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Romney and Obama Debate Education, but Agree on Public Charter Schools

The Romney campaign has recently turned its gaze to education and made statements regarding the role of public charter schools in America’s current educational landscape (see more at EdWeek’s Charters & Choice and Politics K-12 blogs).  The views of Romney and Obama on this role are actually quite similar: the expansion of high quality public charter schools will increase innovation and student achievement. Mitt Romney supports higher expectations for students, more accountability for teachers, and increased parental choice through increased access to public charter schools.  During his time as Governor, Romney fought to eliminate the Massachusetts state cap on charter schools, vetoed a budget line item that would have imposed a moratorium on additional public charter schools and suspended the 5 charter schools granted in 2004, and approved a 2005 state budget that dedicated $37.7 million to ensuring proper transitional funding for public school districts that send students in charter schools.  In recent debates, Romney has repeatedly mentioned school choice as a key principle of successful public education.  During the, CNN Arizona Republican Presidential Debate in February 2012, Romney specifically named charter schools as important to educational achievements in Massachusetts: “My legislature tried to say no more charter schools.  I vetoed that, we overturned that…With school choice, testing our kids, giving our best teachers opportunities for advancement, these kinds of principles drove our schools to be pretty successful.” So how does Romney’s charter focus stack up against President Obama’s? As we’ve seen, Barack Obama has largely recognized public charter schools in terms of their innovation and has therefore supported their expansion.  Soon after his inauguration in March of 2009, President Obama gave a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in which he called on states to “reform their charter rules, and lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools.”  The President acted on the message of this speech in July of 2009, when he introduced his signature education reform plan “Race to the Top,” which rewards innovative plans for teacher quality and student achievement, and encourages states to lift limits on charter schools.  In addition, much of President Obama’s reform of “No Child Left Behind” in 2011 mirrored the language of “Race to the Top” by focusing on innovation and flexibility to produce student achievement, qualities important to the success of the charter sector.  The support of charter school expansion provided by “Race to the Top” and the reform of “No Child Left Behind” has been important to the current Obama campaign in responding to criticisms around education reform. We are glad that both candidates support the growth of high quality charter schools and are keeping this important topic at the forefront of their campaigns.

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Rosario’s Story: Dreaming of Better Health Care

FinRosario BHancial troubles meant that Rosario’s family didn’t always have healthcare. When visiting urgent care facilities, she noticed that those giving medical care to her family didn’t look like those receiving the help. Rosario vowed she would change that. That’s why she’s put so much effort into her schoolwork over the years. “School has always been my priority because I know what my parents have sacrificed to give me a good education and I know the benefits that come from having a college degree will be well worth the hustle put into achieving one,” she says. At Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy, Rosario was not only challenged by her teachers but given extra support when it was needed. Teachers made sure that she not only understood the material being taught but also how to analyze it, question it, and apply it to real problems that require reasoning skills. She was even pushed to apply to schools she didn’t think were within her reach – like Cornell. At Cornell University, Rosario plans to gain a better understanding of healthcare, both nationally and globally. She hopes to become a physician who supports her community through free clinics and workshops aimed at preventative treatment. 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.

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Rural Charters are the Fastest Growing Segment of Public Charter Schools

