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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!

Nina Rees

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National Alliance January Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesHappy New Year! Like many of you, I love the sense of possibility and the opportunity to set new goals that comes with the start of each year. We’re doing just that at the National Alliance, as we celebrate our 10th anniversary and launch our new three-year strategic plan. Our new plan builds on our past work but sets higher aspirations for ourselves and for the movement. Over the next three years, we plan to double the federal investment in the creation and expansion of charter schools, assist states in improving the quality of their charter school movements, and roll out a legal advocacy strategy aimed at enhancing charter autonomy.

We have already hit the ground running, given Congress’s interest in reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). You can see our policy principles here and my blog post on the topic here.

If you are interested in learning more about our work, please click here to get added to our various emails. And if you are not already following me or the National Alliance on twitter, I hope you will check us out – I am @ninacharters and the National Alliance’s handle is @charteralliance.

Thank you for being a part of our family!

Warmly,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


Charter School Enrollment Keeps Growing

The numbers are in and the news is excellent. In the 2013-14 school year, public charter school enrollment continued to grow. About 2.7 million students now attend public charter schools nationwide. At least one in five students attends a public charter school in 43 communities across the country, up from 32 last year. That’s according to A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities, the National Alliance’s ninth annual report measuring charter enrollment.

The report highlights 12 urban communities now enrolling at least 30 percent of their public school students in charter schools, a notable jump from seven last year. New Orleans has the highest percentage of public school students enrolled in charters, at 91 percent. Detroit ranked second with 55 percent, while Washington, D.C., and Flint, Mich., are tied for third with 44 percent. The Los Angeles Unified School District boasts the largest total number of charter school students, with 139,000 – an increase of 15 percent over the previous year – while Clark County School District in Nevada reported the fastest growth in charter enrollment at 36 percent.

We’re thrilled that more parents are choosing public charter schools for their children. Yet the report also reminds us how much work we have to do. Nearly a million student names are on waiting lists across the country. We need to redouble our efforts to create more high-quality charter school spaces to meet the surging demand.


Congress Provides More Charter School Funding

Public charter school advocates ended 2014 on a high note, as Congress increased funding for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) by $5 million, bringing total CSP funding for fiscal year 2015 to $253 million. The CSP provides support for the start-up, replication, and expansion of public charter schools, giving charters the seed funding necessary to open or expand. It also provides a small amount of support for facilities. Nearly all public charter schools across the nation have benefited from CSP funding. An increase in CSP funding means more high-quality public charter schools can open and grow – a huge win for the families who are desperate for better public school options.

While the increase in CSP funding is welcome and will make a big difference for children, even more funding is needed to help public charter schools reach their potential for serving more students. The National Alliance will continue working with new and returning members of Congress to make sure they understand how valuable charter schools are to students and their families.


Sen. Alexander Takes the Helm of the Senate HELP Committee

With Republicans gaining control of the Senate in the 114th Congress, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) becomes the new chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which is instrumental in setting the direction of federal education policy. As a former governor and U.S. secretary of education, Sen. Alexander brings deep experience in education policy to his new post. He also has a long record of supporting charter schools, most recently reflected in the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Act, a bill he cosponsored in the last Congress and folded in his just-released ESEA bill. All of us at the National Alliance look forward to working with Sen. Alexander, his committee colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and their staff to grow and sustain support for our nation’s public charter schools.


Thank You, Sen. Landrieu, for Supporting Charter Schools

Former Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu isn’t a part of the new Congress, but her legacy on behalf of the nation’s students will be lasting. As I wrote in a recent blog post for US News, Sen. Landrieu “seized the mantle of public charter schools like no other senator, even before New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina and jumpstarted its recovery by turning all its schools into charter schools. She pushed hard for myriad projects aimed at supporting the growth of charter schools throughout the nation…. Landrieu used her perch on the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that funds were reaching these innovative schools.” As she moves on to the next stage in her career – which we hope gives her the opportunity to continue her drive for education reform – we offer our deepest thanks to Sen. Landrieu for her steadfast support of public charter schools.


States to Watch in 2015

The National Alliance continues to work with coalitions of state-level charter advocates to build support for public charter schools and pass new laws or strengthen existing laws. After extensive groundwork, we’re eager to move the ball forward this year in several states. Alabama and West Virginia are two of the eight states without a charter law, but with supportive political leadership in each state’s capital, we see an opportunity for a breakthrough. Oklahoma and Wisconsin currently allow charters, but only in a few locales. We’ll be advocating to make charters more widely available in both states. And we’ll be partnering with friends in Indiana and North Carolina to pursue new opportunities to advance the goal of funding equity and quality. Equitable funding, along with the need for effective authorizers and strong accountability – consistent with our Model Law – will be central to all of our state-level work.

