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Nina Rees

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Test results support Achievement School District’s approach

The following op-ed from National Alliance President and CEO Nina Rees first appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

When Tennessee lawmakers created the Achievement School District (ASD) three years ago, they had a clear vision of what they wanted the new statewide district to achieve, but no guarantee of success.

The goal was to take some of Tennessee’s Priority schools — those in the bottom 5 percent of achievement — and turn them around so they would reach the top 25 percent of schools.

Today we know that the ASD is succeeding, lifting schools and students at a faster pace than in other districts across the state. Policymakers in Tennessee should build on this success, while other states should look to replicate the formula the ASD is using to help children achieve.

A lot of the ASD’s success is rooted in leadership. Chris Barbic, a former charter school founder, was hired as superintendent of the ASD, and he relied heavily on high-quality charter networks to bring rapid improvement to ASD schools. The strategy is working.

Students in ASD elementary and middle schools had greater gains in math and science than their peers in district schools statewide. The district’s neighborhood-based high schools also delivered an impressive performance, improving in every subject and outpacing other schools statewide in a remarkable five out of six subjects, including posting double-digit gains in algebra and English.

Like the rest of the state, ASD’s reading scores are lagging, evidence that there’s still plenty of work to do.

Charter schools have been able to drive rapid improvement because teachers and school leaders can adapt quickly to what is happening in their classrooms. If a teaching method or curriculum is working, it gets expanded; if it is not, it is replaced by something else. While change is slow and cumbersome in district-run schools, the ASD and its charter schools can continue trying new ways to help students until they get it right.

Such trial-and-error tactics can take time to be effective. Barbic and other charter leaders will be the first to admit that creating a statewide portfolio of turnaround schools and changing the way schools are run isn’t a quick and easy fix. It’s tough work, and some school leaders won’t succeed.

But this, too, is a benefit of charter schools: When unsuccessful school leaders don’t get the job done, they can be replaced. Students don’t have to suffer while adults argue over contract provisions.

After launching the ASD so successfully, Barbic recently announced that he will be leaving the district at the end of the year. The next group of ASD leaders — supported by state officials — should build on what Barbic set in motion. And with evidence of the ASD’s success, we should try to replicate it in other places.

Nevada is in the process of setting up a statewide improvement district right now, and several other states are investigating whether a similar structure would work for them. States considering the ASD turnaround model should move forward with a clear understanding that progress won’t come easily.

But with patience, persistence and the power to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, charter schools can help deliver the boost in learning and achievement that so many students desperately need.

Nina Rees is the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nina Rees

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Stop the Summer Slide

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Last Tuesday, at an event in New Hampshire, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stated, “There is no reason that K-12 education should be an eight-month enterprise in this country. … We need to adjust the model.”

While Christie blamed teachers’ unions for our antiquated academic calendar, it’s more accurate to say the entire education system is largely set in its ways. Few school boards or administrators want to innovate with an extended school year.

Ultimately, we all need to do more to prevent the summer slide and help children maintain their academic edge. A shift to more year-round schooling would be ideal, enhancing education for both poor and well-off students and reducing the summer pressure on parents’ pocketbooks. The growth of charter schools, which face fewer regulations around class time than traditional public schools, has led to more experiments in year-round education…Read more here.

Nina Rees

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National Alliance June Newsletter

A Note from Nina

We are only a few days away from the 15th annual National Charter Schools Conference on June 21-24 in New Orleans! I am excited that I’ll see many of you there. This conference is a particularly special one for us as we commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – and celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the National Alliance! We have a packed agenda including addresses by Geoffrey Canada, Ashley Judd, Bryan Stevenson, and John White, as well as 135 break-out sessions and the announcement of the Broad Prize for the highest performing charter school management organization. It all kicks off Sunday evening with a welcome parade! Click here for more information. To stay updated on all of our activities, follow us @charteralliance and use #NCSC15. I look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

Warmly,
Nina Rees
Nina Rees


30 Days of Grad

It’s graduation season – a time to celebrate the success of public charter school students across the country! This month, we’re featuring a new graduation story every day as part of our 30 Days of Grad series. Click here to read the fun and inspirational stories we’ve posted so far, and be sure to check back each day to learn about a new student who’s on the road to a bright future thanks to public charter schools!


ESEA Reauthorization: Movement in the Senate?

