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Pamela Davidson

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A Changing of the Guard

The announcement by U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA) that he will retire at the end of the year means education reform advocates will lose a faithful friend on Capitol Hill. But his tireless efforts on federal education and workforce policies to improve the lives of children and families will leave an impression that will not soon be forgotten. Representative Miller has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 40 years. He is the senior democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, serving as chairman from 2007-2010, where he championed education reform issues that have strengthened public schools. As one of the “big four,” he worked with (then) Chairman John Boehner (R-OH), Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) to enact the No Child Left Behind Act. He has advocated for high-standards for all students, especially the most disadvantaged, and fought to hold schools accountable for student achievement. In 2011, Representative Miller teamed up with Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) to write H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act. H.R. 2218 updated the federal Charter Schools Program that provides critical start-up funds for new, replicating and expanding charter schools, as well as support for charter school facilities. During House debate on the bill, Representative Miller stated: “Charter schools have been on the forefront of bold ideas and innovation in education. They have shown that, given the right tools, all students can achieve at high levels. We are learning from great charter schools about what works for students and what students need to be able to compete in the global economy. Replicating this success will help our students, our communities, and our economy.” H.R. 2218 was one of the only bipartisan education bills to pass the House with an overwhelming majority. In 2013, Rep. Miller was recognized by the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) as their “Elected Official of the Year” with the Hart Vision Award, which honors individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in education. We thank Rep. Miller for his service to our nation. Pam Davidson is senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities (7th Edition)

Today we released the seventh edition of our annual market share report, A Growing Movement: America’s Largest School Communities. This year marks unprecedented nationwide growth for public charter schools. For the first time ever, 110 school districts have 10 percent of their students enrolled in public charter schools in the 2011-2012 academic year (96 in 2010-2011). A record 25 school districts have more than 20 percent of students enrolled in charter schools, and seven school districts enroll at least 30 percent of public school students in charter schools. Back in 2006, when we first released the report, there were six school districts with more than 20 percent and only one district with more than 30 percent of students enrolled in charter schools. There wasn’t any movement in the top spots for market share and total charter enrollment: New Orleans remains number one with 76 percent of students enrolled in charter schools and Los Angeles keeps the top spot with nearly 100,000 students attending charter schools. Clark County rocketed to the top of the list of high growth with 64 percent more students attending charter schools in 2011-2012 than in the previous academic year. The map below presents data from the three lists of school districts with the highest charter school market share, enrollment, and growth. The geographic display of the data shows that school districts with high concentrations of students enrolled in charter schools are more likely to be located in the Midwest and Northeast regions of the country (the green bubbles). In contrast, a large portion of the districts with high growth in the number of charter school students are located in the South and West regions (the orange bubbles). School districts with large numbers of students enrolled in charter schools are spread out across the nation (the blue bubbles). Enrollment in charter schools is on the rise because they are demonstrating that success is possible even in neighborhoods where some schools have been failing for generations. Click here for a higher resolution version of the map below. small map for display
Nora Kern

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A Home and a Family at School: Daniel’s Story

NYOSDaniel Langford, a 12th grade student at NYOS Charter School in Austin, Texas tells us what he enjoyed about his high school experience–especially the many teachers who have influenced him–and how he feels prepared to achieve his future goals. Q: What do you like about attending your school? There’s so much! It was a big contrast from my old school. I got bullied in 4th grade, so my mom put me on the waitlist for NYOS. I got in in 5th grade. One of the main things I’ve seen that is different at NYOS is because it is so small, you get to know your teachers better. Because of the small student teacher ratio, you can go to them whenever you need to—which really helps your academics. I would stay after school in physics and the teacher would work out problems with me. Q: What is your school culture like? I love the school…I almost don’t want to go to college and leave. This is my second home. No matter what your home situation is, [NYOS] is a home for you. NYOS is a family, and we all know each other. That is very powerful. I can walk through the high school building, and I can turn to any person and they are there for me. Whatever it is, everyone is there for each other…We all respect each other. We can all graduate as friends. Q: Who is your favorite teacher and why? My freshman year, Mr. Thompson started band class. His personality and discipline is great for band. Our second band concert had so much energy. You can see that he really enjoys what he does, and students can see that. It’s obvious if you don’t enjoy teaching, and that impacts student learning. Ms. Hill was one of the hardest English teachers I’ve ever had, but I learned so much. You aren’t babysat in college and she helped prepare me for that. Mr. Pfaff had a quote, “never stop trying and never quit.” He’s an avid runner and I am too, so we connected through that. He chose to make a difference through teaching here. Mr. Sinkar – I had him for physics, and I was so blessed to have him. We had great projects and he cares so much. I had Mr. Perrmann for 11-12 grade band. He enjoys what he does. He’s really young, but that is nice because he can connect with the students. There’s a good mix of teacher experience levels here. Q: What are your plans after graduation? I want to go to ACC (Austin Community College) and get the basics out of the way and figure out what I want to do…maybe music. High school is an important time in your life because the choices you make mold you for later in life. If you’re stressed or make bad choices, your life could be different. Being at NYOS has prepared me for life. I’ll walk across the stage to get my diploma. There have been bumps and bruises along the way, but I’m standing. Enjoy life! This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.   Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 
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. ©allisonvsmith-KIPP6             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. www.publiccharters.org           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
Nina Rees

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A Real Threat to the Status Quo

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report)

Campbell Brown, the journalist-turned-education-reformer, has been in the news a lot lately. Her Partnership for Educational Justice recently filed suit in New York, challenging the city’s teacher tenure laws. The organization is chaired by David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the contested presidential election of 2000 and recently argued against California’s ban on gay marriage. Brown and Boies have pledged to file several other suits around the country, focused on upending the status quo in education.

Opponents have already cried foul, questioning Brown’s credentials and the motives of her funders. But what Brown brings to the table is not only an ability to fight in the court of law but to win in the court of public opinion. That explains why her advocacy has attracted such vitriol by opponents – they see it as a real threat. For education reformers, the work is encouraging, since she has the potential to galvanize public support…. Read more here.

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