Nina Rees


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National Alliance October Newsletter

It’s been an exciting month at the National Alliance as we’ve released new reports highlighting the quality, innovation, and growth of the charter school movement (more details below). I’ve also spent time over the last few weeks in several states – including Delaware, Missouri, and North Carolina – meeting many of you and talking about the future direction of the charter school movement. Hearing from and learning about your work is motivating and pushes us at the National Alliance to work even harder on your behalf.

One of the most important things we can all do to ensure that our movement continues to get stronger is to support leaders at every level – local, state, and federal – who will fight to give high-quality public charter schools the resources and freedom they need. Please remember that Election Day is only a few weeks away – on Tuesday, November 4th. I urge you to get acquainted with the candidates in your area and to vote for those offering the best future for public charter schools and our students.

Best regards,

Nina Rees,
President & CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

The Health of the Charter School Movement

How healthy is the charter school movement in your state? A groundbreaking analysis from the National Alliance has the answer. The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State-By-State Analysis assesses charter school movements across the nation according to measures of quality, innovation, and growth. At a rollout event on October 1st, we joined our friends at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to reveal that Washington, D.C., has the healthiest charter movement in the nation, with Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York rounding out the top five.

The new report serves as a companion piece to our annual state charter law rankings, and it finds that more than a good legal framework is necessary for a strong and effective charter movement; authorizers, school leaders, teachers, and parents all must work together to give more students the best educational options. Our new interactive web page allows users to explore how the new rankings stack up against the model law rankings. Together, the reports can guide policymakers and charter supporters as they take action to improve schools for all students.

Next Generation Learning

Innovation is at the heart of the charter school model. Charter schools are uniquely positioned to use time, talent, and technology to create a wide variety of personalized learning experiences to help every student reach his or her full potential. A new report from the National Alliance shines a light on four schools that are examples of innovation at work. Breakthroughs in Time, Talent, and Technology: Next Generation Learning Models in Public Charter Schools describes what’s working at these four schools and offers recommendations for how policymakers can support high-quality individualized learning. The lessons are not only valuable to school leaders who have the freedom to replicate these models but they also offer lawmakers greater evidence to encourage policies to foster these innovations.

Weighing In on School Improvement Grants

We recently submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education with our suggestions to help strengthen and improve the nation’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. We believe that SIG should be about increasing access to high-quality schools and more focused on the needs of students. Our comments urge the Department to ensure that states have the flexibility to direct SIG funds to turnaround strategies in their state that have the greatest likelihood of producing results, including by opening new public charter schools and expanding existing high-quality public charter schools. We highlight that charter schools are perfect for this work because they have a proven track record of replicating success in a variety of settings and they are sustainable over the long-term. Joining us in submitting our letter were numerous charter school leaders, state chiefs, and partner organizations.

To read the comments we submitted, click here. Or check out the paper we published last month on how to strengthen the nation’s SIG program.

Congratulations to the Latest Charter School Program Grantees

A big congratulations to the charter schools across the country who have received grants in the most recent round of funding through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). From brand new charter schools in Washington State to established high-achieving charter school networks in states like New York and Texas, we’re pleased to see a strong list of grantees. The federal Charter Schools Program continues to be a valuable resource to help new charter schools open their doors and provide funding for existing high-quality schools to expand and replicate. Here at the National Alliance, we are proud to advocate for more federal dollars to support your work and we’ll continue fighting for more funding so that even more schools can take advantage of this important program. To see the full list of grantees, click here.

Washington State Court to Hear Charter Challenge

On October 28th, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear arguments related to the 2012 voter-approved law that made Washington the 42nd state in the nation (plus the District of Columbia) to allow public charter schools. Opponents of charter schools have once again fought tooth and nail to prevent progress for students and parents, trotting out tired arguments we have heard before. Fortunately, these arguments have been defeated in state after state, and we expect Washington will be no different.