This month, we expect the U.S. Senate to start debate on S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act, which would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The National Alliance continues to closely engage in the process, specifically with regard to Title I and the Charter Schools Program. For our perspective, read our April letter to Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA).


Charter Schools Program in Action: Haas Hall Academy

This month, our CSP in Action series features Haas Hall Academy. Haas Hall is a rigorous, STEM-focused college prep charter school that Newsweek ranked as the 25th best high school in the nation. Learn how the Charter Schools Program helped Haas Hall Academy get started in this month’s profile.


On, Wisconsin!

Legislators in Wisconsin are moving forward legislation to create new pathways for approving independent charter schools in the state and to provide a small increase in per-pupil funding for independent charters. These measures, along with several others, would be a boost to the growth of public charter schools in Wisconsin. For more info, take a look at our statement.


Examining Facilities Funding Policies

One of the biggest challenges to the continued expansion of public charter schools is the fact that many public charter school laws place the burden of obtaining and paying for facilities on the schools themselves. As a result, public charter school leaders struggle to find suitable and affordable facilities to house growing numbers of students. To help make sense of the facilities funding policy landscape, the National Alliance put together this policy snapshot of the 29 states that provide some level of support to help charter schools access facilities.


Hall of Fame Inductees

The National Alliance is thrilled to honor three long-time champions of public charter schools as the newest members of the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame. Former Senator Mary Landrieu, Deborah McGriff, and Nelson Smith will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame during next week’s National Charter Schools Conference. Learn more about each inductee here. Congratulations to these outstanding leaders on their well-deserved honor!


Welcome New National Alliance Staff!

Please join us in welcoming three new staff members to the National Alliance: Heather Reams, Vice President for Communications and Marketing; Kimberly Lane, Vice President for External Growth; and Mario da Costa, the latest addition to our federal advocacy team. We’re excited to have them on board, and you can click here to read more about them.


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your contributions. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

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Increase in Charter School Enrollment According to 2015 Condition of Education

According to the newly released 2015 Condition of Education from the National Center for Education Statistics, the education landscape is shifting. Caitlin Emma and her team at Politico write today that there is a steady growth in charter schools since 1999.

“Since the 1999-2000 school year, the number of charter schools has grown about 300 percent. There were about 6,100 charters in the 2012-13 school year, vs. about 1,500 in ‘99. Over the same time, the proportion of small charter schools has shrunk. Back then, the overwhelming majority of charters had fewer than 300 students; now, it’s only about half. About half of all charters used to be dominated by white students; that’s changed too: Now the student body at only about a third of charters is majority white. More than half of all charters are based in cities, and more than two-thirds are located in the South or West.”

For more data about the prevalence of charter schools, readers can check out our Estimated Number of Public Charter Schools & Students from February 2015 or a state-by-state analysis of the Health of the Charter School Movement from last fall. 

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An Oasis of “We Can” and “What’s Next”

Four years ago, I found myself living in Kansas City, MO, pregnant, and teaching in a neighboring suburban school district. I felt an impending urgency to find a public elementary school where I would be pushed professionally and my future child would be given a high-quality education. And I didn’t want to move away from the city I had grown to love.

Reflecting on those days of urgent conversations surrounding the state of public education, my passion for providing a high quality public education that I desperately sought for my own child grew to include all of the children of my beloved Kansas City. In one of many conversations about where I would be sending my son/daughter to school, I heard about Crossroads Academy of Kansas City (CAKC), a charter school that was set to open the following school year.

Now as a kindergarten teacher at CAKC, I listen to incoming parents, many of whom had similar stories as mine. “Welcome to Crossroads Academy! How did you hear about us?” I ask. This simple question evokes passionate stories of how families have made the choice to send their scholar to start kindergarten in my classroom. Relief that they don’t have to move, or scramble to figure out how to pay for private school, or take a spot at a school where they do not have a belief that the school will provide the highest quality of education for their child. As I honestly respond, “Me too,” our bond to create a model of change in education is sparked. We are in this together, to show Kansas City that our children are scholars, can exceed any expectation that we set for them, will be raised to serve our community, and prove that the kids of Kansas City can!

