Charter Blog by Title


Renita Thukral


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A Legal Question for Charter Schools: Can We Operate a Single-Gender Charter School in Delaware?

In early January, a federal district court in Delaware was asked to consider a very tricky question: would closing an academically failing all-girls charter school (as the school’s authorizer recommended) violate the federal constitutional ban against gender discrimination? The all-girls school argued it would; the state of Delaware argued it would not and emphasized the state’s authority and obligation to close failing charter schools. The court sided with the school. As a result, the academically failing all-girls charter school will continue to operate for an additional year.

This feels like an odd result: A court permits a failing school to continue operating, even though the school’s authorizer says it needs to close. What’s going on?

The federal constitution and Title IX require boys and girls to have substantially equivalent access to educational opportunities. Right now, there is an all-boys charter school operating in Delaware. It performs well and continues to be renewed. The failing all-girls charter school in question is the state’s only all-girls charter school.  If it is closed, no equivalent educational option would exist for Delaware girls.  Further complicating matters, new single-gender charter schools cannot open in Delaware because the statutory provision permitting such schools sunset on June 30, 2013.

Taken together, the court determined that closing the only all-girls charter school combined with the state’s statutory ban against opening a new all-girls charter school would indefinitely prevent Delaware girls from accessing a substantially equivalent education, as is required under binding Supreme Court precedent interpreting Title IX in this context (established in 1995 in United States v. Virginia). Even though this means Delaware girls may continue choosing and attending a failing school for another year, the federal district court felt its hands were tied.

Nora Kern


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A Moment of Truth for the No Excuses Public Charter Schools

An article by Robert Pondiscio in the Spring edition of Education Next looks at “no excuses” public charter school networks (CMOs) at a critical juncture. These networks stake their reputation on college-prep coursework and college acceptance rates, but is their focus actually translating into college completion? Now is the “put up, or shut up” moment for networks like KIPP, who has 1,000 former students in college in the 2012-13 school year. The number will surge to 10,000 KIPP graduates in colleges in just three academic years.

Schools like KIPP and YES Prep, who tout their graduates’ college acceptance rates, are also transparent about their struggle to boost college completion rates. The six-year college completion rate for KIPP middle school graduates is 33 percent. Despite YES Prep’s 100 percent college acceptance rate, their six-year college completion rate is 41 percent.

But true to their no excuses credo, these networks are aggressively forging ahead with ways to support their graduates through the uphill battle to a college degree. Besides academic preparedness, there are many obstacles to college success, ranging from difficulty completing financial aid forms to the myriad distractions that come with campus life. To address these issues, KIPP and other no excuses charter networks are forming partnerships with colleges which aim to demystify college life and create meaningful support networks for minority and first-generation college attendees. Additionally, character education emphasizing “grit” and perseverance is increasingly being incorporated into the charter school cultures. Even with the odds against them—only one out of every 12 low-income black and Hispanic students who are accepted to college earns a bachelor’s degree—the no excuses schools are sticking to their mantra.








KIPP classroom. San Francisco, California. © Allison V. Smith



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A New Guide to Teacher Merit Pay

One of the greatest flexibilities given to public charter schools is the ability to design their own personnel policies when it comes to recruiting, hiring, and retaining teachers. For many charter schools, this includes the use of “merit pay” for teachers.

For the first several years of its operation, the charter school that I serve on the board of used a traditional single-salary structure that was identical to one used by the school district. Our board and school leader recognized that the traditional system did not provide us the flexibility we needed to compensate teachers based on outcomes or, more importantly, give us the tools needed to retain excellent teachers. We removed the annual step increases based on earned degrees and replaced it with a system that takes into account the qualifications, experiences, and annual outcomes we expect from the teaching staff. We also reviewed average salaries in nearby school districts to make sure that we remained competitive. The new system includes an incentive component based on individual teacher and school-wide student performance goals. We based the system on examples from other charter schools in the area, but it would have been nice to have had evidence from around the country to inform the development of our teacher compensation system.

