Successes

 

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Did Michelle Rhee Plant this Story?

Rhee just launched Students First, her new outfit that will aim at getting school systems to put kids’ best interests ahead of politics and bureaucracy. I can’t imagine a better illustration of “Students Last” than this Catalyst article. The Illinois State Board of Education has raised the bar for college students hoping to get into teacher-ed programs. They used to get in with a score of 35 percent on the math section of the Basic Skills test (yes, you read that right); now they have to score at least 75 percent. It has cut the pass rate dramatically, particularly among minority candidates, raising the predictable howl.

But as one of the commenters in a related story put it: “Would you want a surgeon to cut you open if they only had a success rate of 35 percent on their operations?”

Maybe Rhee’s new group will help persuade policymakers to worry a little more about the low-income, black and Latino kids in urban school systems, and less about adults who view said systems as jobs programs.

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Don’t Forget the Motor City!!

At a DC symposium on Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan once again called Detroit “arguably the worst” school system in the country, and “Ground Zero” for education reform. The good news is city leaders are finally putting money and muscle into turning the situation around. Here’s a specific date to watch: February 1, 2011. That’s when proposals to open new high schools in the fall of 2012 are due to Michigan Future Schools, the business/education/philanthropic nonprofit that’s spearheading the city’s turnaround effort.

Michigan Future Schools has a straightforward approach. They want more quality high schools (defined as “students graduating ready for college without remediation”). They support one active high school and are already incubating four more, two charter and two non. They’re basically agnostic about the governance question — but they’re hoping that some great charter EMO/CMO outfits apply.

We need this in other cities too. There are fewer charter high schools than elementary/middle schools, and as MFS says: “The absence of high-quality urban high schools is a national problem, not just here in Detroit. It needs fixing.” But not surprisingly, the need is particularly acute in Detroit. According to MFS, “There are no open-enrollment high schools (traditional public or charter) serving Detroit students with high graduation rates, high college attendance rates and high levels of academic achievement.”

Here’s information on the initiative and a link to the RFP. Message to top-notch charter outfits: Go for it!

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Klein Moves On

Joel Klein is resigning as chancellor of the New York City school system. In eight years as leader of that mammoth organization, Joel Klein showed what decisiveness looks like. He closed chronically failing schools despite clamorous opposition; he invited top-performing charter operators to open up shop in the city’s toughest neighborhoods, and made them an example for their district counterparts; he provided unparalleled autonomy to traditional schools and overhauled the city’s accountability systems. And the results were recognized with a coveted Broad Prize. What propelled all this was his unapologetic determination that kids should come first. Not teachers, not principals, not systems, but kids. And he led with a fine sense of outrage about the way kids had been treated by public education. I will not soon forget the way this balding, bespectacled man raised the roof of a Harlem church a couple of years back as 1500 parents and activists responded to the passion and intensity of his call to do better by the city’s schoolchildren. The Alliance is honored to have him as a member of its board, and New York City is a better place for his service.

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Another Mid-Term Victory

Whatever your thoughts about the mid-term elections, it’s clear we will have many new faces in state capitols, governors’ mansions and at the U.S. Capitol. The vast majority of these newly-elected people were not voted in purely on an education platform. However, many of them ran in part as education reformers, and on a night where seemingly everyone was concerned about red and blue, it was the color purple that surprised me most.  Candidates from both parties who are supporters of substantive education reform in general, and charter schools in particular, were elected from every region of the country.

Some notable examples include Janet Barresi, the new Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction who helped found two charter schools in Oklahoma City and Delaware’s new U.S. Senator, Chris Coons also knows his way around education reform issues. John Hickenlooper, governor-elect from my home state of Colorado, and Joe Walsh, a newly-elected U.S. Representative from Illinois are also friends of education reform.

While it’s too early to say exactly how these new players will affect key education issues, it is another indication of the growing support for high-quality education from both parties.  Who can say whether we’ll see the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a third round of Race to the Top funding, or improvements to weak charter laws in several states?  It’s anyone’s guess. But, I do know that if there’s one issue everyone can agree to work on, it’s education.

Voters had a lot on their minds this election season, and school reform was admittedly a few notches down from hot-button issues like jobs and the economy. Yet, buoyed by the release of “Waiting for Superman,” the attention of Oprah Winfrey and a solid two months of news coverage on the issue, education reform has dominated political discourse like never before.  While it still falls shy of being a deciding issue for voters, more and more people are holding their elected officials accountable for improving public education for all students.

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Alliance’s “Charter Law Rankings Report” Gets Nod From NACSA

Yesterday in Scottsdale AZ, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers announced that How State Charter Laws Rank Against The New Model Public Charter School Law, by Todd Ziebarth and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, is the 2010 recipient of the NACSA Award for Excellence in Advancing Knowledge.