We are three years into our mission at CAKC to become the premiere urban school serving Kansas City and as our waiting list grows, so does my passion and drive to serve the scholars who sit in my kindergarten class. My colleagues and I are given the professional freedom to create curriculum, assessments, and pacing guides that fit the needs of each individual class and child; we are encouraged to push forward with project based learning while partnering with the community; and to seek professional development to hone our craft.

To give you a brief look into the heart of what we are striving to accomplish, this spring our scholars were presented with information of an orphanage in Guatemala where one of the orphans had opened a bakery and was in need of many supplies to support his brothers and sisters. The kindergarten scholars decided they would hold a bake sale to raise money and set their goal at $800. When trying to give them an idea on how much that amount was, our Rosie the Riveter stood and passionately exclaimed with an arm raised, “WE CAN DO THIS!” They went on to raise over $1700.

In the age of naysayers concerning educational innovation, it’s refreshing to call a place like CAKC home. Crossroads is an oasis of reform. An oasis of “we can,” and “what’s next?”

Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

Kara Schumacher is a kindergarten teacher at Crossroads Academy of Kansas City.

Andrew Schantz

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5 Ways to Make This Year’s National Charter Schools Week the Best One Yet

We still have a few days to go before National Charter Schools Week kicks off, but there are plenty of things you can do to start the celebration early and get in the #CharterSchoolsWeek spirit!

  1. Change your profile picture to one of our official Charter Schools Week badges! Whether you’re a charter school parent, student, administrator, or advocate, we have a badge for you!
  2. Invite elected officials to your school. National Charter Schools Week is the perfect opportunity to show off the great things that are happening in your school. Use our guide to plan a visit for local, state, or federal elected officials. And be sure to let us know if you need any help setting one up by contacting us here.
  3. Tell us why you love charter schools! Print out a template, take a picture or video, and share it with us on social media using #CharterSchoolsWeek.
  4. Set a calendar reminder for Wednesday, May 6 from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET for the #CharterSchoolsWeek tweetup! We’ll be sharing some tweets that morning for you to use, but in the meantime, click here to get the conversation started.
  5. Know a charter school student who loves to write? Encourage them to submit an entry for the first-ever Charter Schools Week Student Essay Contest! Get the details and submit essays by Friday, May 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET by clicking here.

Lastly, are you planning an event for Charter Schools Week in your state or community? Be sure to let us know!

For all the latest news and updates, follow us on Twitter and like our page on Facebook.

Looking forward to celebrating with you next week!

 

Andrew Schantz is the digital communications and marketing manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nina Rees

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National Alliance April Newsletter

A Note From Nina

We’ve had a busy month at the National Alliance: welcoming Alabama to the list of states with charter school laws, preparing for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and getting ready for our annual #CharterSchoolsWeek on May 3-9. This year, we are encouraging every charter school leader to invite an elected official to tour their school – we’ve put together a handy toolkit and a guide to hosting a tour for policymakers. In addition, we are asking students in your schools to participate in our first ever National Charter Schools Week essay contest. We want to hear directly from students about what makes their school awesome. Learn more here.

As always, we’re eager to hear what you have planned for the week, so please call or email me with your ideas and suggestions!

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


Charter Schools Are Coming to Alabama!

Alabama recently became the 43rd state to enact a charter school law! The bill, signed by Governor Robert Bentley, allows up to 10 start-up charter schools per year, as well as an unlimited number of charter school conversions. Alabama’s law includes strong accountability provisions and several other essential elements featured in the National Alliance’s Model Law. For all the details, check out our fact sheet.


ESEA Reauthorization Advances in the Senate

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee has taken an important step toward reauthorizing the law. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) announced a bipartisan agreement on a draft bill, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. (See our full statement here.) We’re pleased that the proposed legislation would continue to require annual testing in reading and math, and require assessment results to be disaggregated by student subgroups. In addition, the bill would modernize the Charter Schools Program to support opening new charter schools, replicating and expanding the most successful charter school models, and improving facility financing and authorizer quality.

The HELP Committee is considering various amendments to the Every Child Achieves Act this week, and we will continue to work with members of the Senate to reach a final agreement. We also are hopeful that the House will continue work on its own ESEA reauthorization bill – H.R. 5, the Student Success Act. We’ll keep you updated as ESEA reauthorization advances in both houses of Congress.


The Charter Schools Program in Action: Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. The CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’re highlighting a great public charter school that relied on the CSP to get started.

