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David Dunn

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Texas Charters Closing the Gap

The continued hard work and improvements in student achievement of Texas’ public charter schools was recognized in a recently-released report that shows the state’s charter movement closed the gap in reading and continues to make strides in math.

Texas public charter schools serve more economically disadvantaged, more English language learners and more minority students than traditional public schools, based on data from the Texas Education Agency. Also, more than 20 percent of public charters are alternative education accountability (AEA), serving our students in the most need in residential treatment centers, juvenile detention facilities and dropout recovery schools.

The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford report on Charter School Performance in Texas confirms the hard work from 2009 to 2013 of all Texas charter schools, which operate on about $1,000 less per-student funding than traditional public schools.

Texas charter schools acknowledge the need for even more improvement, especially those with the mission of serving the students most in need of educational support. Which is why the Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) has developed the first-in-the-nation Quality Framework, a research-based continuous improvement tool and process designed to help public charter schools assess quality and improve academic performance. TCSA also served more than 1,000 charter leaders, board members and educators in the past year through in-person and online trainings and its annual conference. TCSA staff and its member schools are proud of their work with students in need and committed to accelerating student achievement by addressing any areas of weakness.

The CREDO report highlights three major accomplishments of Texas charter schools:

  • The gap in performance in reading between public charter school students and traditional public school students has been completely eliminated.
  • ELL students in charter schools outperform their traditional public school peers.
  • Students in poverty in charter schools outperform their traditional public school peers.

The CREDO report also highlights three areas of improvement needed in Texas charter schools:

  • The gap in performance in math has significantly improved since 2009, but must be eliminated.
  • Black and Hispanic students in charter schools perform below their traditional public school peers.
  • The expansion of high performing charter schools and the closure of consistently poor performing charter schools should be accelerated.

TCSA continues to call on CREDO to disaggregate the data and separate AEA schools from standard accountability charter schools. Including AEA student performance in the report skews the data, making it difficult to isolate the areas of need. A separate report would result in better policy decisions and a clear comparison between student performance in AEA schools, standard charter schools and traditional public schools.

We welcome another CREDO study that includes the effects of Texas’ Senate Bill 2, which in 2013 implemented strict accountability measurements with failure to achieve tied to school closure. Due to the new state law, 19 charters have been closed ̶ six have been officially revoked and another 13 have received revocation notices to close at the end of the 2014-15 school year. The association continues to support Senate Bill 2 as it seeks to replicate high quality public charter schools and close charters that chronically fail to meet the needs of students.

While we are pleased with our improvement, we’re not satisfied with our progress, and TCSA stands committed to working with charter leaders in the state to continue to accelerate the achievement of all our charter students.

David Dunn is the executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association. 

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DFER’s Marianne Lombardo Gets It Right about Brown Amendment to ECAA

As I read the news clips today, I had to pause and applaud DFER’s Marianne Lombardo and her article she published today on DFER’s blog about Senator Sherrod Brown’s amendment that would have, in the words of Lombardo, “crush[ed] public charter schools.” The National Alliance had deep concerns about this amendment. We were glad to see that it didn’t make it far in consideration. Regardless, it’s important that it’s understood why this amendment was so harmful to the charter school movement nationwide. Read more below.

Sen. Sherrod Brown Wisely Withdraws Charter Amendment

JULY 16TH, 2015

Here, we would like to think, is why.

By Marianne Lombardo

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) offered an ESEA amendment to “improve accountability and transparency” of public charter schools. DFER, and other organizations, believed the amendment would crush public charter schools.

Although the amendment will not be voted on, it’s important that the implications be addressed.

Policy affects people’s lives, so let’s take the case of one particular wealthy suburban school district in Brown’s home State of Ohio.

Of the 84 fourth graders that went to school in the district in 2007, 18 kids didn’t graduate high school with their fourth grade peers.

What happened to them?

