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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. 

Nora Kern

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Broad Foundation Announces New Annual “Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools”

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation just announced an annual $250,000 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools which will be awarded starting in 2012. The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools will mirror The Broad Prize for Urban Education that is awarded to traditional school districts. The prize will be awarded to the public charter school management organization that demonstrates the most outstanding overall student performance and improvement among the country’s largest urban charter management organizations in recent years while reducing achievement gaps among poor and minority students. Check out the Broad Prize webpage for more information about eligible CMOs and the review board. And for one last tidbit: the inaugural Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools will be announced at our 2012 National Charter Schools Conference in Minneapolis, MN!

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California Charter Leadership Program Teaches Tailored Skills for Success

This guest blog series describes approaches that seek to address one of the most critical issues facing the rapidly growing public charter school movement: its leadership pipeline. The examples from Georgia and California show how partnerships have been developed to create training programs that teach the specific skills public charter school administrators need to run a successful school. If you would like to share additional examples of leadership pipeline programs, post them to @charteralliance or #charterleadership on Twitter.

In 2012, the Charter and Autonomous Leadership Academy (CASLA) sent out a national survey to public charter school stakeholders to determine training needs for charters school leaders. These results presented a strong interest in charter leadership training.  After several years of research and development, the CASLA program has created and implemented an innovative university-based charter leadership program in which participates earn a master’s degree in education (charter leadership) and a state credential authorization.  Just as successful K-12 charter leaders must be entrepreneurial and creative, the CASLA university team successfully navigated the public university institutional system to create an accelerated, efficient, and personalized entrepreneurial program. The CASLA program is based on research, best practices, and creative solutions to meet the needs of charter school leaders in Los Angeles and eventually nationwide.

CASLA is housed at California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), a four-year urban public institution located in the urban city of Carson in Los Angeles County. CSUDH is one of the most ethnically diverse campuses in the California State University system. The school is accredited by both the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

Since California has a very high percentage of start-up schools (as opposed to conversion schools), CASLA’s innovative program is focused on start-up schools. During our research, aspiring and current charter leaders requested relevant and current content, and alternatives to weekly evening classes in traditional university credential programs—due to the traffic congestion in Los Angeles and responsibilities of charter leaders.  In addition, current charter leaders requested assistance with career options beyond their tenure as charter school leaders.  The CASLA program is addressing the needs.

The CASLA leadership curriculum is designed based on the knowledge, skills, and disposition as articulated by current and former successful charter leaders, as well as small area public school district superintendents.  The CASLA program incorporates sophisticated video conferencing using technology-based instruction to personalize and individualize the delivery and content. Participants attend two weeklong seminars in the summer, and content courses are web-based.  One charter conference attendance is required. Content courses are six weeks in length; field research, extensive reading, and personal reflection are critical components.  Charter case study is a major strand throughout the 15-month credential/certificate program.  The critical internship component incorporates shadowing, field-research, and residency. Current and retired successful charter school leaders teach the content courses.  Participants are grouped in a cohort.  Current charter leaders benefit from web-based certificate programs, on topics such as master schedule development, essential elements of instruction, conflict resolution, improve rigor through effective use of data, etc.

The elements of the CASLA program form a comprehensive system that prepares and supports charter leaders who are committed to improving teacher practice and student achievement.  CASLA school leaders are now leading over 10,343 charter students in the greater Los Angeles area, with 57 percent of our CASLA leaders representing the minority groups of our diverse student population. Over 4,000 charter students have been positively impacted by our field research to improve student achievement. CASLA plans to create national regional centers. We invite inquires.  The CASLA program is the beneficiary of a supportive relationship with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, our California Charter School Association (CCSA), and a federal grant funded through the Office of Innovation and Improvement in the Department of Education.

CASLA Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image via CASLA website

Jed Wallace

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California Charter School Growth Ushers in New Public Education Era

This is a historic time for charter schools in California.  Despite tough economic times, charter supporters continue to turn their commitment into opportunities for thousands of students and families seeking more options in public education.

This school year, 115 new charter schools opened, marking the most significant growth since California approved its charter school Law in 1992.  This unparalleled growth pushed the state’s total number of charter schools to 912, the highest of any state in the nation.  Every major region, as well as both urban and rural areas, saw charter schools open.

