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!


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!


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.


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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.



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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!


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!


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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.

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.


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My First Charter School Visit

As someone who had never visited a charter school before, my tour of KIPP DC’s Shaw Campus was a great opportunity to see what happens in one of the most successful schools in Washington, D.C. The diverse teaching staff, friendly environment, and college-striving atmosphere demonstrate why KIPP schools nationally succeed.

photo (1)Environment
The tagline “Work hard. Be nice.” is painted on hallway walls to remind students that their school is a place for learning and interacting with peers. This anti-bullying environment was apparent in the friendly collaboration I witnessed in a 7th grade reading class. Students know that their school is a place where they are safe and supported by their peers.

In each age group, there was a noticeably consistent level of student engagement. At KIPP’s Grow Academy, serving PreK3-Kindergarten, they played games together in a way that was inclusive and exciting for every child in the classroom. In an elementary math class I visited, almost every student raised his or her hand to eagerly answer the questions asked by the math teacher (with the correct answer, too). Students in a 7th grade reading class worked with partners to analyze a passage from a novel about slavery. Put simply, the students showed a positive, engaging attitude toward the curriculum and their classmates.

Part of why KIPP is successful is likely due to the school’s forward thinking. They have ambitious plans to double the number of students that are served and are college-ready. As part of their future goals, they plan to open 20 or more schools each year. KIPP’s growth is good news for the students waiting to attend their high-quality schools.  

College readiness
From an early age, KIPP students see pendants, names, and symbols of colleges throughout the halls. By exposing them to the idea of college early, and instilling its benefits, the kids take it on as a goal throughout their school years. Not only do they strive to attend the colleges they see pinned on the walls, but the KIPP Through College program ensures that each student receives support from alumni and better prepare for their future career. For many of the school’s low-income students, reaching college is life-changing for their entire family.

KIPP Schools are providing  opportunities that students may not have had otherwise.  Forty percent of KIPP alumni have earned a four-year college degree, which is greater than the national average of 29 percent, and more than four times the low-income average of only eight percent. Additionally, 93 percent of KIPP students graduate from high school, and 82 percent of those graduates go on to college.

My tour of KIPP DC’s Shaw Campus revealed that smart education beginning in early childhood, diverse and enthusiastic staff, and a focus on college-readiness give KIPP DC students a great start in life. I’m ready to see more schools now. Knowing that charter schools thrive on innovative learning models, unique school cultures, and varied curriculums, I would definitely say that seeing one school does not mean that you’ve seen them all.

Thank you KIPP DC for allowing me to tour your Shaw Campus!

Dylan Kama is an intern for the federal government relations team at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nina Rees


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How to Shake Up the Education Status Quo

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

Last week, I met with a group of education technology entrepreneurs at 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based startup incubator and venture fund that supports innovators working to solve major public policy challenges. It was inspiring to meet so many people interested in pitching their ideas to schools and to see how much technology stands to help the space. From a platform designed to boost teacher retention by offering peer-to-peer mentoring and one designed to empower data-driven decision-making, to a resource to help Parent-Teacher Organizations and Parent-Teacher Associations with their fundraising needs, these early- to mid-stage ventures are testing the waters with ideas that could revolutionize how our schools operate. Many will fail, some will be able to sell their innovation to larger companies and others will hopefully take off a la Uber one day.

As the former head of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education who later worked for a for-profit company interested in pitching its services to the K-12 sector, I have a keen appreciation for ideas and products that can shake up the status quo in education. There are, of course, countless challenges involved with penetrating the K-12 space, but the odds of success will improve if innovators follow five guidelines…Read more here.

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!