An aptly titled new book, A Straightforward Guide to Teacher Merit Pay, by researchers Gary Ritter and Joshua Barnett, provides a great resource for public charter schools and charter networks that may be in the process of implementing merit pay or revising an existing compensation system. The book pulls together existing research on merit pay and provides sound advice for developing a system that will work within the context of the school. I plan to bring the book to my board this year when we review our compensation system.

In addition to providing solid information about the principles of a well-crafted teacher merit pay system, the book includes a chapter that presents evidence-based responses to 12 common criticisms of merit pay systems. You may have heard some of them:

  • Teacher merit is too hard to measure.
  • Merit pay would unfairly reward the teachers of the brightest students and further discourage teachers from working with low-performing students.
  • The use of merit pay will further encourage the unhealthy strategy of “teaching to the test.”

The discussion of these criticisms is presented in a well-reasoned way that would allow for a healthier debate on the use of merit pay.






Photo via google images


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A Portrait of 2012 Hall of Fame Inductee Jim Griffin

The staff at the Colorado League of Charter Schools is extremely proud that Jim Griffin will be receiving the National Hall of Fame award in Minneapolis next week. There’s no question it’s a well deserved honor.

Those who know Jim Griffin know that he’s a wealth of charter school information. I don’t think there is a charter school fact, figure or statistic that the man doesn’t have on the top of his head. As his Communications Director, I vow to get most of that information out of his brain and onto paper one of these days if it kills me.

Those who know Jim also know that he’s someone you can call for advice or assistance on almost anything charter school related. He is a true mentor to other charter support organizations around the country. And it’s no coincidence that 95 percent of Colorado charter schools choose to be members of the Colorado League of Charter Schools (yes that was a typical communications director plug – I can’t help myself). Jim never stops thinking and innovating new ways to help charter schools be successful, whether it’s through a policy change, a new service or an entirely new strategic plan.

But what baffles me though is how Jim Griffin never runs out of energy. Not only does he have four young children at home….he’s been at this charter school “game” for nearly 20 years — since he was a kid in law school. And he is still energized by it.

Jim Griffin-family









A long, long time ago (19 years ago or so), Jim Griffin was a 20-something in law school reading the Rocky Mountain News (back when Denver was a two newspaper town). And he came across an article about a new charter school law in Colorado. He was intrigued and wanted to know more. So he contacted the Colorado League of Charter Schools, which was then a small group of people meeting to try to figure out how to move said law forward. Jim offered to trade law services to this group if they would let him sit in on their meetings and learn more about the charter school law. His intent was to write a paper for law school.

Little did he know from then on his phone would never stop ringing. Jim jokes about these phone calls coming into his then bachelor pad and irritating his roommates. But when you think about it, the story is nothing less than remarkable. As they say, the rest is history…..Jim became the first and only Executive Director (President) of the Colorado League of Charter Schools and he remains at that helm today. It’s hard to imagine Jim in any other role. I would venture to say he is where he was destined to be and the charter world is better because of it.

In the four years that I’ve worked for Jim I have gained the utmost respect for him. While most know he’s an extremely hard worker. Not everyone sees his commitment to his family. Jim and his wife Holly have four young children. And I’ve never seen someone in Jim’s role professionally so devoted to family. The Colorado League of Charter Schools is a true family environment. It’s nice to know if any of us need to be home with our families that Jim respects and supports that.

Jim Griffin-family2







In 2013, Colorado will celebrate 20 years since its charter school law was passed. And while he will hate that I’m saying this – we also celebrate 20 years since the charter school community gained one of its most valuable leaders – Jim Griffin.
And with that, I’ll stop while I’m ahead as most people who know Jim Griffin also know he isn’t known for being warm and fuzzy. And he definitely isn’t one who likes to celebrate his own accomplishments. Yes, considering all he has to offer the charter school community, the man is also humble. The fact that we have convinced him to walk across the stage next week and accept his Hall of Fame award is an accomplishment in itself.

So, when you see Jim Griffin at the national conference next week, be sure to give him a big hug and congratulate him on his award. He will just LOVE that!

(And now…I’ll start updating my resume as I’m guessing I’ll be on the job market after Jim reads this blog, LOL!).

