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Are Charter School Students Worth Less?

In advance of the release of its 2012 Model Public Charter School Law rankings, NAPCS will chronicle some of the most critical—and contentious—aspects of the model law that played out in the past state legislative cycle. This guest blog by Eileen Sigmund, President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, examines issues with funding equity (Model Law Component 18).

Are some students worth less or worthless?  When it comes to Arizona’s antiquated school funding system, students are treated differently. Charter students are funded, on average, $1,500 less per student than their district peers.

These funding disparities are unjust, and an Arizona lawsuit seeks a basic American principle: that all children in public schools receive an equally good education, backed by similar, adequate resources. A recent ruling by the Maricopa County Superior Court in the lawsuit Craven et al. v. State of Arizona et al. confirmed that Arizona’s public charter school students are Arizona public school students entitled to the Arizona Constitution’s educational privileges just like the state’s public district school students.

This ruling came after the State and others argued that public district school students and public charter school students are not members of a similarly situated group of citizens. The State has maintained that Arizona’s pubic charter school students occupy an inferior, secondary supplemental level in Arizona’s public school hierarchy. The recent ruling rejects that argument.

In light of the ruling, the remainder of this litigation will focus on the determination of whether Arizona’s K-12 student finance scheme is constitutional. To be upheld, the system must be rational, reasonable and not arbitrary, discriminatory or capricious. Trial is set for Fall 2012.

We cannot treat some students as if they are worth less than others. For more information, visit


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Are Newer Studies Finding Greater Charter School Performance Effects?

The recent CREDO study of New Jersey charter schools showed positive results for charter schools across the state, and really quite remarkable results for charter schools in Newark (read more about the study herehere, and here). The findings come on the heels of a couple of additional reports from CREDO since the large study in 2009 that showed positive results for charter schools in Indiana/Indianapolis and New York City.

Here’s our prediction: studies that show positive results for charter schools may be foreshadowing positive results to come. And we make this prediction based on evidence from studies over the past decade. Take a look at the figure below.

NAPCS charter school effect sizes over time 2
















The figure plots out the impact from charter school studies released, by year, that qualified for the Betts & Tang meta-analysis, with the addition of significant studies released in 2011 and 2012. All of the studies used student-level, longitudinal data to compare the performance of students enrolled in charter schools with their counterparts in traditional public schools. The large circles indicate results from studies that used randomized field trial lottery designs and the smaller circles are results from studies that used other quasi-experimental research designs (e.g., student fixed-effects, student matching). The triangles represent results that were not statistically significant, but are included to demonstrate the direction of results. The dotted lines represent the overall effect sizes (ES) from the meta-analysis, by grade level and subject area.

The distribution of effect sizes indicates that findings from high-quality studies on charter school performance are trending positive, and getting bigger in more recent years. The dotted lines, which show the overall effect sizes from the meta-analysis, confirm this trend. In general, the meta-analysis found positive and statistically significant results from charter school studies for elementary and middle school grades. So it would not be a surprise if future studies show a similar pattern.

What could explain the upward trajectory in charter school performance effects in newer studies? There are a lot of possible explanations—here are just a few:

  • The charter school sector is maturing. While making sure that low-performing charter schools are closed is a priority (seeNACSA’s One Million Lives Campaign), authorizers, charter support organizations, up-and-coming school leaders, and charter schools that want to replicate are getting better at identifying the charter schools that will result in high quality learning environments. In other words, the charter sector is learning how to replicate success and take it to scale.

Other explanations are aligned with the research itself:

  • Newer studies are using better data. The data in the more recent studies include longer spans of academic years, as well as data from more recent years. And the studies include data from more states. Up to early 2009 when NAPCS released this charter school research synthesis, the years covered in studies only went through 2006-07 and 14 states out of 40 with charter schools had been examined. Now, the newer studies are examining charter schools through the most recent year of available data (2010-11) and including more states (up to 23 states at last count). The possible implication of this is twofold: 1) studies that use more years of data are able to capture charter schools operating longer, and as charter schools are around longer, they get better; 2) the inclusion of more states (with newer data) means that the early results from just a handful of states don’t outweigh the impact of charter schools in more locations.
  • Studies have become more sophisticated, using research designs that control for selection bias and student demographics.


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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.

Gina Mahony


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August Washington Update

August is a great time in Washington, D.C. Congress leaves town, many area residents go on vacation, and traffic is minimal. At the National Alliance, we are taking advantage of this quiet time to gear up for Congress’s return on September 9.

Fall Outlook

This New York Times article captures it best: once again, we are entering a high stakes budget and spending standoff, all of which must be resolved this fall. First, Congress must approve FY2014 spending levels by September 30, or the government will shut down. We anticipate that Congress will pass a short-term continuing resolution (known as a “CR”), which will keep all programs funded at FY2013 levels. This means that all federal education programs that are important to charter schools – Title I, IDEA, the CSP – will be funded at current levels.

