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Three Reasons Why Authorizer Accountability Is Right Policy for Every State

In a new report, “Holding Public Charter School Authorizers Accountable,” the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association for Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) take a closer look at why policy that creates quality, strong authorizing is an essential part of model charter policy.

Quality authorizing looks after the interests of students and the taxpayer, while protecting school autonomy and fostering high standards. As the field has coalesced around these core principles, it has also concluded that policies can be powerful levers for authorizer quality—with authorizer accountability chief among them. Get authorizer accountability right and you create an environment where quality charter schools can thrive and grow. Get it wrong and it may lead down a path where school autonomy, a fundamental part of the charter promise, is threatened.

We can get authorizer accountability right. The recommendations and case studies in this report demonstrate how authorizer accountability can be used in every state to enhance the quality of their charter sector. The specific policy changes that will help the most in each state require customization and an understanding of the particular challenges the individual state faces. But you don’t need to start from scratch. Authorizer accountability includes three core tenets that are appropriate everywhere:

  • Standards of Practice: Authorizing is both a major public stewardship role and a complex profession requiring particular capacities and commitment. Professional standards help set the bar for authorizing high and establish a uniform measure to hold authorizers to.
  • Transparency: States should require authorizers to report annually on the performance of the portfolio of schools they oversee and, separately, on select practices authorizers employ. These reports not only help schools, policymakers and parents know how each school is performing academically, but also help identify patterns of school performance or authorizing activities that may point to poor or hostile authorizing practices.
  • Accountability for Practices and School Performance: We trust authorizers to serve the public good. Authorizers who are too willing to grant charters to poor applicants or continue to allow persistently poor-performing schools to remain open are violating this trust. By the same measure, authorizers who are hostile and erode school autonomy are also violating this trust. Policymakers should have an appropriate mechanism for evaluating authorizer behavior, intervening, and, if necessary, pushing these kinds of authorizers out of the sector.

Authorizers exist to facilitate the creation and maintenance of a quality charter school sector. Authorizer standards give authorizers a roadmap to do their job; and transparency and accountability give the public the tools they need identify and correct authorizers if they go off course. Let’s continue to push all states to adopt accountability policies that incorporate these core tenets. Through authorizer accountability we can protect students and the public from failing or fraudulent charter schools, while protecting the autonomy of great charter schools.

Alex Medler is the Vice President of Policy at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

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Be EPIC with REACTOR at the #NCSC15 Brand Impact Workshop

We’re thrilled to be returning to the National Charter Schools Conference to present our Brand Impact Workshop for the second year in a row. We had an awesome time last year working with attendees to evaluate current brands, share best practices and set goals to guide marketing efforts, and we’ve added some new content to this year’s workshop to keep things fresh and fun!

If communications is part of your job description, it may seem unmanageable to find time to plan, post, tweet, publish, produce and create quality content and materials. However, even though your school may not be primarily focused on branding and marketing, they are still critically important to building equity in the form of community support and goodwill. At REACTOR Design Studio, we believe in the power of being E.P.I.C., or Engaging People in Conversation. Your school is designed in a way that encourages all students to thrive, but without a solid brand and effective marketing that gets people talking, you may be fighting an uphill battle to communicate with stakeholders, find success in fundraising or fight stigmas in the community.

The Brand Impact Workshop is a unique opportunity because branding and marketing are traditionally underrepresented as subject areas at the National Charter Schools Conference, but they’re topics that every school needs, whether established or start-up, big or small, urban or rural. We’ll give you the tools to critically assess your current efforts and to bring your ideas to life through concrete goals and strategies. We loved leading last year’s Brand Impact Workshop, not only because we got a chance to share and problem solve with everyone, but also because we enjoyed seeing the connections being forged during peer-to-peer discussion and having authentic conversations about your communications challenges and dreams.

When we’re not hosting the Brand Impact Workshop, where can you find us at #NCSC15? Before the sessions start, we’ll be celebrating at the Welcome Reception Parade to kick off NCSC in fabulous NOLA style. While we want to spend most of our time at the conference hanging out with all of you, we’re also hoping to carve out a few hours to walk through the French Quarter, admire the incredible historic architecture and experience some delicious New Orleans cuisine (jambalaya, gumbo, po’ boys and, of course, beignets… YUM)!

We were honored to receive the #1 workshop rating out of all of the sessions last year, and we hope to see you in our session this year! It’s going to be EPIC!

See you in NOLA!

The REACTOR team (Clifton, Chase, Emily & Julie)

 

Note: The brand impact workshop covers branding, marketing and PR/buzz, but if there’s something in particular that you want to learn about in the session, let us know and we’ll do our best to incorporate it! You can email us at hello@yourreactor.com, message us on Facebook or send us a tweet @reactorkc.

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High School Winner – National Charter Schools Week Essay Contest

Leila from Western Sierra Collegiate Academy in California won the high school category of the 2015 Charter Schools Week essay contest! Read about why she loves her charter school: 

As people become increasingly aware of the unique learning systems offered by non-traditional institutions, the amount of students enrolled in charter schools continues to grow. Parents nationwide choose to enroll their children in charter schools for a variety of reasons; however, I love my charter school because of its welcoming campus culture, wealth of student opportunities, and heavy emphasis on college preparation.

