Jose Serrano


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Student Voices: Jose Serrano

Today’s featured student blogger, Jose Serrano, is a charter school student at Noble Street College Prep in Chicago. The Noble Network of Charter Schools has a student body made up of almost entirely minority students, 90% of whom are low-income.  The son of a single mother in a low-income household in Chicago, Jose was recently accepted by Stanford University on a full-ride scholarship to study astrophysics. In his college admissions essay below, Jose talks about what he’s overcome to get where he is today: college bound with a bright future ahead.

There is soreness that sits on my lower back indefinitely. It comes from sleeping on a worn out, second-hand couch the last ten years of my life. The couch and I reside in a one bedroom apartment with my mother. This is the place I call home. My couch is a deserted and lonely planet; I get to escape this planet during the day, but I must return to my lonely planet every night. This one bedroom apartment has been the most challenging and enlightening part of my life.

Every night, on my dank couch, I would dream that space was my escape out of my living situation. Every night, I would look up through my window and see the beautiful dark sky, illuminated by the moon and the stars and wonder what it felt like to leave all my hardships at
home and live in the peace of space. There would be no soreness in space; I would have nothing to worry about.

I did not have privacy, and it took a toll on me. I was embarrassed to invite friends over. When friends wanted to come over to study or get group work done, I would tell them that my mom did not allow it instead of the truth. I was ashamed because I felt that my friends would make fun of me for sleeping on a couch and somehow think less of me. It seemed like the couch followed me everywhere I went.

The soreness in my lower back was revived by sitting down in class. It reminded me of waking up on the foamless couch every day. I was orbiting from my lonely planet to school and back on a daily basis. School was a planet I loved because I did not have to deal with the couch
that was waiting for me. My lonely planet never left my mind. From taking the ACT to school work, I was challenged with being able to focus, and my body told me to give up. That seemed like the easy path out. I pushed away the thoughts of giving up by reminding myself of my lonely planet and finished the ACT and school work with my best effort.

In high school, it was like breathing in the troposphere- not the stratosphere; I developed a mature view on my living situation. I knew that this couch would not get the best of me, so in order for me to be successful in life, I had to accept my lonely planet. I was not afraid to talk about sleeping on a couch to my friends because I knew that if my friends were truly there for me, they would not think differently of me. My couch was my Earth; it did not seem as emotionally painful anymore. My couch inspired me to work harder for what I want in the future. I began to see that I had a fascination with all things outside of this Earth and my couch.

All of those nights of staring into the universe meant something. The passion ignited like a bursting gamma ray in Physics. I had opportunities through school to study Physics. I decided to take an additional after school honors physics class in order to grow stronger in the subject. I realized that I want to study Astronomical Physics in college because I want to help discover new planets and solar systems. Sleeping on the couch reminds me of what I do not want in my future. I have nothing against sleeping on the couch now because my lonely planet has allowed me to become the person I am today. I look forward to college because I will leave my lonely planet and sleep on a warm, soft, and comfortable bed. The soreness in my back that has followed me throughout my life will finally be healed.

Togtuun Munkhtsetseg


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Student Voices: Togtuun Munkhtsetseg

Today’s featured student blogger, Togtuun (Todd) Munkhtsetseg, is a charter school student at the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) Green Valley Ranch High School. The school’s student body is made up of approximately 93% minority students, and over 70% are low-income.  In his post, Todd describes how his school has equipped him with the skills and determination to enter a four-year college after graduation. You can learn more about DSST on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

Today I had the opportunity to visit University of Northern Colorado and experience life on a college campus.  Since freshman year, I have had the pleasure of visiting CSU Ft. Collins, CU Anschutz, CU Boulder, and UNC.  I have always thought this is an opportunity that all schools offered.  However, once I talked with my friends, I realized DSST is somewhat unique for providing this opportunity.

Although DSST is challenging and rigorous because we are held to such a high standard every day, the opportunities DSST offers, such as college visits, give me the motivation to work harder than I thought I could.  There are many times people have thought of quitting and attending another school, but then we remember the fact that DSST’s rigor has allowed us to be more prepared for college. Our core values (Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Doing your best, Courage, and Curiosity) shape us to be mature young adults. When I do not live by my core values I am constantly corrected or reminded by my teachers that I can do better. The high standards at DSST encourage us to surpass our limits.

