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Nora Kern

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Expanding the school model: Citizens of the World Charter Schools (Los Angeles metro area)

In conjunction with the release of our newest issue brief, the Charter Blog is looking at ways public charter school leaders design their school mission to meet diverse community needs. Building the school model Citizens of the World Charter Schools (CWC) aims to provide an excellent public education that is academically rigorous and socioeconomically, racially and culturally diverse, and builds community both within and outside of the school. Their flagship school, CWC Hollywood, opened in fall 2010 after a full planning year, delivering an intellectually challenging, experiential learning environment that is designed to build each students confidence, potential, and individual responsibility as citizens of the world in which we live. The Hollywood school is the first of a network of schools to open in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, with two additional schools approved to open in Silver Lake in the fall 2012 and Mar Vista in fall 2013 . CWC deeply believes that demand for high performing, neighborhood schools exists within many communities across the country.  Citing the hundreds of families who sit on waitlists for other strong, diverse charter schools, CWC feels compelled to meet the demand, and sees strategic, aggressive growth as the lever to do so. Taking it national CWC evaluates potential school markets by analyzing the demographics of neighborhoods and identifying neighborhoods that could attract a diverse student population through organic growth and community outreach (as opposed to employing a weighted lottery). Taking this into account, as well as the potential state’s charter school law, per pupil funding, parent demand, and talent on the ground, CWC selects new sites and begins to identify parents and community leaders who are supportive of the mission and vision.  CWC—which sees itself as somewhat of a hybrid between a charter management organization (CMO) and charter school incubator—strives to build high quality teams to run schools with the CWC mission, yet leave enough room within the CWC brand to give school leaders true autonomy to make school-level decisions that are responsive to and reflective of the community it serves. Recognizing that this takes time and grassroots organizing, CWC works to identify new sites early enough to ensure comprehensive outreach to the community. CWC’s involvement in the California and New York  markets has yielded different lessons in terms of adapting to local policies. In California, which ranks as the 43rd lowest state for per pupil funding allotments when labor is factored,  employing non-classroom staff to conduct community outreach is nearly cost prohibitive. So school location in diverse neighborhoods is of the utmost importance, since that will be the primary means to attract the desired student population. Other funding issues, like deferrals and mid-year cuts, create pressured revenue streams for charter schools. In New York, charter schools are held accountable for matching the enrollment population—not neighborhood population—of district schools. Therefore, CWC’s focus on student diversity could be difficult because schools with a focus on diversity would seem to be faced with inherent challenges in complying with this requirement. CWC will test the national pulse for creating K-12 schools that open a pathway to college while learning in diverse school settings as it strives to build a network of schools across the country. CWC Blog           For more information on Citizens of the World Charter Schools, please visit their website. Photo: Citizens of the World Charter School website.
Nora Kern

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Incubating a diversity-focused charter school: Bricolage Academy (New Orleans)

In conjunction with the release of our newest issue brief,  the Charter Blog is looking at ways public charter school leaders design their school mission to meet diverse community needs. The question of which students a charter will serve is a critical inquiry that must be considered throughout all phases of school development (and throughout the life of the school). Schools in the incubation phase can shed particular light on the if/then considerations that founders must balance in order to launch their envisioned charter school. Josh Densen is working with 4.0 Schools—a charter incubator that focuses on talent development to build charter school leadership teams—to launch Bricolage Academy, a proposed New Orleans charter school that is diverse by design. Densen began the inquiry process for his school in July 2011, and, as of January 2012, he has begun to work on the charter application. For Densen, socio-economic diversity is a value to celebrate and a prerequisite for future academic and professional success. Densen does not have an ideal student demographic population; his admissions process reserves 40 percent of each class for free and reduced price lunch (FRL)-eligible students, 30 percent for non-FRL students, and 30 percent for a general population without income preferences. However, there is an “at risk” provision in Louisiana’s charter school statute that requires a charter school’s population to mirror the demographic composition of the district from where the students transferred (roughly 62 percent FRL students to match the state demographic for district schools, and even higher within Orleans Parish). As a result of this provision, Densen has a few considerations to weigh when he submits his charter application for authorizer approval. Densen is considering use of a weighted lottery to achieve the socioeconomic diversity described above. That said, if Densen decides to not use a weighted lottery, he can attempt to influence the demographics of the school’s population with a geographic catchment area preference. Locating the school in an area of New Orleans that is already diverse may result in a diverse student population at the school, however, due to New Orleans status as a near-100 percent charter and all choice district, there is no guarantee that a diverse population will endure if families throughout the system choose to attend his school or the neighborhood demographics shift over time. Using a weighted lottery will further the mission of the school and assure parents and families of the school’s commitment to diversity, a quality valued by many New Orleans residents. Densen recognizes that use of a weighted lottery will make Bricolage ineligible for federal CSP funding. The enthusiastic support he receives from a broad range of New Orleans residents and philanthropies reaffirms his commitment to socio-economic diversity. Josh Densen Blog           Photo: Josh Densen For more information on the use of weighted lotteries, please see our issue brief. You can learn more about Bricolage Academyhere.