This month we feature Crossroads Academy in Kansas City, Missouri. Crossroads is a K-7 school serving close to 300 students on its downtown campus. Education at Crossroads rests on three pillars – high expectations, 21st century learning, and community engagement – all designed to help students have a positive impact on their family, their community, and the world. Crossroads used a $375,000 CSP grant to purchase critical materials including computers, library resources, and curricula. To read more about Crossroads, see this month’s profile.


A Big Victory for Charter School Students in Los Angeles

Last week the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) won a favorable ruling in its long-running facilities access case against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The California Supreme Court ruled that LAUSD has been violating Prop. 39, the law that guarantees access to school district facilities for charter school students. The ruling requires LAUSD to change its facilities distribution process to ensure charter schools have more equitable access to classrooms in the district. The National Alliance filed an amicus brief in support of CCSA’s position. We applaud CCSA for its unwavering commitment to improving facilities access for charter schools and congratulate them on this victory.


Urban Charter School Students Show Major Gains

According to the new Urban Charter Schools Study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), public charter schools in the nation’s largest urban districts are helping disadvantaged students generate significant achievement gains. Children enrolled in urban public charter schools gained 40 additional days of learning in math and 28 additional days in reading compared to their traditional public school peers. Moreover, the longer a student attended an urban public charter school, the greater the gains. See the complete report here. Read our take on the findings here.


Examining State Policies on Charter School Access to District Facilities

One of the greatest challenges facing the public charter school movement is access to adequate buildings. From state to state, public charter schools receive varying levels of support in acquiring and maintaining facilities. A new policy snapshot from the National Alliance reviews the 27 state laws that provide charter schools with access to district facilities and offers recommendations for how state policymakers can get more charters into district buildings.


The National Alliance Welcomes New Board Members

We are thrilled to announce the addition of two new members to the National Alliance Board.

  • Former U.S. senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) spent 35 years in public service at the state and federal levels, demonstrating her passionate commitment to children and families. Throughout her tenure in Washington, D.C., Senator Landrieu was a public charter school champion, helping to forge a bipartisan consensus in support of charter schools that has endured for two decades. We look forward to benefiting from Senator Landrieu’s keen political insight, her frontline experience with education reform, and her dedication to the well-being of children across America.
  • Chris Cerf is the CEO of Amplify Insight, which helps teachers and other educators use data to improve decision-making and accelerate personalized learning. Prior to joining Amplify, Chris served as New Jersey’s commissioner of education, where he oversaw 2,500 public schools, 1.4 million students, and 110,000 teachers. As a reform leader in New Jersey, Chris led the effort to expand charter school capacity in some of the nation’s most underserved communities. Chris has also worked with Joel Klein as deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, as associate counsel to President Bill Clinton, and as a high school history teacher in Ohio.

Please join us in welcoming Mary Landrieu and Chris Cerf to the National Alliance board, and learn more about them here.


Innovation Buzz

Each month, we’re calling your attention to some of the cool educational technology being developed for students, parents, teachers, and other educators. While we don’t endorse products, we’re excited to let you know about innovations you may find helpful.

This month we feature Edbacker, which won the education division of the D.C. Challenge Cup sponsored by 1776, an incubator of entrepreneurial companies making a social impact. Edbacker will be competing in the nationwide Challenge Festival next month. Developed by teacher-turned-entrepreneur Gary Hensley, Edbacker facilitates online school fundraising, engages parents, and helps PTO leaders manage their many organizational responsibilities. Hensley points with particular pride to an early success – helping parents at one elementary school raise $150,000 to build a new science classroom.

You can meet the leaders of Edbacker – and many other innovative companies – this June at the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference. The Conference will feature an Innovation Alley showcasing leading ed-tech companies, giving educators and entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet and learn from each other. Be sure to check it out!


National Charter Schools Conference

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) is fast approaching! Join us from June 21-24 in New Orleans, where we’ve lined up inspiring keynote speakers, including Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, and Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from around the country. By attending, you’ll have access to more than 135 breakout sessions and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!


Welcome to the Team!

We are pleased to welcome Precious Jenkins to the National Alliance team as our newest program coordinator! She comes to us from the UNCF where she worked for the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. Learn more about Precious by reading her bio here.