Our preparation for the ACT is an example of DSST’s high standards.  At DSST, since day one of freshman year, we have been encouraged to show our full potential in every situation.  On the day of the ACT, I never felt more ready.  Because we had received lots of ACT prep throughout my time at DSST, I knew I could excel on the ACT.

Another thing that makes DSST so unique is the community.  An example of our strong community is morning meeting.  Every day we gather as a school for the morning meeting.  When I sit in the meeting, I feel extremely happy as I look around at all of my peers’ and teachers’ faces. I know I could approach any one of my classmates and feel welcomed. I also know my teachers are willing to stay after school longer if I am facing challenges in my academics. Their willingness to ensure my success makes me realize that my teachers truly care for their students.  For example, we have a test every week for our classes and one of the hardest classes at DSST is Biology.  My teacher, Mr. Wick, stays late to help me out.  I can recall a time that the entire class was struggling with a standard and he held a tutoring session to make sure we all mastered it.  It is these little actions that create our strong community.

I am very proud to be a raptor because without DSST, I know that I would not be as prepared to get into a four year college.  I would also be without this welcoming community.  I know all my hard work at DSST will pay off once I am accepted to a four year college.  This opportunity could not be possible without DSST.

Renita Thukral


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Reason #4: Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools, open to anyone.

NACPS_fb_v2-05Charter schools are open-enrollment, tuition-free, public schools. Any student can attend a public charter school and typically there are no admissions requirements. In addition, public charter schools must serve all students who seek to attend (provided there are available seats). Under the law, public charter schools cannot discriminate, and state and federal civil rights laws apply to every public charter school in the country.

If more students wish to enroll in public charter schools than the schools can accommodate, the school must hold an admissions lottery.  These admission lotteries are random—everyone has an equal chance of being selected.

But some charter schools are created with a mission to serve a special blend of students. Just yesterday, the United States Department of Education released new guidance allowing public charter schools to give preference in enrollment lotteries to students who are low-income, have special education needs, are neglected or homeless, or may be learning English. This new guidance gives charter schools another tool to ensure high-quality options are available to educate more of our country’s most underserved families and students.

Unlike traditional district schools, no student is ever assigned to a charter schools.  Instead, families and students choose to attend public charter schools. As schools of choice, charter schools compete with other schools to fill their seats and receive funding only for the students who enroll.  As a result, the pressure is on schools to offer unique, innovating teaching models in order to attract and retain students.

Public charter schools are held to the same academic standards, established by state law, as all other public schools. And, notably, unlike traditional public schools, public charter schools can be—and sometimes are—shut down for failing to meet state academic standards. Simply put, failing charter schools are not permitted to continue operating.

All children deserve access to high-quality public schools. For families who need options, public charter schools are here to serve students of every type.

This blog is the fourth in a series called “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools are Great” to celebrate School Choice Week. To read the other posts in the series, visit The Charter Blog here.

Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Gina Mahony


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Reason #3: Public charter schools are collaborating with district schools to raise the bar for ALL students

One of the valuable things about public charter schools is their ability to innovate. With the flexibility they are given, public charter schools are able to explore new teaching methods or customize curriculum to help students succeed. As charter schools develop these best practices, they should be shared with the traditional public schools so that all students benefit.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen increased collaboration between public charter schools and traditional public schools that empowers teachers, parents, students, and communities. Collaboration can take shape in many forms, such as joint professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders or shared purchasing agreements. But in recent years, these efforts have been more formalized, with leaders joining together to provide parents with more educational choices and improve all public schools. Here are a few examples:

These communities are leading the way toward a better public education system that serves the needs of all students. By working together, public charter schools and district schools can help raise the bar in our nation’s schools.

This blog is the third in a series called “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools are Great” to celebrate School Choice Week. To read the other posts in the series, visit The Charter Blog here

Gina Mahony is senior vice president for government affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Lisa Grover


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Reason # 2: Public charter schools are helping more students attend college

reason2Charter schools are great because they are helping a growing number of low-income students beat the odds. Nationally, only 12 % of low income high school graduates go on to earn a four-year college degree. Yet a small but emerging body of research proves that enrolling in a public charter schools can increase a student’s chance of graduating from both high school and college.

Public charter schools such as the SEED school in Washington, D.C., the Charles A. Tindley School in Indianapolis, Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, and ASPIRE Public Schools in California and Tennessee, all boast close to 100% college acceptance rates and a college graduation rate higher than 80%. It’s powerful stuff, especially when considering that the national high school drop-out rate for African-American males remains just above 50 percent.