At Western Sierra Collegiate Academy (WSCA), students are immersed in a rich campus culture that fosters great individual learning and growth. Enjoying high student diversity, WSCA is home to students from many different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Whereas diversity has sometimes led to social issues at other schools, at WSCA it is these very cultural differences that make us a stronger and more unified student body. Having attended WSCA for four years, I have definitely been on campus long enough to say that the people at my school truly feel like family. I am extremely grateful to have been able to thrive in an environment that not only respects but wholeheartedly welcomes individuality. When I go to school, I see students who are unafraid to be themselves and express their opinions, and I believe that WSCA’s positive campus culture is what makes this possible.

In addition to fostering a rich social environment, WSCA also offers numerous student opportunities unavailable at other schools. Because of WSCA’s open-minded mission statement, students have the rare chance to participate in competitions on a smaller-scale, potentially opening up doors for the future. Kids are also encouraged to start clubs according to their interests. Because of this, I have been able to found and lead my high school’s community service club and gain valuable leadership skills. Other clubs supported by WSCA include: computer club, international dance club, yoga club, and Pokemon club. Students also have access to extra-learning enrichment sessions and student tutoring should they need any further help in a specific area.

Finally, perhaps WSCA’s most defining quality is the emphasis that is placed on college preparedness. Students are encouraged to challenge themselves with rigorous AP classes and regularly attend the monthly college informational night to learn how to build college transcripts and start early preparations. At the College and Career Center, students can arrange a meeting with the college counselor to discuss future plans and make long-term goals for success. Whenever a senior receives a college acceptance letter, their name and school of acceptance goes on display on the big bulletin board so everyone can share their excitement. Counselors and faculty interact with students on such a personal level (often waving “hello” in the hallways, or asking about their day) that genuinely makes each student feel valued and important.

Western Sierra Collegiate Academy is truly a special school, and I love being a WSCA student for many reasons. However, although the list of WSCA pros is vast, without a doubt, its rich campus culture, broad range of student opportunities, and college-geared mission are primary reasons to love my charter school.

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Middle School Winner – National Charter Schools Week Essay Contest

Omara from Community Day Charter Public School in Massachusetts won the middle school category of the 2015 Charter Schools Week essay contest! Read about why she loves her charter school: 

I entered Community Day Charter Public School (CDCPS) eight years ago as a kindergartener similar to how many of my peers did–very quiet and very nervous. I was extremely introverted and liked to keep things to myself. Through the many grades I have grown to be a much more outspoken student who isn’t afraid of raising her hand and voicing her opinion in all her classes. I achieved this with the help the amazing adults and classmates who have taught me so many academic and life lessons during my years at CDCPS. Looking back now as an 8th grader, I couldn’t imagine myself in any other school doing the things I’m doing. Each day that I go to the charter, I’m pushed to be the best version of myself. I am encouraged to go “above and beyond” by all my teachers in every subject and on every assignment. This year in English class, we are reading one of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The language is difficult and many of my peers and I struggle to understand some sections, but we are given the opportunity to break down words and phrases and comprehend. In math class, we are learning algebra, and in science we learn about chemical reactions through experimentation. This challenging work gives students a feeling of self-pride. We the Students are taught to make goals for ourselves and try to not only complete them but surpass them every school year.

At our charter school every single student is cared for and supported–nobody is left behind. The teachers at CDCPS get to know all of their students and recognize each individual’s strength and weaknesses. They bring their best to all of their lessons and have high expectations, which, in turn, motivates students to want to learn more and meet those high standards.

Not only does CDCPS guide students to a road of academic success, it also develops students into people with good character for life outside of school. We learned from the start of our schooling career to be kind to one another and always give back to our community. As a whole school we have done many service projects like can drives, coin wars, and clean-ups. Each project helped us mature and acknowledge how grateful we really are. The life lessons and skills that have been a part of us since first grade and stayed with us up through eighth grade will come in handy when we step away from our charter school and enter a new environment where we can make the difference. CDCPS develops well-rounded students who stand out in large crowds for their leadership abilities.

Community Day Charter Public School is a community of children, teachers, and parents who work together to support the finest hard-working, dedicated students in Lawrence, Massachusetts, if not in our entire state or nation. I am honored to have been given the chance to be a part of the great academic and character-driven community that is CDCPS.

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Elementary School Winner – National Charter Schools Week Essay Contest

Lydia from Riverview Charter School in South Carolina won the elementary school category of the 2015 Charter Schools Week essay contest! Read about why she loves her charter school: 

Have you ever taken the time to think about why you love your school? I love my school in many different ways. Those ways are the teachers, field trips, school plays, and specials. In this essay, you will read about why I love my school so much.

First of all, I love my school because all of the teachers have amazing personalities and backgrounds. For instance, Mr. Malijenovsky is from France and now he teaches in America. Mr. Good is totally hilarious and he is always really kind. Next, the teachers teach us in awesome ways. They act out what we’re learning and they sometimes do funny voices! Lastly, they are all so different. Mr. Bridge loves sports and Mrs. Duffy loves animals.