Stacy Rivera, Director of Communications, Colorado League of Charter Schools


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A Snapshot of Public Charter Schools Waiting List Numbers by Region

Yesterday, we discussed waiting list trends across the country, including the findings from a national survey of public charter schools conducted we conducted in the spring of 2012 that estimates that there were 610,000 students on waiting lists to attend public charter schools before the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year.

While the national picture of demand for public charter schools remains strong, let’s look at the findings more closely. Many states and jurisdictions reported large numbers of students on waiting lists to attend public charter schools in the 2011-12 school year:

The fact that New York City, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles have high waiting list numbers is no surprise. They are all “Top 10” Districts in terms of serving the highest numbers of public charter school students according to our annual market share report. But despite the high concentration of public charter schools and students in these urban centers, parent demand for charter schools continues to outpace supply.


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A Teacher’s Dream-Come-True

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. We asked some of these individuals to tell us why they are a part of the charter schools movement.

My name is Joy Souza, and I’m a Kindergarten Teacher and the Kindergarten Chair at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy (BVP) in Cumberland, Rhode Island.  I left my traditional public school teaching position three years ago to become a founding teacher of BVP.  With very little knowledge of what public charter schools were about, and no exposure to a high expectations model, I accepted a teaching position based solely on the fact that my mission as an educator, and the mission of Blackstone Valley Prep were the same: To put 100 percent of our scholars on a path to college.

Over the past three years, I have watched BVP grow into an organization that now consists of three campuses, serving scholars in grades K-2 and 5-6, with the intent of becoming a K-12 organization within the next six years.  Our schools educate children from four Rhode Island communities that provide rich economic and cultural diversity.  This urban-suburban mix of scholars consists of 43 percent of who speak a language other than English at home and 65 percent who qualify for free or reduced lunch.  The same high expectations, however, apply to all. And 100 percent are now college bound.
Our scholars’ levels of achievement have been nothing short of impressive.  Last year, Rhode Island’s Commissioner of Education, Deborah Gist, recognized BVP by stating the following: “All 152 of the kindergarten and first grade students at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy who took the Developmental Reading Assessment this year scored proficient or better.  To our knowledge, this is the first time in Rhode Island that every student at a school scored proficient or better on this early-grade assessment!”  Equally as impressive is the fact that in just one year, BVP sixth graders required to take the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), showed a 25 percent gain in reading and a 41 percent gain in math from the year before, ranking well above the state averages.

Such successes as these do not come easy.  Blackstone Valley Prep scholars attend school for over eight hours a day, 190 days a year.  Teachers work tirelessly by planning and delivering the highest level of instruction.  Our commitment to our scholars and their families means that teachers are on call every night and do home visits that allow us to make valuable family connections.  Our systematic data collection is used informatively and strategically to drive our instruction and identify the individual needs of our scholars.  Our school’s high expectations for all our scholars, and unwillingness to fail at getting them to meet those expectations, are commonalities shared by teachers, staff, and parents at BVP.  Beginning with the first day of kindergarten, our scholars are introduced to our school’s core values of perseverance, respect, integrity, discipline and enthusiasm, PRIDE as we call it, which contributes to a positive school culture that is experienced by scholars, staff and families, alike.

Although my high expectations and desire to see all my scholars go to college certainly keeps me at BVP, I choose to teach there for selfish reasons, too.  I participate and lead weekly professional development. I regularly visit successful schools to learn what others are doing. I am a part of a culture that includes teachers in decisions that are typically reserved only for administrators.  I collaborate daily with a staff of educators in which 100 percent of them share the same values and high expectations that I do, and are aligned to a common mission.  Does it sound like a teacher’s Dream-Come-True?  Well, it absolutely is.  Charter schools not only provide choice for parents wanting something different for their child than what their traditional public school system offers, it also gives choice to teachers, like me, who have unique and innovative ideas about education.