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How Public Charter Schools Are Designed to Meet the Diverse Demands of Our Communities

Today, NAPCS is proud to release our newest issue briefA Mission to Serve: How Public Charter Schools Are Designed to Meet the Diverse Demands of Our Communities. By looking at high performing public charter schools that are consciously designed to serve their students–whether in homogenous or diverse environments–this issue brief underscores that public charter schools can accommodate both models and, in the process, provide more high quality public school options to our nation’s students. One of the most exceptional developments within the first two decades of the movement has been the rise of high performing public charter schools with missions intently focused on educating students from traditionally underserved communities. While much media attention rightly has been given to these schools, the past decade or so also has seen a noteworthy rise in high-performing public charter schools with missions intentionally designed to serve economically integrated student populations.  These schools are utilizing their autonomy to achieve a diverse student population through location-based strategies, recruitment efforts and enrollment processes. Perhaps most notably, a growing number of cities – and the parents and educators in them – are welcoming both types of public charter school models for their respective (and in some cases unprecedented) contributions to raising student achievement, particularly for students who have previously struggled in school.  Our issue brief showcases this development in three such cities:  Denver, Washington, D.C., and San Diego. Diverse Models IB Cover Photo 1

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The Challenge of Filling Charter School Governing Board Positions

This is my third year serving on a public charter school governing board. The school, Pioneer Charter School, is a PreK-7 school in Denver serving a large proportion of students who are at-risk for academic failure. Over 90 percent of Pioneer’s students are Latino, 70 percent are English Language Learners, and 90 percent receive free or reduced lunch. Pioneer opened in 1997, making it one of the first Denver Public Schools (DPS) charter schools. For the first decade of operation, it would have been difficult to distinguish Pioneer from one of the neighborhood district schools (the district maintained control over the school’s budget, hiring of the school leader, and other duties that the school’s governing board should have had responsibility for). One consequence of this ‘charter school in name only’ management was that most parents believed that the school was their neighborhood school. About five years ago, during Pioneer’s charter renewal, DPS made the Pioneer board decide between becoming a district school or firmly establishing itself as a charter school. The governing board decided to become a full-fledged charter school, taking on fiduciary responsibility for Pioneer. Pioneer has struggled academically, which has been quite a challenge for me as a board member. During my first year on the board, we contemplated recommending closure. Instead, we made a change in school leadership, hiring a dynamic leader who had previous success as the founder of a KIPP school in Colorado. We are in the second year of our self-imposed turnaround, a process that has included: a nearly 50 percent turnover in teachers; a complete overhaul of the curriculum (from inconsistent use of Success for All and Everyday Math to a customized, in-house standards-based curriculum based on the Common Core); the implementation of regular benchmark assessments and data-driven decision-making; and changes in school policies to ensure that we have a culture of high expectations. As a board, we are cautiously optimistic that we will see academic gains on this year’s state assessments. But we are also realistic in understanding that it may take another year or two to see real improvements (fingers crossed that it will happen before we come up for renewal again). Serving on a charter school governing board has been incredibly demanding and amazingly rewarding. I truly love the work. However, it is a yearly challenge for our board to find new board members. We work with local organizations, like the Colorado League of Charter Schools and Get Smart Schools, to find new board members. But we have had to balance seeking out individuals who have the expertise we need with simply finding individuals who are willing to volunteer their time to the school (and twisting their arms to do so…). And this is not a unique problem for our charter school (the National Charter School Resource Center examines recruiting board members in D.C. and Maine here). For many new charter school board members, this is the first time they have served on a board (that was my experience). Fortunately, there are some great resources for governing board professional development in Colorado through the CO League and the CO Department of Education. Other states have similar resources for governing boards. There are also national organizations that provide assistance and quality guidelines. As a researcher, I am interested in the role that charter governing boards play in the charter sector. However, there is very little research on charter boards and many unanswered questions: Who serves on charter boards and for how long? What are the most common decisions that charter boards undertake? What types of board decisions have the most impact on school performance? How do founding boards differ from boards of charter schools that have been around for many years? How involved are boards in the strategic vision of their charters? This is certainly an untapped area for potential charter school research. I hope future studies can shed light and provide solutions for the questions, so that schools like mine can effectively propel themselves to a higher level of board operation and student academic achievement. AN Board Blog Photo Resize             Photo: Older students read to the younger students on Reading Day at Pioneer Charter School (PCS).
Eric Paisner

