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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.
Nora Kern

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Seeing is Believing

Across the nation, more than 5,600 high-quality public charter schools are providing 2 million students with revolutionary educational opportunities. While many people know that charter schools are working to close the achievement gap and transform children’s lives, some have never seen these inspiring public schools in action. NAPCS, joined by numerous charter school advocates nationwide, want to change that! Today is National Visit a Public Charter School Day, an event that corresponds with National School Choice Week. Charter schools across the country have invited legislators, reporters and community business leaders to tour high-quality public charter schools. These visits are designed to familiarize visitors with the charter school model and demonstrate the benefits of high-quality public charter schools. It is our hope that because of this experience, participants will be more likely to engage in the charter movement as advocates, board members, and financial supporters to help ensure that all students have high quality education options. In addition to charter school visits, state charter support organizations (CSOs) are providing members of the media and state representatives preparing to kick off their legislative sessions with information on the role of charters in education reform. More than 14 states and the District of Columbia are participating in National Visit a Public Charter School Day activities. To learn more about National Visit a Public Charter School Day, we encourage you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see highlights from events across the country.
Nina Rees

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Separating Common Core Fact From Fiction

(Originally published by U.S. News & World Report) The Common Core State Standards and their assessments continue to capture headlines. As a parent and an education reformer, I am often asked what I think about these standards. The fact that I get asked about this in settings other than work is an incredibly healthy sign. After all, education policy belongs to all of us – parents, teachers, education researchers, taxpayers, employers and policymakers – and our schools benefit from informed discussions that lead to the best outcomes for students. But in the debate over state education standards, we can’t let the facts get caught in the crossfire. Here are a few facts about the Common Core State Standards…read more here.
Todd Ziebarth

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Seven Big Questions for Public Charter Schools for 2014

As we start 2014, the public charter school movement faces several big questions. Here are seven of them that we’ll be paying particularly close attention to this year:

1. Will New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina keep the schoolhouse doors open for the mostly poor and minority students being served so well by public charter schools in the city?

2. Will Kentucky become the 43rd state to enact a law allowing public charter schools?

3. Now that the majority of Detroit’s students attend charter schools, how will the charter community improve quality and more strategically engage with the larger public school system to ensure more students succeed (similar to what’s happening in New Orleans and Washington, D.C.)?

4. Will political leaders in states with the weakest charter school laws in the country, like Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, finally rally behind the bold legislative changes needed to provide more high-quality charter options to their state’s students?

5. Will more school districts follow the lead of the Houston and Aldine Independent School Districts in Texas and stop looking at charters as competitors and start looking at them as incubators for innovative, successful classroom practices that can be adopted within traditional public schools?

6. As state budgets start to modestly improve, will states finally tackle the fiscal inequities that exist between public charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools?

7. Will the charter school law in Washington State be upheld by the Washington Supreme Court?

Keep your eye on the Charter Blog in 2014 as we keep you updated on these and other big questions facing public charters. Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Sheridan Japanese School: A Focus on Culture and Community

NAPCS is using the Charter Blog to feature public charter schools that prepare students for college using a range of instructional strategies. NAPCS asked school leaders to tell us in their own words how they use different instructional methods to create a “college-prep” focus. By combining data on instructional strategies from a national survey with on the ground stories of the work of charter schools, NAPCS wants to show the scope of possibilities in how charter schools can provide great learning environments for students. Sheridan Japanese School (SJS) is a public charter school in Sheridan, Oregon, a rural town with a population of 6,165, with 53.6 percent economically disadvantaged and 77 percent first-generation (parents without a four-year degree). SJS is a multi-aged school serving 88 students from grade 4-12. SJS is a unique blend of family atmosphere and academic success where students who appear unsuccessful elsewhere flourish; students on IEPs learn how to take small steps to advance their education, and students who excel are pushed to take responsibility for their advanced learning. SJS embraces shared leadership. All stakeholders: students, student council, parent council, board, staff, community members, and director believe that all students will be successful. Everyone is responsible for the success of SJS. Among the 17 core values, respect and trust between teacher and student, and among students, is a high priority. The older students tutor and act as role models for the younger students. In tandem with caring for each other, one quality of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is focused on each month, then reinforced throughout the year as other concepts are added. Students learn to take care of their environment by cleaning the school each day, and parents volunteer to clean on the weekends. A sense of family is attained through families and their students helping each other, such as parents mentoring parents new to the school, picnics, parent nights, and Undokai (game day), for example. Another core value, high academic standards, is delivered through Advanced Placement (AP) and other advanced classes. Every student must take Japanese language and culture classes and participate in a yearly Japanese speech contest. The Japanese teacher runs a 2-week summer immersion camp, which any student in the USA may attend. A student from North Carolina attended this past summer. The grade of D is not given, but a student is given personal tutoring outside of school hours to help him/her succeed. Opportunities for giving to the community, another core value, are facilitated through students’ volunteerism at meal sites, the local food bank, raising money for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, the local library, and many more. SJS opens it doors to the community with taiko drum concerts, Obon Festival, and exhibitions. The teachers use Build Your Own Curriculum to customize instruction for relevance and high standards for the students. The Director personally creates each student’s schedule with his/her needs in mind. Teachers meet to discuss students, as well as publish their phone numbers in case questions arise outside of school hours. Teachers run tutoring sessions after school to insure student success. SJS requires conferences in the summer, fall, and winter with 100% participation. Ninety-five percent of the seniors go on to a two-year or four-year college. Of the three seniors who graduated last year, one received $17,000; one received $48,695, and one received $7,050 in grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities, and other awards. A quote from one of the students best exemplifies SJS’s success: “I truly believe that SJS has provided me with an excellent preparation for college through global education. I have had the privilege to attend a school that provides an unparalleled opportunity to interact with instructors and other students in an intimate environment.” SJS Collage png 2                 Jan Smith, Sheridan Japanese School Foundation Board Member (Secretary); Kathryn Bervin-Mueller, Executive Director www.sheridanjapaneseschool.com Find Sheridan Japanese School on the Public Charter School Dashboard
Christy Wolfe

