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Public Charter Schools with True Autonomy and Accountability Positively Impact Student Achievement

A recent thread in studies about public charter schools and student achievement is that broad analyses often mask the key features that explain why some charter schools outperform traditional public schools (TPS). A paper by Hiren Nisar from Abt Associates follows this idea by highlighting the impact of school autonomy on student performance. He finds that students in Milwaukee public charter schools that operate with more autonomy from traditional public school regulation (called non-instrumentality charter schools) outperform their counterparts in less-autonomous public charter schools (instrumentality charter schools) and traditional public schools. In Milwaukee, both instrumentality and non-instrumentality schools have more budget and curricular flexibility than traditional public schools. However, there are key differences in operational autonomy:  instrumentality public charter schools operate as a part of traditional school districts, they face little risk of closure, and they hire unionized teachers. When looking at achievement over all charter school students compared to TPS students, Nisar found little significant difference in performance. However, not all public charter schools are subject to the same policies, and those differences have significant impacts on student achievement levels. Nisar breaks down these differences by examining how a school’s instrumentality status relates to students’ reading proficiency. He finds that “students at a non-instrumentality charter school would be reading at a grade higher from their counterparts in an instrumentality charter school in two years, and their counterparts in a TPS in three years.” He also finds that African-American students perform better in non-instrumentality charter schools than any other type of public school. When looking at low achieving students, he estimates that attending a public charter school of any type would eliminate the reading achievement gap in two years. Aside from the encouraging empirical findings, there is a broader takeaway from Nisar’s paper – as he puts it, “the details of charter school policies matter.” In Milwaukee, public charter schools that operate autonomously from traditional school districts, and therefore face a greater risk of closure, perform better. As NAPCS President & CEO Nina Rees said, “The charter school idea is predicated on the notion that in exchange for autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic rules, schools would face closure if they fail to meet their academic goals.” The tradeoff of enjoying more autonomy for greater accountability in the form of school closures is a basic tenet of charter schools, as well as a keystone of the NACSA’s One Million Lives campaign. This paper offers a strong suggestion that autonomy and accountability for public charter schools are essential policies that go hand in hand with learning gains for students. Milwaukee students           Image by Mike Di Sisti originally published in the Journal-Sentinel online Nov. 18, 2012

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Behind the Mic: Armando Pérez, 2013 National Charter Schools Conference Speaker

Armando Pérez, also known as Pitbull, is a man who goes beyond expectations. Mr. Pérez is more than an international music superstar; he is a civil leader within his community. Recently, Mr. Pérez was featured on The Today ShowNPR, and Good Morning America discussing his endeavors to start a charter school in his hometown of Miami, Florida. In fall 2013, Mr. Pérez is opening Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM) public charter school for middle and high school students who wish to pursue a career in athletics. The school’s mission is to “provide an innovative, in-depth educational program preparing students for secondary studies and beyond through an emphasis of sports-related career preparation.” SLAM’s vision believes in providing “Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships” in its educational programs to produce college bound and career-oriented graduates. At the National Charter Schools Conference, we’ll have a stellar lineup of keynote speakers that can attest to the conference-wide theme, “Delivering on the Dream.” Our goal is to equip our attendees with the tools they need to help their students turn their dreams into reality. Mr. Pérez’s story of growth from childhood in an impoverished Miami neighborhood to helping found a public charter school is an indicator that this conference is set to inspire. Join us at the 2013 National Charter Schools Conference from June 30-July 3 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Register today (March 9th-June 7th for regular registration rates) on the conference website. If you have any questions about the conference please email nationalconference@publiccharters.org or call: 1-800-280-6218. Pitbull_blog                           Armando Pérez, also known as Pitbull

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NCSC July 3: Last chance to Attend Great Sessions!

Even though it is the closing day of the National Charter Schools Conference, July 3 will still be a day full of eye catching sessions. In the morning from 7:45 AM – 8:45 AM there will be a networking breakfast held before the sessions. Here are a few sessions to look out for on Wednesday: NASA STEM Education: Bringing NASA’s BEST (Beginning Engineering, Science and Technology) into the classroom- July 3rd, 8:00 AM-10:30 AM The NASA’s BEST (Beginning Engineering, Science and Technology) project provides professional development for educators and curriculum support resources with a space exploration theme. The NASA educators will be explaining the hands-on, problem solving activity to design and build a Mars Rover and its landing system to arrive intact and upright on the remote surface. NASA will be introducing the Engineering Design Process in STEM for elementary and middle school classrooms. The presenters for the session will be Leslie Garrison (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Michelle Graf (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Susan Hoban (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Catherine Kruchten (NASA), and Alexis O’Malley (NASA). NCSC day 3           Closing Session – July 3rd, 10:45 AM-12:00 PM Amanda Ripley will be the closing session speaker. Amanda Ripley is an award-winning author and investigative journalist. She currently serves as a Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow at the nonpartisan New America Foundation where she has written several recent feature stories about school reform, kids, and teachers. Ripley has built up an impressive body of work over the course of her career including a dozen cover stories for Time, features for The Atlantic and a variety of other leading publications, and her upcoming book The Smartest Kids in the World. In addition to writing, Ripley has briefed at the Pentagon, the Senate, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Peace Corps and FEMA. She will draw on both her storytelling and public policy expertise in our brand new Closing Session this summer. We’re excited to have her and know that hearing her take on the charter school movement will be a great way to wrap up this year’s National Charter Schools Conference. NCSC Amanda Ripley