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Tennessee’s Misguided Proposed Limits on Charter School Hiring

Recently, EdWeek and The Tennessean reported that Tennessee lawmakers are pushing legislation to limit the number of foreign born teachers that can be employed by a charter school. House Bill 3540 passed the House Education Committee earlier this week. The companion bill, Senate Bill 3345, cleared the Senate Education Committee last week and is headed to the Senate Floor. The bill has a host of other restrictions related to charter school affiliation with foreign nationals, and also requires charter schools to disclose all funding from foreign sources. Without even getting into why the legislature would want to do this (here is a major supporter of the bill), this is a huge overreach into charter school autonomy. Autonomy is a bedrock principal of charter schools. And, as we’ve mentioned before, the ability to create and manage a team is a critical element of charter school autonomy. If charter schools are high quality and operating within the law, we should not restrict who charter schools can and cannot hire. Moreover, this bill doesn’t even address any issues that currently exist. As reported in the EdWeek piece, Matt Throckmorton, the executive director of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association knows of only six teachers in the state who have been hired on a foreign-worker visa. But, he notes, the low threshold provided in this bill would restrict most charter schools from hiring even one foreign teacher on a work visa. Surely, limiting the potential pool of teachers can’t be productive, especially when we know there is a shortage of high quality teachers already.
Eric Paisner

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Urban Prep Achieves 100% College Acceptance Rate

We write a lot about education reform and charter school policy on this blog. It’s our bread and butter at NAPCS; we advocate for better policy support at all levels of government. Why? So we’ll see more schools like Urban Prep. For the third straight year, Chicago-based Urban Prep is sending 100 percent of its kids to college. And, equally as important, it’s keeping them there. For the class of 2010, the first graduating class at Urban Prep, 83 percent of the students are still enrolled in 4-year schools. The Chicago Tribune gave Urban Prep some prime real estate on Friday’s editorial page, and we’re proud to showcase the their accomplishments on our blog too. Congratulations to Urban Prep, it’s teachers, leadership staff, and most importantly, its 2012 graduating class. You keep doing what you’re doing, and we’ll keep fighting for you in Washington.
Nora Kern

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March Madness: Player of the Year attended a Chicago public charter high school

University of Kentucky star Anthony Davis has won the Naismith Trophy for men’s college player of the year. Davis, who is the second freshman to earn the Naismith Trophy, has another unique line on his resume; he attended a Chicago charter high school that didn’t have a gym. Perspectives Charter School is an award-winning Near South Side school designed by Chicago architect Ralph Johnson. The absence of a gym is one of many ways that Johnson and his clients kept costs down. In an interview, Davis explained why he chose Perspectives despite its notable absence of athletic facilities: “I didn’t go there for basketball. The academic program was great. They have a 95 percent rate of kids graduating and going to college, so my dream was always to go to college, so I decided to go there.” We wish Davis and the Wildcats the best of luck tonight. We love to see successful charter graduates (and a KY win will give me official bragging rights for my bracket)!
Eric Paisner

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Charter Autonomy and Waivers: Can they coexist?