Washington State Conference

Enthusiasm for charter schools is building in Washington state, which launched its first public charter school in fall 2014. The Washington State Charter Schools Association is hosting its second annual conference on May 7-8 in Seattle, and regional neighbors from Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and Montana are encouraged to attend. Click here for more information.


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your contributions. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Nina Rees

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National Alliance March Newsletter

A Note From Nina

One of the things I like most about my job is the opportunity it offers me to meet with dedicated educators who are investing their lives in finding the next best approach to learning. I recently met one such individual: Brian Greenberg, the CEO of the Silicon Schools Fund. The Fund, which helps to launch schools focused on technology, innovation, and student-directed learning, has seed-funded some of the most innovative charter schools in the Bay Area, such as Summit. When I asked Brian what I could do from my perch in Washington, D.C., to best support the growth of his schools, he pointed to the need for more funding for the federal Charter Schools Program. The cost of launching a new school remains steep and the best way for Washington to help seed the growth of innovation is by supporting schools like those launched by the Silicon Schools Fund.

As we champion our schools at the federal level and in states and communities across America, let’s remind policymakers that if they want to find 21st century classrooms that prepare children for the technology and innovation age, they’re most likely to find them in public charter schools. We should also remind our charter school leaders that the freedoms afforded to them in their charter offer the best hope to innovate and push the boundaries of teaching.

And for parents who want to find innovative schools for their children, I recently shared some advice on the Getting Smart blog about what they should look for.

Read on for more info about what’s happening at the National Alliance and throughout our innovative charter school movement.

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


Federal Update

Congress continues to work on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In the House, H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, was passed out of the Education and Workforce Committee and started receiving consideration in the full House in late February. The National Alliance issued a letter about the bill, praising the positive aspects of the legislation and recommending ways to improve it. We’re hoping for a full House vote soon. We also expect to see further progress on the Senate’s ESEA reauthorization in April.

In late February, we kicked off our annual advocacy campaign to request Congressional support for increasing funding to the Charter Schools Program (CSP). So far, more than 2,600 charter school supporters have sent more than 8,000 emails and phones calls to Congressional offices, asking their members to specifically request an increase in funding for the CSP. By letting members know that people in their districts are passionate about public charter schools, we’re amplifying our message and increasing our impact. If you would like to join this effort, please click here.


The Charter Schools Program in Action: Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. The CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’ll highlight a great public charter school that relied on CSP to get started.

This month we’re featuring Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW), a college-prep school that provides emotional, physical, and academic enrichment in an all-girls environment. The school offers a STEAM curriculum – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math – to give young women a strong foundation in areas of study in which they are traditionally underrepresented. Learn more about their story, and let your members of Congress know that we need more CSP funding to open high-quality public charter schools like BLSYW.


Progress in the States

We have been heavily involved in enacting and improving public charter school laws in several states, with especially high hopes for three: Alabama, Oklahoma and West Virginia:

  • Alabama’s Senate just passed the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, which, if also approved by the House, will allow the creation of high-quality public charter schools in the state for the first time. The House Education Committee approved the bill on Friday and the full House will take it up this week. Hats off to Emily Schultz, the Executive Director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools for her work bringing the bill to the finish line.
  • In Oklahoma, which allows charter schools in limited locations, we’re pushing legislation that would allow charter schools statewide and beef up accountability. Both the House and the Senate recently passed slightly different versions of our bill. We’re working to ensure one of these bills makes it to the governor’s desk this session.
  • West Virginia came up just short of becoming the next state to approve a charter school law when the legislative session ended there this weekend. While we are disappointed with this session’s outcome, we made considerable headway there in a short period of time. Starting in only December, we were able to get a bill out of a narrowly divided Senate, through two Committees in the House, and to the third and final reading on the House floor.

We’ll continue to provide updates about progress in these and other states, as we support new laws and seek to strengthen existing laws to align with our Model Law.


New York Students and Parents Rally for Better Schools

On March 4th, 13,000 students, parents, teachers, and other supporters rallied at the state Capitol building in Albany, New York, to call attention to New York’s failing schools crisis and insist that every child be given the opportunity to attend a high-quality public school. Using the slogan “Don’t Steal Possible,” advocates mounted a campaign in person and online to ensure that the state’s elected officials heard their powerful voices for educational justice. As you know, New York has been a charter school battleground, with Mayor Bill de Blasio trying to halt public charter school expansion, and Governor Andrew Cuomo protecting charter schools and promoting new legislation to lift caps on the number of charters in the state. For a full rundown of the situation, check out my recent U.S. News & World Report blog post.