  • 7 moved
  • 1 died
  • 1 transferred to Catholic school
  • 9 transferred to public alternatives

In other words, other than the kids that moved, 10 percent of the original fourth grade class chose or was directed to another public school option. Even though they lived in one of the best school districts in the state, the district was not meeting their needs and they needed an alternative.

Even in “good” districts, some kids need something different.

This illustrates what was wrong with Brown’s amendment that was intended to bring greater accountability and transparency to public charter schools.

In Cleveland, 39 percent of students attend public charter schools. In urban areas, kids leave district schools not just for personal reasons, but for better academics. And to be clear, the majority of Cleveland’s public charter schools are not for-profit and do outperform comparative district schools on achievement and student growth – according to Stanford University’s gold-plated CREDO study.

Now to be fair, Brown, the NEA, and other critics were right that not all charters do well. Financial and operational mismanagement by some have sullied the reputation of all. Ohio’s long battle over charter reform, particularly with authorizer quality, is a frustrating example of politics at its worst.

Senator Brown’s ESEA Amendment, however, took the “nuclear option” approach to fixing charter school problems that are primarily in Ohio and a few other egregious states.  What exactly did it propose?

  1.  It put the fox in charge of the henhouse.

Brown would have had local school districts (the competitor to charters) draft impact statements assessing any newly proposed charter school’s impact on a district-wide multi-year school plan. Only after the statement was made public and after a public hearing was any determination to be made to approve or disapprove a new charter school application.

Problems:

First, how an interested party – the district – can objectively and legitimately represent the needs of students – particularly those that are in conflict with the district – and not their own needs, is hard to understand.

Second, districts use a variety of tactics to thwart charter schools, such as denying transportation and access to buildings and preventing payments. And, districts have had their own scandals involving attendance, grades, test scores, and use of funds (see OhioGeorgia, and Texas, for example).

In the Brown-NEA scenario, a district would have had an unfair advantage in determining the fate of a potential competitor. And of course it also would have had more capacity and communication channels to organize support around its interests. As a result, districts can easily out-muscle a nascent charter group, especially one without a management company.

  1.  It made transparency good for the goose, but not for the gander.

Brown’s amendment required charter schools to publically disclose:

  1.  Annual student attrition rates by grade level;
  2.  Staff qualifications and languages spoken;
  3.  Annual teacher attrition rates, disaggregated by grade level, subject, years of experience and credential;
  4.  Fees, and if they are waived for certain students;
  5.  Attendance and the number of suspensions and expulsions by school year, in total and disaggregated by category.

Never mind that bureaucratic paperwork is antithetical to the charter concept. What’s stunningly ironic and inequitable is that districts and the entities they do business with don’t have those same requirements.

Brown wanted charter school management companies to be audited annually because they receive public funds. But a fair extension of that would be to audit the use of public funds by all entities doing business in the public education sphere, including:

  1.  Public funds transferred to unions and other organizations.
  2.  Public funds paid to lobbying, membership, and other organizations.
  3.  Public funds paid to other organizations that contract services to schools, such as transportation and food services.

Senator Brown believed that districts could balance their own as well as community and student needs. But, how did the district cited above react when students chose other educational options?

Initially, they chose to limit parent options by not agreeing to send tuition to the early college high school parents wanted their child to attend. Only a legislative change made it possible for students to attend regardless of district cooperation. Also, the district banned students educated outside the district from participating in district extra-curricular activities. The clear message is that if you’re not educated in the district, you’re not part of the community.

Across settings – underperforming urban schools to well-resourced suburban schools – public charter schools are needed for kids that aren’t well-served by the district. Yet, Brown’s amendment put kids’ futures in the hands of the very same district that isn’t helping them. Good thing it’s withdrawn.

