Successes

 

Nora Kern

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Seeing is Believing

Across the nation, more than 5,600 high-quality public charter schools are providing 2 million students with revolutionary educational opportunities. While many people know that charter schools are working to close the achievement gap and transform children’s lives, some have never seen these inspiring public schools in action. NAPCS, joined by numerous charter school advocates nationwide, want to change that! Today is National Visit a Public Charter School Day, an event that corresponds with National School Choice Week. Charter schools across the country have invited legislators, reporters and community business leaders to tour high-quality public charter schools. These visits are designed to familiarize visitors with the charter school model and demonstrate the benefits of high-quality public charter schools. It is our hope that because of this experience, participants will be more likely to engage in the charter movement as advocates, board members, and financial supporters to help ensure that all students have high quality education options. In addition to charter school visits, state charter support organizations (CSOs) are providing members of the media and state representatives preparing to kick off their legislative sessions with information on the role of charters in education reform. More than 14 states and the District of Columbia are participating in National Visit a Public Charter School Day activities. To learn more about National Visit a Public Charter School Day, we encourage you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see highlights from events across the country.
Todd Ziebarth

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Charter Law Rankings Demonstrate Significant Progress in State Policy across the Country

This week, we released the third edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws.  Notwithstanding the positive response the report has received, there were two criticisms of it worth addressing. The first came from Diane Ravitch: “This is a national advocacy group that wants more charter schools. It speaks for the charter industry,” says Diane Ravitch, a prominent education historian and critic of charters. “Asking them to judge your charter law is like asking Philip Morris whether your state is doing enough to regulate tobacco.” We doubt Dr. Ravitch actually read the report because it hardly reflects her critique. We plead guilty to wanting more charter schools, but we also want those that open to be high quality. That’s why this ranking places significant weight on quality-control provisions such as transparent application and renewal processes as well as performance-based charter contracts, while also valuing provisions that support growth such as autonomy, funding equity, facilities provisions and no caps. The second came from the Center for Education Reform (CER), which criticized our report for ranking Maine’s new law at the top.  We acknowledge the complexity of evaluating the strengths of state charter school laws, and understand that the ranking process should undergo scrutiny.  We note, for example, that CER ranks the District of Columbia’s generally good law as #1.  Yet there is a 40 percent funding gap between D.C.’s traditional public schools and public charter schools – the largest such gap in the country according to this study.  This hardly represents true educational justice and equality for kids, which is why Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools are fighting to remedy this significant inequity (and a major reason why D.C. is ranked #11 in this year’s report). By highlighting this point, we believe this report can drive policy makers towards rectifying this inequity. The NAPCS model law, which was developed by a broad group of individuals with deep expertise in public charter school law and is the basis of our rankings report, is grounded in two decades of experience about how good legislation supports successful charters. Maine enacted a law that is well aligned with many of the NAPCS model’s 20 components, receiving the highest scores possible on eight of the 20 components including those related to autonomy, operational and categorical funding equity, and performance-based charter contracts.  Maine’s law is far from perfect – it received 158 points out of a possible 208 – and we will assist state leaders in pressing ahead to strengthen it.  Also, Maine’s law is brand new – which means its impact on Maine’s charter school sector needs close monitoring. This year’s rankings demonstrate the positive momentum for the movement in state capitols across the country. Sixteen states strengthened their charter laws this year, leading to an increase in their scores in our report. Nine states lifted caps, seven strengthened their authorizing environments and 10 improved support for funding and facilities. Indiana, for example, overhauled its charter school law last year, lifting its caps, allowing for multiple authorizers, providing facilities access and increasing flexibility and accountability. As a result, its overall score increased from 97 points to 132 points and its ranking catapulted from #25 to #6 – the largest leap for any state on record. Many states based new legislation on the experiences of those with stronger laws such as CaliforniaColorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York. Some states fell in the rankings simply because other states made positive strides by enacting stronger laws.  These developments represent progress for the movement, not black eyes for any set of states. In addition, four states saw their scores in our report drop this past year.  For example, Georgia’s Supreme Court invalidated its statewide charter school authorizer, causing the state to slip from #7 to #14.  This was a tremendous setback for Georgia’s charter movement, and this report serves as a reminder to Georgia’s policy makers that they need to act boldly to rectify it. Strong laws matter.  They allow good educators to create quality opportunities for more kids.  Weak laws prevent these opportunities from happening.   NAPCS welcomes healthy discussion about what constitutes a good charter law (and how to evaluate them) and will continue to work with charter leaders to drive positive changes in charter school laws across the country – from actually getting them on the books in states like Alabama and West Virginia to significantly improving them in states like Mississippi and Missouri.
Todd Ziebarth