Get Ready for National Charter Schools Week!

Mark your calendars for May 3-9, when National Charter Schools Week (NCSW) will be back and bigger than ever. NCSW is an opportunity for the entire public charter school community to come together and share success stories, highlight achievements, and celebrate the power of charter schools in transforming American education. Next month we’ll make available a downloadable toolkit that will include a variety of resources to help you get involved and spread the charter school spirit in your community. We especially want you to invite an elected official to a high-performing charter school so we can show our policymakers the impact that charter schools have on their communities. In the meantime, the National Alliance is looking for guest bloggers who are interested in telling their story during NCSW. If you are interested in sharing why you love charter schools, and the impact they’re making in your community, contact Andrew Schantz at andrew@publiccharters.org.


Innovation Buzz

Last month, we started Innovation Buzz to raise awareness of some of the cool educational technology available to teachers, parents, and students. While we don’t endorse products, we’re excited to let you know about innovations you may find helpful in making your school a success.

This month, we want to introduce you to KickUp, a networked platform that allows teachers to connect with each other, and with mentors, to get advice and solve challenges they face in the classroom. KickUp is built to promote teacher leadership, giving support-seeking teachers the chance to earn professional credit for their engagement, and high-performing educators an outlet and economic incentive to share their expertise. By using videos and web chats to bring educators together, KickUp has the potential to be a great professional development tool for teachers at any experience level. And when teachers have more resources to overcome obstacles, students are sure to benefit.

KickUp co-founder Jeremy Rogoff, a former Teach for America Corps member and KIPP teacher, is getting support from 1776, a D.C.-based incubator of entrepreneurial companies making a social impact. (Read an interview with Jeremy here.) The National Alliance is excited to partner with 1776 to help connect entrepreneurs interested in K-12 education with charter schools across the country.


National Charter Schools Conference

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) is just three months away! Join us from June 21-24 in New Orleans, where we’ve lined up inspiring keynote speakers, including Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White, and – just announced – Bryan Stevenson, founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and a widely acclaimed activist and speaker on issues of poverty and social justice. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from around the country. By attending, you’ll have access to more than 135 breakout sessions and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!


Join Our Team!

The National Alliance is looking for great people who are passionate about educational opportunity to join our team. We currently have openings for several positions. For more information, click here – and please spread the word to people who would be great candidates!


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the high-quality public charter schools serving students across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your support. Please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of public charter schools – and please share our message and our work with your friends. Thank you!

Andrew Schantz

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Charter schools fuel the conversation at SXSWedu

Last week I joined 5,000 education pacesetters, practitioners, and professionals at SXSWedu – the world’s premier education innovation conference. Throughout the numerous sessions I attended and the countless people I connected with, one thing stood out – charter schools were the talk of the town in ATX.

For instance, when asked about breakthrough ideas happening in Chicago during a panel titled “Redesigning School as We Know It,” Ben Kutylo from Chicago Public Education Fund was quick to list several charter schools that had broken the mold of traditional school design. He mentioned Intrinsic Schools in particular, which has completely reinvented the physical makeup of a school. Picture Google-esque open floorplans and funky furniture. No neat rows of desks that you typically see in a school. (Edsurge just published a profile on the school if you want to learn more). Kutylo’s fellow panelist Johnathan Tiongcho from Alliance College-Ready Public Schools spoke about the ability of his schools to utilize diverse classroom models that are tailored for delivering instruction most effectively. The unique culture and focus on student-centered learning truly makes Alliance schools a place where students want to be.

The larger school choice community also had a strong presence at SXSWedu. Howard Fuller, civil rights leader, chair of the Black Alliance for Educational Options and founding board chair of the National Alliance, led an empowered discussion on his life’s work. He spoke about his belief that an education system that utilizes a variety of choices – including charter schools – will benefit our nation’s children by giving them access to what best suits their needs. Our friends from the American Federation for Children hosted a session where Chairwoman Betsy DeVos offered several “inconvenient truths” about education reform. DeVos highlighted the importance that families have a choice in where their children attend school because a system in which student needs are front and center ultimately leads to better outcomes.