Contrary to popular media coverage, which often focuses on the dramatic academic gains made in high performing urban charter schools, there is a little known truth about growth trends in the public charter school sector. While many great public charter schools are located in cities, charter schools are by no means an urban phenomenon. You might be surprised to learn that rural charter schools are actually the fastest growing segment of the public charter school sector. In fact, nearly half of all charter schools are found outside city limits.  And nearly 20 percent of all charter schools are in rural areas. In response to the growth of rural charter schools, the Alliance released two reports today that provide a deeper look at this trend. Our new issue brief, Beyond City Limits: Expanding Public Charter Schools in Rural America, examines challenges that rural schools may face and profiles four rural charter schools that use creative approaches to meet the needs of the families and communities they serve. The flexibility that is a core part of the charter school model can present unique opportunities for rural communities as they navigate complex funding, human capital, and transportation questions. The second publication is the latest installment in our Details from the Dashboard series. The new report analyzes charter schools statistics based on geographic region–including the growth of charter schools in all four areas (city, suburb, town, rural) compared with traditional public schools—as well as breakouts by charter management organization, authorizer, and union status. And if you’re still hungry for more geographic information about charter schools, check out this blog–especially the graphical displays. Table 1: Number of Schools and Students by Geographic Region  
  2005-2006 2009-2010 5 Year Growth
Total number of charter schools
  City 1,934 (52.7%) 2,574 (52.3%) 32.5%
  Rural 539 (14.6%) 785 (16.0%) 45.6%
  Suburb 905 (24.5%) 1,011 (20.6%) 11.7%
  Town 213 (5.8%) 381 (7.8%) 44.1%
Total number of traditional public schools
  City 23,057 (25.1%) 22,817 (24.5%) -1.0%
  Rural 29,066 (31.6%) 30,848 (33.1%) 6.1%
  Suburb 30,622 (33.3%) 25,765 (27.7%) -15.9%
  Town 9,140 (9.9%) 13,402 (14.4%) 46.6%
Total number of students enrolled in charter schools
  City 576,736 (56.6%) 901,662 (55.4%) 56.3%
  Rural 123,779 (12.1%) 251,507 (15.5%) 103.2%
  Suburb 285,485 (28.0%) 382,985 (23.5%) 34.2%
  Town 32,436 (3.2%) 89,013 (5.5%) 174.4%
Total number of students enrolled in traditional public schools
  City 14,160,849 (29.5%) 13,572,890 (28.5%) -4.2%
  Rural 10,494,737 (21.9%) 11,723,441 (24.7%) 11.7%
  Suburb 19,571,853 (40.8%) 16,527,293 (34.8%) -15.6%
  Town 3,957,636 (8.2%) 5,850,786 (12.3%) 47.8%

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SABIS® Schools: Global Lessons in Education Partnerships

