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Andrew Schantz

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5 Ways to Make This Year’s National Charter Schools Week the Best One Yet

We still have a few days to go before National Charter Schools Week kicks off, but there are plenty of things you can do to start the celebration early and get in the #CharterSchoolsWeek spirit!

  1. Change your profile picture to one of our official Charter Schools Week badges! Whether you’re a charter school parent, student, administrator, or advocate, we have a badge for you!
  2. Invite elected officials to your school. National Charter Schools Week is the perfect opportunity to show off the great things that are happening in your school. Use our guide to plan a visit for local, state, or federal elected officials. And be sure to let us know if you need any help setting one up by contacting us here.
  3. Tell us why you love charter schools! Print out a template, take a picture or video, and share it with us on social media using #CharterSchoolsWeek.
  4. Set a calendar reminder for Wednesday, May 6 from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET for the #CharterSchoolsWeek tweetup! We’ll be sharing some tweets that morning for you to use, but in the meantime, click here to get the conversation started.
  5. Know a charter school student who loves to write? Encourage them to submit an entry for the first-ever Charter Schools Week Student Essay Contest! Get the details and submit essays by Friday, May 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET by clicking here.

Lastly, are you planning an event for Charter Schools Week in your state or community? Be sure to let us know!

For all the latest news and updates, follow us on Twitter and like our page on Facebook.

Looking forward to celebrating with you next week!

 

Andrew Schantz is the digital communications and marketing manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Jed Wallace

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5,000+ Charter School Parents Rally in Los Angeles

On Feb. 4, charter school parents, students and teachers from more than 100 schools across Los Angeles rallied for “Schools We Can Believe In,” making this the biggest parent rally in LA history and possibly the biggest charter school rally ever anywhere in the country. We showed the strength of the charter school movement, but more importantly, we showed the depth of our commitment to ensuring that all students have high-quality public schools in their communities. I was moved by the stories parents told of their own struggles to find a high-quality school in their neighborhoods and their incredible pride in their charter schools. As one our parent speakers said, “I want every family in LA to have what my family has – a great public school.” We also heard from leaders like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Board President and Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Parents spoke out to demand fairness in funding and facilities for all public school students, including charter public schools and to have a voice in their child’s education. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the “Schools we Can Believe In” Rally was to help our own movement recognize its potential. We were able to see what is within our potential to unleash and to recognize our own unique position to play a catalytic role that could greatly improve educational opportunity for all of California’s students. We did a statewide poll earlier this year and it showed us that the biggest predictor of whether someone will support charter schools is that person’s direct or indirect experience with charter schools. We have to invite elected officials to visit our schools and to meet the amazing parents and students and teachers like those that rallied this past Saturday and hear their incredible stories. On Feb. 29, we will rally again, this time in our state capitol in conjunction with our 19th annual Charter Schools Conference to push for funding equity for charter schools and the students they serve. IMG_8550 (2)-cropped-proto-custom_6

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A Big Choice in the Big Apple

I understand if America’s view of New York City politics might be somewhat jaded – given that yesterday’s Democratic primary election ballot included serial soft-porn tweeter Anthony Wiener and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (dubbed Client 9 in the hooker scandal that forced him from office). Jaded or not, the results from last night’s Mayoral primaries will have a profound effect on one of the nation’s most robust public charter school environments. And voter decisions in the November general could dictate whether charters continue to grow in NYC or suffer a politically-inspired slowdown. Republicans chose Joe Lhota as their mayoral candidate. He is a wonky, former deputy mayor to Republican Rudy Giuliani who was later named by Democratic Gov. Cuomo to run the city’s mass transit system. On the Democratic side, the outcome is still uncertain. NYC Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio was the clear front-runner, but may have to face teacher union-backed former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson in an October 1 run-off, if it turns out that DeBlasio did not receive 40% or more of the vote (he’s currently at 40.2%). Whoever wins in November, the victor takes over for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who during his 12 years in office has been a Herculean champion of charter schools. New York charter school law is the purview of the state government in Albany and the next mayor will need to play nice with state lawmakers if he wants to enact other parts of his agenda. But the mayor can still influence on one of the most important issues to charters in New York City: real estate.. Bloomberg made waves when he gave charters access to space in city schools. By removing real estate as an obstacle, charters were able to focus on curriculum, students and school culture – especially important because New York charter students receive several thousand dollars less per pupil than children in district schools. Lhota likes charters. It’s safe to assume that if he’s elected, the Bloombergian charter support can be expected to continue. He’s said he’d push to double the number of charters in the city. DeBlasio and Thompson have each supported policies that would harm city charter schools. Whether it’s essentially taxing charter schools by charging them rent to use city school buildings, like DeBlasio wants; or otherwise throwing sand in the gears of charter growth by halting new co-locations, like both men want, the stakes are high for charters in this election. Even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1, the outcome in this election is not predetermined. Twenty-one percent of voters are independent and the city hasn’t elected a Democratic mayor since 1989. You can be sure the families of the nearly 70,000 students in NYC charters this school year, and the additional 50,000 on charter school waiting lists will be watching. Bill Phillips is president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
Nora Kern

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A Busy Month for School Choice and New Reports

Later this month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and other organizations across the country will celebrateNational School Choice Week (SCW). Leading up to the event, several organizations are releasing analyses of policies impacting the growth and quality of public charter schools. Last week, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released its Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) for 2013, which looks at more than 100 U.S. school districts and ranks the policies and practices that impact the quality of choices and level of competition created by school choice. Not surprisingly, nine of the top ten districts on the ECCI are also featured on our recently released top charter school communities report, showing the integral role public charter schools play in school choice. Today Students First is releasing  its state policy report card. Public charter schools play a prominent role in the scores related to parent empowerment. In order to receive a high rating, states must:
  • Promote charter establishment & expansion. Several states received higher scores for not having a cap on charter school growth, having non-district authorizers, a fast track authorization process for proven charter operators, and a high bar for replication/expansion for all schools.
  • Establish accountability for charters. States were recognized for requiring a performance-based contract and clear protocols for closing low-performing charter schools. Authorizers are required to submit an annual report to an oversight body for each school they oversee, and are in turn required to undergo an annual review by an outside entity—and low-performing authorizers will be suspended or sanctioned.
  • Enable equitable access to facilities; and
  • Finance charter facilities.
Finally the National Alliance will be releasing our fifth annual model law ranking that scores each state’s charter school law based on 20 essential components, including measures of quality and accountability, equitable access to funding and facilities, and whether or not they cap charter school growth. Follow @charteralliance for the latest in charter school news and breaking reports and keep an eye on @schoolchoicewk to receive even more information on the contributions charter schools are making toward providing every family with a quality public school option. Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
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