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Actual Autonomy

In advance of the release of our 2012 rankings of state charter school laws against our model law, we are going to chronicle some of the most critical aspects of the model law currently playing across the country.  The second installment focuses on charter school autonomy. To truly be an “independent” public charter school, there are three key components of autonomy measured in the NAPCS Model Public Charter Law:
  1. Charter schools must be fiscally and legally independent entities, with independent governing boards that have most powers granted to other traditional public school district boards.
  2. Charter schools must receive automatic exemptions from many state and district laws and regulations, except for those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information requirements, and generally accepted accounting principles.
  3. Charter schools must be exempted from any outside collective bargaining agreements, while not interfering with laws and other applicable rules protecting the rights of employees to organize and be free from discrimination.
When state law does not explicitly grant these autonomies to charter schools, it fails to set up public charter schools for success.  In fact, it is likely setting them up for hardship, if not failure. An example from Virginia brings this issue to head. As the Virginia law currently stands, charter school personnel are considered employees of the local school board granting the charter and are granted the same employment benefits in accordance with the district’s personnel policies.  In other words, a charter school has little control over one of the key factors that will determine whether it is successful or not:  its employees.  These provisions help make Virginia’s law among the weakest in the nation for creating public charter schools with a high level of autonomy to set their own policies. In a positive sign, the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) has joined the chorus of charter school advocates (including us) that are calling on the state legislature to change the law to allow people who work in a charter school to be employed by the school instead of the district.  RPS has taken this step because of confusion over who oversees the employees at the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, a charter school authorized by RPS.  Patrick Henry’s principal Pamela L. Boyd has taken three months of paid administrative leave as well as numerous personal days off amid questions about her leadership. Yet Patrick Henry is unable to take meaningful action to resolve the issue because Boyd is an employee of RPS, not the school. When a school is not afforded the autonomy to make its personnel decisions, accountability for its performance is also compromised.  Among several changes that need to be made to Virginia’s weak charter school law, NAPCS urges the state to amend its law in 2012 to strengthen charter school autonomy.  These changes will not only help existing schools like Patrick Henry succeed.  They will also lay a strong foundation for the growth of high-quality public charter schools in Virginia in the future.
Nora Kern

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The Quest for Quality

A recent op-ed by Douglas Thaman, Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association (MCPSA), makes a strong call for the enforcement of quality in public charter schools operated by Imagine Schools Inc. While the issues generally facingMissouri charter schools—and those specifically perpetuated by Imagine Schools—are extreme, they are problems universally faced by charter schools: high facilities costs, the need for a strong governance body to set policies for sound business operations, and authorizer enforcement of quality and accountability. MCPSA is right to call for a state auditor investigation of the Imagine Schools practices that shortchange its students of a superior education. As a sector, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Whether it is through additional support or ultimately the closure of underperforming schools, or setting a new performance bar for high achievers, the public charter school sector must be vigilant when it comes to enforcing quality. And as MCPSA’s demand demonstrates, enforcement of quality starts in our own back yard.
Nora Kern

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Broad Foundation Announces New Annual “Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools”

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation just announced an annual $250,000 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools which will be awarded starting in 2012. The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools will mirror The Broad Prize for Urban Education that is awarded to traditional school districts. The prize will be awarded to the public charter school management organization that demonstrates the most outstanding overall student performance and improvement among the country’s largest urban charter management organizations in recent years while reducing achievement gaps among poor and minority students. Check out the Broad Prize webpage for more information about eligible CMOs and the review board. And for one last tidbit: the inaugural Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools will be announced at our 2012 National Charter Schools Conference in Minneapolis, MN!
Nora Kern