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Countdown to National Charter Schools Week (5 days to go)

National Charter Schools Week (NCSW) is just around the corner—May 5th-11th. 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. Check out our toolkit for ways you can participate in NCSW! “For me, school was about survival, not education. If I could make it through the day without getting into a fight, I had learned something. Even though I grew up in a middle class suburb, based on district zoning, I had to attend one of the low-performing high schools in my area. That was my only option…I decided to become an advocate for charter schools because I believe that a quality education should be free to everyone and not marginalize students based on zoning rules or circumstances that have no reflection on their ability to learn.”Janel “Jay” Wright, Community Outreach Manager of the New Jersey Charter Schools association

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Countdown to National Charter Schools Week (8 days to go)

National Charter Schools Week (NCSW) is just around the corner—May 5th-11th. 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. Check out our toolkit for ways you can participate in NCSW! “While ‘innovation’ can be defined and operationalized in numerous ways, we believe innovation is the development of more effective practices and processes that not only result in advancing student achievement, but also instill the habits of mind required for our children to access the college and career pathways of the 21st Century. This is, in fact, our mission and the mindset undergirding the STEM Prep model.”Kristin McGraner, Ed.D., Founder & Executive Director of STEM Preparatory Academy in Nashville, TN.

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Countdown to National Charter Schools Week (2 days to go)

National Charter Schools Week (NCSW) is just around the corner—May 5th-11th. 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. Check out our toolkit for ways you can participate in NCSW! During NCSW, we present the Champions for Charters awards to recognize public officials for leading a major public charter issue or initiative, serving as a highly visible public charter school advocate, and consistently supporting charters as a quality public school choice option. As we countdown to NCSW 2013, let’s draw inspiration from a past Champion for Charter recipient. 2010 Champion for Charters – U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO-2nd) Congressman Polis introduced the bipartisan All Students Achieving through Reform Act (All-STAR), H.R. 4330, to support the expansion and replication of high-quality public charter schools that close the achievement gap. It is a key proposal and recognized as the most important piece of federal charter school legislation proposed since the original Charter Schools Program in 1994. Throughout his public service, Rep. Polis, who founded and served as superintendent of charter schools serving at-risk students, has worked hard to ensure that public charter schools are treated fairly and have equal access to education dollars. “The All-STAR Act is about making the very best educational practices at America’s leading charter schools available to more students,” said Polis. “It’s as simple as finding what does and doesn’t work, funding the best schools, and giving every student the best possible education. This bill will provide hope and opportunity to tens of thousands of additional children at new or expanded charter schools.”

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Countdown to National Charter Schools Week (6 days to go)

National Charter Schools Week (NCSW) is just around the corner—May 5th-11th. 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. Check out our toolkit for ways you can participate in NCSW! “I feel that parents are a child’s first and most important advocate. Empowering parents with the tools they need to make an informed decision on which path is best for their child is essential to the charter school movement. Charter schools are an option for parents that enhance and challenge a child’s educational experience.” Kwan GrahamParents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina

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Countdown to National Charter Schools Week (4 days to go)

National Charter Schools Week (NCSW) is just around the corner—May 5th-11th. 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. Check out our toolkit for ways you can participate in NCSW! “In my 14 years at Jumoke Academy, a public K-8 charter school in Hartford, CT, I have seen what can happen when committed teachers and school administrators confront the high needs of a low-income and minority population head on. Jumoke was founded in 1997 by my mother, Thelma Ellis Dickerson, a lifelong advocate for education reform and former president of the Hartford Board of Education, to eliminate the achievement gap for the city of Hartford. It was her fervent belief that, ‘if we provided a safe, supportive but rigorous learning environment for children, staffed with high-quality teachers who challenged students to learn at the highest levels, we could change the face of public education in the city of Hartford for the absolute better.’”Michael Sharpe, CEO of Jumoke Academy, President of the Connecticut Charter School Association, board member of the National Charter School Leadership Council, founding member of Legacy Protect and Family Urban Schools of Excellence

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Phoenix Charter Academy’s Alternative School Model Meets Student Needs and Fosters Academic Success