Author: Joy Souza, Kindergarten Teacher and Kindergarten Chair, Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy (BVP) in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

Pamela Davidson


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A Win for Graduates of Virtual Charter Schools

Enlisting in the U.S. Armed Forces is a tremendous opportunity for many young people to serve their country. However, for graduates of non-traditional high schools (virtual charter schools, online and blended learning schools, and home schools) this opportunity has been stymied due to a U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) policy that limited the ability of students who attended non-traditional high schools to enlist in the military. Recently, the National Alliance was successful in working with Congress to secure a provision in federal law to change DOD’s current policy and make clear that all students that receive a state-issued diploma must be treated equally for the purposes of military enlistment.

For many years, based on outdated data, DOD has treated students attending non-traditional high schools differently than those who attend traditional “brick and mortar” schools. In 2011, the National Alliance worked with congressional supporters to change this unfair policy. A provision in the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required DOD to give all graduates with a state-issued high school diploma, including graduates of non-traditional high schools, the same opportunity to enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces. However, in June 2012, DOD announced a new policy requiring students who graduated from non-traditional high schools to score higher on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) than students who attended traditional high schools in order to be eligible for military service. Thus, creating a disadvantage for non-traditional high school graduates.

In June 2013, U.S. Representatives John Kline (R-MN), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Rob Andrews (D-NJ), and Jared Polis (D-CO) offered an amendment to the House FY2014 NDAA bill to prohibit DOD from requiring different levels of attainment on any assessment or screening tool for all graduates, and prohibiting DOD from creating different standards on any assessment or screening tool based on the type of high school a student attended. In November, Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered the same amendment to the Senate NDAA bill. In the end, this provision was included in the final NDAA bill, which was signed into law by the president last month.

This change to DOD recruitment and enlistment policy is a big victory for the charter schools community—particularly graduates of virtual charter schools—because it ensures equal treatment for graduates who wish to join the U.S. military and serve their country. The National Alliance appreciates the work of these members of Congress who championed this effort on our behalf to ensure all graduates who want to serve in the U.S. military have an equal opportunity to enlist.

Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Nora Kern


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Academic Performance in Charter Schools: A Year in Review

As 2013 comes to a close, here is a look at a few studies released this year on the academic performance in charter schools. From major multi-year reports to working papers, these are a few findings that are worth keeping on your radar:

  • Overall Academic Achievement. The 2013 national CREDO study looked at charter schools in 27 states through the 2010-2011 school year, covering 95 percent of students attending charter schools across the country. Overall, the study found that students in public charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average seven days of learning per year, and performing as well as students in traditional public schools in math. The results were particularly impressive for students from certain demographic backgrounds—such as English Language Learners and minority students.
  • Raising the Bar for All Schools. Yusuke Jinnai, a Ph.D candidate in Economics at the University of Rochester, examinedthe impact of opening public charter schools on achievement levels for students at neighboring district schools in North Carolina. He found that traditional public schools do in fact respond to the presence of public charter schools; further, the paper debunks the myth that the success of public charter schools comes at the detriment of neighboring traditional public schools. In North Carolina, public charter schools contribute to education reform by serving low-performing students and encouraging high standards of performance for nearby traditional public schools.
  • Measuring Results. A Mathematica study  found that KIPP middle schools have a strong and meaningful impact on student performance. For example, KIPP schools reduced the achievement gap in math between white and black students by 40 percent. The study also examined the characteristics of students attending KIPP middle schools and found little evidence that KIPP schools only succeed by taking high performing students out of district schools. And similar to results from the KIPP study on attrition, this study finds that attrition rates for KIPP schools are the same as traditional public schools.
  • Making Sure All Students Succeed. A working paper by Ron Zimmer and Cassandra Guarino provides additional evidence that public charter schools are not pushing out low-performing students. The study examined patterns of student transfers in an anonymous school district with more than 60 charter schools. The study found no evidence that public charter schools were more likely to push out low-performing students. Conversely, the study finds that below-average students were five percent more likely to leave traditional public schools than below-average students in charter schools.
  • Predicting Future Success. The CREDO two volume study, Charter School Growth and Expansion, tackled a range of research questions including a ranking of charter school networks based on student achievement in math and reading. It also introduced a paradigm shift in terms of thinking about charter school quality: namely, that early performance of charter schools almost entirely predicts future performance. In other words, if a charter school starts out low-performing, it has a very slim chance of making improvements. This is sobering but important information about what we can expect from charter school performance and for shaping how we think about ensuring all charters are high-quality schools.