NACSA drew particular attention to the rankings’ potential impact on the craft of authorizers, who were largely overlooked in the first generation of charter laws:  It is critical that state laws accelerate the movement of more authorizers toward the “best-in-class” practices exhibited by the nation’s best ones.  Aligning state laws with the model law’s “quality control” provisions will move us in that direction….These new rankings not only show which state laws are making the grade, but also show how they do it:  by paying attention to specific issues that are crucial to school and student success.

We’re thrilled that the Alliance and Model Law pub (with its online database) have won this recognition. It has already helped move the national conversation toward fostering great charter schools, not just lots of them. But know something else: This is just the latest instance of Todd Ziebarth’s “Advancing Knowledge.”  He’s been doing that for a long time now, going back to his days envisioning the shape of all-charter districts for the Education Commission of the States; through all kinds of publications rooted solidly in fact;  and especially, doing what he does every day to advise movement leaders and policymakers around the country on how to ground decisions in real evidence about what works.
Although aided by a blue-ribbon task force, supported by able consultants, and cheered on by Alliance staff, Todd was the driving force behind the 2009 model state charter law, and it was he who made the rankings themselves a wonderfully substantive tool for serious policy analysis.

And he’s the best kind of colleague: He knows his stuff but lets you think you thought it up.

The charter movement is awfully lucky to have him on our side.

Comment
Submitted by Macke Raymond on Fri, 10/22/2010 – 5:42pm.

Congratulations, NAPCS and Todd! Recognition well-deserved!!

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Vote for a Hero

People magazine is in the midst of its Readers’ Choice Hero Campaign. The campaign identifies nine inspirational stories that were featured in People this year, and gives the public a chance to vote for their favorite. If you’ve got a minute, check it out; the campaign ends Friday, Oct. 8. These are some awe-inspiring stories about some pretty amazing folks. Many of their stories  involve helping children and young people, and one even features an outstanding charter school leader…our very own Tim King of Urban Prep Charter Academy in Chicago.

Of course, we can’t tell you how to vote (we would NEVER do that at the CharterBlog, since we’re non-partisan!), but we do hope you’ll vote for someone.  Their causes are all very compelling and worthy, and the cash award will help the winner further his or her work.  We’ve got our favorite, and we sure hope he wins.

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Reward Me for Being Excellent?

While there has been a lot of discussion about the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) since its first appropriations in 2006, there hasn’t been any new funding to make new awards.  Late last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced 62 new TIF grantees!  KUDOS to all  the winners, but an ESPECIALLY BIG PAT ON THE BACK to the 13 awardees who use charters in their application: Achievement First, ARISE HIGH School, Center for Educational Innovation (x2), Hogan Preparatory Academy, Indiana Department of Education, Michigan Association of Public School Academies, Mastery Charter High School, National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, New Schools for New Orleans (also an i3 winner), The College-Ready Promise, Uplift Education, and Youth Empowerment Services, Inc.

TIF is based on a simple premise, rewarding excellent teachers can incentivize and improve teaching AND increase entrants into the teaching profession. It’s no secret that many of our nation’s teachers are not from the top of their college classes…so the idea is a simple one: To improve the chances of schools getting the best and the brightest in the classroom we need to offer them an incentive.  And certainly in this economy, we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think financial incentives don’t make a difference. And, to help study that out-of-the-box notion, part of this year’s TIF grants go to a research competition too.

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Teachers Are Giving ‘Em Something to Talk About

Education reform is on everybody’s lips, and just about everybody has an idea for making schools better.  The discourse is dominated by elected officials (or hopefuls), policy folks, academicians and researchers. And although we’ve heard plenty from the teachers unions, teachers themselves haven’t really much of a platform.  So, I was fascinated to learn about this new project called VIVA (Vision Idea Voice Action).  The project just kicked off last Monday as an incubated initiative of the New York Charter Schools Association.

Here’s how it works. There are two moderated online conversations — one for teachers in New York, and one for teachers across the country — and these websites allow classroom teachers to engage directly in education policy.  They are tackling some meaty issues like Race to the Top and Title II, as well as teacher pay, burnout and class size.  Best of all, their ideas will be presented directly to U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  A small group of these teachers will be asked to write a summary of the action plan they are crafting now, and then to come for a private meeting with Arne in Washington, D.C. or New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in Albany.

Classroom teachers helping to shape education policy…now, that’s a novel idea, eh?  I like it.

The conversation will be going on for the next three weeks.  Check it out.

COMMENT
Submitted by drobinson on Tue, 10/05/2010 – 10:57am.

Dear My Foot,
We appreciate your comments, and just wanted to make sure you have the facts about charter schools.  Charter schools absolutely do not eliminate teacher unions. In fact, about 12 percent of charter schools are unionized.  It is always the teachers who decide whether or not they’d like to be unionized.  Oddly enough, when given that choice, most of the time charter teachers decide not to.  We at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools are neither pro-union nor anti-union.  We are pro-child and pro-achievement.  And by the way, we LOVE teachers.