In these high-performing charter schools, the road to college is more than just an expectation–it’s a large part of the schools’ culture and everyday practice:

  • Beginning in sixth grade, students in YES Prep Schools in Houston and Memphis go on annual college tours and all seniors are required to apply to at least eight four-year colleges by mid-November.
  • Dallas’ Uplift Education Charter School, uses a “Road to College Team” to take scholars on college field trips, help them with college applications, make sure parents understand all their financial options, and even provide graduates with support while they are in college.
  • Boston-based Match Education incorporates a tutoring program to help ensure that students do not have to take remedial math courses once in college, particularly because such courses cost money and carry no credits, which can be particularly burdensome for low-income families. Match’s 54% college completion rate of low-income and minority graduates has captured the attention of some traditional school districts, like Chicago Public School, which now partners with Match to borrow its tutoring program.

These high performing charter schools change lives, and are just few examples of why charter schools are great, for students, for families, and for the country.

This blog is post is the second in a five part series, “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools Are Great” to help celebrate School Choice Week. To see the first entry on how charter schools are helping to close the achievement gap, click here.

Lisa Grover is senior director of state advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Lisa Grover


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Will This Be the Year? Efforts to Strengthen New Jersey Charter School Law Underway

The time has come to update New Jersey’s charter school law. Currently ranked #29 out of 43 in our annual state charter laws rankings report, the law needs improvement in several areas, including expanding authorizer options, increasing operational autonomy, ensuring equitable funding, and strengthening charter contract requirements. Attempts to change the law over the years have been thwarted by the usual politics. However, strong momentum for a comprehensive overhaul appears to be building this legislative session.

Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton recently unveiled his much-anticipated bill to overhaul the Garden State’s charter school law. The bill contains provisions to establish an independent charter board, provide more flexibility to public charter schools, enhance the charter school application process, and grant first-refusal rights to charter schools for surplus public property. Already the bill is generating considerable discussion from both supporters and opponents of public charter schools. Some local district supporters believe the bill goes too far in expanding public policy support of charter schools and have said they will fight bill.

Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz also sees the need to modernize the charter law and has pre-filed two charter school bills. The first bill proposes to align charter school enrollment and demographic patterns with those in the charter school’s district of residence. While Assemblyman Singleton’s bill encourages charter schools to follow the same demographic patterns of the districts they serve, it does not have explicit requirements for them to do so.  The second bill would establish university authorizers instead of an independent charter commission, as called for Assemblyman Singleton’s bill. Both the Senate and Assembly bills increase authorizer accountability and mandate that authorizer practices align with nationally-recognized best practices.

Considerable support for and opposition to all of these bills is expected. However, with the gubernatorial and legislative elections behind us, and the case for updating the charter law clearly stated, charter school supporters are hoping that this is the year to revamp New Jersey’s 19-year-old charter law.

Lisa Grover is senior director for state advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern


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Reason #1: Public charter schools are closing the achievement gap

The start of School Choice Week is a great time to reflect on the National Alliance’s core belief: that all families deserve access to high-quality public school options. National demographic data show that public charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds than traditional public schools. On average, these students don’t perform as well as white and more affluent students. But public charter schools are starting to change that.

A 2013 national CREDO study looked at charter schools in 27 states through the 2010-2011 school year, covering 95 percent of students attending charter schools across the country. The study found that students in public charter schools are outperformingtheir traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average seven days of learning per year, and performing as well as students in traditional public schools in math. The results were particularly impressive for students from specific demographic backgrounds—such as English Language Learners and minority students.

These results are a great start to closing the achievement gap; however, there are still families that don’t have access to a great public school. The National Alliance will continue our work to grow the number of high-quality charter schools available to all families, especially those who do not have access to high-quality public schools.

This blog is post is the first in a five part series, 
“5 Reasons Public Charter Schools Are Great” to help celebrate School Choice Week. 

Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Renita Thukral


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A Legal Question for Charter Schools: Can We Operate a Single-Gender Charter School in Delaware?

In early January, a federal district court in Delaware was asked to consider a very tricky question: would closing an academically failing all-girls charter school (as the school’s authorizer recommended) violate the federal constitutional ban against gender discrimination? The all-girls school argued it would; the state of Delaware argued it would not and emphasized the state’s authority and obligation to close failing charter schools. The court sided with the school. As a result, the academically failing all-girls charter school will continue to operate for an additional year.