 

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“Challenge Index” High School Rankings Show Charter Schools as a Growing Force

The Washington Post recently released its annual Challenge Index rankings, and public charter schools hold 36 places among the top 100 schools ranked—an all-time high. This year’s Challenge Index results show that charter schools are quickly becoming a strong force in high-quality education. Charter schools make up half of the top ten places, including #1, BASIS Oro Valley (Oro Valley, AZ); #2, BASIS Chandler (Chandler, AZ); #5, Accelerated Elementary and Secondary (Tucson, AZ); #6, BASIS Tucson North (Tucson, AZ); and #10, Signature (Evansville, IN).

Public charter schools have consistently grown among the top 100 high schools of the Challenge Index. Over the past four years, charter schools have consisted of:

  • 2014-2015: 36 of the top 100
  • 2013-2014: 31 of the top 100
  • 2012-2013: 28 of the top 100
  • 2011-2012: 25 of the top 100

Although charter high schools only make up about six percent of the nation’s public high schools, charter high schools account for more than one-third of the top 100 Challenge Index rankings proving their ability to provide a recognizable and rigorous academic experience for their students.

The Challenge Index is calculated by dividing the number of college-level tests of the previous year (2014-2015) by the number of graduates in the same year. The Index also mentions the percentage of students who qualify for subsidized lunch and the percentage of high school graduates that passed at least one college-level test during the course of their high school career. Washington Post Education Columnist Jay Matthews further explains the details of the Challenge Index. To find out more, read here.

Washington Post Challenge Index charter schools

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The Aftermath Series: The Power of KIPP

Towana Pierre-Floyd, KIPP New OrleansTowana Pierre-Floyd beat the odds. A former student of New Orleans public schools, she excelled in a subpar academic environment and gained access to opportunities many students could only dream of. Knowing that her educational experience was much different from the experiences of her family members and peers, Towana has made it her mission to provide an exceptional education for all students. KIPP is helping her achieve that mission.

KIPP, or the Knowledge is Power Program, is a nationally recognized network of public charter schools serving primarily low-income or underserved communities in 20 states. Today, KIPP operates 10 schools in New Orleans, contributing to the educational rebirth the city has undergone since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina ten years ago.

Towana is now the assistant principal and instructional coach at KIPP Renaissance High School. She believes in the school’s strategy for success: blending academics with character education. KIPP works tirelessly to instill in its students the character traits that lead to lifelong success. Some of these traits – grit (or resilience), self-control, optimism, and zest – are “codes” that the students and staff at KIPP Renaissance “live and breathe by.”

Students are also challenged and motivated by the KIPP Renaissance college prep program, which counsels students through the college selection and application process. All of the students at KIPP Renaissance are eligible to receive free lunch, and 97 percent of the school’s population is African American. It is, therefore, important to Towana and KIPP’s counselors to find schools that have a “high-minority graduation rate and supports so that minority graduation is consistently happening.” It’s not just about getting to college, but graduating from college, and the KIPP Renaissance team continues to counsel KIPP graduates throughout their college experience.

Towana and her fellow staff members believe that KIPP’s power is rooted in its commitment to character development. KIPP Renaissance works hard to make sure that students grow up to be both well-educated and great people. The school wants its students, nearly all of whom are from areas of high poverty, to break the mold, be advocates of change, and make the world a better place. Or, as Towana, puts it: “Our job is not just to make them smart and wealthy; our job is to ideally make them even better than the generations before them.”

To learn more about KIPP’s impact on New Orleans, click here.

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The Aftermath Series: New Orleans Turns to Charter Schools

A decade ago, New Orleans and surrounding areas were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest storms in American history. Tens of thousands of families were displaced and homes, schools, and businesses had to be rebuilt from scratch.

Determined to make their city even stronger than before, the citizens of New Orleans made education reform a top priority. Following years of poor performance in the city’s public schools, local leaders took bold action to make nearly every school in the city a charter school.