NAPCS is pleased to launch a guest blog series which will feature contributions by leading international education experts. The goal of this series is to expose our readers to the challenges and successes of establishing charter schools in different parts of the world. The role and purpose of education – particularly in the public sector – has changed drastically with the coming of the Information Age. What started out as a means to prepare youth to take over in a trade is now a much different beast saddled with seemingly insurmountable challenges and a distinct element of the unknown, not to mention expectations that have set it up as the panacea for all manner of national woes – national security and economic stability, just to name a couple. Today education is tasked with preparing students with the knowledge and skills they will need to use in jobs that do not even exist. A large enough undertaking for schools operating in the private sector, the scope of this task is exponentially greater in public schools educating the masses. In this context, the scope of the task is not only greater; it is also ESSENTIAL as nations seek ways to secure their place in the global economy moving forward. Looking to improve national education standards, the U.S. has been a global leader, drafting public charter school legislation in the mid-1990s and introducing the concepts such as parental choice, accountability, and competition in public education. In the years since, the U.S. charter school approach has been used as a reference for public-private partnership in education; some countries mirroring its approach, others setting out on their own to blaze their own path to raise standards. As a global education organization with 126 years of experience, SABIS® has been involved in the providing education in the public sector since 1995, when it was awarded the management of its first public charter school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Today, SABIS® manages nine charter schools and licenses its proprietary educational system to five others. SABIS® experience in public-private partnerships (PPP), however, is not limited to the U.S. We have accumulated valuable experience and perspective as participants in PPP projects around the world. The most promising PPP project that SABIS® is involved in – it may surprise you to learn – is in Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq, where SABIS® currently operates seven public schools in a project that originated in 2009. The Kurdish leadership at the time realized that spiraling public education costs were not yielding the desired results in the short or long term for the region. With surprisingly short school days, a degree of complacency among administrators, teachers, and staff, and no option for parental choice, there was room to improve the system. To address these issues, the Kurdish government sought out SABIS® and together developed a PPP model. SABIS® would take over existing K-2 or K-3 public schools, including staff, and provide training to staff in instructional methods as well as the English language. In contract periods of three to five years, SABIS® would manage the school, extending the grade levels offered each subsequent year, with the goal of instilling autonomy. The strength of this PPP comes in the fact that it is not saddled with unnecessary – and many times unfair – barriers to entry and hurdles that have marred other countries’ attempts at private sector engagement as a means to raise education standards. So what does the Kurdistan PPP have that others have missed the mark on? First, and most importantly, in Kurdistan private sector engagement in public education is approached as a true partnership. In Kurdistan, the private operator is allowed to operate in an environment of free enterprise, encouraging the principles of efficiency, accountability, and return on investment and transferring these benefits to schools and students. Second, unlike the public charter school model in the U.S., the operator is not hampered by legislation that imposes accountability through boards that do not have a skin in the game. The private operator is held fully accountable, flourishing by its own hand or floundering its way out of a job as dissatisfied parents withdraw their children from the school. Third, unlike public-private partnerships attempted in other countries, in Kurdistan the private operator is not distracted from the job of raising standards by nationally hired “experts” who have a financial incentive to continually move the yard-stick they require operators to measure up to. Fourth, in Kurdistan, the funding formula is respected. Funding of the school operation is taken care of by the government based on a mutually-approved budget. The operator is paid for its services from within the budget, allowing the operator to concentrate solely on the performance of students rather than worry about unexpected funding reductions mid-year. And finally, in Kurdistan, the private operator does not face perhaps the largest barrier to entry – access to and availability of facilities. The government works in true partnership with the private provider by providing the necessary facilities necessary to deliver the sought-after results. If we are to take a serious look at raising education standards of the masses, governments around the world need to learn from the Kurdistan model of private sector engagement in public education. Only in the spirit of true partnership will we be able to leverage the experiences, resources, and motivation of the private sector to raise education standards and tackle the most pressing issue of our time. To learn more about SABIS®’s experience in Kurdistan as well as the organization’s long history and approach to education, read the latest book by renowned U.K. author and education policy expert, James Tooley. From Village School to Global Brand: Changing the World through Education is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Sabis           Image: Author Carl Bistany Carl Bistany is a board member of SABIS® Holdings and the president of two education management companies, SABIS® Educational Services s.a.l. and SABIS® Educational Systems, Inc. These two companies manage schools within the SABIS® School Network, which currently serves Pre-K, K-12 schools, and a university located in fifteen countries on four continents. Since joining SABIS® in 1992, Mr. Bistany has led the fourth generation family-owned business and transitioned it into a globally-recognized, professionally-managed enterprise at the forefront of education management. In addition to his active involvement as president of SABIS®, he has been instrumental in pursuing the expansion of the SABIS® School Network in the private sector in various countries as well as into the Public-Private-Partnership arena in the U.A.E, U.S., U.K., and Kurdistan. Mr. Bistany holds two Masters’ degrees, one in Mathematics and the other in Computer Science from Syracuse University, NY. He is also a Harvard alumnus, having completed the Harvard Business School Executive Education Owner/President Manager program. He serves as a board member of several organizations including the Advisory Board of the Institute of Family and Entrepreneurial Business at the Lebanese American University and the Chief Executives Organization. He was the founding Chairman of the Lebanese Chapter of the Young President Organization (YPO) as well as the World Presidents’ Organization (WPO). He has also served as a senior member of the Executive Board of the Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He is a member of the World Bank Advisory Group on Engaging the Private Sector and is a sought-after speaker at global education conferences and events.

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Sandra Bullock Named Favorite Humanitarian for Work at New Orleans Public Charter School

When Sandra Bullock was honored with the first ever People’s Choice Award for Favorite Humanitarian, she highlighted her 8-year commitment to a New Orleans public charter school. Bullock adopted the school, rebuilt as Warren Easton Charter High School after it sustained millions of dollars’ worth of damage in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, she has been a constant presence and financial supporter at the school. During her acceptance speech, here’s how Bullock described Warren Easton Charter High School: “You will not find a student there that doesn’t know that they are loved and cared for under that roof. Half the senior class is attending college classes in their free-time. We have 100 perfect graduation rate. The students and faculty go to school on Saturdays to either study or to help others. I would so never make it in that school!” she laughed. “They compete, but they never cut each other down. And all that happens not because it’s easy, but because they do not allow themselves any other option than to succeed, even when life outside of those walls gives them no indication of support and hope.” Sandra                   Actress Sandra Bullock with students at Warren Easton Charter High School. Image via peopleschoice on YouTube.
Nina Rees

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School Improvement Done Right

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

Today, 15,000 U.S. schools are considered persistently low-achieving. The Obama administration has invested heavily in a portion of these schools through a program called School Improvement Grants. Since 2009, nearly $3 billion in improvement grants has been directed at about 1,700 schools. (Fiscal year 2014 funding for the grants is $506 million, and the same amount is expected in fiscal year 2015.) But the grant program’s record has been underwhelming: A third of schools that were given major cash infusions to boost student achievement actually regressed.