Second of all, I love the field trips. They help us understand learning 10 times more! They make learning really exciting and enjoyable. There is a lot of hands on learning so we can touch interesting animals and such. Field trips are especially exciting when we get to go to Barrier Island in the second grade, Washington D.C. in the fifth grade, and Costa Rice in eighth grade!

Next, I love my school because we do school plays. Everybody gets a change to have a main role and lines. I especially like the plays because they are based on what we’re learning in class. They especially help us remember all of the information we need to know. The plays are awesome!

Last but not least, I love my school because we have specials. The specials are P.E., art, music, Spanish, French, technology, and drama. We get to play cool and boisterous sports and games! In music we have concerts, drum battles, and do singing contests girls versus boys. P.E. and music are two of my favorite specials. That is the last reason why I love my school.

Now you know that I love my school because of the teachers, field trips, school plays, and specials. One day you should visit my school, Riverview Charter School.

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An Oasis of “We Can” and “What’s Next”

Four years ago, I found myself living in Kansas City, MO, pregnant, and teaching in a neighboring suburban school district. I felt an impending urgency to find a public elementary school where I would be pushed professionally and my future child would be given a high-quality education. And I didn’t want to move away from the city I had grown to love.

Reflecting on those days of urgent conversations surrounding the state of public education, my passion for providing a high quality public education that I desperately sought for my own child grew to include all of the children of my beloved Kansas City. In one of many conversations about where I would be sending my son/daughter to school, I heard about Crossroads Academy of Kansas City (CAKC), a charter school that was set to open the following school year.

Now as a kindergarten teacher at CAKC, I listen to incoming parents, many of whom had similar stories as mine. “Welcome to Crossroads Academy! How did you hear about us?” I ask. This simple question evokes passionate stories of how families have made the choice to send their scholar to start kindergarten in my classroom. Relief that they don’t have to move, or scramble to figure out how to pay for private school, or take a spot at a school where they do not have a belief that the school will provide the highest quality of education for their child. As I honestly respond, “Me too,” our bond to create a model of change in education is sparked. We are in this together, to show Kansas City that our children are scholars, can exceed any expectation that we set for them, will be raised to serve our community, and prove that the kids of Kansas City can!

We are three years into our mission at CAKC to become the premiere urban school serving Kansas City and as our waiting list grows, so does my passion and drive to serve the scholars who sit in my kindergarten class. My colleagues and I are given the professional freedom to create curriculum, assessments, and pacing guides that fit the needs of each individual class and child; we are encouraged to push forward with project based learning while partnering with the community; and to seek professional development to hone our craft.

To give you a brief look into the heart of what we are striving to accomplish, this spring our scholars were presented with information of an orphanage in Guatemala where one of the orphans had opened a bakery and was in need of many supplies to support his brothers and sisters. The kindergarten scholars decided they would hold a bake sale to raise money and set their goal at $800. When trying to give them an idea on how much that amount was, our Rosie the Riveter stood and passionately exclaimed with an arm raised, “WE CAN DO THIS!” They went on to raise over $1700.

In the age of naysayers concerning educational innovation, it’s refreshing to call a place like CAKC home. Crossroads is an oasis of reform. An oasis of “we can,” and “what’s next?”

Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

Kara Schumacher is a kindergarten teacher at Crossroads Academy of Kansas City.

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Thoughtful, Committed Citizens

Attending the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference each year has become a priority for the leadership at our K-12 charter school in Boulder County, Colorado. We have found that these three days in the summer allow our leadership team to spend extended, focused time together reflecting on issues of key importance to our organization. This year’s conference in New Orleans will be our fourth, and because of the wide variety of sessions and speakers featured each year, we continue to add to the list of staff members who attend.  

The conference serves many purposes for our school. The opportunity to participate in conversations about national charter schools legislation and funding always leads to deeper, more nuanced discussions of what’s happening in our own state. Workshop sessions targeting the challenges and opportunities unique to charter schools have enhanced and informed decisions we’ve made with regard to technology, teacher evaluation, media relations, and communication, to name a few. At the same time, the chance for us to share our own experiences and expertise by facilitating breakout sessions helps raise our school’s profile and leads to expanded networking and relationship building with other charter leaders around the country. Finally, the conference consistently features speakers doing critical work on the cutting edge of education, charter or otherwise. Their keynote addresses inspire important conversations among our school’s leadership team and between charter leaders across our state and across the nation.

Being part of the charter school movement means being part of a solution to the many troubled aspects of education. It means creative problem solving and innovating against all odds. It means coming to the table with an open mindset and the knowledge that Margaret Mead was right when she said that it only takes “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world.” Attending the National Charter Schools Conference each year reunites and reinvigorates that small group of committed citizens, which is why it is and will continue to be an important priority for the leaders of our school.

 

Megan Freeman directs the Center for Professional Development at Peak to Peak Charter School. She leads workshops in best practices and consults with schools and universities throughout the state of Colorado.  She can be reached at megan@CPDcolorado.org.

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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.