Over the past ten years, New Orleans’ school system has become a model for cities around the country looking to improve their school systems. Charter schooling ignited a burst of innovation and commitment to quality that has produced remarkable results for New Orleans students. Prior to Katrina, 54 percent of students graduated high school; today the graduation rate is 73 percent. The achievement gap in reading and math between students in New Orleans and in the rest of the state has nearly disappeared, shrinking from 23 points to just 6 points. And passing rates among low-income and African-American students in New Orleans have more than doubled since 2003.

New Orleans has shown that school-level flexibility and accountability, community-driven input, and an unflagging commitment to quality can radically improve schools and give all students equal access to a high-quality education.

As we approach the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the National Alliance is launching this series of blog posts to celebrate the way the citizens of New Orleans came together to rebuild their city and dramatically improve their children’s future. These are stories of bold choices, passionate dedication, and tremendous progress.

Ten years ago, the nation offered its help to the people of New Orleans as they struggled to get back on their feet. Today, New Orleans is demonstrating how effective educational reform can bring new hope and opportunity to communities across America.

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The Aftermath Series: The New Orleans Recipe for Charter School Success

Prior to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was home to one of the worst education systems in the country. The city’s school system ranked second to last in the state and more than half of its students were attending failing schools. Most students scored below grade level on statewide standardized tests.

Finally fed up with failure, state officials launched a serious reform effort with the creation of the Recovery School District (RSD) in 2003. The RSD would take the city’s most chronically failing schools and put them under state control in order to better monitor practices and student performance. After Katrina, officials kicked their efforts into high gear. The RSD soon converted the majority of its schools into charter schools, combining autonomy and accountability to raise student achievement, reduce drop-out rates, and send more kids to college.

This educational renaissance took place in dire conditions. Deep-seated racial inequalities had spilled over into the education system. Corruption consumed the educational bureaucracy. Post-Katrina, some students showed signs of post-traumatic stress.

While there is still much more work to do, the rapid improvement of New Orleans’ schools in such conditions has been nothing short of wondrous. With nearly all of its schools operating as charter schools, New Orleans has taken a novel approach to reform – combining school-level autonomy with citywide policies in certain areas to raise academic achievement and ensure educational equity. Principals are empowered to make most key decisions about how their students are taught and the culture that prevails in the school, including choosing the staff that’s best suited to their school. This has allowed a wide variety of educational models to flourish. At the same time, the city centralized the application and enrollment process to give students from every neighborhood access to the best schools. Discipline policies are also centralized to make sure no student is marginalized for behavioral issues.

This level of success doesn’t go unnoticed, and cities and states across America are taking a close look to see what ingredients from the New Orleans turnaround can be incorporated into their own school systems. To read more about New Orleans, the city’s perseverance, and how the community made history by way of education reform, click here.

Rebecca David

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U.S. News and World Report Ranks 28 Public Charter Schools in Top 100

Today, the U.S. News & World Report released its 2015 Best High Schools Rankings, and 28 public charter schools are among the top 100. Moreover, two public charter high schools are ranked in the top 10: BASIS Scottsdale (#2) in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (#4) in Lawrenceville, Ga.

U.S. News teamed up with RTI International, a North Carolina-based global nonprofit social science research firm, to produce the 2015 rankings. Public high schools were evaluated by their students’ performance on state-mandated assessments, minority and economically disadvantaged student performance, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam results to determine preparedness for college-level work. Public charter school representation in the top 100 of the U.S. News Best High Schools Rankings has grown over the past five years from 18 schools to 28.

The 2015 rankings included nine public charter schools that are new to the top 100 this year. Congratulations to these charter schools for being recognized as the top public high schools in the nation!

Rebecca David is the Research Assistant at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Robert Reed

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New Report Provides Clarity on the Use of Weighted Lotteries in Schools That Receive Federal Charter School Funding

This week, the Senate began debating the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Tucked in the law is a program called the Charter School Program (CSP) that provides critical funds to help launch and replicate new charter schools. As a condition of receiving federal funds, these schools must conduct a blind lottery if they receive more applications than they can accommodate. This provision was put in place due to the long-held belief that charter schools are open enrollment schools and to guard against the potential for some schools to cream the best and the brightest. In reality though, this provision has had a negative impact on charter schools that are trying to attract the most disadvantaged students – as every child gets equal weights when they enter a lottery.