While disconcerting, the results shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, nor should they put a nail in the program’s coffin. Overhauling an institution is always hard. In fact, 75 percent of efforts at restructuring in the private sector end up failing, partly because changing cultures and habits is difficult and the private sector is not patient enough with many change management efforts. Put simply, it is easier to close and start over than to restructure… read more here.

Renita Thukral

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School Spotlight: El Sol Science and Arts Academy Serving English Language Learners Well

Located in Santa Ana, California, El Sol Science and Arts Academy (El Sol) is a dual immersion school using a 90/10 model. When the students enroll in kindergarten, 90 percent of the day is conducted in Spanish. The rate decreases by 10 percentage points each year until the fourth grade when the students reach a 50/50 language ratio. Opened in 2001 with a kindergarten and first grade class, El Sol has added one grade level each year. During the 2012-13 school year, El Sol served 763 students in K–8th grade and 72 students in its part time pre-k program. Ninety-six percent of El Sol students were Latino, many of whom were recent immigrants. Moreover, 70 percent were English Language Learners (ELL), and 80 percent qualified for free or reduced lunch. Here are a few of the ways El Sol is working to serve ELL students: Special Programs 
  • Every student who enrolls must complete a home language survey that is required by the State of California. The answers to the survey determine whether the student must take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) to determine her/his level of English proficiency. This test helps determine the particular level of instruction the student will need, and El Sol provides targeted instruction in each grade at every needed proficiency level.
  • The students have a longer than normal school day and extended day tutoring programs are available for students who need them.
  • To assess academic progress, students undergo writing and oral assessments in addition to the required standardized exams. Students’ portfolios and grades are discussed by teachers before making decisions to advance the respective students to the next level.
Parent Engagement and Cultural Understanding 
  • To ensure parents understand what is happening in their child’s school, all school correspondence goes home in English and Spanish, and virtually the entire staff can speak both languages.
  • The school offers a full array of family services, including an onsite wellness center, ESL and citizenship courses for parents, and attorneys who come in to do pro bono work.
Bilingual Teachers 
  • El Sol partners with local universities to recruit high-quality teachers. One nearby university, Chapman University’s School of Education, sends student teachers to the school as part of their training program.
  • Teachers at El Sol are required to have a bilingual certificate in language acquisition development in addition to their teaching credential.
  • El Sol seeks out teachers who have taken nontraditional paths to the profession. They often hire staff from other countries who do not have U.S. teaching credentials but do have higher education degrees from other countries. They use them as instructors who supplement the work of teachers.
El Sol’s model is an excellent example for all charter schools. As the charter school movement grows, we must continue to serve all students well, preparing them for academic success and beyond. Renita Thukral is vice president for legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This blog is excerpted from the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s publication, Serving English Language Learners:  A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools. 
Renita Thukral

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School Spotlight: Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School Serves ELL Students Well

Earlier this year, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a toolkit to help charter schools better serve English Language Learners, understand federal civil rights laws and regulations, and learn about best practices underway across the country. The Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACTS) is one of the schools profiled in the toolkit. Located in Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood, FACTS is a K–8 school founded by Asian Americans United and the Philadelphia Folklore Project in 2005 with the goal of serving immigrant and refugee communities. In the 2012-13 school year, FACTS enrolled 479 students, approximately 68 percent of whom were Asian American, 20 percent were African American, 6 percent were multi- racial, 4 percent were Latino, and 2 percent were white. Sixteen percent of these students were classified as English Language Learners (ELLs), with approximately 70 percent of the student body speaking a language other than English at home. FACTS has seen remarkable success–meeting its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals for four consecutive years and Annual Measurable Achievement Objective (AMAO) for ELL students as well. FACTS attributes their success to several best practices:
  • When FACTS opened, one of its founding organizations, Asian Americans United, already had a reputation among immigrant communities as a trustworthy resource and partner. Recruiting efforts included direct engagement with immigrant families in their resident neighborhoods. Over time, the school proved itself successful and parent demand rose quickly. In 2012-13, the school’s waiting list had over 400 students, including 140 hoping to enroll in kindergarten.
  • To evaluate each ELL student’s academic abilities, the school uses comprehensive assessment tools like:
    • a home language survey that captures nuanced information such as the dominant language for both father and mother;
    • a detailed assessment of state standardized test scores; and,
    • input from teachers, administrators, and parents.
  • ELL students are on a “flexible program model” customized to their individual needs and designed to integrate these students into general education classrooms as much as possible.
  • FACTS’s students are monitored for two years after they exit the ELL program. Additionally, to monitor its program’s overall success, FACTS conducts an annual evaluation based on students’ test scores and feedback from administrators, parents, teachers, and students.
  • FACTS translates the school’s application, flyers for events, and all notices sent to students’ homes. An interpreter language line service is available when parents call the school, and FACTS offers professional interpreters to ensure parents are able to participate fully for report card conferences and at school events.
FACTS is an excellent example of how charter schools have the ability to serve ELL students well. To learn more about the work of FACTS, visit http://www.factschool.org/.  To learn about other schools and best practices, view the toolkit here. This blog is excerpted from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ recent publication, Serving English Language Learners:  A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools. Renita Thukral is vice president for legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Pamela Davidson

