State Government Issues

 

Susan Aud

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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

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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 

Todd Ziebarth

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To achieve a strong charter sector, start with supportive laws

Senior VP of State Advocacy and Support Todd Ziebarth has a guest blog at Flypaper as part of their “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while other are falling behind. Here’s an excerpt of Todd’s response:

The short, but unsatisfying, answer to Mike’s question: It’s complicated.

Since we released our first rankings of state charter school laws against our model law in 2010, we’ve been asked about the relationship between a state’s ranking in our report and the results of that state’s charter schools—so much so that we’ll be releasing a new report in a couple of months that begins to tease out this relationship in each state entitled The Health of the Public Charter School Sector: A State-By-State Report. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about this relationship.

Supportive laws are necessary but not sufficient

First, to quote directly from our model law,

It is important to note that a strong charter law is a necessary but insufficient factor in driving positive results for public charter schools. Experience with public charter schools across the country has shown that there are five primary ingredients of a successful public charter school environment in a state, as demonstrated by strong student results:

  • Supportive laws and regulations (both what is on the books and how it is implemented);
  • Quality authorizers;
  • Effective charter support organizations, such as state charter associations and resource centers;
  • Outstanding school leaders and teachers; and,
  • Engaged parents and community members. 

While it is critical to get the law right, it is equally critical to ensure these additional ingredients exist in a state’s charter sector.

Some states with supportive laws (those that show up high in our annual rankings) have implemented them well and have therefore achieved strong results. Conversely, other states with supportive laws that show up high in our rankings have implemented them inconsistently—and have therefore achieved uneven results.

To read the rest of Todd’s response, visit Flypaper

 

 

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The Facts on Student Attrition in New York City

I wanted you to know the facts from a new report out of New York City, because the results are mostly encouraging, but also require some thought; and because a nationally known charter opponent is sending out an incomplete, rather than full description of the report.

In her blog and on social media, Diane Ravitch asserts that the study shows “NYC charters lose 80% of students with disabilities by the third grade.” But that’s not the full story.

The study from New York City’s Independent Budget Office examined the school transfer rates of one cohort of students from kindergarten through third grade; it did not look at every charter school or every district school. Here’s what they found:

  • On average, student at charters stay at their schools at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional schools.
  • This higher rate of staying at charter schools also is found when students are compared in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, poverty, and English learner status.
  • The one major exception is special education students, who leave charter schools at a much higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools. Only 20 percent of students classified as requiring special education services who started kindergarten in charter schools remained in the same school after three years.

While this is mostly good news, the last finding definitely deserves more examination and serious reflection by the charter school community. But before we point any fingers, James Merriman of the NYC Charter Center has highlighted the conclusion in this study is reached based on just 25 students with special needs, out of the thousands attending NYC charter schools. In other words, this is a tiny sample and may not reflect what it actually happening across all charter schools in the city.

Because you may hear about the report from pundits who will present only a portion of the report’s conclusions, I wanted you to have all the facts.

Joe Nathan is the director of the Center for School Change. 

Jed Wallace

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California Charter Schools Association Calls for Closure of Six Schools Due to Academic Underperformance

Today, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) called for the closure of six charter schools from across California that are below CCSA’s Minimum Criteria for Renewal. Four of the schools are up for renewal by their authorizer this year and two of the schools were renewed despite chronic low performance and have failed to improve.

Accountability continues to be one of our top priorities, and we remain driven by a relentless focus on the pursuit of quality education for every student as a constant tenet in all of our efforts. The basic promise of public charter schools is that greater autonomy and flexibility are given in exchange for increased accountability. We are serious about delivering on this promise.

Earlier this year, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released a study indicating there has been encouraging improvement in charter school performance nationwide over the past four years. The most important thing we can do to continue this growth and support charter school quality is to make sure that underperforming schools are closed.