To address these concerns, in early 2014, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidance on weighted lotteries for charter schools. Under the new guidance, charter schools receiving CSP funds were allowed to give educationally disadvantaged students slightly better chances for admission through the use of a weighted lottery if state law permits.

That caveat—if state law permits—has some cause for concern because few states have language that clearly permits weighted lotteries. In a new report released by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, State Laws on Weighted Lottery and Enrollment Practices: Summary of Findings, we studied state laws and policies to better understand the potential impact of the new guidance. What we found was that most states did not have a clear answer.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Four states expressly permit the use of weighted lotteries (Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Rhode Island).
  • No states expressly prohibit the use of weighted lotteries.
  • There are 16 states with statutes that may be interpreted to prohibit the use of weighted lotteries (Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin).
  • Seven states are silent on the issue (Alaska, Colorado, Kansas, and Maryland).
  • Nineteen state statues may be interpreted to permit the use of weighted lotteries (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah).

Fortunately, both the House and Senate versions of the reauthorization bills include our policy recommendations to ensure that weighted lotteries are permitted unless state law specifically prohibits the practice. Since our findings show that no states expressly prohibit the practice, this proposal would make it significantly easier for schools to take advantage of weighted lotteries to serve more educationally disadvantaged students.

Riya Anandwala

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Study: Charter School Students in LA Report Higher Graduation Rates, SAT Scores

According to a new study by the California Policy Center, Los Angeles Unified School District’s charter high schools perform significantly better than the district’s traditionally operated public schools, despite receiving a lower per student funding amount.

This report offers more evidence about the positive impact of charter schools on students, communities and the public education system. Specifically, the study found charter students had higher performance rates on three counts:

Academic Performance Index scores: 762 vs. 701

Graduation rates: 92 percent vs. 84 percent

Normalized SAT scores: 1417 vs. 1299

Just last month during National Charter Schools Week, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a report that profiles ten big cities with a large wait list of student names to attend charter schools. Los Angeles has the second largest wait list with more than 68,000 students. The wait list numbers – which are over a million nationwide – along with strong academic performance is case in point for the need of additional federal money to help start new charter schools, especially in cities where the wait lists are in the tens of thousands.

This study is an excellent showcase of what charter schools are achieving in one of the biggest cities in the nation, and a reminder that a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work for every family. There are thousands of students who could benefit from a charter school education and accomplish the kind of academic excellence that prepares them for a solid college career.

Riya Anandwala

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Ashley Judd to Speak at 15th Annual National Charter School Conference

Actor, activist and humanitarian Ashley Judd will address the National Charter Schools Conference general session in New Orleans on Monday, June 22.

Actor, activist and humanitarian Ashley Judd will address the National Charter Schools Conference general session in New Orleans on Monday, June 22. Best known for her performances in Ruby in Paradise, Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy, De-Lovely and most recently the Divergent franchise, Judd is a longstanding advocate and supporter of education.

 A devoted humanitarian, Judd is committed to telling personal stories and being the voice of the underprivileged locally as well as internationally. Her remarks at National Alliance’s conference will focus on the power of political activism and the ability of education to empower young people and defy poverty – two principles closely aligned with the charter schools movement.

The National Charter Schools Conference, which runs from June 21-24, is the largest annual gathering of charter school teachers, leaders, administrators, board members and advocates from across the country. The two and a half day event will provide keynote sessions, breakout sessions, and numerous networking opportunities for more than 4,500 charter school professionals and policymakers.

For conference agenda details, visit http://www.publiccharters.org/involved/conference-2015/schedule/