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Using Charter Schools to Strengthen Rural Education

Bellwether recently released a new report on the promise of charter schooling in rural America—and the very real challenges facing it. The paper is part the ROCI initiative, a two-year project on rural education reform funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.

We went into this project knowing relatively little about rural charters. It turns out that this is partially because there are so few of them. There are a mere 785 rural charter schools, and only 111 of them are in the most remote rural areas.

High-performing charter schools have accomplished great things for many inner-city kids, so we wondered whether they could do the same in rural areas.

The need is great. There are 11 million students in rural public schools, and kids in rural America are more likely than their peers in any other geography to live in poverty. Only 27 percent of rural high school graduates go on to college, and just one in five rural adults has earned a bachelor’s degree.

But bringing public charter schools to these communities is knottier than we imagined. First, “rural” defies a simple definition. As one scholar put it, the term includes “hollows in the Appalachian Mountains, former sharecroppers’ shacks in the Mississippi Delta, desolate Indian reservations on the Great Plains, and emerging colonia along the Rio Grande.”  What is good for one rural community may not be for another.

Second, since many rural areas are isolated and sparsely populated, a new schools strategy faces numerous obstacles, such as enrolling enough students, acquiring facilities, and recruiting teachers and administrators.

Third, it’s often the case that a rural district-run school is the largest employer in the area, the hub of local activities, and one of the few visible public investments for miles. As a result, the existing district school is woven tightly into the community’s fabric. New charter schools are often seen through narrowed eyes.

But our research also gave us reason for encouragement. There are numerous examples of successful rural charters, from KIPP’s cluster in the Mississippi Delta to the Upper Carmen Charter School in Idaho. There have been heartening instances where charter schools enabled a community—threatened by a consolidation effort—to maintain a local school, preserving the community and its heritage.

The paper is sprinkled with facts that we found fascinating, often surprising, and occasionally frustrating.

  • Very few charter management organizations (CMOs) operate in rural areas.
  • Of the nation’s 10 most rural states, 7 have no charter law.
  • States without one of the nation’s 50 largest cities are more likely to lack a charter school law, and, when they do have one, it’s more likely to be rated poorly by both the National Alliance and Center for Education Reform.
  • Some state charter schools laws have provisions that make starting a rural charter nearly impossible or prohibited.
  • Rural charter schools get substantially less funding than district-run schools and face high costs related to transportation and buildings. 

The report makes a number of recommendations related to teacher preparation and certification, technology, charter caps, funding, and transportation. There are clearly a number of policies that states ought to revisit.

But a big takeaway from this project is that better policy alone won’t expand the public school options available to rural kids. Charter school advocates need to better understand rural communities, their strengths, and their challenges. And given the differences among rural communities, different approaches are going to be needed for deciding if, when, where, and how a new charter school should emerge.

Andy Smarick is a partner at Bellwhether Education Partners and author of A New Frontier, Using Charter Schooling to Strengthen Rural Education.  Juliet Squire is an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners.

Click here to view the National Alliance’s recent video, The Story of Rural Charter Schools.

Nick Fickler

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News

  • “Why the GOP Should Get On Board With Preschool,” op-ed by Nina Rees (President & CEO), U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 3
  • “Preferential treatment: Fed eases rules to admit disadvantaged students through lotteries,” Nina quoted, Watchdog, Feb. 3
  • “Threshold staff, students celebrate school choice,” National Alliance mentioned, Ionia Sentinel-Standard, Feb. 4

News to Know

  • “Charging Rent for New York Charters Hits Wrinkle,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 7
  • “Editorial: A Bad Deal for D.C. Charter Schools,” Washington Post, Feb. 6
  • “Charter School Inequality,” Houston Chronicle, Feb. 5
  • “De Blasio Says He Won’t Allow Co-Locations for Charter Schools,” New York Post, Feb. 4
  • “Washington State Approves Its First Batch of Charter Schools,” Education Week, Feb. 3

 

Audience Favorites

Facebook— Can attending a charter high school help you go to college and make more money? Our latest blog post has the answer

Twitter—Study: #charterschool students earn more than traditional public school peers cc: @MathPolResearch bit.ly/1k7I16f

 You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

 

Nick Fickler

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News

  • “3 Things That Should Be Done to Help Rural Schools,” op-ed by Nina Rees (President & CEO), U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 11
  • “Texas adds 52 charter schools, 4th most nationwide,” National Alliance mentioned, Houston Chronicle, Feb. 12
  • “Charter schools: California leads nation in school openings, students,” Nina quoted, San Jose Mercury News, Feb. 13
  • “Killing the golden goose,” National Alliance mentioned, The Economist, Feb. 14

News to Know

  • “Charter Schools Are Working, But New York’s Mayor Wants to Stop Them,” Economist, Feb. 14
  • “Charter School Student Population Tops 2.5 Million,” Education Week, Feb. 13
  • “Raising the Bar on San Diego Charter Schools – Again,” Voice of San Diego, Feb. 12
  • “Study: Charging Rent Would Lead to Charter School Decline,” National Review, Feb. 11
  • “The War on Charter Kids,” Fox News, Feb. 10

 

Audience Favorites

Facebook— Thanks to the work of dedicated teachers, school leaders, and community members across the country, more than 2.5 million students now attend nearly 6,500 charter schools. That’s 288,000 new students this school year! Read more here to find out how your state did: http://bit.ly/1m7mFrK

Twitter— Did you know charter schools added 288,000 new students this school year? bit.ly/1m7mFrK

You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

Nick Fickler

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News

  •  “Charter School Enrollment Climbs 13 Percent,” Nina  quoted, Budget &Tax News , Mar. 5
  •  “Obama’s Budget Boosts Preschool, Access To Top Teachers, But Freezes Many Education Programs,” Nina quoted, Huffington Post, Mar. 4

News to Know

  • “More Support for New York City’s Charter Schools,” New York Post, Mar. 7
  • “New Jersey Renews 10 Charters, Revokes Two; Launches ‘Renaissance’ Charter in Camden,” Star Ledger, Mar. 6
  • “New York Governor Pledges Support to Charters,” New York Times, Mar. 5
  • “Commission Approves Maine’s First Virtual Charter School,” Portland Press Herald, Mar. 4
  • “New Orleans Goes All In On Charter Schools. Is It Showing The Way?,” Christian Science Monitor, Mar. 3

Audience Favorites

Facebook— 194 children, 194 dreams. Don’t let NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio close Success Academy Harlem Central. #SaveThe194

Twitter— Great image from @Fam4ExcSchools, shows impact of @BilldeBlasio‘s latest move against #NYC charters. #SaveThe194 pic.twitter.com/9wLlYduYxs

You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

Nick Fickler

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News

  • “Pitbull’s school: star promotes a radical idea for at-risk kids,” Nina quoted, Washington Post, Feb. 21
  • “Gloria Romero: Charter schools surging in US, California” National Alliance paper mentioned, OC Register, Feb. 19

News to Know

  • “Eva Moskowitz, New York City’s Educational Reform Champion,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 18
  • “Lawmakers Need to Unburden Mississippi Charter Schools Board,” Clarion Ledger Editorial, Feb. 19
  • “States Struggle to Hash Out Funding Formulas for Virtual Charter Schools,” Education Week, Feb. 20
  • “Brooklyn Legislator Calls for State Help with Charter Facilities,” New York Post,Feb.21

Audience Favorites

Facebook— Great new survey from The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. Read out take here: http://bit.ly/1haJqo7

Twitter— Did you know charter schools added 288,000 new students this school year? bit.ly/1m7mFrK

You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

Katherine Bathgate

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194 Children. 194 Dreams.

Far too many students don’t have the educational opportunities they deserve, but one school in Harlem, New York is changing that. Success Academy Harlem 4 is one of the top-performing schools in the entire state, but instead of supporting their remarkable success, Mayor Bill de Blasio has decided to shut down their school.

Who will be hurt by his decision? These kids:

Harlem 4 Ad NYT

Add your voice to the thousands of parents and families trying to keep this NYC school open. Sign their petition here.

Katherine Bathgate is the Senior Manager for Communications and Marketing at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

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Strengthening Wisconsin’s Charter School Law

Across the country, support for public charter schools comes from both Democrats and Republicans. Like presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton before him, President Barack Obama has praised public charter schools.

Opposition to charter schools also sometimes comes from both parties. In fact, there are still portions of the country where “do not rock the boat” Republicans lock arms with Democrats that oppose charters to block common sense proposals for the expansion of high-quality public charter schools. Unfortunately, that’s the case in Wisconsin.

As some of my fellow legislators continue to fight against proven reforms like charter schools, it’s clear to me that the boat needs rocking. During a recent discussion in the Wisconsin Assembly Education Committee, I was astounded when one of my colleagues (who is an educator, no less!) stated that education policy changes are unnecessary in Wisconsin because we outpace many states on our reading, science, and math scores. To me, this logic is flawed. Finding comfort in the fact we outpace other states while the country falls further behind in international rankings does a significant disservice to our students.

Despite these hurdles, Wisconsin’s Senator Alberta Darling and I have introduced a bill that makes important changes to our weak charter school law (currently ranked #37 out of 43 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools). The changes we are proposing will provide more opportunities for Wisconsin’s students.

The Assembly version of this bill, AB 549, will be heard in the Assembly Urban Education Committee on Thursday, January 9th. While the bill makes a number of changes, here are two of the most important ones:

First, the bill will expand the types of entities that can serve as charter school authorizers.  

Right now, the only entities allowed to authorize a charter school are the City of Milwaukee (in the Milwaukee Public School district only), the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Milwaukee (in Milwaukee County or an adjacent county), UW-Parkside (only one school in Racine County or an adjacent county), Milwaukee Area Technical College (they have never exercised the option and can only create a charter school in the Milwaukee Public School district), and local school boards.

The bill would expand the authorization agents to also include any of the other 11 UW institutions and campuses, any of the other 15 technical colleges, and any of the state’s 12 Cooperative Educational Service Agencies. This change will better facilitate the creation of autonomous and accountable public charter schools across the state.

Second, the bill will revise and clarify Wisconsin’s charter school categories.

Currently, Wisconsin has three types of charters:

      1.    Those that are authorized by the City of Milwaukee, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and the Milwaukee Area Technical College. These schools have autonomy and are similar to charters in most other states. They are referred to as “2r charters.”
      2.    Those that are authorized by local school boards and employ their own teachers.  These schools have autonomy and are also similar to charters in most other states.  They are referred to as “non-instrumentality charters.”
      3.    Those that are authorized by local school boards and that have their teachers employed by school districts. These schools don’t have much autonomy and are different from charters in most other states.

They are referred to as “instrumentality charters.”

This arrangement has created a lot of confusion within the state about public charter schools. In an effort to clarify what a charter school is, our bill requires instrumentality charters to either become non-instrumentality charters or magnet schools, leaving the state with two categories of true charter schools.

My passion for education reform stems from my experiences in the military, the business world, and as a father of four. As a military intelligence officer in the United States Army, I am convinced that our greatest national security risk, in the long term, is the complacency with the educational status quo. Charter schools offer innovation and focus on science, technology, engineering and math that can enhance the life experiences of our children. These innovative charter schools can propel our economy beyond the 21st century and ensure our nation’s defenders are not only America’s best and brightest, but also represent the world’s best and brightest.

Representative Dale Kooyenga was elected to represent the 14th District for the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2010.

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Nearly 20 Percent of the Top 100 U.S. Public High-Schools are Charters

The Washington Post on Monday released a list of the highest-performing public high schools in the nation based upon a special index that measures how effective a school prepares its students for college. The “High School Challenge” index named the top 1900 public high schools in the nation—we’re proud to announce 18 public charter schools were among the top 100:

 

Rank (High School Challenge, Washington Post) Public Charter School City, State
#3  Corbett Charter School Corbett, Oregon
#4  BASIS Tucson Tucson, Arizona
#8  Signature Evansville Evansville, Indiana
#10  North Hills Prep Irving, Texas
 #11  Peak Preparatory School  Dallas, Texas
#19 Westlake Academy  Westlake, Texas
#24 Preuss School UCSD  La Jolla, California
#27  Sonoran Science Academy – Tucson Tucson, Arizona
#36  University High Fresno, California
#37  Eastwood Academy Houston, Texas
#41  Sturgis Charter Hyannis, Massachusetts
#42  American Indian Public Charter Oakland, California
#50  Peak to Peak Charter Lafayette, Colorado
#54  Raleigh Charter Raleigh, North Carolina
#57  Benjamin Franklin New Orleans, Louisiana
#60  MATCH Charter Boston, Massachusetts
#62  Harding Charter Prep Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
#83  Summit Preparatory Charter High Redwood City, California

 

Read how the Post used academic indicators such as AP-course enrollment and graduation rates to compile the list. Congratulations to all of the school leaders, teachers, administrators, families and students that are affiliated with these public charter high schools.

Be sure to notify us of any press you garner so we can share news of your media spotlight in our social network spaces and advocacy e-blasts. Please send us pictures of any recognition ceremonies you may coordinate as well:NAPCSpressroom@publiccharters.org.

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What Parents Want—And How Charters Can Provide It

Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a groundbreaking study, What Parents Want: Education Preferences and Trade-offs. In collaboration with market-research firm Harris Interactive, Fordham attempted to segment American parents into distinguishable groups based on their educational values and desires.

Surprisingly, Fordham and Harris found that parents’ must-haves don’t vary greatly: everyone wants high-quality instruction in core subjects and STEM fields; they want their kids to learn to think critically and to communicate strongly; and they want schools to instill good study habits.

But some parents also prefer specializations and emphases that are only possible in a system of school choice.

  • Pragmatists (36 percent of K-12 parents) value schools that offer vocational classes or job-related programs
  • Jeffersonians (24 percent) value instruction in citizenship, democracy, and leadership
  • Test-Score Hawks (23 percent) look for schools with high test scores
  • Multiculturalists (22 percent) want their kids to learn to work with others of diverse backgrounds
  • Expressionists (15 percent) want schools that emphasize art and music instruction
  • Strivers (12 percent) want a pathway to a top-tier college

Interestingly, if not surprisingly, Expressionists and Strivers are currently more likely to send their kids to charter schools than traditional public schools. (Arts-focused charters and “no excuses” charters are common throughout the country.) Some of these other niches, however, may not be well-served by charter schools, or by any schools. Could charter authorizers and entrepreneurs be doing more to create career and technical schools? Those focused on citizenship and leadership? Those with diverse student populations? It appears that there are “market opportunities” waiting to be tapped.

Check out the study for much, much more.

Take this quiz to find out what group you’re in.

Michael J. Petrilli is the executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

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What is a public charter school?

During National Charter Schools Week, we celebrate achievements in the school house and the state house. These achievements could not have been possible without the commitment of teachers, leaders, parents and advocates from all parts of the country. We asked some of these individuals to tell us why they are a part of the charter schools movement.

As executive director of the Public Charter Schools Alliance of South Carolina, Mary Carmichael gets asked all the time about charter schools.  Here’s her answer to the most basic, but most important question: What is a public charter school?

It is a community where teachers are empowered to foster a lifelong love of discovering and applying new knowledge.

It is a community where families have the opportunity to see their children flourish in a learning environment aligned to their needs.

It is a community where school leaders are educational entrepreneurs allocating resources and developing a faculty of instructional innovators to advance the mission of the school.

It is a community where boards are held accountable for being excellent stewards of public funds and improving students’ academic achievement.

What is a public charter school?
Public charter schools embody our American ideals of independent, innovative thinkers and doers.  They are public schools with the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for improving student achievement.

National Charter School Week is an exciting time to be joining charter school leaders from across the country in Washington, D.C. to celebrate 20 years of innovation in public charter schools and to share knowledge on how to transform public education for all children in all of our communities.

What is a public charter school?
It is a community where we all can make a difference in the life of a child and impact in our collective future.

NCSW SC Pic-2