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Are You Walking Away from a Chance for Funds?

It’s well-established charter schools get less public funding than their district counterparts. But charters may also be ignoring some competitive-funding opportunities.


So said the Government Accountability Office in a report issued last December. GAO identified 47 federal discretionary grant programs for which charter schools are eligible, but found a lot of confusion among charter operators and advocates about who could apply for what. Very few charter schools that are part of district-LEAs have stepped up, apparently believing the district itself had to apply. Yet two-thirds of the federal programs explicitly specify public schools or non-profit organizations are eligible.

Adding to that confusion is a real catch-22: Among the charter respondents, 44 percent said they didn’t apply for federal grants because they lacked the resources. Translation: They’re too poorly-funded to hire grant writers. The good news is at least one-quarter of the charters that applied during the 2008-2009 school year received an award, which the Department of Education noted is a higher win-rate than that of average applicants.

In fact, the Department said it’s been working to make sure charter operators know their rights. In a formal response to GAO, Jim Shelton of the US Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement pointed out the Department has already put language making charter-eligibility explicit in most of the grant competitions they run, and is working with other agencies like the Justice Department and Housing and Urban Development Department to make sure they do the same. (We forget too often it’s not just “Education” that makes funding available for schools!). Also, the National Charter School Resource Center will post notices like this one on its site and is developing a direct e-capacity to get word directly to schools.


Discretionary grants won’t make up for the full gap charters experience, but let’s not make it worse by leaving available dollars on the table.


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David Kearns

We lost a giant last weekend. David Kearns blazed a trail of innovation as CEO of Xerox and then answered a plea from former President George H.W. Bush to serve as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. There, among many other accomplishments, he created New American Schools, the non-profit that fostered “whole-school” models such as Expeditionary Learning and Modern Red Schoolhouse – and in doing so, served as a seedbed for the charter movement.  Here is yesterday’s eloquent floor statement by his former boss, now U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. Note the history he traces, as well as his testimony to the respect and fondness Kearns inspired in everyone who knew him.


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Charter Schools as a Catalyst for Building Civic Capacity

Civic capacity—the notion of  multiple sectors of the community coming together in concerted action to address big issues—has been examined by education reformers and researchers who argue it is critical to making systemic and long lasting improvements in the public education system. It has been suggested that public charter schools do a great job of engaging parents, educators, community groups, and philanthropists in individual schools. But charter school critics raise the lingering question: is the charter school model serving the greater public good in terms of efforts to improve all public schools?

Sure, larger entities like traditional school districts or cities are positioned to engage with a wide array of public and private actors in collective commitments to reform school systems. However, despite a markedly smaller scale, charter schools are not isolated institutions with limited connections to the larger public education system. Rather, charter schools are public schools that open pathways for non-traditional groups to get involved in operating schools. And charter schools can be (and have been) used within school districts and cities to provide new opportunities to mobilize large-scale civic engagement.

In cities like New OrleansD.C., and Philadelphia, charter schools have served as catalysts for building civic capacity through strategically engaging community leaders to operate charter schools. In New York, authorizers are actively recruiting existing organizations that provide services to high-needs students to found charter schools.

Or take Indianapolis. A new study describes in detail the way in which government officials, business leaders, local philanthropists, university scholars, and local educators identified big problems—a declining economy and dismal education outcomes—and then coalesced around charter schools to meet the needs of the community. The strategy was not about any specific charter school, but about creating a new landscape for public education where community support for public education was put into practice. (Check out this report from Bryan Hassel that lists the community organizations that founded some of the early charter schools in Indianapolis.)

These cities show that charter schools can be used to mobilize civic engagement for the greater good of the public education system. And current trends show this work is being cultivated to expand mutual impact and quality of traditional and public charter schools.


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Thoughtless Pause

Elegant phraseology doesn’t conceal the fact that the “thoughtful pause” proposed by Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee is a moratorium on charter growth. Some actual thinking has been provided by RI-CAN, the state’s new ed-reform group, who looked at data and found that charters are pushing achievement upward. Think again, Governor.


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Harriett Ball, RIP

A great teacher died yesterday. Back in the ’90s, Harriett Ball took two rookie Houston teachers under her wing and showed them how to make a classroom a joyous place to learn … and then travelled with Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg through the amazing journey of KIPP, while continuing to teach and consult. We were proud to induct this great lady into the Charter School Hall of Fame along with her KIPP colleagues in 2009. She succumbed to a sudden heart attack on Tuesday. What a legacy she leaves!


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Delivering on the Promise in Missouri

The Land of Truman has a unique charter environment. State law restricts chartering to St. Louis and Kansas City, but charter schools account for major market share in both places. Where 90 percent of charter authorizers around the country are local school districts, it’s universities that oversee nearly all the charters in the Show-Me state. There are some stars but, alas, way too many charters that keep scraping the bottom year after year. Policymakers (and the state’s charter movement leaders)  have grown  impatient. We’ve just taken a thorough look at this situation and are calling for some tough love….


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Obama’s Challenge

Last night’s briskly-delivered State of the Union address capped a dizzying few months for President Obama. He was looking out at 84 new GOP House of Representatives members — 63 of whom were occupying seats previously held by Democrats.  However, he was enjoying a rebound in personal popularity, coming off a surprisingly productive lame-duck session, and hoping to sustain and leverage the shift in national mood following the Tucson tragedy.

It was  not the night to play the usual SOTU games – how many times did he mention “X” – and so the absence of the words “charter schools” didn’t bother me a bit. The key points on education weren’t drawn from a laundry list of programs; instead he tried to frame the challenge and leave the details for the upcoming budget message. Some of the key education passages:

The rules have changed.  In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business.  Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100.  Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection.
Nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science.
Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed.