Being involved in charter schools at the policy level, it sometimes becomes all about the data—how many charters are on the U.S. NewsBest High Schools list; the number of students on waitlists; the ratio of English Language Learners as compared to their district counterparts. The numbers are without question important, but visiting a school in person can remind you that behind all these numbers are people. Last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea, MA. At the school door I was greeted by Rosa, a student who gave me a tour. Rosa proudly told me that she is going to University of Massachusetts, Boston campus for college next year. As we walked through the school, she told us about how every student receives an hour of tutoring every day to help prepare for the MCAS, the state standardized test. She pointed out the signs on students’ lockers, wishing them luck on the test. She pointed to pictures of former students on the walls—if they made it through graduation, then she can too. These photos inspired her, and reassured her that she could get through this. As we walked through the building she pointed out various classrooms—science, math, humanities—and we paused at a door. The instant it opened, a head popped up from behind a bookshelf. “Mama!” The little girl ran straight towards Rosa, reaching out. Rosa held out a hand and gave those tiny fingers a hard squeeze. “Welcome to our nursery.” Phoenix1             Phoenix is outside of the norm even for a public charter school. Considered an “alternative” school, it focuses largely on students who have been unable to succeed in any other kind of academic setting. Their students range in age from 14 to 22 and generally have very little support at home. Every student who walks through their doors receives an individual course plan. There are no class cohorts, no sophomores or juniors. You’re given a personalized route to graduate high school that isn’t a set time period, but instead lastas as long as it will take you to master the material. If you come in needing remedial math or if English isn’t your first language, you spend some extra time in the introductory classes. If you’ve already had a few years of high school, maybe you can skip ahead to some of the second or third level courses. Only once you reach the last year of your program can you proudly bear the title of “Senior.” Everyone is expected to graduate at their own pace, once they demonstrate knowledge mastery. This comes with a lot of challenges. It takes resources for teachers to design such an individualized plan for every student. Classroom management can be even more difficult when the students are nearly ten years apart in age. However long it takes, and no matter how many times the students may drop out again, a remarkable number make it to graduation day. Considering that the district had given up on that dream long ago, this is truly an amazing school. Rosa had her child three years ago, and had been attending the district school. Faced with the challenges of teen pregnancy, she eventually moved over to Phoenix. It’s clear that the nursery has been a huge help to her—her daughter had a half-dozen playmates, and the infants were sleeping in the room next door. She’s taking AP Physics, chemistry, and pre-calculus. As she said “the support is incredible.” Phoenix takes pride in providing help to the students, no matter what kind they need—academic or personal. Phoenix2               How do you compare Phoenix to a regular district school? Last fall, I saw a fantastic school leader talk about how her school had to be reborn as a public charter because the district thought that since her school’s pregnant teenagers weren’t graduating high school in four years, they were failing. These alternative schools are being held to the same accountability standards as their district counterparts. It’s a travesty to assume that since these students can’t graduate at the same rate as their less challenged peers, they won’t ever succeed. Schools like Phoenix insist that no matter what, they won’t give up. We need a serious conversation on alternative schools and how we can fairly hold them accountable. They have high expectations for their students, and are getting students into college who would have otherwise been considered lucky to get a GED. This is why, at the National Charter Schools Conference, we’re hosting a preconference conversation on the subject. Please come join us for this—we need all our minds working together to figure out the best solutions to these policy challenges. If you’re already signed up for the conference, you can register for the preconference through our reaccess site. For those who still need to sign up, it is an option during the registration process. This school might not be hitting AYP every year, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t creating amazing opportunities that didn’t exist before for these students. Phoenix3         This Sunday, Rosa celebrated Mother’s Day with her husband and daughter. On Monday, her husband headed off to work and she went to take her AP Physics exam. Thank you Phoenix, for introducing me to her, and to Rosa, if you’re reading this—I hope you scored high!

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Public Charter School Performance Tops New Study on Global Competitiveness

In his New York Times column, Thomas Friedman shared the results of a new study. Rather than just comparing themselves to others in the United States, some schools signed up to see how they stack up relative to the international average. The America Achieves’ “Middle Class or Middle of the Pack?” report goes through this data to better understand exactly how our schools are underperforming. Both Friedman and the report debunk the myth that it’s America’s poverty rate that keeps our schools uncompetitive on a global scale. America Achieves’ report formally shows what numerous other studies have already demonstrated: that the highest-performing schools are not always filled with well-to-do students. Several schools across the country, including two public charter schools, demonstrate that poverty is not to blame for our low rankings on the international test. The report mentions two schools in particular which stand out: North Star Academy in Newark, N.J. and BASIS Tucson North in Ariz. Both schools have been on my radar for years as very high-performing public charter schools, and I’m thrilled to see that not only are they knocking it out of the park here in the U.S. but are also excelling on a global scale. North Star Academy outperforms the average student in all but nine countries in reading—impressive for a school with 80.3 percent of students eligible for free and reduced price lunch. However, BASIS Tucson North took the prize with performance that beat the global competition, outperforming the average school in every country in the world in math, science, and reading. It is with great pleasure that we will welcome Craig Barrett, President and Chairman of BASIS schools, to participate in a keynote panel at the 2013 National Charter Schools Conference. His schools set high expectations for all students—six AP classes is the norm—and the students step up and achieve. Dr. Barrett will share why this matters in terms of making sure that children are not only college and career ready but able to step up and become leaders in future generations. Congratulations to both of these schools! Dr. Barrett           Craig Barrett, President and Chairman of BASIS schools Uncommon school       Image via North Star Academy website