We need to build large coalitions in these six states, so if you call one of them home, please contact Todd Ziebarth at todd@publiccharters.org to find out how you can help make our message heard.


National Charter Schools Conference

We hope you’ll join us in New Orleans June 21-24, 2015, for the National Charter Schools Conference (#NCSC15).  This year we are excited to 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. This two and a half day event provides 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 the generosity of friends like you to help us continue our work. We are extremely grateful for your support in 2014. As we begin a new year, please consider a tax-deductible gift to support the growth and sustainability of charter schools. Thank you.

Nina Rees

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5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About Education

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

Though it’s easy to get lost in the myriad of negative stories and feuds swirling around American education, as we approach Thanksgiving I’d like to pause and reflect on all the positive trends impacting our education system and students. Here are my top 5 reasons for being optimistic…Read more here.

Andrew Schantz

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#Thankful4Charters

The season of thanksgiving is upon us, so it’s the perfect time to be thankful for charter schools. Here are six reasons why we’re especially grateful for charter schools at the National Alliance:

Charter school leaders aim to hire talented, passionate, and qualified teachers who will boost student achievement and contribute to a thriving school culture. Charter schools also have the freedom to ensure that the teachers they hire are not only qualified, but produce results for students and families. Furthermore, the public charter school model gives teachers the flexibility to use their talents and abilities to design programs that work better for the students they serve, while being accountable for student achievement.

Interested in contributing your talents to the charter school community? Check out the charter school job board here.

In exchange for greater flexibility, charter schools are held to high standards and are accountable to the public. Charter schools introduce an unprecedented level of accountability in public education. They are uniquely accountable to the public because they sign contracts with a government-endorsed authorizer explaining how the schools will operate and the results they will achieve. If they don’t produce these results, their authorizer has the power to work to immediately fix these schools. Conversely, traditional public schools can fail for years – even generations – and never be closed down for bad performance.

Charter school students are excelling academically. Between 2010 and 2013, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending charter schools do better academically than their traditional school peers. For example, the 2013 Stanford CREDO national study found that overall, students in public charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average of seven additional days of learning per year.

Charter school students are also achieving remarkable results on a global level. Read our latest report to learn about how charter schools are preparing their students to be competitive with students across the world.

This year, 21 charter schools were among the 287 public schools throughout the nation named 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Read more about this award and the charter schools honored this year.

Despite public charter schools making up only 6% of public high schools nationwide, they have been a continuous presence on national ranking lists. See how charter schools stacked up on four major lists.

Want to see what the future of learning looks like? Look no further than public charter schools. At their inception, charter schools were designed to be laboratories for innovation in education, and that spirit is alive and well today. Charter schools are using their autonomy to push boundaries to better serve students, creating lessons that can be refined and shared throughout the public school system. Furthermore, the charter school model is an innovation in itself. Time and time again, charter schools are proving that a governance structure that provides autonomy from politics and bureaucracy can yield outstanding results for students.

Learn more about what next generation learning looks like in a recent report published by the National Alliance and Public Impact.

Charter schools are arming students with knowledge for success in college, career, and beyond. And that all starts with a high school diploma. YES Prep Public Schools in Houston and Memphis, Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies, and Aspire Public Schools in California are just a few examples of charter schools that pride themselves on 100 percent high school graduation. The success that students experience while attending a charter school also travels with them through college. Nationally, only 12 percent of low-income high school graduates go on to earn a four-year college degree. But charter schools like Boston-based Match Education, serving primarily low-income and minority students, has a college completion rate of nearly 4.5 times higher. Read more of these stories here.

A study by Mathematica Policy Research found that public charter schools in Florida and Chicago are helping more students get into college and earn higher incomes once they graduate. Read it here.

Charter schools are public schools, which means their doors are open to all students. According to federal law, they must accept all students, including students with disabilities and English Learners, regardless of previous academic performance. In fact, charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds than traditional public schools.

Kids dream big in small towns too. Watch our video about how charter schools are creating high-quality learning opportunities for students in rural America.

Learn more about how charter schools serve all students through our Truth About Charters campaign.

 

Andrew Schantz

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Over Half a Million Students Attending CA Charters, 91,000 Remain on Waitlists

The California Charter Schools Association announced this week that nearly 548,000 students are enrolled in public charter schools across California for this school year. Additionally, with 87 new charter schools opening their doors this year, the total number of charter schools in California has reached 1,184.

