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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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New Orleans Reforms Boost Student Performance

Families have many options as 93 percent of public school students attend charter schools

The National Alliance received the news yesterday from Education Next that researchers with the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University determined that the education reforms initiated since Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans have increased student achievement.  Read the news release below.

Before Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans in 2005, it was the second-lowest-ranked district in the second-lowest-ranked state in the country, as measured by student performance on state and national tests. After the hurricane, the city essentially erased its school district and started over. Within the span of one year, all public-school employees were fired, the teacher contract expired and was not replaced, and the state took control of almost all public schools. Eventually the state turned all the schools under its authority over to charter management organizations (CMOs), dramatically reshaping the teacher workforce and providing the first direct test of an alternative to the U.S.’s century-old system of school governance.

But are New Orleans’ schools living up to the expectation that once schools are freed from district and union contract rules and allowed to innovate, schools will work better and students will learn more? In three new articles published in Education Next, researchers with the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (ERA-New Orleans) at Tulane University, directed by professor of economics, Douglas Harris, investigate how schools and student performance have responded to the policy shifts.

In “Good News for New Orleans,” Harris summarizes research conducted with ERA analyst Matthew Larsen that uses two complementary strategies to determine how the reforms affected student performance on state tests. The analysis first compares the test scores of students who returned to New Orleans after the hurricane to their own performance before the storm. The analysis then also compares the performance of different cohorts of students before and after the reforms – for example, students in 3rd grade in 2005 and students in 3rd grade in 2012. In both cases, the changes in performance in New Orleans are compared to those in a comparison group of other districts in Louisiana that were affected by the hurricane.

Before the reforms, students in New Orleans performed well below the Louisiana average, at about the 30th percentile statewide. The comparison group also trailed the state average, although to a lesser extent. After the reforms, the performance of New Orleans’s students shot upward by 0.2 to 0.4 standard deviations by 2012, enough to improve a typical student’s performance by 8 to 15 percentile points. In contrast, the comparison group from other districts largely continued its prior trajectory. Over the same time period, state reports indicate that the high school graduation rate in New Orleans rose by 10 percentage points and the share of high school graduates entering college rose by 14 percentage points.

The article also describes how the reforms changed New Orleans schools and, in particular, their teacher workforce. The percentages of teachers with regular certification and with 20 or more years of experience both dropped by about 20 points. The teacher turnover rate also nearly doubled, apparently because schools had greater autonomy over personnel and because of the increase in educators from alternative preparation programs such as Teach for America.

In “Many Options in New Orleans Choice System,” ERA-New Orleans researchers consider to what degree the city’s system of school choice, where 93 percent of public school students attend charter schools, provides a variety of distinct options for families. The schools are overseen by three different agencies and managed by more than 30 school operators and CMOs. To determine if schools differ substantially from one another, the researchers use a statistical method known as cluster analysis to group the schools based on similar characteristics, including whether they have a college-prep mission; a curricular theme; selective admissions; and comparable school hours, grade span, sports, extracurriculars, and support staff levels. They find considerable differentiation among the schools. Their analysis reveals that school characteristics vary even within governing agencies and CMOs.

In “The New Orleans OneApp,” the research team takes a careful look at the city’s unique centralized enrollment system, which enables families to apply for a seat in 89 percent of the city’s public schools by ranking their preferred schools on a single application known as the OneApp. A strategy-proof computer algorithm then assigns students to schools. They conclude that, in many ways, the OneApp is more efficient, fair, and transparent than the decentralized choice system that preceded it. But the system is also more complex, leading some families to misunderstand and distrust it. The OneApp continues to evolve as its administrators learn more about school-choosing families and families learn more about this novel system.

The articles, all of which, will appear in the fall 2015 issue of Education Next.


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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.


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: 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.


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The Aftermath Series: New Orleans Changes the Narrative

What happens to a city nearly leveled by a natural disaster? What would happen if this destruction resulted in thousands of deaths, poverty-stricken families displaced in massive evacuations, and schools and businesses were shut down? This scenario could quickly become dire. New Orleans, however, used these circumstances as grounds for reinvention of their broken city.

The state of Louisiana created the Recovery School District (RSD) to explore ways to strengthen the city’s educational options about two years before Hurricane Katrina struck. In the wake of the storm, decades old buildings lay in pieces. The destruction of the city’s school buildings and infrastructure required the state government to act—and fast.

The disaster created room to reinvent a deeply troubled school system. The ability to rebuild was an invitation to be innovative and to start fresh. And instead of going back to the district-run business as usually, New Orleans decided to give schools autonomy to make school-level decisions to best serve their students’ needs. The city chose to convert failing schools into public charter schools as part of the RSD, with resource organizations working to support the ideal of strong, high-quality schools. These reforms resulted in a city whose schools are now almost all public charter schools.

Despite the unique circumstances New Orleans faced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the overall lesson is that New Orleans’ success story can be replicated. Any district can leverage public charter school autonomy to empower school-level decisions, coupled with accountability for those choices. However, the strength and persistence of New Orleans’ citizens to rebuild their historic city translated into the school system as well.

Recovery School District


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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: A Turnaround Model

In the midst of national and statewide education reform efforts, K-12 education is coming to the forefront as a national issue. Though reform is sometimes a frustratingly slow process, one thing is for certain: New Orleans is getting it right.

Resulting from the creation of the Recovery School District (RSD) and devastation of Hurricane Katrina, some of the worst-performing schools in New Orleans rebuilt as charter schools. This allowed for more authorizer oversight but gave principals and teachers autonomy in exchange for successful results—which ultimately led to the improvements in the New Orleans school system. Over the past decade, graduation rates have risen and the achievement gap soon nearly disappeared.

In a recent article written by National Alliance president and CEO, Nina Rees, New Orleans is acknowledged as a model for turnaround school districts, and three key lessons are outlined:

  1. School-level autonomy should be offered to all schools. Lawmakers should consider the bigger picture by focusing on repairing entire districts versus single schools. Like New Orleans, other districts can use charter schools as a reform tool by giving power to principals and teachers to construct school curricula and cultures that best fit their students’ needs.
  2. Engage and empower community leaders to help solve the problem. The “It takes a village” concept can also be applied to education reform. Schools need a way to connect with and enlist the help of existing resources through community groups and leaders that can provide services such as extracurricular activities and after-school care, so that schools can have a laser focus on the academic needs of their students.
  3. Fund the interventions. Like any institutional turnaround, schools reform is going to take funding—and a lot of it. In order for us to be serious about education reform, it is important that we invest in the best techniques, teachers, and training for our schools so that our children are well-equipped to be leaders of our nation.

New Orleans’ school system has become a model for success for all school districts. Increasing  school-level autonomy helped the district to rebuild itself into one of vast improvements. While school reform tactics are not one-size-fits-all, it is important that we begin with a model that has consistently proven results.

To read Nina’s full article and find out more about Louisiana’s success with the turnaround district, click here.

Recovery School District

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