To help clarify the arguments, the National Alliance joined with the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools to file an amicus brief with the court. The brief explains the history, growth, and success of public charter schools nationwide in providing millions of students with a high-quality education. It also addresses opponents’ specific claims and details one-by-one how similar claims have been rejected by courts across the country.

Washington’s new law is one of the best in the nation and it is strongly aligned to our model law. And the movement is already growing. After serving homeless children and families for 25 years in southeast Seattle, First Place Scholars has opened its doors as the state’s first public charter school. Seven more authorized schools serving children at risk of academic failure will open in the fall of 2015. We look forward to the state Supreme Court rejecting the latest attempt to stop public charter schools from serving students, and we will update you when a decision is reached.

21 Charter Schools Named Blue Ribbon Schools

We’re thrilled that 21 public charter schools were honored as 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes elementary, middle, and high schools for their academic excellence and progress in closing achievement gaps. Congratulations to this year’s National Blue Ribbon public charter schools for earning national recognition for their outstanding educational programs and accomplishments. For more details and a list of charter schools recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools, click here.

Is Your School World Class?

Is your charter school better in reading, math, and science than schools in top-ranked Shanghai? What about compared with similar schools in the United States? This is your opportunity to get important data to help position your school on a global scale, boost recruitment and fundraising, and validate your school model. The National Alliance is offering a select number of charter schools the chance to participate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Test for Schools at no cost. This is a voluntary diagnostic tool to benchmark your school against the academic success of similar schools worldwide – a valuable learning opportunity for your students, faculty, and entire school community. To learn more, visit www.publiccharters.org/oecd-test-schools and check out this piece highlighting the results from charter schools that have participated in the test.

Parents Want More Charter Schools

A new survey by Education Post reveals that 78 percent of parents support “expanding the number of charter schools so parents have more options.” The survey of 1,800 parents asked a range of questions about the quality of American education. It revealed a strong desire for schools to improve and to offer more personalized learning options. Underlying the need for change is a sense that schools aren’t doing a good enough job preparing students for the future. Eighty-five percent of parents believe that America is “falling behind in competitiveness,” while 73 percent said they are “very” or “somewhat” worried that their child’s education won’t prepare them for success in today’s world. Full survey results are available at Education Post.

Ready for New Orleans?

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference will take place June 21-24 in New Orleans, and early bird registration is now open! Early registration allows you to enjoy the best rates for next year’s event and to start planning for three days of professional development, networking, and fun. We’re also accepting session proposals through October 31st. This is your opportunity to share best practices with colleagues from around the nation, and to benefit from their feedback.

Click here for more information about early registration and proposal submission. Please reach out to the conference team at NCSC@publiccharters.org with any questions. We look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on friends like you to support our work. From releasing important research reports and new data on charter schools, to advocating on behalf of charters at the federal, state, and local levels, and sharing the important stories of how charter schools are changing children’s lives, the National Alliance works every day to make the charter school movement stronger. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to support our work. Thank you!

Donate now!

Nina Rees


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An Education in Building Local Support

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

Last week, the 46th annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of public attitudes toward public schools was released, and the headline was the deteriorating support for Common Core standards, to which 60 percent of Americans are now opposed. A similar poll, conducted by Education Next, confirms many of the first poll’s findings. This is not all that surprising, given the onslaught of negative publicity surrounding Common Core, but what caught my attention is the subtext of this opposition, which is centered around Americans’ dissatisfaction with federal involvement in schools.

What to make of this?

Americans dislike one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to how their children are educated. While the Common Core State Standards are simple standards that a curriculum can be built around, and the standards are already in place in many states, the public seems uneasy with a national (or as they see it, a “federally driven”) approach. Whether this is because anti-Common Core forces have done an effective job of vilifying the standards or because Americans have a libertarian streak in our DNA, the brand “Common Core” is now as disliked as “No Child Left Behind.” Education Next found that 68 percent of Americans would favor their state using “standards for reading and math that are the same across the states.” But when standards are labeled “Common Core,” supports drops to 54 percent…read more here.

