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Teachers Are Giving ‘Em Something to Talk About

Education reform is on everybody’s lips, and just about everybody has an idea for making schools better.  The discourse is dominated by elected officials (or hopefuls), policy folks, academicians and researchers. And although we’ve heard plenty from the teachers unions, teachers themselves haven’t really much of a platform.  So, I was fascinated to learn about this new project called VIVA (Vision Idea Voice Action).  The project just kicked off last Monday as an incubated initiative of the New York Charter Schools Association. Here’s how it works. There are two moderated online conversations — one for teachers in New York, and one for teachers across the country — and these websites allow classroom teachers to engage directly in education policy.  They are tackling some meaty issues like Race to the Top and Title II, as well as teacher pay, burnout and class size.  Best of all, their ideas will be presented directly to U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  A small group of these teachers will be asked to write a summary of the action plan they are crafting now, and then to come for a private meeting with Arne in Washington, D.C. or New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in Albany. Classroom teachers helping to shape education policy…now, that’s a novel idea, eh?  I like it. The conversation will be going on for the next three weeks.  Check it out. COMMENT Submitted by drobinson on Tue, 10/05/2010 – 10:57am. Dear My Foot, We appreciate your comments, and just wanted to make sure you have the facts about charter schools.  Charter schools absolutely do not eliminate teacher unions. In fact, about 12 percent of charter schools are unionized.  It is always the teachers who decide whether or not they’d like to be unionized.  Oddly enough, when given that choice, most of the time charter teachers decide not to.  We at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools are neither pro-union nor anti-union.  We are pro-child and pro-achievement.  And by the way, we LOVE teachers. Submitted by My Foot on Mon, 10/04/2010 – 9:55pm. Charter Schools eliminate teacher unions and thus lower teacher and staff wages further, increasing the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Want to see teacher benefits vaporize along with weekends off? Charter Schools are union busting! Say NO to charter schools now!

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Let’s Hear it for the LA All Stars!

We think charter schools are among the best public schools in Los Angeles.  Of course, we might be a little biased.  But, guess what?  The California Department of Education (CDE) thinks so, too.  The CharterBlog just learned that five of the seven middle and high schools in Los Angeles invited by the CDE to apply for the 2011 California Distinguished Schools Award are charter schools. In order to be invited to apply for Distinguished School honors, schools must meet a variety of eligibility criteria including designated federal and state accountability measures based on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and the Academic Performance Index (API) requirements. Of the 27 middle and high schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District, only seven made the cut.  Of those seven schools, five are charters and the other two are highly selective magnet schools. Congratulations to  Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy, Granada Hills Charter High School, ICEF Vista Middle Academy, KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory and Port of Los Angeles High.  These outstanding charter schools have done a great job of serving a diverse student population, especially those student groups who statewide have historically underperformed like Hispanic, socioeconomically disadvantaged, English Language Learners and students with disabilities.  Way to go!

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Another Mid-Term Victory

Whatever your thoughts about the mid-term elections, it’s clear we will have many new faces in state capitols, governors’ mansions and at the U.S. Capitol. The vast majority of these newly-elected people were not voted in purely on an education platform. However, many of them ran in part as education reformers, and on a night where seemingly everyone was concerned about red and blue, it was the color purple that surprised me most.  Candidates from both parties who are supporters of substantive education reform in general, and charter schools in particular, were elected from every region of the country. Some notable examples include Janet Barresi, the new Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction who helped found two charter schools in Oklahoma City and Delaware’s new U.S. Senator, Chris Coons also knows his way around education reform issues. John Hickenlooper, governor-elect from my home state of Colorado, and Joe Walsh, a newly-elected U.S. Representative from Illinois are also friends of education reform. While it’s too early to say exactly how these new players will affect key education issues, it is another indication of the growing support for high-quality education from both parties.  Who can say whether we’ll see the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a third round of Race to the Top funding, or improvements to weak charter laws in several states?  It’s anyone’s guess. But, I do know that if there’s one issue everyone can agree to work on, it’s education. Voters had a lot on their minds this election season, and school reform was admittedly a few notches down from hot-button issues like jobs and the economy. Yet, buoyed by the release of “Waiting for Superman,” the attention of Oprah Winfrey and a solid two months of news coverage on the issue, education reform has dominated political discourse like never before.  While it still falls shy of being a deciding issue for voters, more and more people are holding their elected officials accountable for improving public education for all students.

