This study is an excellent showcase of what charter schools are achieving in one of the biggest cities in the nation, and a reminder that a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work for every family. There are thousands of students who could benefit from a charter school education and accomplish the kind of academic excellence that prepares them for a solid college career.