Our own analysis of performance, the CCSA Minimum Criteria for Renewal, reinforces the view held by CREDO. Over the past five years we have seen a significant improvement in the overall performance of charter schools in California, with the percentage of high-performing schools increasing modestly and the percentage of low-performing schools decreasing by approximately one third. We do not think it would have been possible to make this progress, without CCSA and its members assertively holding underperforming schools accountable.

CCSA is committed to creating better learning opportunities than are available within the traditional school system. That means not only supporting the growth of high-performing schools, but also shining a light on those charter schools that are not providing a high-quality education. In so doing, our movement reaffirms its commitment to the transparency and accountability that we believe parents and the general public wish to see in place for all public schools and deserve.

We first called publicly for the non-renewal of chronically low-performing schools in 2011. Last year, we joined the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and statewide associations in New York and Colorado to take this call for the closure of low-performing schools to the national level.

Together, these steps will ensure charter schools in California and elsewhere maintain a high level of accountability in order to continue playing a transformational role for students for many years to come.

Jed Wallace is the president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association. 

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Growth in California Charter Schools Continues to Gain Momentum: Over 500,000 Students Enrolled, 50,000 Remain on Waiting Lists

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) announced last week that 104 charter schools opened across the state for the 2013-14 school year, bringing the total number of charter schools in California to 1,130. Charter school enrollment grew by an estimated 49,179 students, a 10 percent increase from 2012-13. There are now more than 519,000 students enrolled in charters. And, California maintained its position as the state with the greatest number of charter schools and charter school students.

Momentum continues to grow year after year as parents and communities across the state turn to charter schools in greater numbers. This growth comes in spite of the continuing challenges charters face to secure equitable facilities, obtain approval for state grants for start-up schools, and overcome inconsistent authorizing practices.

It is heartening to see educators, parents, and community leaders coming together to open new schools in order to make school choice an option for more of California’s students. We anticipate even greater growth in the coming years with the passage of Governor Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula. While not perfect, the formula levels the playing field by granting funding equity for new charter schools.

This school year, the Los Angeles region (Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles county) had the largest charter school growth with 45 new charters opening. The second largest growth area was in the Southern California region (Inland Empire, Orange County, and San Diego) where 27 new charters opened.

Despite this growth, an estimated 50,000 students remain on charter school waiting lists across the state. Such numbers clearly indicate that many more families would choose the charter public school option if there was sufficient space to serve them.

Parental school choice is alive and well in California and I am very excited about the growth that we are seeing. Over the next several years, I think we will continue to see significant additional momentum to what has already been very robust growth for charter schools in California.

Jed Wallace is the president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

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Using Technology to Improve Student Achievement

Village Charter School (VCS), a K-8 school of 360 students in Trenton, NJ, with 80 percent of the student body receiving free or reduced-price meals, is the epitome of an urban charter school that can go from a school not meeting state standards to one that does—in two years’ time!

In the 2009-2010 school year, only 33 percent of the school was proficient in mathematics and 37 percent was proficient in language arts on the NJ Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (the state’s standardized test for NCLB ratings). VCS had to significantly improve its standardized test scores to meet the high academic standards demanded by the NJ DOE Office of Charter Schools.

Beginning September 2010, VCS transformed itself in a few ways, mainly through two technology initiatives. You might have read about one of them in Tech & Learning Magazine during the 2010-11 school year, when the VCS SuccessMaker-Dell Project was covered monthly in The Long Review section of the magazine.

For this project, Pearson (publisher of SuccessMaker, a dynamic software program) and Dell computer donated a site license and two, twenty-station computer labs, respectively, believing that the fidelity to a data-driven approach in a first rate software-hardware environment would yield significant benefits.

SuccessMaker is interactive and diagnostic. Teachers used the wealth of data provided by the software to differentiate the instruction, student-by-student, standard-by-standard, skill-by-skill in real time. Administrators reviewed student progress on a weekly basis, met with teachers to discuss the results, and visited classrooms to see the differentiated instructional approaches.