Submitted by My Foot on Mon, 10/04/2010 – 9:55pm.
Charter Schools eliminate teacher unions and thus lower teacher and staff wages further, increasing the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Want to see teacher benefits vaporize along with weekends off? Charter Schools are union busting! Say NO to charter schools now!

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Finally, the “ Waiting for Superman” Is Over

This has been whirlwind week for education reform.  “Superman” is finally here.  It will be the topic of the Oprah show today, and I’m told there are some big surprises coming for a group of great charter schools.  Time magazine devoted a cover to this issue last week, and last Wednesday night I went to the Washington, D.C. premier of “Waiting for Superman,” a  new documentary about some of the major challenges facing America’s education system.  It was like Hollywood on the Potomac.  All of D.C.’s beautiful people came together with the education wonks and official Washington, and we were all talking about how to make our schools better. It was a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time.

It is a tremendous time in education reform when an acclaimed advocacy filmmaker (An Inconvenient Truth’s Davis Guggenheim) takes on the crisis in education and the tangle of policy challenges we face every day. The result is an unprecedented opportunity for a true national discourse on reform. The film has rightfully attracted interest and attention from all areas of education and I’m  happy, because it means many who have been talking about education policy around private conference tables have come together to speak now around a bigger and more public table.

For years, folks on all sides of this issue have debated the best and most effective ways to fix public education. In fact, there are so many different ideas about what to do fix  first, there is sometimes a paralysis of indecision. However, “Waiting for Superman” reminds us that it is simpler than we think. If you back away from the nuances of policy far enough to look at the children who are really the focus of this work, it becomes a lot clearer. If we can all remember to put children first and make decisions based on what is best for them, we’ll find that we agree on more than we think. In fact, I bet we agree on more than we don’t.

The door opened by this film brings the conversations to the widest and most influential group, the public, and that is as it should be. Public education is, after all, a public trust. If we’re going to achieve the long-term, systemic change that public education needs, we’ve got to use this opportunity to make sure the people in every community understand and engage on this issue and build the highest quality public school system this country has ever seen.

COMMENT
Submitted by mrs t on Tue, 09/21/2010 – 12:22am.
I cannot wait for this documentary. I work at a new (4th year) inner city charter and our entire staff is going to watch it together. I am currently reading “Whatever it takes” about the founder of the Harlem Childrens Zone schools. It is so inspiring to read/learn about what other schools are doing right, especially when all we hear are negative things and criticism about education

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Turning Over the Teacher Turnover Question

More teachers leave charters than leave district-run schools – a familiar phenomenon that’s currently drawing a flurry of research scrutiny. The sector usually contends that turnover is to be expected in start-ups, and that the numbers are really driven by terminations of ineffective teachers. Not so fast, said a recent DOE study, blogged by colleague Anna Nicotera: salary and working conditions seem to play a big role too.

A couple of new studies may further reframe the discussion. The National Charter School Research Project’s new look at charter vs. district teacher mobility in Wisconsin finds that “charter” per se may have little to do with whether teachers leave or stay. Younger teachers tend to move more whether in charters or traditional schools, and so do those who teach in disadvantaged areas, where most charters are located. In fact, urban charters actually retain teachers somewhat better than their district-school counterparts. (A caveat here: WI may not be the ideal state for this comparison, since teachers in so many charters stay in the district’s union contracts – a point noted by the researchers.)

But maybe the whole debate is upside-down. Maybe the problem is not too many charter school teachers moving, but too few teachers leaving district-run schools.

As a new Education Sector report notes, the vast majority of teachers in traditional district schools are tightly tethered to defined-benefit pension systems of the sort rarely found in the private workforce anymore. They lose out if they sever that connection, whether it’s to move to another kind of school or to switch careers altogether.

Ed Sector cites a 2008 survey in which nearly four out of five teachers agreed that ‘too many veteran teachers who are burned out stay because they do not want to walk away from the benefits and service time they have accrued.’  (Remember that one next time you hear the charge of “too many young, inexperienced teachers in charter schools.”)

Most of our economy now functions on the assumption of worker mobility. Eighty percent of pensions are now portable plans such as 401Ks and 403Bs; just 7.2 percent of private-sector workers are covered by collective-bargaining agreements; and COBRA provides a long off-ramp for health coverage when employment ends.  Public charter schools are clearly riding this wave, reflecting the realities of the current and future workforce more closely than their counterparts in public school districts.

The Alliance’s Model State Charter Law gives its highest rating in this area to just 11 states that provide access to state-run employee retirement systems, but do not force charter schools to participate. It’s a macro version of the balancing act required in today’s best-run charters, who are offering compensation and benefit packages that permit – but do not require – making a career of it.