Another panel discussion featured Tom Torkelson, founder of IDEA Public Schools alongside Mary Wells from Bellwether Education Partners, and Superintendent of Schools for Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD Daniel King. They led in an informative conversation about how charter schools and independent school districts can become effective partners for the benefit of students they serve. While Torkelson pointed out, “there is no reason for districts and charters to not have these kinds of partnerships,” Wells noted that in order for district-charter partnerships to be successful, there has to be buy-in from everyone involved. And more importantly than being a win-win for the schools themselves, they need to be a win for students.

Finally, during Wednesday evening’s keynote session, Emily Pilloton of Project H gave an inspiring talk about how her organization uses architecture as a lens for teaching youth to be leaders and builders of the future. Currently, her program is housed at Realm Charter School in Berkley, Calif., and gives students the ability to apply core subject knowledge to building “audacious and socially transformative projects.” If you want to get a better idea of the great things that Project H is doing, be sure to check out the documentary that tells the story of the program’s first year.

While the makeup of conference attendees ranged from founders of ed-tech startups to classroom teachers and school leaders, one thing was clear – regardless of their background, SXSWedu attendees recognized that the charter school movement continues to be a true force of innovation. It’s clear that the role of the charter school movement has played in instrumental role in shaping the conference, and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come.

SXSWedu is a true celebration of creative solutions to solve some of education’s largest problems, and it’s exciting to see charter schools at epicenter of this conversation.

Andrew Schantz is the digital communications and marketing manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Join us at the National Charter Schools Conference to pick up where SXSWedu left off. Network with thousands of attendees, participate in engaging breakout sessions, hear from inspiring keynote speakers, and discover how charter schools are creating a chance for every child. Find out more information here.

andrewatsxswedu

Nina Rees

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National Alliance February Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesDid you know that charter schools are the fastest growing form of public school choice in the United States? Over the past five years, student enrollment in charter schools has grown by more than 70 percent. As we recently reported, more than 500 new public charter schools opened in the 2014-15 school year alone. Across the country, more than 6,700 public charter schools now enroll nearly 3 million students. This continued growth demonstrates that parents are eager for more high-quality educational options for their children.

That’s just one of the messages we delivered this year as part of National School Choice Week. And to show how important public charter schools are to the students who attend them, we put together a short video entitled “The Power of Charters.” It shines a spotlight on the students, teachers, parents, and administrators who make up the charter school movement. I encourage you to check out the video and share it online so that more people can see how charters are changing lives.

Sharing the success of public charter schools is especially important now, as we work with federal policymakers to raise awareness and support for the Charter Schools Program (CSP). This brilliant article by Neerav Kingsland and Richard Whitmire in Real Clear Education makes a compelling case for why the CSP is the federal government’s best educational investment – and why Congress and the Administration should “quadruple down” on their commitment to high-quality charter schools.

Happy Presidents Day!

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


The Charter Schools Program in Action

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) is critical to meeting the growing demand for high-quality public charter schools. CSP provides essential funding to help new schools purchase books and equipment, hire school leaders, and finance school buildings. To demonstrate the importance of federal funding, and help make the case for increasing it, each month we’ll highlight a great public charter school that relied on CSP to get started. This month’s focus school is Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. Named after one of America’s legal heroes, TMA provides an academically rigorous curriculum built around the themes of law and justice, and emphasizing critical thinking and civic engagement. Find out more about TMA’s mission and how the Charter Schools Program helped make it possible. If you are interested in helping us make the case for additional CSP funding, click here!


Reauthorizing ESEA and the Charter Schools Program

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is taking center stage in Congress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee, has issued a draft legislative proposal, and has started bipartisan negotiations with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). We prepared a letter in response to the chairman’s proposal and secured 40 co-signers. We also signed on to a joint letter organized by the Business Roundtable. And we’ve laid out our policy priorities for ESEA reauthorization.

In addition, Chairman Alexander and Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have re-introduced the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which would modernize the federal Charter Schools Program, prioritize the replication and expansion of high-quality charter schools, promote strong accountability, and incentivize states to provide equal funding to charters and traditional public schools.

In the House, Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline (R-MN) introduced the Student Success Act, a bill to reauthorize ESEA that includes the CSP reauthorization language that passed the House last year. We’re pleased with the charter school provisions in the bill. We also strongly support the bill’s requirement that students be tested annually in reading and math, which is vital to giving parents the power to make informed choices about their children’s education. However, we are disappointed that the legislation is not strong on accountability.