Last month, Greg Richmond, President & CEO of NACSA warned us in a guest blog about the potential losses of charter autonomy that could result from the state plans offered to the Department of Education in return for the first round of NCLB waivers.  Mr. Richmond wondered what might happen to low performing charter schools and the role of charter authorizers. As we approach the second round of waivers, we continue to be concerned that charter schools could lose some of their flexibility, this time as it relates to staffing.  The ability to create and manage a team is a critical element of charter autonomy.  Todd Zeibarth, our VP of State Advocacy & Support stated the issue clearly in EdWeek: “Ensuring that charters preserve autonomy over teacher evaluations in the face of these statewide system overhauls has been an increasing challenge across the country…Some state policymakers… either overlook or don’t care about preserving charter autonomy over these decisions in the process.”  This issue has come up outside of the waiver process (see here in Virginia where charter employees are considered district employees), and it has had an impact on charter growth. Whether value-added-type measures proposed by some states for teacher evaluation are good solutions is still an open question.  But, either way, let’s make sure charters aren’t compelled to use these new state plans.  On top of being a threat to autonomy, it might actually be a step backwards for charter schools.  Many charters have done a really good job of figuring out how to hire, evaluate, reward and retain teachers.  Check out the Teacher Talent Toolbox released by the New Teacher Project this week to see what I mean.
Renita Thukral

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Protecting Charter School Employee Retirement Funds

Understanding the Threat NAPCS has been the leading voice in the effort to amend the Internal Revenue Service’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) titled “Determination of Government Plan Status.” Released on November 8th, 2011, this draft proposed regulation, if adopted as currently drafted, would lead states to prohibit charter school employees from participating in state retirement plans. Presently, every single state that authorizes charter schools either requires or permits charter school participation in the state’s retirement system. Therefore, this regulation would negatively impact nearly all charter school employees in the country. We persist in our efforts to educate law- and policy-makers on this issue, and we are committed to mobilizing our sector and our supporters.  The public comment period, originally set to expire on February 6th, has been extended and now will close on June 18th.  Additionally, the IRS will convene a public hearing in Washington D.C. on July 9th.  Anyone can submit a request to testify on July 9th; click here to submit a public comment in which you can ask for an opportunity to be heard (Note: submitting a request to testify does not guarantee that you will be chosen). The Sector and Its Supporters Voice Opposition To date,
  • NAPCS has filed public comment, signed by 34 city- and state-level charter support organizations across the country;
  • Chairman John Kline, House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Chairman Duncan Hunter, House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, have submitted a letter in support to IRS Commissioner Shulman;
  • Senate Republicans have submitted a letter in support to IRS Commissioner Shulman;
  • A coalition of 17 Members of the House has sent a bipartisan letter in support to IRS Commissioner Shulman;
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a national organization that represents state superintendents of education across the country, has submitted comments in support; and,
  • In February, more than 8,300 individuals voiced opposition to the IRS’s draft proposed regulations.  More than 43,000 emails were sent to Congress, Secretary Geithner, Secretary Duncan and IRS Commissioner Shulman!
Moving Forward Between now and the July 9th public hearing, we will update our webpage devoted to this issue to spotlight the latest developments—including media coverage, public statements made by lawmakers, position statements issued by our supporters, white papers, and data. It is imperative that the final regulations be amended to protect public charter school employees and allow public charter schools to continue to recruit and retain veteran public school employees.  Failure to do so will risk the retirement security of charter school employees, interfere with charter schools’ ability to reach their educational goals, undermine both state and federal education policy and reform initiatives, and subject some states to potential financial liability.  We urge the Internal Revenue Service to clarify the draft proposed regulations such that public charter schools will be treated as agencies or instrumentalities of the state under Section 414(d) of the Internal Revenue Code.

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Winners Announced for federal Charter Schools Program SEA Grants

U.S. Department of Education (U.S. ED) recently announced that they have awarded grants totaling $54.8 million to support the growth of public charter schools in MinnesotaNew Jersey and Massachusetts. Minnesota will receive a five-year grant and New Jersey and Massachusetts will each receive three-year grants under the Charter Schools Program state educational agency (SEA) competition. Altogether, the administration will invest $255 million in fiscal year 2012 through several grant programs administered by the Charter Schools Program to:
  • support charter school efforts to find suitable facilities
  • disseminate information about successful charter school practices, and
  • replicate and expand high-quality charter schools
President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2013 budget request also includes $255 million to expand educational options by helping grow effective charter schools and other autonomous public schools that achieve positive results and give parents more choices.