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How Public Charter Schools Are Designed to Meet the Diverse Demands of Our Communities

Today, NAPCS is proud to release our newest issue briefA Mission to Serve: How Public Charter Schools Are Designed to Meet the Diverse Demands of Our Communities. By looking at high performing public charter schools that are consciously designed to serve their students–whether in homogenous or diverse environments–this issue brief underscores that public charter schools can accommodate both models and, in the process, provide more high quality public school options to our nation’s students. One of the most exceptional developments within the first two decades of the movement has been the rise of high performing public charter schools with missions intently focused on educating students from traditionally underserved communities. While much media attention rightly has been given to these schools, the past decade or so also has seen a noteworthy rise in high-performing public charter schools with missions intentionally designed to serve economically integrated student populations.  These schools are utilizing their autonomy to achieve a diverse student population through location-based strategies, recruitment efforts and enrollment processes. Perhaps most notably, a growing number of cities – and the parents and educators in them – are welcoming both types of public charter school models for their respective (and in some cases unprecedented) contributions to raising student achievement, particularly for students who have previously struggled in school.  Our issue brief showcases this development in three such cities:  Denver, Washington, D.C., and San Diego. Diverse Models IB Cover Photo 1

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Links and Likes

Taishya Adams, Director of State Services, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned a report to look at how high-performing CMOs were dealing with succession planning. Check out these three case studies of charter organizations that have been through leadership transitions. Like: Atlantic City already held a special place in my heart. I have vivid childhood memories of running up and down the boardwalk, darting between the arcade and the ocean. Now, I have something new to add to those treasured memories – attending and presenting at the New Jersey Charter Schools Association’s 4th Annual Conference.

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Charter schools win funding victory in Georgia

Earlier this week, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld a simple principle of law: school districts cannot unilaterally reduce charter school funding in an attempt to shore up their own weakened financial position. The dispute arose when the Atlanta Public Schools decided to change years of practice by reducing funding for every charter school in Atlanta. The district did so by calculating a proportionate share of the district’s pension liability and subtracting that from the charter school payments. The problem with this approach? The law doesn’t allow it. Instead, the law sets out a very specific process to follow for allocating money to charter schools. The trial court judge saw through the district’s arguments and ruled in favor of the charter schools on all counts. As expected, the Atlanta school district appealed the decision. On Monday of this week, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld the trial court. In the judicial version of a smack down, the court agreed with the charter schools that districts cannot simply ignore the law and fund schools at their own discretion. To put it in legal terms, a district cannot unilaterally change a bilateral contract. Why is this case significant? First, it means that the charter schools will be reimbursed for the more than $3 million the district has illegally withheld, which means that the students will not suffer because of the district’s actions. In a deft move by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the court entered an order requiring the district to deposit the disputed funds in the registry of court, which will make disbursing the funds to schools straightforward. Second, districts routinely use similar methods to withhold funding from charter schools that is due under law—in many cases for “services” charters never requested and the law never contemplated. I worked at the lead authorizer in the state of Georgia for many years and can think of countless examples of this. The court ruling sets precedent in case any future district attempts some funding shift, so the real impact is far greater than the $3 million. Finally, this also illustrates perfectly why litigation is a key lever in our school reform battles and why having a national charter school legal defense strategy is critically important. As long as districts retain authorizing power, they will have leverage over the schools they authorize. In such a situation, courts provide a key check and balance. With precedent now firmly established, Atlanta charters can get back to the work of educating students. That is something we should all be thankful for. Andrew Broy is the president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. Learn More: Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Supreme Court rules in favor of charter schools in pension fight

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News
  • “Viewpoints: ‘Fine’ schools won’t prepare our children for the future,” op-ed by Nina Rees (president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools) and Jed Wallace (president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association), Sacramento Bee, Sept. 27
  • “President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Nina Rees Talks Charter School Movement and STEM Education,” interview with Nina Rees, Washington Exec, Sept. 25
  • “An Unfair Attack on Education Reform,” op-ed by Nina Rees, U.S. News & World Report, Sept. 23
News to Know
  • “Pennsylvania House Bill Sets Up Review of Charter School Funding,” Allentown Morning Call, Sept. 27
  • “New York City Charter School Showdown Ahead,” New York Daily News, Sept. 26
  • “Editorial: Rigorous Process Ahead for Charter Schools,” Seattle Times, Sept. 25
  • “Georgia Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Charter Schools in Pension Fight,” Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sept. 24
  • “Editorial: Kentucky Needs to Put Needs of Students First,” Paducah Sun, Sept. 23
Audience Favorites Facebook— A new book called “Reign of Error” by Diane Ravitch questions the benefits of top-performing charter schools that are replicating their successes in new schools–like KIPP, Uncommon Schools,Breakthrough Schools, and Success Academy Charter Schools. Nina Rees asks “why wouldn’t we want them to?” in a review of the book on U.S. News and World Report’s website. Twitter—@charteralliance Monumental step forward in #WA, #charterschool commission begins accepting charter applications @WA_Charters bit.ly/14DtTJH You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