We applaud Chairman Alexander, Chairman Kline, and their colleagues for driving education reform forward, and we look forward to continuing to work with members of the House and Senate to get good legislation passed.


How Does Your State Stack Up?

Model Law Rankings report We released the sixth annual ranking of charter laws across 43 states and the District of Columbia (eight states still don’t have charter laws). Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws scores each law against 20 essential components from the National Alliance’s model law. These components favor quality and accountability, equitable access to funding and facilities, and no caps on charter school growth.

Minnesota topped the rankings for the fifth time in six years, and states including South Carolina and Utah made substantial gains. Overall, 14 states moved up in the rankings. We’re excited to see more states working to improve their charter school laws. But states need to make more progress in reducing funding gaps between charter schools and traditional schools. They also need to give charter schools the flexibility to innovate, while holding them accountable for improving student achievement. Be sure to check out this year’s report to see how your state measures up.


Supporting D.C. Charter Parents in their Fight for Equal Funding

Charter school parents in Washington, D.C., are fighting to ensure that the D.C. government provides equal funding for their children’s education – and the National Alliance is right there with them. In the District of Columbia, equal funding isn’t just a desire; it’s a requirement of the 1995 School Reform Act. That act of Congress launched charter schools in the District and mandated that the D.C. government establish a uniform funding formula for both traditional public schools and public charter schools. Yet for years, the District’s charter schools have been receiving less per-pupil funding than traditional public schools – a gap of $770 million since 2008. Despite being shortchanged, D.C. charter schools consistently outperform the city’s traditional public schools.

A group of parents have filed suit in federal court to force the D.C. government to live up to the law. The District has asked the court to dismiss the case. The National Alliance, with a coalition of other reform organizations, recently filed an amicus brief with the federal court explaining why the parents’ case should be allowed to proceed.

While it’s always unfortunate to see education battles fought in court, we maintain a robust network to help advocates stay on top of the legal landscape affecting charters and to weigh in with legal opinions that help courts understand the legal framework underpinning charter schools. To learn more about the network, please contact Rob Reed, our Senior Director of Legal Affairs.


Working Together to Improve Services to Students with Special Needs

Equity at Scale reportPublic charter schools have built their reputation on helping every child, regardless of background or circumstance, reach his or her full potential. This is especially meaningful for students with disabilities, who can benefit from the variety of learning models that charter schools provide. A new report from the National Alliance and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools showcases some of the models that are proving to be very effective in delivering high-quality services to special-needs students.

The report, Equity at Scale, examines the challenges public charter schools can face when serving students with disabilities, including funding and staffing limitations. The authors then explain how network agreements – from formal CMO networks to looser cooperative affiliations – can help individual schools combine and leverage resources and implement innovative practices to enhance special education delivery. I encourage you to read the report to see some of the great examples of public charter schools working together to serve students with special needs, and to consider whether some of the solutions might be right for your school or network.


Innovation Buzz

One of the great things about working in public charter schools is the opportunity to be innovative. Educational innovation and technology are booming, with a variety of new products and services to help teachers, parents, and administrators meet students’ needs in new, often fun, ways.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to see a cool new game developed by the folks at Zearn (which was co-founded by charter leaders Dave Levin and Norman Atkins). The game is called Impoppable, and it’s designed to help build core math skills in students ages 8-12. You can download the app through iTunes – it’s free, contains no ads, and, fair warning, it’s a little bit addictive. My 10 year old daughter already loves it!

Note: the National Alliance does not endorse products, but we do like to share information about new tools that might spark a love of learning in children!


National Charter Schools Conference

Ready for winter to be over? Our thoughts are already turning to summer and the National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15) in New Orleans June 21-24, 2015. We hope you’ll join us as we welcome Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada and Louisiana State Superintendent of Education John White as speakers. #NCSC15 is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, school leaders, administrators, board members, and advocates from across the country. By attending, you’ll have access to engaging keynote speeches, more than 135 breakout sessions, and myriad networking opportunities. Register now to join us in New Orleans!


Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on your generosity to help us raise awareness of the tremendous progress happening in high-quality public charter schools across the nation. We are extremely grateful for your support, and we ask you to consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of charter schools. Thank you!