For charter school leaders, this growth is encouraging and exciting, and we believe it is proof that a new era of public education has taken hold. This new era is one  in which parents, teachers and communities haven’t more flexibility and local control of schools  making them better at serving individual student’s needs.  It also means that we at the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) must do more than ever to advocate on behalf of charter schools, and continue our efforts to ensure equitable access of funding and facilities for public charter schools.  Accountability is another top priority at CCSA, and this growth underlines the need for a system in which high performing charter schools in which high performing charter schools are replicated, while low-performing ones undergo a deep review to determine if they are serving their student’s needs.

With this year’s newly opened schools, an even larger number of families in California will now have more options for high-quality education options for their students.

Jed Wallace

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California Charter Schools Association Calls for Closure of Six Schools Due to Academic Underperformance

Today, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) called for the closure of six charter schools from across California that are below CCSA’s Minimum Criteria for Renewal. Four of the schools are up for renewal by their authorizer this year and two of the schools were renewed despite chronic low performance and have failed to improve.

Accountability continues to be one of our top priorities, and we remain driven by a relentless focus on the pursuit of quality education for every student as a constant tenet in all of our efforts. The basic promise of public charter schools is that greater autonomy and flexibility are given in exchange for increased accountability. We are serious about delivering on this promise.

Earlier this year, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released a study indicating there has been encouraging improvement in charter school performance nationwide over the past four years. The most important thing we can do to continue this growth and support charter school quality is to make sure that underperforming schools are closed.

Our own analysis of performance, the CCSA Minimum Criteria for Renewal, reinforces the view held by CREDO. Over the past five years we have seen a significant improvement in the overall performance of charter schools in California, with the percentage of high-performing schools increasing modestly and the percentage of low-performing schools decreasing by approximately one third. We do not think it would have been possible to make this progress, without CCSA and its members assertively holding underperforming schools accountable.

CCSA is committed to creating better learning opportunities than are available within the traditional school system. That means not only supporting the growth of high-performing schools, but also shining a light on those charter schools that are not providing a high-quality education. In so doing, our movement reaffirms its commitment to the transparency and accountability that we believe parents and the general public wish to see in place for all public schools and deserve.

We first called publicly for the non-renewal of chronically low-performing schools in 2011. Last year, we joined the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and statewide associations in New York and Colorado to take this call for the closure of low-performing schools to the national level.

Together, these steps will ensure charter schools in California and elsewhere maintain a high level of accountability in order to continue playing a transformational role for students for many years to come.

Jed Wallace is the president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association. 

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California Charter Schools Association: Portrait of the Movement

In late August, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released its fourth annual Portrait of the Movement, a report that tells the story of what has happened in California’s charter school movement over the past five years, why it has happened, and what can be done to ensure continued growth and momentum. 

Trends highlighted throughout Portrait of the Movement, Five Year Retrospective: A Charter Sector Growing in Numbers and Strength indicate that tens of thousands of California’s students are being educated in better performing charter schools than just five years ago.

The California charter schools movement is large and diverse and now serving over half a million public school students. This number is growing every year and more importantly, these students are making significant improvements in academic performance. That performance has been driven by the growth of quality schools and the closure of underperforming schools.

Our research shows that charters have made improvements in academic performance during a time of explosive growth in enrollment, and during a severe funding crisis in California that disproportionately affected charters. We’ve highlighted many of the key findings from the report on our website.

I am delighted that CCSA’s research, recent findings from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes and the National Alliance for Public Charters Schools, as well as other national data all continue to point in the same direction – that charter schools are performing incredibly well, especially with historically underserved students. Even better, they’re improving over time.

Jed Wallace, president and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Renita Thukral

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California Charter Schools’ Fight for Facilities Heads to State Supreme Court

Many charter schools across the country don’t have access to adequate buildings or facilities funding. It’s a national problem with significant consequences. Quality facilities are hard to find and often unaffordable, limiting charter schools’ enrollment and expansion, and forcing students onto long waiting lists.

Most state charter laws place the burden of obtaining and paying for facilities on charter schools. These schools must pay rent or mortgage costs directly out of their operating budgets – which means every dollar spent on a charter school facility is a dollar taken out of the classroom. By contrast, traditional district schools are provided buildings rent-free by their districts.

In 2000, California voters took matters into their own hands, signaling their commitment to treat all public school students equally. They approved Proposition 39 (Prop 39) to address charters’ facilities struggle. The law says “public school facilities should be shared fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools,” and requires school districts to make “reasonably equivalent” facilities available to charter schools upon request.