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Anna Nicotera, Director of Research and Evaluation, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: Spring is here, the weather is fantastic, and you’ll find me listening to This American Life while walking the dog. Like: As a Denver native and big Broncos fan, I am ecstatic about the Peyton Manning news this week. Looks like his foundation has given money to charter schools in the past. Maybe in between preparing for the Super Bowl, we can get him involved in charter schools in Colorado!

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Rachel Locklear Hall, Federal Advocacy Intern, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: Encouraging news about the U.S.high school graduation rate. Like: This is a picture of 4 girls I taught two years ago at a Charter School in Brooklyn called Excellence Girls Charter School. If this adorableness doesn’t make you love charter schools, I don’t know what will.

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Katherine Schaff, National Charter Schools Conference Intern, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: Getting excited for the National Charter Schools Conference? I sure am! Take a sneak peek at some of this year’s sessions. Like: I can’t help but brag about the talented musicians that come from my hometown, Chicago.  Check out Andrew Bird’s new album Break It Yourself.

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News
  • “New Group Formed to Focus on Spec. Ed. in Charter Schools,” NAPCS mentioned, Education Week, Oct. 22
  • “‘Grit’: The New Education Flavor of the Month?,” op-ed by Nina Rees (President & CEO),U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 21
News to Know
  • “The Boston Foundation Rolls Out MIT Charter School Study,” Boston Business Journal, Oct. 25
  • “Canyon-Agassi Fund, KIPP Partner to Build Dallas Charter School,” Dallas Business Journal, Oct. 24
  • “Charter Schools ‘3.0’ in Washington State,” Associated Press, Oct. 23
  • “D.C. Nonprofits Start Charter Schools to Ready Adults for the Workforce,” Elevation DC, Oct. 22
  • “Public Charter Schools on Cutting Edge of Teacher Education,” New York Times op-ed, Oct. 21
  Audience Favorites Facebook— California voters led the way for equitable facilities funding for charter schools with the passage of Proposition 39. Read why it is now being challenged in the California Supreme Courthttp://bit.ly/H8FUhP Twitter— @charteralliance New report outlines laws and best practices for improving special education programs at #charterschools bit.ly/16qVWis You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News
  • “Thinking About Starting a Charter School? Here’s How,” NAPCS statistics cited, Fox Business News, Oct. 16
  • “Is Pitbull ‘Mr. Education’? Rapper Opens Charter School In Miami,” Nina quotes, NPR, Oct. 15
News to Know Audience Favorites Facebook— Did you hear about last week’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge? Nearly 20,000 students, parents, teachers, and school leaders came together in support of NYC charter schools. The National Alliance joined the march to help demonstrate support for NYC charters to mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio. Watch this video (http://bit.ly/16w6jQt) and read this (http://on.wsj.com/15FTeTS) to learn more. Twitter— @charteralliance .@MayorsTour begins today – exploring innovation in education, including the role of charters. Learn more: bit.ly/19Utm8f You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.