Year after year, we see parents demanding the kind of high-quality educational options their children deserve in the form of charter schools. This year is no exception. In fact, there are 91,000 students on waiting lists in California.

Evidence over the past five years shows that the public has never been more supportive of public charter schools than they are right now based on growth in charter school enrollment, waiting list numbers, and polling data. This growth in support has happened during a period when public charter schools have been held more accountable than traditional public schools, and have strengthened their performance, especially with underserved students.

California’s charters are getting academic results. That fact is undeniable. We see that the number of charter schools making gains in student achievement is growing. At the same time, charters that aren’t succeeding with students are closing. In the 2013-14 school year, 34 charter schools closed. Of those with academic data, more than half (13) were among the lowest performing charters in the state. Overall, this means that tens of thousands of California’s students are being educated in better performing charter schools than just five years ago.

We anticipate continued growth over the next several years, as momentum builds for what has already been a very robust growth picture for charter schools in California. 

Jed Wallace, president and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Nina Rees

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National Alliance November Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesThis month’s elections shifted the political landscape in Washington, D.C. and in state capitals across the country, and supporters of public charter schools in both parties scored solid victories. Now that attention will turn from campaigning to governing, we look forward to working with members of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate to advance sound education policy and increase support for the federal Charter Schools Program that has helped so many charter schools open their doors and begin serving students. We will also work with our state-level partners to build and strengthen relationships with new and returning governors and other state leaders. For more on our thoughts on the impact of the elections, check out this interview Todd Ziebarth did for Education Week or view my latest U.S. News column.

I encourage you to do your part, too! One great step is to take our pledge to fight for the day that parents in every community and from every walk of life will have the opportunity to send their child to a high-performing public school. With more allies on our side, we’ll have an even greater impact for students and families.

As always, thank you for all you do to support and grow our movement. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

Nina Rees
President and CEO


A Revolution in Educational Innovation

1776The public charter school movement is all about quality innovation in education, so we are thrilled to partner with 1776 to connect public charter schools with innovative K-12 startups. 1776 is a global incubator and investment fund dedicated to creating opportunities for promising startups, and our partnership will help connect some of the most innovative and creative business and policy entrepreneurs with the teachers and school leaders who are working every day to improve educational opportunities for all students.

As part of the collaboration with 1776, the National Alliance will provide mentors for 1776’s Challenge Cup 2015, a global competition spanning 16 cities in 11 countries to identify the most promising startups to solve the world’s biggest challenges. In addition, this year’s Challenge Cup winners will have the opportunity to attend the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference and present their ideas to school leaders and teachers from around the country.

We’re excited to work with 1776 over the coming year to explore new and innovative ways to strengthen public education for all students.


New Report Shows Public Charter School Students are Globally Competitive

OECD ReportPublic charters schools are on a constant mission to improve quality and results so that students are prepared for the demands of a competitive global workforce. A report released last week by the National Alliance reveals the results of four public charter schools that participated in an international exam to measure their academic success against both students in the U.S. and those in developed countries. All four schools outperformed U.S. averages and demonstrated their students are prepared to compete with students across the world in reading, math, and science.

On Top of the World: Public Charter Schools and International Benchmarking, 2013-2014 examines the success of Peak to Peak Charter School (Lafayette, Colorado), NYOS Charter School (Austin, Texas), Sturgis Charter Public School (Hyannis, Massachusetts), and University Laboratory School (Honolulu, Hawaii) – and takes a look at the practices and philosophies that place them among the best schools in the world.

If you’d like to measure your school against your international peers, the OECD Test for Schools is being administered again in 2014-15. Thanks to a grant from the Kern Family Foundation, the National Alliance will pay for up to 28 schools to take the test. Click here for more details about how to participate.


Raising Our Voice for Equitable Funding

Obtaining equitable funding for public charter schools is a challenge across America. In the nation’s capital, a group of public charter school parents are asking a federal court to insist that the D.C. government live up to its charter school law and provide equal resources for public charter schools. In an op-ed published in the Washington Times, I note that D.C. charter students have been shortchanged by as much as $770 million over eight years and urge D.C.’s leaders to erase the current inequality: “By underfunding [public charter schools], the D.C. government is not only breaking its own laws, but penalizing often excellent schools to subsidize schools that aren’t doing nearly as well.” We’re hoping for a positive result from the lawsuit, so that the 45 percent of D.C. public school students who attend charters get the resources they’re entitled to. Read the full op-ed here.