The task for charter folks is to show that our schools are part of the solution…that our kids leave 12th grade ready for college –and ready to succeed in college and beyond. Let’s show that we’re using our freedom not just to get rid of paperwork, but to equip kids with the knowledge and habits of mind to lead an international economy.

And if a charter school is part of the problem, we need to take action. Now.

Without saying exactly how, the President did also say that “Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.”  I trust that means the Administration will continue pressing states for facilities aid, fiscal equity and an end to caps. It will be interesting to see how those proposals fare in a Congress that generally wants to expand state rather than federal authority.

By the way, today’s New York Times has a cool seating chart illustrating the “new civility,” with some odd couples listening to the speech: Schumer and Coburn; Patty Murray and John Cornyn; Louie Gohmert and Carolyn Maloney. Let’s hope the era of good feelings persists.


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It’s National School Choice Week!

Today, folks across the country are kicking off the first-ever National School Choice Week. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is proud to join more than 150 other organizations in acknowledging the need for greater educational options for America’s children.

I celebrated the start of the week by participating in a Town Hall meeting in Charlotte, N.C., today.  I was proud to join a group of community leaders, parents and elected officials who are committed to making sure all students have access to a high quality education.  I was even more proud to see that charter schools are recognized as a critical component of school choice.  North Carolina has had a cap of 100 charter schools since its charter law was enacted in 1996. That cap, which was reached more than a decade ago, has effectively halted charter school growth and replication in the state.  But after what I saw today, I am encouraged and I hope the cap is going to be lifted soon.

I was also encouraged to hear about some of the fantastic work happening in other states.  Here are just a couple of the events going on this week:

  • A bipartisan coalition of Missouri legislators called today for changes aimed to help failing urban schools and give parents more choices. Among the items on the agenda: Expanding charter schools, which are now permitted only in St. Louis and Kansas City, to the rest of the state.
  • Grandmas for Charter Schools will host Coffee House meetings daily during National School Choice Week.  These ladies will be giving out information on school choice options in Albany, N.Y., signing up folks for the Parent Army and registering parents to vote!
  • Grammy Award-winning recording artist Patti Austin will host an evening of entertainment at the “Get Real about Education Musical Town Hall,” an event to inspire a vision for the future of Dallas-area public schools.

There are tons of other great things happening, and if you’d like to tell us about yours…please post a comment below.  We’d love to hear about it!

Submitted by Ted Fujimoto (not verified) on Fri, 01/28/2011 – 4:08am.

For Dallas Event with Patti Austin, RSVP at

Enjoy an evening of entertainment and inspiration toward a vision for the future of Dallas area public schools with Grammy winner Patti Austin, local artist Matt Wilson, and inspirational speakers.

The event will also launch the Right to Succeed Dallas Chapter, an effort to transform public education in the Dallas area and cut the dropout rate in half over the next five years. This free family event is open to all ages.

Click to view the powerful video about the Right to Succeed and the National School Choice Week cause!

Nora Kern


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Holding Charter Schools to a Higher Standard Is a Good Thing!

New York City is drawing attention for its recent decision to close three underperforming schools that make up the Believe High School Network, as well as the ‘C’ graded Peninsula Preparatory Charter School. James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center, penned an eloquent explanation of why these closure decisions by the city’s Education Department are so critical to living up to the charter bargain of increased autonomy in exchange for greater accountability for student achievement. We’ve long stated the power of school choice when parental decision is based on academic quality and the importance of local enforcement of school quality. Through the NYC Education Department’s decisions, the city is one step closer to providing public charter schools that are truly high quality to its children and families.

Why Failing Charters Must Be Closed

At their core, public charter schools are about one simple trade-off: a charter school receives more autonomy to operate in the way its staff thinks will provide the best results for students.

In return, it accepts greater accountability for the results it achieves academically and operationally — with the understanding that if a school fails, it will be closed. That is why charters get a license to operate for five years at a time — and have to make the case that they should be renewed.

Because accountability and autonomy are what charters are about, the decisions this week to close one poorly performing charter school, only conditionally renew another and provide notice to three others that they will be closed shortly unless they clean up their acts, is exactly the right move to ensure charters fulfill their promise to students and their role in the larger public education system.

The decisions also show not just what chartering is at its heart, but also how complex, and even difficult, chartering actually is. …To read the full editorial, click here.


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Perfection First, Change Last

Over the holidays the NY Times ran a piece about NYC’s use of student data in teacher rankings, and the tug of war that’s emerging over so-called “value-added” evaluations. Among a slew of letters it generated was one from Deputy Chancellor John White, concluding with this biting comment: “Shame on unions and school districts charged with improving antiquated evaluation systems if they hide behind sideline critics advocating perfection first and change last. No system is perfect, but the status quo is not fair to children.”

Researcher Dan Goldhaber, subbing for Rick Hess over at Straight Up, makes a similar point:  “I am continually struck by the fact that policy debates over a whole variety of issues focus almost entirely on the downside risks of reform, while massively ignoring the costs or downsides of business as usual.” Citing work he and co-authors contributed to a recent Brookings report, he says “much of the debate about using value-added for teacher evaluation is framed around the potential consequences for teachers rather than focusing on the known or potential consequences for students,” and adds: “The counterfactual matters and we are not comparing reform to an existing nirvana.”

White and Goldhaber aren’t talking about charter schools, but we need to keep their argument handy. Sure there are imperfections in charter schools – we worry more about them than anyone else does. But parents who choose them know the “counterfactual” all too well.

Here’s a suggestion for the new year.  When you hear someone railing about the dangers of public charter schools, hit them with the question a parent asks: “Compared to what?”