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School Visit – Host Your Member of Congress

The start of the 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. School visits are a critical step in building a relationship with your Congressman, because it helps them understand the connection between the federal policy decisions they make in Washington and what is happening back home. Finally, school visits are a great opportunity to establish yourself/organization/school as a resource to Congressmen and their staffs on public charter schools. There are numerous opportunities for inviting your Members of Congress to your public charter school, such as:
  • Back-to-school celebrations
  • Open houses
  • Host a “Meet your Elected Official(s)” event and invite your federal official(s) to speak to students during a civics class or student assembly
  • School play, band or choir concert
  • School fundraisers and canned food drives
  • School picnics, barbeques, carnivals, and festivals
  • End of the year ceremonies, celebrations, and/or graduations
  • National Charter Schools Week 
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. Pamela Davidson is the senior director of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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Seattle Times Gives Thumbs Up to Charter Ballot Initiative

On October 13, the Seattle Times editorial page endorsed Washington state’s ballot initiative to create a charter school law. The editorial points out that the initiative “includes language taken from laws governing the best-performing charter schools. The creation of 40 public charter schools is a slow, careful step toward innovating and improving our public system.” The Washington initiative incorporates many elements of the model law for charter schools, which NAPCS developed to guide state policymakers to help them create a vibrant sector of public charter schools. More than that, the editors made a compelling argument for charter schools everywhere. Here are some excerpts: This is not about doing away with or abandoning traditional public schools. Evidence continues to mount that students need creativity and flexibility in the classroom and the current system does not provide or encourage enough of it. In 41 states, charters are making a difference for a significant number of public-school students. There is no evidence that those charter schools will lead to the privatization of public education. In many cities, including Denver, New York City and Cleveland, charter schools are partnering with traditional schools to reform entire districts. We need both charter public schools, where principals are given latitude to pick teachers, shape budget priorities and tailor curriculum to students, and good traditional schools willing to innovate. Charters have been accused of cherry-picking the best public-school students, leaving traditional schools with the most challenging students. I-1240 not only gives priority to at-risk students, it codifies this intent by clearly defining at-risk students as those, “performing below grade level, at risk of dropping out of high school or currently enrolled in chronically low-performing schools.” Also included are special-education students, those with higher-than-average disciplinary sanctions or low participation rates in advanced or gifted programs or limited English proficiency, and those who are members of economically disadvantaged families. Wholesale change of the sort needed to alter the academic lives of tens of thousands of students requires more than a single effort. Space must be made for innovative schools, charters and other proven efforts. A region innovative enough to lead the world markets for airplanes, coffee, software and global health can surely be more aggressive reforming its schools. Otherwise, another generation will stumble through, with far too many students failing out of school.
The University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education analyzed all major charter studies and found low-performing charters tend to be in states with loose rules. Washington has an opportunity to set rules upfront that build on the most successful charter models. Criticism that charters siphon funds from traditional schools is a smoke screen. The fact is they are part of the same system. Education funding already follows students wherever they go in the public system, whether to alternative, magnet or charter schools. That’s as it should be. Charter schools are not a panacea for poverty or other societal problems that interfere with learning. But charters have become laboratories for innovation precisely because they work to address those problems, often by providing wraparound social services and connecting schools with community resources. We cannot continue to put off change because it is uncomfortable and challenges the status quo.