Unfortunately, getting Prop 39 on the books wasn’t enough. Over the past decade, California school districts have not complied consistently with the law, resulting in confusion and uncertainty for CA charters. In 2010, the California Charter Schools Association fought back by suing the Los Angeles Unified School District. Over the course of the protracted litigation – marked by a trial court win for charters, then an appellate court loss – the parties have argued how to apply Prop 39’s language, in particular how to calculate what constitutes an “equivalent” amount of space. The case has now made its way to the California Supreme Court, where oral arguments will be scheduled in the coming months.

Renita Thukral is vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Renita Thukral

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California Public Employees’ Retirement System Denies Enrollment for Charter School’s Employees

In June, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (“CalPERS”) denied employees of a California charter school, the Dehesa Charter School, the opportunity to participate in the state pension plan. This is the first time CalPERS has denied participation to any charter school, and it is alarming.  Not only does CalPERS lack legal foundation for this denial, but the decision erodes a key component of charter school autonomy—the discretion to opt-into a state pension plan.

CalPERS argues it has taken this step to mitigate potential “risk” created by draft proposed regulations published by the Internal Revenue Service in late 2011. These draft regulations change the definition of a “political subdivision” so that many entities performing government functions (including, but not limited to, charter schools) might not be able to enroll their employees in their state retirement plans without subjecting their state plans to increased regulation and even possible penalty. However, these draft regulations are still winding their way through the formal rule-making process; no official rule-change has occurred, and no timeline for announcing a final rule has been made public.[1] Instead, CalPERS has determined independently that it will implement the draft proposed regulations as if they already have been made final, a premature decision with detrimental impact on California’s charter schools.

CalPERS’s sister retirement plan, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (“CalSTRS”), has not changed the way it treats charter schools’ instructional staff. CalSTRS’s consistent treatment of charter school teachers should be instructive to CalPERS. To suggest otherwise, is both disingenuous and reaches an absurd result (e.g., that some charter school staff members are eligible for state pension participation while others are not).

It is critical to preserve the possibility for charter schools to opt-into state pension plans because it is often necessary to offer competitive benefits to a charter school’s workforce. In fact, according to research conducted by the National Alliance, nearly 93 percent of the nation’s charter school employees are enrolled in their respective state retirement systems.

The California Charter School Association (“CCSA”) has been monitoring this issue and is helping push back. It has asked CalPERS to rescind the new policy, and is supporting an administrative appeal filed by Dehesa Charter School, a process that is being handled internally at CalPERS. CCSA says it is evaluating all its legal options to best protect its member schools from these kinds of arbitrary, unlawful actions.

CalPERS must reconsider its decision. The California charter school statute explicitly permits all charter school staff, whether instructional or not, to enroll in the state pension plan, either CalPERS or CalSTRS. CalPERS cannot ignore the statute’s clear language and legislative intent while the IRS continues its internal deliberations.


[1]This is not a new issue for the National Alliance. We submitted a letter objecting to the draft proposed regulations, signed by 33 city- and state-based charter support organizations, in February 2012. A public hearing was held on the draft proposed regulations on July 7, 2012, at which the National Alliance testified. The IRS is now working to finalize another set of proposed regulations based on feedback received; the National Alliance continues to watch the IRS’s progress and keep the sector informed of any developments.

Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Learn More:

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools: Protect Charter School Teacher Retirement Funds
http://www.publiccharters.org/additional-pages/irs-proposed-regulations.aspx 

Jed Wallace

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California’s Portrait of the Movement – A Closer Look At Charter School Academic Performance

Education reform has taken center stage in many debates around the nation over the past couple of years, as parents, students and communities demand better educational outcomes for all students from public schools.

Generating those better outcomes while closing the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students is a daunting challenge but not an impossible one. Members of the California Charter Schools Association believe, like I do, that we must be relentless in our pursuit of ever-higher academic performance if charter schools are to contribute even more significantly to making high-performing schools a reality for every student in California.

For almost two decades, charter schools in California have offered parents, students and communities options for a better education.  Our state now has the largest concentration of charters in the country.  At 912 schools, we saw our most significant growth ever this school year, with 115 charters opening across the state.  But growth alone isn’t enough.