Nina Rees


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Michelle Rhee’s Lasting Legacy

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report) News of Michelle Rhee’s exit as CEO of the education reform organization StudentsFirst generated a flurry of commentary over the past week. One of the few household names in education reform, Rhee launched StudentsFirst three years ago, after leaving her high-profile post as schools chancellor in Washington, D.C. She had big plans for StudentsFirst, including a bold pledge on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to raise $1 billion to promote policies that placed student needs ahead of the needs of the education establishment.

Many felt that her ambitious fundraising plans were destined to fail and that her organization’s top-down approach made it hard to enact reforms that would stand the test of time. While there is some truth to the claim that her blunt moves may have been too divisive for a field that thrives on harmony, I think Rhee’s legacy as a leader is far more complex and long-lasting…read more here.

Nina Rees


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KIPP Leads the Way

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report)  This week, KIPP, the renowned national charter school network, celebrates its 20th anniversary. The celebration will be held on the heels of KIPP’s receipt of the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, an annual award that goes to the public charter school network with the highest student performance and graduation rates, and the most success in closing racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps.

I first came across KIPP when I was working at a think tank in the late 1990’s. One of my colleagues and mentors, Adam Meyerson (now leading the Philanthropy Roundtable), was on a quest to find high-performing public schools that were overcoming the odds. He wanted to give policymakers ideas for how to replicate these models. The product of this work led to the publication of a short book called “No Excuses,” which featured 21 schools with at least 75 percent low-income students who were scoring at the 65th percentile or higher on national exams…read more here.

Nina Rees


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July Newsletter

I had a fantastic time at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. It’s so energizing to be with the people who are on the ground every day working in America’s charter schools. We can never say thank you enough to the teachers and school leaders who show up before sunrise and head home after sunset, and who take time away from their own families so that they can change the lives of the children from other families.

With the 50th anniversary of the signing of the federal Civil Rights Act just behind us, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity. Not just the diversity of America’s student body today, but the diverse learning environments charter schools offer to millions of families. I wrote about this in my U.S. News & World Report column. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I hope you’re enjoying the summer!

What Happens in Vegas…

We are just back from a fantastic National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas where we had a record 4,800 attendees. Sal Kahn, Frank Luntz, and Campbell Brown inspired us to think bigger about using technology to bring world-class instruction to all corners of the globe and to never give up on our work to ensure all children have access to a great public school. Steven Michael Quezada of Breaking Bad fame opened the conference with a heartfelt story about his own experience in an underperforming public school and how it has motivated him to become involved with charter schools that engage students from all types of backgrounds.


It was our best conference yet—and we thank each of you for joining us. Education Week put together a fun roundup of the conference in 13 tweets—each tweet captures the essence of the conference in 140 characters or less.

We hope you will mark your calendar for next year’s conference, June 21-24 in New Orleans. When we convene, New Orleans will have just finished its first school year as an all-charter school district and it will be great to see first-hand how charter schools have dramatically improved the lives of so many students.

If you were with us in Las Vegas, please be sure to take our attendee survey if you haven’t already. The feedback you offer will help us make next year’s conference even better. Also, if you would like to receive a copy of Frank Luntz’s presentation, be sure to sign up for one of his focus groups here.

KIPP Wins Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools

For the past three years, at the National Charter Schools Conference, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has awarded a high-performing charter school network with The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. The prize honors the public charter school network with the most outstanding overall student performance and graduation rates, as well as the ability to close achievement gaps among low-income and minority students. The winner receives $250,000 to put toward college-readiness efforts for low-income students, such as scholarships, a speaker series, and campus visits.

KIPP Schools won the prize this year and it comes at no better time. This year marks their 20th anniversary—an entire generation of students has now had the opportunity to attend a KIPP school. KIPP has 141 schools across 20 states, and serves 50,000 students. In recent years, KIPP closed 21 percent of its racial achievement gaps in middle school reading, math and science. KIPP narrowed 65 percent of its racial and income achievement gaps in elementary school reading, math and science.