Students accessed the software in in two formats: in three weekly thirty-minute sessions in the labs and at various times in class. Students are accustomed to immediate feedback when engaged in technology, and this activity helped them become more successful and more aware of their progress in real time. They, as do all people, enjoy being successful.

This practice set the trajectory to incorporate more technology into the day-to-day curriculum, which made the other major technology initiative a natural one.

That other initiative was the 1:1 netbook project. VCS started with grades one and five, then expanded to grades one, two, five, and six, then to grades one through seven, with eighth graders receiving netbooks in September. Kindergartners will receive netbooks sometime soon as well.

Having a 1:1 changed the teaching-and-learning environment. Teachers and students thought differently; they acted differently; they approached teaching and learning from a more sophisticated perspective. The students became self-starters and took ownership for their own learning. The netbooks became “primary learning resources,” for students, and soon they might be replaced with other technologically appropriate devices.

It’s very cool to watch first-graders get a netbook from the charging station, go to their desks, and start working independently in the same way many students get a book off the shelf. The environment mirrors one usually found in private schools.

VCS continued expanding its technological bandwidth. This year, it is piloting the Discovery Education Techbook, a digital textbook, in middle school science, and is looking at corresponding techbooks in social studies for next year.

VCS is not saying that all you need are the two technology initiatives referenced herein and your school will have the same dramatic and rapid increase in student achievement. The staff has a deep commitment to the school and community, creating a nurturing environment fostering connections with the students.

In 2012, one-half of the VCS students were proficient or advanced proficient in math and almost the same number were proficient in language arts—which placed VCS in the “meets standard” category relevant to academic performance. The technology initiatives created sparks of excitement, and a heightened awareness to what is possible for all students.

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Students at Village Charter School in Trenton, New Jersey, use their individual netbook computers in class. Image by Michael Mancuso/The Times.

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Minnesota students win awards in statewide charter writing contest

Jack Wickenhauser, De’shawnte Taylor, Vincent Smith Jr. and Denisse Sanchez are eloquent young people. They recently earned awards in a statewide Minnesota charter public school writing contest that attracted more than 2,200 entries.

Their essays answered the question, ‘What was your best day in school?’

Whether you’re an educator or parent, I think you’ll learn a lot by asking youngsters this question at the end of the year.

Jack Wickenhauser, a seventh-grader at Cologne Academy, wrote that his best day “was every day since the end of February.” He started staying after school by choice to “help watch the little kids. … I mostly look after one kid who has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) because I know what it’s like. I try to help him to do the best. … When I look in his eyes, I see a younger me.”

De’shawnte Taylor of Excell Academy in Brooklyn Park described the day an essay he wrote for the DARE program won a first place award. “My mom came to the school to watch our DARE graduation. I felt so happy when I first saw her. I gave her a huge hug.  It was very special because it showed me that she cared about me.”

De’shawnte’s essay was a forceful reminder that some of the most important things families can do for their youngsters don’t involve spending money on them – showing up can make a huge difference.

Another powerful essay by a St. Paul second-grader contained a surprise. Vincent Smith Jr. believes his best day in school was when “I got suspended for punching a classmate. I had not been behaving well in school. I have been rude. I have been talking and fighting instead of working.”

He continued, “Getting suspended got me thinking. My dad is in prison, but he often calls me. He is good, but he did something bad. I figured I was the same. I am good, but I do bad things. Being bad is not cool. The day I got suspended was my best day because it helped me change. Now I stay away from trouble. … It feels great to be a leader and not a follower.”

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Writing contest winner Vincent Smith Jr. (second grade), who attends Urban Academy charter school in St. Paul, is shown with Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. (Photo submitted)

Wah Nay Moo, a sixth-grader at the College Prep Elementary in St. Paul earned top honors in her division. She described the first day she attended the school in September 2011. “Prior to this day, I had never attended school in America. I had my first experience learning with materials that were in good shape, unlike my school materials in Thailand that were over 30 years old.”