While we know the state has some of the best charter schools in the country, we are also aware that there are weaknesses within the movement.  That is why the California Charter Schools Association is taking unprecedented and proactive steps to ensure that all students attending charter schools are getting an education that will help them succeed as adults.

This week our first annual Portrait of the Movement report, which details the academic performance of charter schools, provides a framework to press for higher accountability for low-performing charters.  The report reveals reasons for great optimism in the areas where charter schools are excelling and for greater resolve in the areas where charter schools need to improve.

The most significant finding in Portrait of the Movement is that California charter schools are accelerating the closure of the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students.  This finding is supported with ample evidence that charter schools serving low-income populations are generating better academic results than traditional public schools serving students with similar demographics.

These results are cause for celebration, proving that charters are breaking the link between poverty and under-performance. For far too long, too many within our traditional public school system have believed that poverty and underperformance are inexorably linked and there is little schools can do to help students overcome the various social barriers they face.  This paralyzing belief – undergirded by a self-perpetuating view that only some students, and not all students, are actually able to learn at high levels – has been used by many as justification for the various objections they raise to proposed reforms of our public education system.  The performance of California’s charter schools – from classrooms in South Los Angeles to Oakland and San Diego to Sacramento – demonstrates that the possibility of transformational change is within our grasp if we have the courage to embrace reforms which serve the interests of students.

Another important finding with Portrait of the Movement is more charter schools are over-performing than under-performing, and that, in terms of numbers of students served, more than two times as many students attend over-performing than under-performing schools.  We are also encouraged to see that the number and proportion of under-performing charters appears to be decreasing over time.

With that said, the Portrait of the Movement also clearly reveals that there are simply too many underperforming charter schools and we must as a movement act with commensurate courage to improve academic accountability systems.

While current state law calls on charter authorizers—school districts, county offices of education, and the State Board of Education—to close schools that have not met minimum academic requirements, the process has not been a consistent one, and under-performing charters have slipped through the cracks.  CCSA is proactively working to close these loopholes and has established minimum performance criteria for charter renewal to ensure that charters are delivering on the promise of a high-quality education for all students in California,

In tandem with the release of Portrait of the Movement, CCSA is activating a series of Web-enabled tools to help families and the public understand the picture of performance for every single charter in California that opened before fall of 2010. An interactive map provides the public access to the performance record of all charter schools as well as all traditional public schools in their surrounding areas, giving families for the first time a highly detailed look of the options available to them based on a measure that renders a picture of added value.

For more information, visit www.calcharters.org/portraitofthemovement.

Submitted by Jed Wallace, President and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Nora Kern

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Can attending a charter high school help you go to college and earn more money?

A new working paper released by Mathematica Policy Research and sponsored by the Joyce Foundation finds that public charter schools in Florida and Chicago are helping more students get into college and earn higher incomes once they graduate. Compared to their traditional school peers, the study found:

  • Enrolling in a charter high school increases a student’s probability of graduating from high school and entering college by 11 percentage points in Florida and by seven in Chicago.
  • Enrollment in a Florida charter high school leads to a 10 percentage point increase in the probability of attending college.
  • Chicago charter schools boost their students’ chances of attending college by 11 percentage points.
  • Florida charter high school graduates have a 13 percentage point advantage for completing at least two consecutive years of college.
  • Florida charter high schools may raise their students’ earnings in their mid-20s by as much as 12.7 percent. 

College Attendance Graph

Source: Kevin Booker, Brian Gill, Tim Sass, and Ron Zimmre,Charter High Schools’ Effects on Educational Attainment and Earnings, Mathematica Policy Research, January 2014.

This report is particularly compelling when you consider the methodology. Most charter school studies use a lottery admission strategy, one that compares students who enrolled in an oversubscribed charter school lottery and either won admission to the charter or enrolled in a traditional public school. This Mathematica study, however, looks at students who were enrolled in charter schools in 8th grade, and either enrolled in a charter or switched to a traditional public school for high school. Therefore all the students had previously shown the disposition to enroll in a charter school. The study further controlled for student characteristics such as test scores, race/ethnicity, poverty, mobility, and special education status.

While this report’s methodology is rigorous, it still doesn’t answer the “secret sauce” question of what these public charter schools are doing to achieve these great results for their students’ long-term outcomes and acknowledged the need for further research. But regardless of further research, it’s clear that public charter school students in Chicago and Florida are seeing significant academic results that are helping them well beyond their K-12 years.  

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