Welcome to Our New Team Members

Robert Reed, Jr. has joined the National Alliance as Senior Director of Legal Affairs. Robert comes to us from the Vera Institute of Justice, where he was a senior policy adviser. His 14 years of experience as a litigator and policy leader includes service in both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, as the Associate Director of Legislative Affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and as oversight counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Robert previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., a senior judicial law clerk for the D.C. Court of Appeals, and as a litigation attorney with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C. Robert holds a B.A., with honors, from Stanford University and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. He has served on KIPP DC’s inaugural associate board, as well as the board of the Luke Moore Academy in Washington, D.C.

A writer, photographer, and self-described information geek, Riya Anandwala joins the National Alliance as Manager of Communications and Marketing. Riya started her exciting journey in the field of journalism halfway around the world in Mumbai, India, and continued her passion for writing in the American Midwest. She wrote for the Indianapolis Business Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Peoria Journal Star, and many other news websites before moving into higher education communications. Riya worked as a communications specialist for Waldorf College in Iowa and as a media relations specialist for Saint Louis University’s medical center, where she focused on promoting the institution’s cutting-edge research. Riya has a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University, Bloomington and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Mumbai, India. Riya loves talking about geography, social issues, current affairs, and all things India. She also loves to travel and try out new restaurants with her fiancé.

Rebecca David, a former intern at the National Alliance, is our newest Research Assistant. Rebecca is a D.C.-area native who earned a bachelor of science in communications at Florida State University. As Research Assistant, Rebecca ensures that the National Alliance’s database – a vital source of information about the nationwide charter school movement – is accurate and current. Prior to joining the National Alliance, Rebecca was the Production Assistant at Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, where she edited footage to create TV and radio advertisements for Democrat candidates across the United States. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys volunteering, traveling, and kayaking.


Register Now for the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference

The National Charter Schools Conference will be held June 21-24, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana! As everyone who’s been to past conferences knows, you don’t want to miss this extraordinary opportunity to connect with friends and colleagues from across America who are sustaining and growing our schools. The early registration deadline is December 19th, so be sure to register now for the lowest rates.


Support the National Alliance

You know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard about Giving Tuesday? Giving Tuesday is the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving – December 2nd this year – and it’s a day designated for supporting charities that are especially meaningful to you. We encourage you to support the great charter schools and charter support organizations that are giving hope to more than 2.5 million students and families around America. And, of course, we would be immensely grateful for your donation to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools so that we can continue our work on behalf of the entire charter school community. The National Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so your donation is completely tax deductible. Thank you for your support – and Happy Thanksgiving!

Donate now!

 

Andrew Schantz

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Startups and Charter Schools: How Some Fresh Ideas Can Help Address the Challenges Schools Face

I recently had the opportunity to attend the first of 16 Challenge Cup events hosted by 1776, a startup incubator here in D.C. that the National Alliance has partnered with to help connect innovators and educators. When I entered the room where the startup showdown would commence, the energy was contagious. Hundreds of startup enthusiasts (including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray) were gathered together to identify and celebrate promising startups tackling big challenges in four categories: education, energy, health, and cities.

While listening to 60-second pitches from the ten startups in the education category, I was intrigued by the way each of them had the potential to help public charter schools better serve students. Here are just a few examples of some of the challenges charter schools face and the ways these innovative startups may help provide much-needed solutions.

Funding
Charter schools receive 70 cents to the dollar for per-pupil funding when compared to traditional public schools. As a result, finding funds to pay for special projects to enhance learning can be a challenge. Enter edbacker: a service that allows educators to raise the money they need for important education-related projects, programs, and events. This platform could help charters raise necessary funds to continue offering high-quality, innovative learning opportunities for students.

Teacher Collaboration
Nearly 70% of charter schools are single-site schools and do not belong to a regional or national network. Educators at these standalone charter schools do not always have access to a diverse group of peers to help them hone and improve their skills. That’s where KickUp comes in. This on-demand support network for teachers allows them to find thought partners, mentors, and inspiration within and outside of their network. Teachers can post a challenge they’re facing in the classroom to a closed, secure network. Expert-appointed members of the network address those challenges via video session or mobile chat.

Parental Engagement
Students learn concepts in the classroom differently today than their parents did, so it can be difficult for parents to be involved in their child’s learning at home. Homework Unlocked is coming to the rescue. This online resource library of videos, quick-reference guides, dictionaries, and audio podcasts allows parents to learn the content that their children are learning in school, and in turn help them out with their homework.

Have a solution to an education problem you’ve identified? Check out five guidelines for innovation success from Nina Rees in her latest U.S. News Opinion column here.

Andrew Schantz is the communications and marketing coordinator for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.