This year proved, yet again, that charter schools continue to offer high-quality options to parents and families. For more information on other studies of charter school performance, check out our compilation of studies that have been conducted on public charter school student performance since 2010.

Nora Kern is the senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Christy Wolfe


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Accountability Standards for Teacher Prep Programs Overdue

The National Alliance joined a coalition of 23 leaders in the education reform movement in issuing a letter calling for the Obama Administration to seek public comments on its draft Higher Education Act (HEA) rules which would shine a spotlight on teacher preparation program quality, programs that receive approximately $4 billion each year from the federal government. These draft regulations were released in early 2012 but haven’t moved forward since then.

In order to address concerns with the quality of teacher preparation programs and to identify high quality, as well as low-performing programs, the U.S. Department of Education proposed rules that would require states to:

1. Meaningfully assess teacher preparation program performance; and
2. Hold programs accountable for results.

The rule-making panel didn’t agree on all points, but did agree that the quality of a teacher preparation program should be directly linked to the student outcomes of their graduates. The next step in the process is for the U.S. Department to issue the proposed rules for public comment, but they are apparently stuck in the Administration’s clearance process.

Whether a school is a traditional or public charter school, teacher quality matters.  Teacher preparation programs play a critical role in preparing teachers for success in the classroom. Effective teachers are the single most important school-based factor in student learning and are critical to successful schools. Particularly in high-poverty schools, teachers can mean the difference between students meeting grade level expectations or falling farther behind. The stakes are too high for students; teacher preparation programs should be held accountable for not preparing teachers well.

Despite requirements that have been in current law for more than 10 years, for states to assess teacher preparation programs and identify the lowest performers, less than 3 percent of all colleges and universities with teacher training programs have been identified as low-performing, and most states have never identified a single low-performing program.

Now is the time to move forward with meaningful reporting and accountability to ensure that low-performing teacher preparation programs are improved.

Christine Wolfe is a senior policy advisor at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


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Achievement and Innovation as Mission Critical: Reflections from a Charter School Founder

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. We asked some of these individuals to tell us why they are a part of the charter schools movement.

The future is uncertain.  Our world is rapidly changing.  What we do, what we know, and our general way of being is fantastically different today than it was ten years ago, and will be different ten years from now than it is today.  We, as a movement and profession, must operate innovatively to ensure our children can keep pace with our changing world.  With this message, I’ll depart Music City for our nation’s capital and meet with congressional leaders during National Charter Schools Week.

Innovation has always been a key attribute of the charter school movement; however, now more than ever, we have the responsibility to progressively push education reform forward in ways that both advance the field but also, and more importantly, get results – significant results.  Innovation devoid of achievement is for naught.

As a professional field, we know a great deal about what works in educating children.  For instance, we know direct, systematic, explicit instruction is the most effective practice in teaching basic skills and advancing the learning of struggling readers, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners.  We also know teachers who formatively measure performance are more effective in raising student achievement.  We know investing students in their education is critical.  At STEM Prep, we believe these and related practices are simply best practice.  We’ve implemented every scientifically researched-based practice that aligns to our mission and model.  However, we don’t believe these practices are innovative; we believe they’re responsible and simply what good schools do every day.

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 mindrequired 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.

To this end, the principle questions since STEM Prep’s inception have been:  How do we educate children to keep pace with our rapidly changing environment?  What are the requisite habits of mind that must transcend time, discipline, and reform effort in ways that ensure our children can compete?  How do we move beyond mastery of very basic, rudimentary skills to more rigorous modes of thinking and problem solving?

These are the discussions in which my charter school colleagues are engaged across the country.  As I prepare to meet with congressional leaders next week, I’m energized by the opportunity to dive deeply into these mission critical questions.  Achievement and innovation, after all, are the drivers of this movement and our country.

Kristin McGraner, Ed.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of STEM Preparatory Academy in Nashville, TN. To learn more about STEM Prep Academy, please see their website and video.