Finally, Denisse Sanchez, a Minneapolis 10th-grader earned first place among high school students. Formerly, “I hated school and that I had all F’s.” Then she and her English class read an essay by James Baldwin. It reminded her that “My mom and dad never finished high school and now are living the life of poverty. … I want something better and bigger in life. … The only way to do that is to get my education.”

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Writing contest winner Denisse Sanchez (tenth grade), who attends Minnesota Transitions Charter High School, shown with Cindy Murphy, the Minn. Department of Education State Project Director for Charter Public Schools.
TCF Foundation cosponsored the writing contest and provided cash awards for the best essays. To see humor, honesty, insight and courage, read the winning essays here.

This Joe Nathan Column originally ran on HometownSource on May 15, 2013. Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.

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More than 700 Texas Charter School Parents, Students, Teachers and Charter Leaders call for passage of strong charter legislation at TCSA Rally at the South Steps of the Texas State Capitol

During National Charter Schools Week and in the final 20 days of the 83rd Legislature, the Texas Charter Schools Associationwelcomed to Austin more than 700 parents, students, teachers and charter leaders from across Texas to rally on the south steps of the Texas State Capitol to show their strong support for public charter schools and charter legislation this session. On that same day, the TCSA’s first charter bill, SB 1538, which helps to accurately measure drop out recovery charters and traditional public schools, passed and is headed to the Governor’s desk.

TCSA executive director David Dunn praised all the charter school parents, like our two parents from Dallas and Austin who spoke at the rally, students, teachers and leaders across the state, who are working this session with the Texas House and Senate to pass legislation that will strengthen and support effective charter schools in Texas, lift the arbitrary cap on charter schools, and more accurately measure drop out recovery schools and the work they do with students returning to high school to recover credits and graduate.

He also thanked our Legislators for leaving the House and Senate chambers and addressing charter parents and supporters at the rally.  During the rally, we cheered and thanked them for their support and for all the hard work they are doing this session to pass good and needed charter legislation.

Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst addressed the rally participants as well as Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, House Public Education Committee member and Representative Marsha Farney and Representative Diane Patrick.  During National Charter Schools Week, public charter school parents, leaders and supporters traveled from Houston, San Antonio, San Marcos, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Angelo and locally from Austin, Tex., to rally for legislation that helps their children and strengthens overall charter school policy to benefit all charter schools statewide.

We began the day with lunch on the Capitol grounds, and then TCSA led a supporter march from 11th and Congress up to the Capitol south steps, chanting our support for public charter schools and options for parents and students. We rallied at the south steps and then entered the Senate gallery to watch the Senators in action.  Senator Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education committee, recognized our charter parents, students, teachers and leaders in the gallery and we stood to applaud and wave.  Rally participants ended their day at the Texas Capitol by visiting their district House rep and asking for support on TCSA’s list of charter bills.

All of the rally participants represent more than 154,000 students on 500-plus open-enrollment charter school campuses across the state, and equally as important, the larger-than-expected crowd represents the more than 101,000 students on waiting lists for a spot at a charter school.  The Texas Charter Schools Association is the statewide association representing open-enrollment charter schools in every part of our great state of Texas, and we continue to advocate for quality charter schools and state policy that will create an environment for more charter growth, more innovation and more options for parents and students in Texas.

Public charter schools are making a difference for students in Texas.

  • In 2011 (the last year of rankings in Texas), in public charter schools rated under Texas’ Standard Accountability System, higher percentages of African-American and Hispanic students passed the TAKS test in every core subject area than in traditional public schools.
  • According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in her annual Financial Allocation Study for Texas (FAST), Texas charter schools account for nearly 30% of the state’s most fiscally efficient public schools, even though they represent only 3% of the student population.
  • Texas public charter schools, as a percentage, serve more African-American students, more Hispanic students, more economically disadvantaged students and more at risk students than traditional public schools. Public charter schools serve only slightly fewer limited English proficient and special education students, as a percentage, than traditional public schools.
  • U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools Rankings: 8 out of the top 20 in Texas are public charter schools.