Congratulations to KIPP Schools! Because of their efforts, tens of thousands of students have gone on to brighter futures and many more are on their way. Click here to see a video highlighting the work of this year’s three finalists.

Pictured in photo (left to right): Steve Mancini, Director of Public Affairs at the KIPP Foundation; Bruce Reed, President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; Carissa Godwin, Director of Development at KIPP Delta Public Schools; Eric Schmidt, Principal of KIPP Courage Middle School; Nina Rees

Charter Schools Hall of Fame Welcomes Three New Members

Also at the conference, three new members were inducted into the Charter Schools Hall of Fame: Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy Charter Schools; Chester “Checker” E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; and The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund. Hall of Fame members include schoolteachers and leaders, thinkers, policy experts, and funders that have paved the way for the success and growth of public charter schools. You can read more and watch a short video about the work of each of the inductees here. Congratulations and thank you to Eva, Checker, and the Fisher Fund!

Two new members join the National Alliance Board of Directors

I am pleased to announce two new members of the National Alliance board of directors: Jeb Bush, Jr., and Moctesuma Esparza.

Jeb Bush, Jr., is managing partner for Jeb Bush & Associates, LLC and president of Bush Realty, LLC. He has been involved with education reform efforts through the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Moctesuma Esparza is CEO at Maya Cinemas North America and is an award-winning producer, entertainment executive, entrepreneur and community activist. Moctesuma founded the Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise Charter School and has been active in education reform efforts in Latino communities for decades. We are grateful to both Jeb and Moctesuma for joining our board.

Education Insiders Support Charter Schools

Last month, Whiteboard Advisors released the results of a poll of high-level “insiders” in education about their views on charter schools and recently introduced Senate legislation, backed by the National Alliance, to reauthorize the federal investment in charter schools. Ninety percent of the insiders polled want to see the Senate take action on the bill, but only 3 percent think it will actually happen. Also of note, 87 percent of the insiders polled viewed charter schools positively. That’s great news for all the school leaders and teachers in the trenches working hard every day to improve student learning.

New Report on Special Needs Students in Denver Charter Schools

Last month, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report that found students with special needs are less likely to leave Denver, Colorado charter schools than traditional public schools. They also found charter schools are less likely to classify students as special education, and more likely to declassify them. These findings are really important in light of the on-going (and unfounded) criticism by charter school opponents that charter schools push out students who are hard to teach. Click to read the report, Understanding the Charter School Special Education Gap: Evidence from Denver, Colorado.

See You in September!

We’re going to take a break from producing this monthly newsletter in August and look forward to updating you on our work again in mid-September. Have a great summer!

Nina Rees


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Learning the Facts of Financial Life

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report) Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently offered a compelling speech pushing American students to learn about money and finance in school. “Young people, to be successful, to secure retirement, to take care of their families, and to not be in poverty, have to have a level of financial literacy that 30, 40, 50 years ago maybe wasn’t required,” Duncan said. “Today it’s an absolute necessity.”

This is important for several reasons.

First, when tested for financial literacy in 2012, American teens scored below average and far short of those in countries like China, Australia and New Zealand, according to the results of a recently published Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development survey…read more here.

Nina Rees


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Graduating Against the Odds

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report) June is graduation season and this year, in particular, it’s nice to take a step back from often contentious debates over Common Core, teacher tenure, school choice and an array of other education reform issues, and recognize those students who have overcome the odds by graduating from high school and being the first in their families to attend college.

For instance, there are students like AB Bustamante. Bustamante just graduated from Uplift Peak Preparatory High School in Dallas – the first member of his family to graduate from high school. Throughout his years at Uplift, he also worked part-time to help his single mom pay the bills. Dedicated to hard work and excellence, he not only graduated high school, but secured acceptance to the United States Naval Academy. This summer, he will head to Annapolis with his sights set on becoming a Marine Corps Officer and one day working in public policy…read more here.