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The Indy 1,000,000

The Mind Trust is looking for teams of great people to start public charter schools in Indianapolis, and they’re offering up to $1 million for folks who can make it happen! For more information, check out The Mind Trust’s Charter School Incubator page. If you’re interested in learning more about charter schools in Indiana (or nationally), you can find detailed information about network operators, school performance, growth and more on our data Dashboard.
Nora Kern

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D.C. Study Deserves Cheers NOT Jeers

On her WaPo blog, Valerie Strauss bemoans the D.C. government’s recent commission of a study by the Illinois Facilities Fund, which examines how D.C. neighborhoods are served by the public education system. According to the related article, D.C. has more than 40 traditional schools with less than 300 students apiece. The study will be used to help officials decide which schools should be closed and where new ones, especially public charter schools, might be opened. Sounds like an effort toward rational stewardship of public funds, right? But here is the underlying horror, according to Strauss: “The study is the strongest signal yet that Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is prepared to treat charter schools — which are publicly funded but independently operated — as full partners in a reform effort that was heavily focused on traditional schools during the tenure of his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D).” After a series of twist and turns that careen around every refutable charge against public charter schools, Strauss comes to this conclusion: “The question is not whether some charter schools are better than some traditional schools. Some are. The real issue is that many fear we are setting up a two-tier public education system.” While Strauss is correct that some charters are better than traditional schools, others aren’t. And low-performing charters should be closed. The goal isn’t a two-tiered system: it’s a good school for every child. While Strauss may not see this, clearly the Mayor’s team does. According to Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright:  “I am very much wedded to quality, and I don’t care where it comes from. We have to right-size the [school system], and we have to be honest about where we’re not providing high-quality schools to our children. And if that ruffles feathers, then so be it.” Chancellor Kaya Henderson agrees:  “If it helps us to better deliver on the promise of a great education for every child in every neighborhood in the city, I’m willing to change the game.” The Mayor’s team understands that quality, accountability and—most importantly—meeting student needs are the goals the D.C. government should be vigorously pursuing. They should be applauded for recognizing that the ultimate goal is to give all children access to a world-class public education system where all schools are great. The “charter” or “traditional” district school label should be beside the point.
Nora Kern

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Even Superheroes Want to Attend Charter Schools!

A three page preview of the upcoming issue of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1 features the young hero who wants to enroll in a public charter school. Like all students, this rising hero deserves a chance to enroll in a high-performing public school. However, charter school enrollment is based on an explicit number of seats determined by the charter school’s board and authorizer. When more students want to enroll than the school is designed to serve, charter schools are forced to hold admissions lotteries. We don’t recommend radioactive spider bites as an alternative to charter school admission; it would be much simpler for state governments to allow more high-quality charter schools to open to meet parent and community demand.

spider man CS

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Public Charter Schools Engage Students and Empower Teachers

Anyone who is serious about improving the quality of public education should support the incredible contributions of public charter schools, which are proving in community after community that all kids can learn and achieve.

Some of the most vocal critics of charter schools don’t seem to understand what public charters actually are or how they work. Charter schools — which are disproportionately located in low-income communities — are public schools where all of the students have proactively made a choice to enroll. Similarly, teachers at charters proactively choose to teach in these schools, which often have far less red tape and more freedom to innovate.

Read the complete entry  on the Huffington Post. 

Nora Kern

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Forget Broadway…Charter Schools are the Place for Great Performances in New York

This week, the New York State Education Department released the 2010-2011 school year Mathematics and English Language Arts test results for third through eighth graders. The results are positive for public charter schools, which continue to have a (dramatically!) higher percentage of students that meet or exceed state performance standards than the percentages of their respective school district. According to analysis conducted by the NY Charter Schools Association (NYCSA):

The New York Charter Schools Association compared results of each charter school to their respective districts and found that students in seven out of ten charters exceeded their district percentage in terms of students meeting state English standards by achieving a level 3 or 4 of the assessment; while students in more than eight of every ten charters outperformed in mathematics.

You can see more of the NYCSA’s analysis of the charter school performance results here. And the WSJ agrees, pointing out that this is more proof that public charter schools are working to close the achievement gap between urban students of color and their socio-economically advantaged suburban peers.