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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.

Nora Kern

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A Busy Month for School Choice and New Reports

Later this month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and other organizations across the country will celebrateNational School Choice Week (SCW). Leading up to the event, several organizations are releasing analyses of policies impacting the growth and quality of public charter schools.

Last week, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released its Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) for 2013, which looks at more than 100 U.S. school districts and ranks the policies and practices that impact the quality of choices and level of competition created by school choice. Not surprisingly, nine of the top ten districts on the ECCI are also featured on our recently released top charter school communities report, showing the integral role public charter schools play in school choice.

Today Students First is releasing  its state policy report card. Public charter schools play a prominent role in the scores related to parent empowerment. In order to receive a high rating, states must:

  • Promote charter establishment & expansion. Several states received higher scores for not having a cap on charter school growth, having non-district authorizers, a fast track authorization process for proven charter operators, and a high bar for replication/expansion for all schools.
  • Establish accountability for charters. States were recognized for requiring a performance-based contract and clear protocols for closing low-performing charter schools. Authorizers are required to submit an annual report to an oversight body for each school they oversee, and are in turn required to undergo an annual review by an outside entity—and low-performing authorizers will be suspended or sanctioned.
  • Enable equitable access to facilities; and
  • Finance charter facilities.

Finally the National Alliance will be releasing our fifth annual model law ranking that scores each state’s charter school law based on 20 essential components, including measures of quality and accountability, equitable access to funding and facilities, and whether or not they cap charter school growth.

Follow @charteralliance for the latest in charter school news and breaking reports and keep an eye on @schoolchoicewk to receive even more information on the contributions charter schools are making toward providing every family with a quality public school option.

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

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Strengthening Wisconsin’s Charter School Law

Across the country, support for public charter schools comes from both Democrats and Republicans. Like presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, President Barack Obama has praised public charter schools.

Opposition to charter schools also sometimes comes from both parties. In fact, there are still portions of the country where “do not rock the boat” Republicans lock arms with Democrats that oppose charters to block common sense proposals for the expansion of high-quality public charter schools. Unfortunately, that’s the case in Wisconsin.

As some of my fellow legislators continue to fight against proven reforms like charter schools, it’s clear to me that the boat needs rocking. During a recent discussion in the Wisconsin Assembly Education Committee, I was astounded when one of my colleagues (who is an educator, no less!) stated that education policy changes are unnecessary in Wisconsin because we outpace many states on our reading, science, and math scores. To me, this logic is flawed. Finding comfort in the fact we outpace other states while the country falls further behind in international rankings does a significant disservice to our students.

Despite these hurdles, Wisconsin’s Senator Alberta Darling and I have introduced a bill that makes important changes to our weak charter school law (currently ranked #37 out of 43 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools). The changes we are proposing will provide more opportunities for Wisconsin’s students.

The Assembly version of this bill, AB 549, will be heard in the Assembly Urban Education Committee on Thursday, January 9th. While the bill makes a number of changes, here are two of the most important ones:

First, the bill will expand the types of entities that can serve as charter school authorizers.  

Right now, the only entities allowed to authorize a charter school are the City of Milwaukee (in the Milwaukee Public School district only), the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Milwaukee (in Milwaukee County or an adjacent county), UW-Parkside (only one school in Racine County or an adjacent county), Milwaukee Area Technical College (they have never exercised the option and can only create a charter school in the Milwaukee Public School district), and local school boards.

The bill would expand the authorization agents to also include any of the other 11 UW institutions and campuses, any of the other 15 technical colleges, and any of the state’s 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agencies. This change will better facilitate the creation of autonomous and accountable public charter schools across the state.

Second, the bill will revise and clarify Wisconsin’s charter school categories.

Currently, Wisconsin has three types of charters:

      1.    Those that are authorized by the City of Milwaukee, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and the Milwaukee Area Technical College. These schools have autonomy and are similar to charters in most other states. They are referred to as “2r charters.”
      2.    Those that are authorized by local school boards and employ their own teachers.  These schools have autonomy and are also similar to charters in most other states.  They are referred to as “non-instrumentality charters.”
      3.    Those that are authorized by local school boards and that have their teachers employed by school districts. These schools don’t have much autonomy and are different from charters in most other states.

They are referred to as “instrumentality charters.”

This arrangement has created a lot of confusion within the state about public charter schools. In an effort to clarify what a charter school is, our bill requires instrumentality charters to either become non-instrumentality charters or magnet schools, leaving the state with two categories of true charter schools.

My passion for education reform stems from my experiences in the military, the business world, and as a father of four. As a military intelligence officer in the United States Army, I am convinced that our greatest national security risk, in the long term, is the complacency with the educational status quo. Charter schools offer innovation and focus on science, technology, engineering and math that can enhance the life experiences of our children. These innovative charter schools can propel our economy beyond the 21st century and ensure our nation’s defenders are not only America’s best and brightest, but also represent the world’s best and brightest.

Representative Dale Kooyenga was elected to represent the 14th District for the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2010.

Pamela Davidson

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A Win for Graduates of Virtual Charter Schools

Enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces is a tremendous opportunity for many young people to serve their country. However, for graduates of non-traditional high schools (virtual charter schools, online and blended learning schools, and home schools) this opportunity has been stymied due to a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) policy that limited the ability of students who attended non-traditional high schools to enlist in the military. Recently, the National Alliance was successful in working with Congress to secure a provision in federal law to change DOD’s current policy and make clear that all students that receive a state-issued diploma must be treated equally for the purposes of military enlistment.

For many years, based on outdated data, DOD has treated students attending non-traditional high schools differently than those who attend traditional “brick and mortar” schools. In 2011, the National Alliance worked with congressional supporters to change this unfair policy. A provision in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required DOD to give all graduates with a state-issued high school diploma, including graduates of non-traditional high schools, the same opportunity to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, in June 2012, DOD announced a new policy requiring students who graduated from non-traditional high schools to score higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) than students who attended traditional high schools in order to be eligible for military service. Thus, creating a disadvantage for non-traditional high school graduates.

In June 2013, U.S. Representatives John Kline (R-MN), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Rob Andrews (D-NJ), and Jared Polis (D-CO) offered an amendment to the House FY2014 NDAA bill to prohibit DOD from requiring different levels of attainment on any assessment or screening tool for all graduates, and prohibiting DOD from creating different standards on any assessment or screening tool based on the type of high school a student attended. In November, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered the same amendment to the Senate NDAA bill. In the end, this provision was included in the final NDAA bill, which was signed into law by the president last month.

This change to DOD recruitment and enlistment policy is a big victory for the charter schools community—particularly graduates of virtual charter schools—because it ensures equal treatment for graduates who wish to join the U.S. military and serve their country. The National Alliance appreciates the work of these members of Congress who championed this effort on our behalf to ensure all graduates who want to serve in the U.S. military have an equal opportunity to enlist.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools