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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.

Engagement
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.

Goals
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.

Results
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.

Susan Aud

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How are Michigan charter schools performing?

A recent news series by the Detroit Free Press has questioned the performance of Michigan charter schools. Unfortunately, the series fails to acknowledge or glosses over key facts. So here is a look at the evidence regarding the performance of charter schools in Michigan. Michigan charter schools have a proven track record of academic performance. Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been conducting rigorous analyses of charter school performance data to determine how charter school students would have fared if they had attended a traditional public school. In CREDO’s 2013 study of Michigan charter schools, they found that Michigan is among the highest performing charter school states they have studied to date. In fact, charter school students in Michigan gained an additional two months of learning in reading and math compared to their traditional public school peers. Charter students in Detroit are performing even better than their peers in the rest of the state – gaining nearly 3 months achievement for each year they attend a charter school. Michigan charter schools are serving higher percentages of disadvantaged students. Charter schools in Michigan serve greater percentages of low-income and minority students, making their achievement gains even more remarkable. In the 2009-10 school year, 70 percent of charter school students in Michigan were living in poverty, compared to 43 percent in traditional public schools, and 33 percent were White, compared to 73 percent in traditional public schools. Even the students in the feeder schools (the traditional public schools from which students transfer to charter schools) had a lower percentage of low-income students (55 percent) and more White students (64 percent). Michigan charter schools are closing the achievement gap. The gaps in performance gains between White and Black students and between White and Hispanic students is a constant concern in public education. The CREDO study found that both of these gaps were smaller for students in charter schools than for students in traditional public schools in both reading and math. The same result was found for students living in poverty and for the combined groups of Black students in poverty and Hispanic students in poverty. To track the achievement gap in individual schools, the Michigan Department of Education categorizes schools as “Focus” schools.  Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between their top 30 percent of students and their bottom 30 percent of students. Twenty of the 347 schools identified as Focus schools in 2012-13 were charter schools. This represents 6 percent of the group, even though 10 percent of schools in Michigan are charters. Michigan is closing poor performing charter schools. A critical component of the charter school bargain is that underperforming schools should not be allowed to keep their doors open. Between 2005 and 2010, some 94 charter schools in Michigan were opened and 55 were closed, or about ten per year. The effort to hold schools accountable is paying off. In 2012-13, of the 86 charter schools in Detroit, only eight were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings. That same year, 25 of the 129 traditional public schools in Detroit, or nearly 20 percent, were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings. We believe strongly in accountability and welcome any examination into the performance of charter schools. However, it is important that all facts are presented accurately. Susan Aud is Senior Director of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 
Susan Aud

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Charter Schools in St. Louis Giving Students Greater Access to a High-Quality Education, Paving the Way for Even More Success

The city of St. Louis recently released a study that showed public education is improving for their students. The study, produced by IFF, looks at where children live, where they go to school, and if they have access to a high-quality schools, based on state accreditation. The study uses 2013 data and is an update to a similar study produced five years ago. Contrary to what is happening in many of our nation’s urban areas, public school enrollment in St. Louis increased by five percent over the last five years. This is partly due to parents having more options and choosing to keep their children in the public school system. During that time, enrollment in neighborhood schools declined, while enrollment in charter, magnet, and select magnet schools increased. More importantly, access to accredited schools (those that met the state proficiency standards) has increased dramatically. In 2008, just over 6,000 of the approximately 33,000 public school students in St. Louis attended schools that were performing at half of the state accreditation level or better. By 2013, more than double that number (12,500) of students were in quality seats, meaning that their schools were fully accredited or accredited with distinction. Further, 40 percent of the quality seats were in charter schools, even though charter schools only account for 23 percent of enrollment in the St. Louis school district. This means that about 5,000 of the city’s 8,000 charter school students, or 62 percent, are in quality seats versus about 28 percent of students in traditional public schools. One critical contribution of the study is that it calculates a gap between the number of children in a given neighborhood or zip code and the availability of quality seats. This information is being used by the city to prioritize the placement of new charter schools, and to target and close poor-performing schools to pave the way for more high-quality schools in these under-served neighborhoods. “Closing poor-performing schools, including poor-performing charter schools, does not decrease the access to good schools,” said Dr. Doug Thaman, Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association. “In fact, closing poor-performing schools opens the door for the addition of new, innovative and successful options.” This fall, two new charters – KIPP: Victory and The International School – are opening their doors, followed by five additional charters in 2015. Based on the findings of this study, the city’s targeted and strategic decision to place these new charter schools where they are most-needed will continue to improve the quality of public education in St. Louis. Susan Aud is the senior director for research and evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 
Rashaun Bennett

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Liberty Common High School Receives Highest ACT Math Scores in Colorado

When graduation rolled around this month for Students of Liberty Common High School, they were smiling about more than graduation. Results from the Colorado Department of Education show that Liberty’s Class of 2014 earned the state’s highest composite ACT math score since Colorado first began requiring all high-school juniors to take the ACT exam. The scholars’ achievement marks the second year in a row that Liberty High School has achieved such an honor. It is no surprise that the scholars have achieved so much success. At Liberty Common High School, the students are immersed in a classical liberal arts curriculum that rigorously prepares them for success in college. School principal Bob Schaffer says, “These scores are a reflection of a solid classical, college-preparatory curriculum we’ve built atop the powerful Core Knowledge Curriculum we use in grades K through eight.” To add even more to smile about, the graduating seniors earned over $3.5 million in college scholarships. Among the many graduates going to college, three received appointments from the U.S Air Force, West Point and the U.S Naval Academy. Congrats Class of 2014! Rashaun Bennett is a communications intern with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.
Rashaun Bennett

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Congratulations Horizon Honors High School! 100% of Seniors Graduate

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

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Student Voices: Danny Sosa

Today’s featured student blogger, Danny Sosa, is a student at YES Prep Gulfton in Houston, TX. The school’s student body is made up of almost entirely minority students, and nearly 97% are low-income.  In his post, Danny talks about the defining role that YES Prep has played in his life so far, as well as his future plans. You can learn more about YES Prep Gulfton on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard. This fall, I’ll be attending Colorado State University. For many students, college is their destiny, but for me, it could have just as easily been an afterthought. I’ll be the first in my family to attend, and I can still remember the day I was put on that path. I was in the fifth grade, a YES Prep Public Schools recruiter walked into my classroom. I remember asking myself who this crazy white man was, and what he was trying to do by yelling at us about the importance of giving back to our community and going to college. I was eleven, so what did I care? Becoming a Pokémon master was my main goal at the time. But Mr. Durbin was very convincing and when it came time to apply to middle school, I won a seat in the YES Prep Gulfton lottery. I was excited and just as equally nervous. As far as I knew, this was just a regular middle school. I didn’t expect it to be anything special; we were only one grade at the time, and we didn’t even have our own building. But what we lacked in size, our teachers more than made up for in heart and determination. Their enthusiasm and belief in the potential of each of us has pushed me forward from that very first day. YES Prep is where I learned to care about my education, give back to the people in my community, and become a better person. I couldn’t have chosen a better school than YES, that’s for sure. I’ve had some of my best memories while engaging in the classroom with my teachers. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, they worked exceptionally hard to make our lessons engaging and even when I’d struggle to understand a concept, they would gladly help. (They give us their cell numbers and we can call or text when we get stuck on anything at home.) I had never earned Commended scores on any of my TAKS tests previous to coming here. It felt so good knowing I could perform well with hard work, and lots of support from people who wanted to see me succeed. Soon after, I began seeing everyone around me as more than just friends or teachers. These people became my really-large-away-from-home family that wants to prepare me for the college experience. I started visiting universities when I was in sixth grade and when I got to high school, YES further prepared me by making me take seminar courses that required me to think more about what I wanted to do once I graduated. The major lesson I’m taking with me to CSU is that asking for help is a requirement to succeed. I appreciate all the experiences YES has given me, along with all the people who’ve been there working with us to pave a road as the first graduating class. As I prepare to go to college to pursue a degree in what I love most, biology and animals, I get to be the first to show everyone in my family that it’s possible to be successful. Hopefully I’ll turn out to be an inspiration to all my younger siblings; I want them to continue working hard in school and not be afraid to reach higher.
Jasmine Claybrooks

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Parent Voices: Jasmine Claybrooks

Today’s featured blogger is Jasmine Claybrooks, the mother of Elyuz Lukes, a 7th grade student at Nashville Prep in Nashville, TN. The school’s student body 97% minority students, and 85% are low-income.  In her post, Jasmine talks about her experience sending her son to Nashville Prep, and the level of commitment she has enjoyed from faculty and staff. You can learn more about Nashville Prep on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard. When asked why I choose Nashville Prep School as the choice for my son, I had to think long and hard. Initially I thought of all the easy, common answers that people go to when asked about school choices: the teachers care, the curriculum is better, they spend more time individually with my child. All of the above reasons are true, but I choose Nashville Prep for very different reasons.  I choose Nashville Prep because after the initial community meeting, Ravi Gupta (Founder and Executive Director of Nashville Prep) had me excited about sending my child to school. I am a firm believer that teaching begins at home.  I felt like the school would be more than just a school, it would be an extension of home for my son, that the staff truly cared about our children and I could trust that he was getting the very best education that I could offer him. I never once before had faith that teachers and staff at my children’s school were as invested in my child as I am. I believed Mr. Gupta when he said that he was fighting for our children regardless of where they lived, or what educational level that they were on. My son was not below his grade level, he actually is a highly exceptional child that was already a part of Metro Nashville Public School System ENCORE gifted learners program. Although a very good program, it didn’t extend into the classroom outside of the weekly class that they offered. At Nashville Prep, they keep the children engaged, and ready to learn, no matter what level that they are on.  I also liked the discipline that they expected from day one. The expectations from the students, parents & staff are clearly defined. They don’t let the small stuff pass, so the “big stuff” never comes to pass.  I love Nashville Prep and would recommend it to any parent looking for a school of excellence for their child.
Maria Nolasco Ramirez

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Student Voices: Maria Nolasco Ramirez

Today’s featured student blogger, Maria Nolasco Ramirez, is a senior at the Roseland University Prep Charter High School in Santa Rosa, California. The school’s student body is made up of almost entirely minority students, and nearly 90% are low-income.  In her post, Maria talks about her academic experience as well as her extra-curricular involvement at RUP. You can learn more about Roseland University Prep on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard. Anyone who has driven down Sebastopol Road and has come across a small purple warehouse does not realize that it is actually a high school. Some people are not fully aware of what Roseland University Prep (RUP) contains. Yes, the school is small. It is centered in the Roseland community and it is different from other high schools. What makes RUP Charter High School different is the rigorous A-G requirement classes that all students need to pass in order to graduate and move on to a four-year university. RUP is also different because everyone, staff and students, work together to move forward and build a better RUP. There is no day that I regret my decision to attend Roseland University Prep for all four years of high school. When I was making my selection of high schools, I knew that I wanted to attend a high school that offered the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. Most of all, I wanted to attend a high school that would prepare me for a four-year university. That is exactly what I found at RUP. I have received endless support from teachers and counselors. I know that my teachers will set time aside to help me learn concepts that I may not understand. Coming to this school has opened my eyes to seeing the challenges that the Roseland Community faces. These last four years, I was fortunate to be a founder of a couple of school clubs. I helped start the Newspaper Club, the RUP Drama Club, and the Anatomy Club. Due to the popularity of the Drama Club, the school board approved a Drama class. RUP is definitely not the poor, small warehouse by the train tracks; it is home to future doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, psychologists, and future leaders. I consider myself fortunate and blessed to have been a RUP Knight all four years of high school.
Jose Serrano

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Student Voices: Jose Serrano

Today’s featured student blogger, Jose Serrano, is a charter school student at Noble Street College Prep in Chicago. The Noble Network of Charter Schools has a student body made up of almost entirely minority students, 90% of whom are low-income.  The son of a single mother in a low-income household in Chicago, Jose was recently accepted by Stanford University on a full-ride scholarship to study astrophysics. In his college admissions essay below, Jose talks about what he’s overcome to get where he is today: college bound with a bright future ahead. There is soreness that sits on my lower back indefinitely. It comes from sleeping on a worn out, second-hand couch the last ten years of my life. The couch and I reside in a one bedroom apartment with my mother. This is the place I call home. My couch is a deserted and lonely planet; I get to escape this planet during the day, but I must return to my lonely planet every night. This one bedroom apartment has been the most challenging and enlightening part of my life. Every night, on my dank couch, I would dream that space was my escape out of my living situation. Every night, I would look up through my window and see the beautiful dark sky, illuminated by the moon and the stars and wonder what it felt like to leave all my hardships at home and live in the peace of space. There would be no soreness in space; I would have nothing to worry about. I did not have privacy, and it took a toll on me. I was embarrassed to invite friends over. When friends wanted to come over to study or get group work done, I would tell them that my mom did not allow it instead of the truth. I was ashamed because I felt that my friends would make fun of me for sleeping on a couch and somehow think less of me. It seemed like the couch followed me everywhere I went. The soreness in my lower back was revived by sitting down in class. It reminded me of waking up on the foamless couch every day. I was orbiting from my lonely planet to school and back on a daily basis. School was a planet I loved because I did not have to deal with the couch that was waiting for me. My lonely planet never left my mind. From taking the ACT to school work, I was challenged with being able to focus, and my body told me to give up. That seemed like the easy path out. I pushed away the thoughts of giving up by reminding myself of my lonely planet and finished the ACT and school work with my best effort. In high school, it was like breathing in the troposphere- not the stratosphere; I developed a mature view on my living situation. I knew that this couch would not get the best of me, so in order for me to be successful in life, I had to accept my lonely planet. I was not afraid to talk about sleeping on a couch to my friends because I knew that if my friends were truly there for me, they would not think differently of me. My couch was my Earth; it did not seem as emotionally painful anymore. My couch inspired me to work harder for what I want in the future. I began to see that I had a fascination with all things outside of this Earth and my couch. All of those nights of staring into the universe meant something. The passion ignited like a bursting gamma ray in Physics. I had opportunities through school to study Physics. I decided to take an additional after school honors physics class in order to grow stronger in the subject. I realized that I want to study Astronomical Physics in college because I want to help discover new planets and solar systems. Sleeping on the couch reminds me of what I do not want in my future. I have nothing against sleeping on the couch now because my lonely planet has allowed me to become the person I am today. I look forward to college because I will leave my lonely planet and sleep on a warm, soft, and comfortable bed. The soreness in my back that has followed me throughout my life will finally be healed.
AB Bustamante

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Student Voices: AB Bustamante

Today’s featured student blogger, AB Bustamante, is a charter school student at the Uplift Peak Preparatory High School. The school’s student body is made up of approximately 90% minority students, and nearly 93% are low-income.  In his post, AB talks about Uplift’s Road to College program and his plans after graduating high school. You can learn more about Uplift Peak Preparatory Academy on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard. What has been the best part about being in the Road to College program? “The best part about being in the Road to College program is having a dedicated and motivated college counseling team ready to assist me through the entire college process. There is nothing more satisfying and calming than knowing that I have four college counselors willing to set everything aside to help me file my taxes, fill out college applications, revise my essays, etc. Without their unrelenting help, my senior year would have been much more stressful, and I wouldn’t have sought the many scholarship opportunities they found for me.” What are you most excited about for college? “It was an exciting moment when I opened my letter of acceptance and offer of appointment to the United States Naval Academy. I knew that the next four years would be the most challenging and demanding four years of my life. I’m excited to attend Plebe Summer after my graduation and undergo the transformation from a civilian to a midshipman. I am eager to discover the vast opportunities the Naval Academy will offer me to engage in politics in Washington D.C. as I pursue a major in Political Science. However, the most exciting thing will be graduating with my Class of 2018 and being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.” What drives you to succeed? “There is a motto among the elite fighting warriors, the U.S. Navy SEALs, which states, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.” I have experienced the meaning of this motto firsthand. Being the eldest of three children and the only male figure in a household under the poverty line has been a challenging reality I have had to face since the age of 13. Seeing my mother struggle alone with the burdens of poverty enraged me but also motivated me to get a job to help my mom pay monthly expenses. Having a job and going to school at the same time has been tough, and although I doubted my efforts at times, I never quit. It was a drive within me that pushed me to face the next day’s problems with determination and confidence. I don’t plan to quit any time soon either; I plan to work in public policy/public administration to pressure our legislative body to enact policies to target and solve the rising problem of poverty in America. Although I can’t eradicate poverty completely, I won’t be satisfied until I reach something close to complete eradication.” What are you most proud of that you have accomplished in your high school career? “Being the first in my family to graduate from high school is the accomplishment I’m most proud of. My parents never reached high school, as they dropped out of sixth grade in Mexico in order to come to the United States. Graduating will not only make my parents proud, but I will also send a message to my younger sisters (both of whom attend Uplift Peak) that with a goal in mind and strong determination, nothing is impossible.”   Post originally published on Uplift Voices blog