State Government Issues


Todd Ziebarth


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What You Need to Know About the State Charter School Laws Rankings Report

Last week, we released the sixth edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws. This report evaluates each state’s charter school law against the 20 essential components from our model law, which includes items such as “No Caps,” “Performance-Based Charter Contracts,” and “ Equitable Access to Capital Funding and Facilities”.

By serving as an annual benchmark for states, this report recognizes those states that are making progress in creating a policy environment that supports high-quality public charter schools as well as those states that are failing to do so. For example, as high-performing public charter schools look to open in new states, this report lets them know the places that provide the best (and worst) set of policies related to caps, authorizers, autonomy, accountability and funding, among other issues. Also, if charter schools in a particular state feel their flexibility to innovate is being constrained, they can look to this report to see which states provide charters with maximum autonomy and push their lawmakers to adopt similar policies.

We are pleased that charter school supporters have used the rankings and recommendations to drive changes to their states’ charter school laws since 2010. As a result, there are fewer caps on the growth of charters, more non-district authorizers for schools to apply to, more flexibility for schools to innovate, stronger accountability for schools’ performance, and more funding and facilities support for schools – all of which translates to the creation of more high-quality public charter school options for the students who need them the most.

Todd Ziebarth is the senior vice president for state advocacy and support for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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 

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.








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.”

MN Writing1a










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.”

MN Writing2a









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.