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Finally, the “ Waiting for Superman” Is Over

This has been whirlwind week for education reform.  “Superman” is finally here.  It will be the topic of the Oprah show today, and I’m told there are some big surprises coming for a group of great charter schools.  Time magazine devoted a cover to this issue last week, and last Wednesday night I went to the Washington, D.C. premier of “Waiting for Superman,” a  new documentary about some of the major challenges facing America’s education system.  It was like Hollywood on the Potomac.  All of D.C.’s beautiful people came together with the education wonks and official Washington, and we were all talking about how to make our schools better. It was a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time. It is a tremendous time in education reform when an acclaimed advocacy filmmaker (An Inconvenient Truth’s Davis Guggenheim) takes on the crisis in education and the tangle of policy challenges we face every day. The result is an unprecedented opportunity for a true national discourse on reform. The film has rightfully attracted interest and attention from all areas of education and I’m  happy, because it means many who have been talking about education policy around private conference tables have come together to speak now around a bigger and more public table. For years, folks on all sides of this issue have debated the best and most effective ways to fix public education. In fact, there are so many different ideas about what to do fix  first, there is sometimes a paralysis of indecision. However, “Waiting for Superman” reminds us that it is simpler than we think. If you back away from the nuances of policy far enough to look at the children who are really the focus of this work, it becomes a lot clearer. If we can all remember to put children first and make decisions based on what is best for them, we’ll find that we agree on more than we think. In fact, I bet we agree on more than we don’t. The door opened by this film brings the conversations to the widest and most influential group, the public, and that is as it should be. Public education is, after all, a public trust. If we’re going to achieve the long-term, systemic change that public education needs, we’ve got to use this opportunity to make sure the people in every community understand and engage on this issue and build the highest quality public school system this country has ever seen. COMMENT Submitted by mrs t on Tue, 09/21/2010 – 12:22am. I cannot wait for this documentary. I work at a new (4th year) inner city charter and our entire staff is going to watch it together. I am currently reading “Whatever it takes” about the founder of the Harlem Childrens Zone schools. It is so inspiring to read/learn about what other schools are doing right, especially when all we hear are negative things and criticism about education

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Oprah Gives Millions for Charter Children

Charter schools just got the gift of a lifetime.  Yesterday, Oprah Winfrey  gave out the last Oprah’s Angel Network grants – and the recipients were all charter schools.  How’s that for going out with a bang? The September  20, 2010 episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show”  was dedicated to the new documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” and featured a special presentation of  $1 million grants by Ms. Winfrey to six high-performing charter school networks.  These organizations were recognized for producing great student outcomes and living out the spirit of  “Waiting for Superman” with the great work they do every day. Congratulations to The Mastery Charter Schools of Philadelphia; Aspire Public Schools in California; Denver School of Science and Technology; LEARN Charter School in Chicago; New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy; and YES Prep Public Schools in Houston. Ms. Winfrey will continue the conversation on the “Oprah” Show’s LIVE episode on Friday, September 24, 2010.  I’m told it will be a rich dialogue including many more voices with a stake in public education.  Stay tuned…

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It’s National School Choice Week!

Today, folks across the country are kicking off the first-ever National School Choice Week. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is proud to join more than 150 other organizations in acknowledging the need for greater educational options for America’s children. I celebrated the start of the week by participating in a Town Hall meeting in Charlotte, N.C., today.  I was proud to join a group of community leaders, parents and elected officials who are committed to making sure all students have access to a high quality education.  I was even more proud to see that charter schools are recognized as a critical component of school choice.  North Carolina has had a cap of 100 charter schools since its charter law was enacted in 1996. That cap, which was reached more than a decade ago, has effectively halted charter school growth and replication in the state.  But after what I saw today, I am encouraged and I hope the cap is going to be lifted soon. I was also encouraged to hear about some of the fantastic work happening in other states.  Here are just a couple of the events going on this week:
  • A bipartisan coalition of Missouri legislators called today for changes aimed to help failing urban schools and give parents more choices. Among the items on the agenda: Expanding charter schools, which are now permitted only in St. Louis and Kansas City, to the rest of the state.
  • Grandmas for Charter Schools will host Coffee House meetings daily during National School Choice Week.  These ladies will be giving out information on school choice options in Albany, N.Y., signing up folks for the Parent Army and registering parents to vote!
  • Grammy Award-winning recording artist Patti Austin will host an evening of entertainment at the “Get Real about Education Musical Town Hall,” an event to inspire a vision for the future of Dallas-area public schools.
There are tons of other great things happening, and if you’d like to tell us about yours…please post a comment below.  We’d love to hear about it! Comment Submitted by Ted Fujimoto (not verified) on Fri, 01/28/2011 – 4:08am. For Dallas Event with Patti Austin, RSVP at http://getrealabouteducationdallas-estw.eventbrite.com Enjoy an evening of entertainment and inspiration toward a vision for the future of Dallas area public schools with Grammy winner Patti Austin, local artist Matt Wilson, and inspirational speakers. The event will also launch the Right to Succeed Dallas Chapter, an effort to transform public education in the Dallas area and cut the dropout rate in half over the next five years. This free family event is open to all ages. Click to view the powerful video about the Right to Succeed and the National School Choice Week cause! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CIPm1pxHWw www.RightToSucceed.org