There is bipartisan interest in trying to address the impact of the sequester – the across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect in March.  However, there are no easy solutions, given competing priorities and offsets. Finally, the debt ceiling must be raised again to ensure that the U.S. Government avoids a default. These issues are intertwined, and will have a significant impact on the budget for the U.S. Department of Education and all other programs.

As we wrote about in the July Washington Update, the House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  There is a possibility that the Senate will consider ESEA this fall; we will let you know when we hear more.

Government Accountability Office Report on ELL Students at Charter Schools

On August 15, Representatives George Miller (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) released a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the enrollment of English Language Learner (ELL) students in charter schools. This report was requested in 2011, and the National Alliance had been expecting its release.

In an unexpected development, the GAO was not able to conduct the study due to a lack of data. Specifically, in 14 states, the GAO reported that 60 percent of public charter schools are not reporting on ELL enrollment; in 5 of these states (including NY, NJ, and OH), between 80 percent and 100 percent of charter schools are not reporting. In addition to a lack of reporting on ELL enrollment, the GAO also reported a lack of reporting by charters on math and reading proficiency rates and graduation rates across many of the same states.

In response, we joined with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) in issuing a statement encouraging the charter school community – from operators to authorizers – to be more diligent in understanding their legal obligations to serve ELL students and report accurate data. We also believe that there is an important role for the U.S. Department of Education, state education agencies and school districts to ensure compliance and provide technical assistance as necessary. We are working with key stakeholders to address this issue, and will keep you updated on developments. It is worth noting that our experience in collecting ELL data from state departments of education shows that when data are available, charters report at a fairly high level. Meanwhile, we encourage all charter school operators to review and implement this toolkit produced by the National Alliance earlier this year to help the charter school community understand the legal issues surrounding serving the needs of ELL Students.

Phi Delta Kappa International/Gallup Poll

The 45th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, produced by Phi Delta Kappa International, an educators association, and Gallup was released last week. The survey found that nearly 70 percent of respondents support public charter schools.


The Obama Administration has launched an effort to update the E-rate program, which provides subsidized internet connections to schools and libraries. This could take up to 18 months, and is subject to a rulemaking process by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Digital Learning Now published a good policy brief on the E-Rate program, and the changes proposed by the FCC. As appropriate, the National Alliance will align with other education groups on comment letters or other actions.

Back-To-School – Host Your Member of Congress

The start of a new school year is an ideal time to invite your Congressman or U.S. Senator to visit your school. Elected officials love visiting schools, and a school visit is the best way to highlight the positive impact of public charter schools. Also, school visits are a critical step in building a relationship with your Member of Congress, because  it helps them understand the connection between the federal policy decisions they make in Washington and what is happening back home. School visits are a great opportunity to establish yourself, your organization, and your school as a public charter school resource for the Member and their staff. Inviting your Members of Congress is easy. Send a letter of invite by email or mail to the Congressman or Senator’s District Director or State Director (you can find this information on their website). The Member’s staff will know when the Congressman or Senator will be in town, and should be willing to work with you to set up a visit.

Find your Members of Congress:  U.S. House and Senate

Job Opening at the National Alliance on the Government Relations Team

Last, but not least! We are looking for a Government Affairs Coordinator. This person will manage and execute a variety of key tasks and programs for the Federal team. The ideal candidate must be able to prioritize multiple tasks in a fast-paced environment and possess excellent writing skills. The full job description and how to apply can be found on our website.

Best of luck in the new school year, and please contact us with any questions or concerns.

Gina Mahony is the senior vice president of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools


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

Armando Pérez, also known as Pitbull, is a man who goes beyond expectations. Mr. Pérez is more than an international music superstar; he is a civil leader within his community. Recently, Mr. Pérez was featured on The Today ShowNPR, and Good Morning America discussing his endeavors to start a charter school in his hometown of Miami, Florida.

In fall 2013, Mr. Pérez is opening Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM) public charter school for middle and high school students who wish to pursue a career in athletics. The school’s mission is to “provide an innovative, in-depth educational program preparing students for secondary studies and beyond through an emphasis of sports-related career preparation.” SLAM’s vision believes in providing “Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships” in its educational programs to produce college bound and career-oriented graduates.

At the National Charter Schools Conference, we’ll have a stellar lineup of keynote speakers that can attest to the conference-wide theme, “Delivering on the Dream.” Our goal is to equip our attendees with the tools they need to help their students turn their dreams into reality. Mr. Pérez’s story of growth from childhood in an impoverished Miami neighborhood to helping found a public charter school is an indicator that this conference is set to inspire.

Join us at the 2013 National Charter Schools Conference from June 30-July 3 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. Register today (March 9th-June 7th for regular registration rates) on the conference website. If you have any questions about the conference please email or call: 1-800-280-6218.















Armando Pérez, also known as Pitbull

Lisa Grover


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Better Late than Never: Will Kentucky Finally Pass a Charter School Law?

Kentucky, one of eight states without a charter law, may be a bit late to the party but that can be a good thing. With more policymakers than ever looking to support a bipartisan charter bill in 2014, Kentucky is now in the position to pick and choose from the best practices in policies and results from charter schooling over the last twenty years.