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Overcoming the Odds: Yasbad’s Story

Yasbad Senior PicNot only was Yasbad acclimating to a new country when moving to America from Ethiopia, the then middle school student was also getting to know his immediate family. Up until that point, Yasbad had been raised by other family members. In a new country, with a new language and customs, Yasbad was also getting to know his father. Access to a better education prompted the family move, but Yasbad faced his share of challenges as he started school in America. He knew little English and was constantly bullied. With no one to talk to, he spent much of his free time in the library reading. For him, that extra time paid off. He quickly improved in school and is now looking forward to attending college. This month Yasbad will graduate from Aspire Alexander Twilight Secondary Academy in California.  “Aspire has made me realize that no matter how different others are from me, I should respect them and their differences from me,” he says. “I have become more tolerant of others. Because of Aspire, I am ready to face any challenge that comes my way, and I am ready to help others with theirs.” Yasbad is the first in his family to attend college, and will go to California State University-Chico next fall, where he plans to continue learning about the world around him. Yasbad hopes that by earning a college degree, he will be better prepared to give back to the important people in his life. This blog post is part of an ongoing series during the month of June celebrating #30DaysofGrad. Click here to read other graduation stories from charter school students and schools across the country.
Todd Ziebarth


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To achieve a strong charter sector, start with supportive laws

Senior VP of State Advocacy and Support Todd Ziebarth has a guest blog at Flypaper as part of their “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while other are falling behind. Here’s an excerpt of Todd’s response:

The short, but unsatisfying, answer to Mike’s question: It’s complicated.

Since we released our first rankings of state charter school laws against our model law in 2010, we’ve been asked about the relationship between a state’s ranking in our report and the results of that state’s charter schools—so much so that we’ll be releasing a new report in a couple of months that begins to tease out this relationship in each state entitled The Health of the Public Charter School Sector: A State-By-State Report. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about this relationship.

Supportive laws are necessary but not sufficient

First, to quote directly from our model law,

It is important to note that a strong charter law is a necessary but insufficient factor in driving positive results for public charter schools. Experience with public charter schools across the country has shown that there are five primary ingredients of a successful public charter school environment in a state, as demonstrated by strong student results:

  • Supportive laws and regulations (both what is on the books and how it is implemented);
  • Quality authorizers;
  • Effective charter support organizations, such as state charter associations and resource centers;
  • Outstanding school leaders and teachers; and,
  • Engaged parents and community members. 

While it is critical to get the law right, it is equally critical to ensure these additional ingredients exist in a state’s charter sector.

Some states with supportive laws (those that show up high in our annual rankings) have implemented them well and have therefore achieved strong results. Conversely, other states with supportive laws that show up high in our rankings have implemented them inconsistently—and have therefore achieved uneven results.

To read the rest of Todd’s response, visit Flypaper

Rashaun Bennett


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Congratulations Horizon Honors High School! 100% of Seniors Graduate

Kondapi_ManuThere was much to be celebrated on May 27, 2014, as 78 students—100 percent of them—at Horizon Honors High School received their diplomas. Not only has the school excelled by achieving a 100 percent graduation rate, the student have also excelled by earning a combined total of $5.7 million in college scholarships. Of the 78 graduates, 16 of them have attended Horizon Community Learning Center since kindergarten. Nancy Emmons, principal at Horizon Honors, says, “Being a smaller community, we have personal relationships with kids and families who we get to know on an individual basis. Along with their families we get to celebrate these amazing accomplishments. They get into great colleges and do amazing things.” During the commencement ceremony, the school’s valedictorian, Manu Kondapi, addressed the graduating class. Manu will be attending Harvey Mudd College next fall, an elite liberal arts college focused on science, math, and engineering. Seventy-two percent of Manu’s classmates will enroll in a four-year university next fall. Seventeen percent will attend a community college with plans to transfer to a university, 8 percent will continue at a community college or tech school, 2 percent will join the military, and 1 percent of the class will immediately join the workforce. Congratulations Horizon Honors Class of 2014! You have bright futures ahead! Rashaun Bennett is a communications intern with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.