This feels like an odd result: A court permits a failing school to continue operating, even though the school’s authorizer says it needs to close. What’s going on?

The federal constitution and Title IX require boys and girls to have substantially equivalent access to educational opportunities. Right now, there is an all-boys charter school operating in Delaware. It performs well and continues to be renewed. The failing all-girls charter school in question is the state’s only all-girls charter school.  If it is closed, no equivalent educational option would exist for Delaware girls.  Further complicating matters, new single-gender charter schools cannot open in Delaware because the statutory provision permitting such schools sunset on June 30, 2013.

Taken together, the court determined that closing the only all-girls charter school combined with the state’s statutory ban against opening a new all-girls charter school would indefinitely prevent Delaware girls from accessing a substantially equivalent education, as is required under binding Supreme Court precedent interpreting Title IX in this context (established in 1995 in United States v. Virginia). Even though this means Delaware girls may continue choosing and attending a failing school for another year, the federal district court felt its hands were tied.

Pamela Davidson


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A Changing of the Guard

The announcement by U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA) that he will retire at the end of the year means education reform advocates will lose a faithful friend on Capitol Hill. But his tireless efforts on federal education and workforce policies to improve the lives of children and families will leave an impression that will not soon be forgotten.

Representative Miller has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 40 years. He is the senior democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, serving as chairman from 2007-2010, where he championed education reform issues that have strengthened public schools. As one of the “big four,” he worked with (then) Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) to enact the No Child Left Behind Act. He has advocated for high-standards for all students, especially the most disadvantaged, and fought to hold schools accountable for student achievement.

In 2011, Representative Miller teamed up with Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to write H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act. H.R. 2218 updated the federal Charter Schools Program that provides critical start-up funds for new, replicating and expanding charter schools, as well as support for charter school facilities.

During House debate on the bill, Representative Miller stated: “Charter schools have been on the forefront of bold ideas and innovation in education. They have shown that, given the right tools, all students can achieve at high levels. We are learning from great charter schools about what works for students and what students need to be able to compete in the global economy. Replicating this success will help our students, our communities, and our economy.” H.R. 2218 was one of the only bipartisan education bills to pass the House with an overwhelming majority.

In 2013, Rep. Miller was recognized by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) as their “Elected Official of the Year” with the Hart Vision Award, which honors individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in education.

We thank Rep. Miller for his service to our nation.

Pam Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Christy Wolfe


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Feds Miss the Mark Attempting to Define “Quality” in Proposed Federal Priorities for National Leadership Dollars

As part of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) the Secretary of Education is required to reserve 5 percent of the total appropriation for the National Leadership Activities Grant, which funds specific initiatives to improve charter school quality. For FY 2014, this is approximately $11 million.

In December, the U. S. Department of Education issued a notice of proposed priorities for National Leadership Activity funds that includes a definition a “high-quality charter school” that would apply to grant activities funded in the notice.

The National Alliance is pleased that the department sought input from the charter school community in the development of these priorities, as there are pressing needs and challenges facing the community. The proposed funding priorities are intended to address the following issues:


  1. Improving efficiency through economies of scale.
  2. Improving accountability through better authorizing practices.
  3. Improving students with disabilities’ access to charter schools and student achievement.
  4. Improving English learner students’ access to charter schools and student achievement.
  5. Personalized technology-enabled learning.

The National Alliance submitted comments that support these priorities, especially those that improve quality authorizing and help charter schools better serve students with disabilities and English language learners.

However, we are very concerned about the use of a definition of high-quality charter school. The definition the department intends to use was developed for the Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools program, which is focused on the replication of schools serving mostly disadvantaged students, and has only been used to score those grant applications. We have extensive concerns that the department may intend to use it more broadly, making it the de facto definition of quality for all federally-funded charter school activities.

There are some basic technical issues with how the department applies the definition to the approval of new charter schools. For example, the definition requires achievement data, but schools that are haven’t opened yet will not have that information. The definition also fails to take into account the critical role of authorizers and state accountability systems and numerous other factors that constitute a quality school.

After reviewing public comments, the department will issue a Notice of Final Priorities, which will include a response to all comments. We expect that to happen sometime this spring.

Click here to read the National Alliance’s submitted comments on the proposed priorities and use of the “high-quality charter school” definition.

Christy Wolfe is senior policy advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.