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Image via Austin American-Statesman: Texas Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick speaks at TCSA rally

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Image via Austin American-Statesman

Daniel L. Quisenberry

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MAPSA’s Documentary About Jalen Rose’s Charter School Promotes an Important Conversation

What should a parent do when they feel their current school is not working for their child? And how do we create the quality schools they deserve?

That was the focus as the Michigan Association of Public School Academies had an exciting event this week to kick off National Charter Schools Week – the premiere of an original documentary we produced on the first year of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit. The full-length documentary was called “Creating Hope: A Year in the Life of a New Charter School,” and it was written and directed by MAPSA’s Emmy-nominated Vice President of Communications, Buddy Moorehouse.

For those who might not be basketball fans, Jalen Rose was a member of the University of Michigan’s fabled Fab Five team from the early 1990s. He later went on to a long career in the NBA, and currently works as a basketball analyst for ESPN and NBC. He’s obviously gone on to great success and fame in his life, and people like that often forget where they came from.

Not Jalen Rose. The state of public education in his hometown, Detroit, has always troubled him, so a few years back, he decided to do something about it. He founded a charter high school on the city’s northwest side called the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. The school would teach leadership and responsibility along with the academic subjects, and it would feature an extended school day and school year – 211 days in all.

The school opened in 2011, and MAPSA’s documentary project began at that time. We decided to tell the story of the school through the eyes of one student and her family. Unique Bailey’s family enrolled her at the school in 2011 because they felt the local school district wasn’t meeting the needs of their daughter. Unique was a very bright girl, but she was getting lost in her old school district. Her parents wanted more for her. They wanted hope. They found it at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.

The documentary project consumed nearly a full year, as we followed Unique and her classmates all the way to the last day of classes on Aug. 3, 2012. Editing on the film began soon after that, and the premiere took place at the start of National Charter Schools Week on Monday evening, May 6, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. We had a dream audience in attendance – a who’s who of Michigan’s business, philanthropic, educational, media and community leaders.

The main intent of the documentary was to start a conversation that needs to take place now in our state, and our country. Specifically, what does a parent do when they feel trapped in a school that isn’t meeting the needs of their child? And how do we create the schools they deserve? We saw that question come to life through the eyes of Unique Bailey and her family.

This was a film about a charter school, but in the same way, it was not a film about a charter school. Because the challenges faced by the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy are the same challenges that every public school in our state faces – creating a school that meets the needs of the student. As we pointed out on Monday night, we don’t need good schools in our state – we need GREAT schools in our state.

An important step in that process is defining the challenges and starting a conversation. That was the intent of our documentary, and we’re heartened that we were able to start this conversation during National Charter Schools Week. We had a panel discussion following the film that featured myself along with educators, legislators, media members, parents – and a former basketball star who was willing to roll up his sleeves to get his hands dirty, to help make a difference in his hometown.

Jalen Rose isn’t used to sitting on the sidelines when the game isn’t going well. We need more people like him if we’re going to create more excellent schools.

We’re going to be showing the documentary to more people in more places around Michigan, because we feel it’s an effective way to illustrate the challenges and get the discussion moving.

The film ends with Unique Bailey’s mother, Tanisha Bailey, saying, “I can’t fail Unique. I cannot. I cannot fail her.”

Mrs. Bailey, you’re right. You can’t fail Unique. And neither can we. The success of our state, and our country, depends on the success of our students.

We can’t fail them.

Dan Quisenberry is the President of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the state’s united voice for charter schools.

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Photo: From left, charter school founder Jalen Rose, MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry, Michigan Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov and JRLA Superintendent Joe Tenbusch participate in a panel discussion following the premiere of “Creating Hope.”