Kentucky will need to pass a charter school law that reflects the needs of the Commonwealth while at the same time incorporating the essential criteria that research shows leads to high-quality public charter schools. This will be a key discussion point during the first annual Kentucky Charter School Association Education Summit on August 22, in Louisville.  The idea grew out of conversations with several state legislators, local organizations and the offices of Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, who are both attending the Summit.

“Students, parents and communities in Kentucky and across America must demand schools put students first, produce results, and reward outstanding teachers,” says Senator Mitch McConnell . “One successful approach that has been implemented in 42 states, but not in Kentucky, is the establishment of public charter schools.” Additionally, Senator Rand Paul says,  “All children, no matter who they are or where they live, deserve an equal chance to develop their skills and intellect…by nurturing the ideals of choice and individual freedom, we can find education solutions that direct all of our children toward success.”

Kentuckians also realize the benefits public charter schools can bring, and they want them. A February Courier Journal poll found 65 percent of respondents supported public charter schools while an April survey found 72 percent of Kentuckians favor legislation that would allow persistently low-performing schools to become public charter schools. Furthermore, two weeks ago, a survey of 2,000 black families conducted by the Black Alliance for Education Options  showed 56 percent of those surveyed would not send their children to the public school they are currently assigned if given a choice.

Kentucky families couldn’t be clearer: they want more choices and are demanding public charter schools. Now it’s time for policymakers to deliver.

Lisa Grover is the senior director of state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


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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.


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Bridging Differences, Fudging Facts

Diane Ravitch has finally hit bottom in her bout with OCD (Obsessive Charter Disorder).  In her current Education Week blog she grumps at “Waiting for Superman” for failing to feature successful public (sic) schools and schoolteachers, and then responds by listing six bad things she’s learned recently about charter schools. Her argument is basically that of Pee-Wee Herman: “I know you are, but what am I?”

I can no longer tell whether Ravitch’s distortions are willful or whether she’s just too busy Tweeting to check facts. She trots out news about Inner City Education Foundation being rescued by major donors, not mentioning the schools’ superior academic performance, or the abysmal charter funding in California (see Eduwonk on that).  She gloats that a Los Angeles charter operator was accused of embezzling more than $1 million in school funds, without noting that Ray Cortines, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), is taking steps to shut down the school (or, ahem, mentioning the $578 million LAUSD just spent on RFK High School).

She writes that  the New York State Charter Schools Association “sued to block any public audits” of charters, when their suit actually contended (and the Court agreed) that the State Comptroller’s Office lacked jurisdiction to audit charters. However, they also argued that the Board of Regents and charter authorizers do have authority to conduct financial and program audits — which they do conduct, and vigorously. (More on NYCSA’a rationale here.) And she positively lights up at the news that Ross Global Academy in New York is in “a heap of trouble.” With 100 NYC charters generally doing terrific work, why single this one out? Because it was founded by a wealthy person, and we know what DR thinks of “the Billionaires Boys Club” and the Hedge Fund Mob, and anyone else who’s made a few bucks. File under “Schadenfreude.”

And then the finale: “Those promoting the privatization of American public education are blinded by free-market ideology. They refuse to pay attention to evidence, whether it be research or the accumulating anecdotal evidence of misbehavior, incompetence, fraud, greed, and chicanery that the free market facilitates.”  So…the thousands of charter parents and teachers are really just stooges of the Robber Barons? Puh-leeeze.

BTW –Make sure to check out the comments after the blog. “Bridging Differences” usually draws a flock of fawning admirers; this time it also includes some folks who, in the most thoughtful and temperate language, rake Ravitch over the coals for the her reductionist and ill-grounded tirade.

Lisa Grover


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Bringing Charter Schools to Kentucky: New Poll Shows Strong Voter Support

This month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released results from a poll that surveyed 501 registered voters in the state of Kentucky. The results show that 71 percent of Kentucky voters—–nearly three-quarters—support creating public charter schools, with support crossing party lines and regions of the state. These findings are similar to the results of a June 2013 poll by the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), which found that 82% of African American families support public charter schools as reform vehicles.

The National Alliance poll also found that 82 percent of voters support providing Kentucky parents with more public school options when choosing a school for their child. In the Louisville area, support for more choices rises to 89 percent. And, a majority of voters believe that more options will improve the public school system.

Kentucky is one of only eight states in the country without a law allowing public charter schools. A bill to create public charter schools has been considered by the Kentucky Legislature the past four sessions. It passed the Senate last year, but stalled in the House.

The National Alliance is working with a growing coalition of local and national partners such as the Kentucky Charter Schools Association (KCSA), Kentucky Youth Advocates, Teach for America Kentucky, the Youth Justice Center, and legislators, parents, pastors, educators, and community activists to educate policymakers and the public about charter schools.  With our coalition partners, we will be bringing forth a charter school bill in the 2014 legislative session that reflects local community needs and best-in-class charter school policies from around the country.

2014 is the year to finally bring a law allowing public charter schools to Kentucky. As the new poll results make clear, that’s what voters in the state want.

Lisa Grover is senior director for state advocacy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.