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How Do Charters Find Great Leaders?

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) understands supporting the growing number of high-quality charter schools takes a huge commitment.  It means finding and developing a great number of talented leaders.  At NAPCS, we think we can help by sharing some of the promising practices in place at public charter schools across the country. “ASSESS, Coordinate, Execute: How to ACE an Executive Director Search” describes how you can find the next leader for your charter school and is the second publication in our year-long “Charter People” campaign to spotlight and address human capital issues in the charter movement. We kicked off the campaign with an issue brief detailing how charter schools hire teachers.  We hope these publications are useful to those of you working out in the field. We also want to hear from you.  We want to know about your school, your job, your greatest successes, your biggest challenges and your ideas for how to improve public education.  Help us by telling us about a great charter school leader you know.  Post a message on our Facebook wall or send a tweet with the hashtag #charterpeople.  We’ll continue to share what we learn.

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Public Charter Schools Engage Students and Empower Teachers

Anyone who is serious about improving the quality of public education should support the incredible contributions of public charter schools, which are proving in community after community that all kids can learn and achieve.

Some of the most vocal critics of charter schools don’t seem to understand what public charters actually are or how they work. Charter schools — which are disproportionately located in low-income communities — are public schools where all of the students have proactively made a choice to enroll. Similarly, teachers at charters proactively choose to teach in these schools, which often have far less red tape and more freedom to innovate.

Read the complete entry  on the Huffington Post. 

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Ohio Takes a Step in the Right Direction by Requiring Transparency

Ten Ohio public charter schools are in the process of completely severing ties with a private charter management company that has been under intense scrutiny for mismanaging the schools’ funds. The resolution of this dispute will allow charter school leaders to focus on quality, which is seen in student achievement, and other pivotal issues like cultivating a collaborative culture for parents, teachers and students. Their efforts are exemplary—these proceedings are a testament to the level of accountability and transparency all charter school leaders and operators should continually strive. I expounded on this issue in the Huffington Post.

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Are You Walking Away from a Chance for Funds?

It’s well-established charter schools get less public funding than their district counterparts. But charters may also be ignoring some competitive-funding opportunities.   So said the Government Accountability Office in a report issued last December. GAO identified 47 federal discretionary grant programs for which charter schools are eligible, but found a lot of confusion among charter operators and advocates about who could apply for what. Very few charter schools that are part of district-LEAs have stepped up, apparently believing the district itself had to apply. Yet two-thirds of the federal programs explicitly specify public schools or non-profit organizations are eligible. Adding to that confusion is a real catch-22: Among the charter respondents, 44 percent said they didn’t apply for federal grants because they lacked the resources. Translation: They’re too poorly-funded to hire grant writers. The good news is at least one-quarter of the charters that applied during the 2008-2009 school year received an award, which the Department of Education noted is a higher win-rate than that of average applicants. In fact, the Department said it’s been working to make sure charter operators know their rights. In a formal response to GAO, Jim Shelton of the US Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement pointed out the Department has already put language making charter-eligibility explicit in most of the grant competitions they run, and is working with other agencies like the Justice Department and Housing and Urban Development Department to make sure they do the same. (We forget too often it’s not just “Education” that makes funding available for schools!). Also, the National Charter School Resource Center will post notices like this one on its site and is developing a direct e-capacity to get word directly to schools.   Discretionary grants won’t make up for the full gap charters experience, but let’s not make it worse by leaving available dollars on the table.