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Blog Series: It Takes…

What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes great teachers. For the past four years, 100 percent of Aspire Public Schools’ graduating seniors have been accepted to college. Now in its 15th year, with schools in California and Tennessee, Aspire has become one of the highest-performing school networks nationally serving predominantly low-income students. “We believe high-quality teachers are the number one lever for preparing students for college,” said James Willcox, Aspire Public Schools CEO. “We are committed to developing and supporting highly effectiveteachers in every classroom.” Since 2009, to deliver on its College for Certain mission, Aspire has collaborated with teachers to develop a nationally- recognized teacher assessment and professional development model. Based on individualized observations, educators are able to access customized tools and resources – which are constantly being updated – as well as work with mentors and peers to drive student learning and college readiness. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a belief that all students can achieve. “We believe,” says Tim King, founder and CEO of Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies, describing simply and poignantly how for four years in a row, 100 percent of graduating seniors in these charter schools have been admitted into four-year colleges or universities. But they haven’t just been admitted, Urban Prep students have raked in more than six million in scholarships and grants this past year. Urban Prep points to its positive, mutually accountable school culture as core to its success. Every morning students recite the creed “We believe in ourselves. We believe in each other. We are college bound.” And they are. All of them. Powerful, considering the national high school drop-out rate for African-American males remains just above 50 percent. Urban Prep Academies is a network of all-boys public schools, including the country’s first charter high school for boys. Urban Prep’s mission is to provide a high-quality and comprehensive college-preparatory educational experience to young men that results in its graduates succeeding in college. The schools are a direct response to the urgent need to reverse abysmal graduation and college completion rates among boys in urban centers. While most of Urban Prep students come to the schools from economically disadvantaged households and behind in many subject areas, Urban Prep remains committed to preparing all of its students for college and life. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes preparing students emotionally. This fall, every single one of Prescott, Arizona’s Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy’s graduating seniors walked onto a college campus. “[We] work with all students beginning in ninth grade to maintain the expectation of college acceptance,” said the charter school’s director, Geneva Saint Amour. The school model focuses on rigorous academics combined with citizenship and character. “You would think that school is a place where students sit for seven hours a day in their own bubble and occasionally interact with others on a surface level,” said Hans, a former student. “That is what I expected, but Northpoint changed that. From being drenched from rain in the middle of the woods in a failing tent, to all coming to the realization that this would be our last year together in the deep canyons of the Colorado river, [this] has changed me as a person. It has changed me socially, morally and emotionally.” What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a challenging curriculum. One hundred percent of Indianapolis’ Charles A. Tindley students have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. More importantly, though, says Chancellor Marcus Robinson, they arrive on campus having fully experienced college rigor. “At Tindley we don’t just believe in college preparation, we practice college immersion,” said Robinson. Each Tindley student must complete an array of college courses – English, History, Philosophy, and Calculus – before they can obtain their high school diplomas. “We articulate our entire curriculum,” says Robinson, “all of our instructional supports, and our creative energies to this single outcome for all of our students.” Over 80 percent of Tindley alums have graduated college or are pursuing a bachelor’s degree. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a strong work ethic. Nationally, only 12 percent of low-income high school graduates go on to earn a four-year college degree. Boston-based Match Education, which serves primarily low-income and minority students, has a college completion rate that is 4.5 times higher. Fifty-four percent of Match charter graduates graduate from a four-year college. “We have always organized our work around the twin goals of academic readiness and work ethic in our students,” said Match CEO Stig Leschly. Ninety percent of Match students take at least one AP course, as well as a college course at Boston University, before graduating from high school. It’s an academic challenge that also teaches students to keep trying when faced with difficult problems, and then see how that hard work pays off. “Getting students to pass AP exams and produce college-level work has prepared our students for the rigor and expectations of college,” said Leschly. To have this kind of success, students first need to believe in themselves. One way Match builds that confidence is by developing relationships through two hours of daily tutoring. Is two hours significant? It adds up to 15 days of individual support and learning for every Match student each school year. The practice has been so successful in raising math and English proficiency that traditional school districts, like Chicago Public Schools, are now partnering with Match to borrow its tutoring program. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a vision. A gong sounds in the hallways of YES Prep Public Schools every time a senior gets a college acceptance letter. For 15 years in a row, it has sounded as many times as there are seniors. That’s because 100 percent of YES Prep seniors have graduated from high school and been accepted to four-year colleges and universities. The vast majority of students in these charter schools, now in Houston and Memphis, Tenn., are from low-income families. Almost all are the first in their families to go to college. That’s why YES offers a college readiness course every year of high school that covers everything from SAT prep to understanding the financial aid process to writing college application essays. Students take annual college tours beginning in sixth grade. All seniors are required to apply to at least eight four-year colleges by mid-November. YES leaders even convinced 24 colleges to commit to giving special consideration to qualified YES students and meet 100 percent of their documented financial needs. YES maintains a scholarship fund for alumni, sends care packages to freshmen and many college campuses with a large number of YES graduates also have alumni designated to support their peers. More than 30 alumni have even returned to teach for their alma mater. No wonder the waiting list to get into these outstanding charter schools is more than 7,000 names long. What does it take to prepare students for college, get them accepted, and make sure they are successful once there? It takes a team! For the last three years, every single one of Dallas’ Uplift Education charter school graduates has felt the relief and excitement that comes from opening an envelope from a college and learning they had been accepted. “When everyone is working together to help scholars prepare for college, the scholars will rise to their potential,” says Yasmin Bhatia, Uplfit Education’s CEO. “Our teachers believe all children can learn and all children can go to college. They work every day to help scholars grow academically and prepare.” It also takes a focused group of college counselors. Uplift’s “Road to College” team takes its scholars on college field trips, helps them with college applications, makes sure parents understand all their financial options, and even provides graduates with support while they are in college.