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Some Federal Implications of NACSA Quality Recommendations

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) released Replicating Quality: Policy Recommendations to Support the Replication and Growth of High-Performing Charter Schools and Networks in collaboration with the Charter School Growth Fund last week. This report lays out key policies and practices for legislators, authorizers, and state education agencies that have the greatest potential to accelerate the growth of high-performing charter schools. Although the report is focused on state policies, there are implications for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) and how it prioritizes funds to states. As we outline in our guiding principles for ESEA reauthorization, Free to Succeed, the National Alliance supports prioritizing federal funds for charter schools for states with laws that are best positioned to encourage quality charter schools. Unless ESEA is reauthorized and includes our recommendations before the next round of five year state CSP grants are awarded in FY 2015, the department should set priorities for the next competition that are effective in directing funds to states with strong charter school laws.  Several of NACSA’s policy recommendations are well-aligned with our recommendations for state law priorities for the Charter Schools Program including:
  • Independent Charter Boards:  To ensure authorizers are committed to quality (NACSA Policy Recommendation #2), NACSA advocates that states adopt  the National Alliance’s Model Law recommendation for creating at least one statewide authorizing entity.  Federal law already encourages states to create a statewide authorizer, so this would be a plus for applicants in the grant competition process.
  • Remove caps on growth: To allow quality charters to grow, states should remove caps from their laws (NACSA Policy Recommendation #3). Charter caps limit replication of proven, quality charter schools. In Free to Succeed we call for a funding priority to be given to states with charter laws that allow for high-quality school growth without artificial caps.
  • Differentiated renewal processes:  NACSA recommends differentiating and streamlining the renewal process for high-performing charters (NACSA Policy Recommendation #5). For example, Texas and Delaware offer ten-year reviews for their highest-performing charter schools. Federal law, however, prioritizes states that review all charters at least every five years. The next grant competition should not penalize states that have developed a more nuanced renewal process that supports high-quality charters.
NACSA’s report also underscores that creating high-quality charter schools is not as simple as coming up with a federal definition of quality. It takes a comprehensive effort to develop the essential policies and practices at the state, authorizer, and school level.  Federal priorities for state grants should recognize state, authorizer, and school-driven efforts to implement these important strategies. Christy Wolfe is senior policy advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nora Kern, senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, also contributed to this blog post.

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South Carolina Leadership Summit Focuses on Academic and Operational Excellence in Public Charter Schools

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina Leadership Summit this week. What a wonderful compliment to their annual state charter school conference! The two-day summit was targeted at new school leaders, business managers, and governing board members. It included intensives in business finance and operations, fundraising and marketing, speeches by legislators and the state superintendent on the status of the charter sector in South Carolina, and demystifying funding formulas. The summit ended with a leaders roundtable to discuss the use of research and data in charter schools. The summit gave me a deeper awareness that:
  • the power of an emerging charter support organization to serve as a convener is essential to growing a high quality charter sector in a state;
  • the need for consistent and focused networking opportunities for new and veteran charter leaders and board members is invaluable;
  • awareness and engagement of charter school stockholders in federal policy development and implementation is critical;
  • business bootcamps that provide useful resources and tools in finance, operations and communications can never be offered enough.
Kudos to Mary Carmichael and Carol Aust for putting on one heck of a summit. The attendees that I spoke with during the reception appreciated the opportunity to go more in-depth and have access to their peers outside of the state conference. For more information, click here. SC Summit-Taishya (1)             Photo: Taishya Adams and Carol Aust of the Public Charter School Alliance of South Carolina at their Leadership Summit

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South City Preparatory Academy Grows from a Humble Beginning

The idea for South City Preparatory Academy was born from seeing evidence of great urban charter schools throughout our country. Over the course of several years, I had the opportunity to visit amazing charter schools like Boston Collegiate, Academy of the Pacific Rim, Roxbury Prep and schools in the KIPP, Uncommon Schools, Achievement First, and Noble Street networks. These schools changed my paradigm on what schools could accomplish. They were eliminating the achievement gap for countless students across our country. South City Prep opened in August of 2011, when we welcomed our first crop of 5th and 6th grade scholars. Within the first week, we realized one of the hardships of charter schools throughout the country: financial issues. Because of a lower than expected student enrollment, we were forced to make some hard decisions. We had to lay off our PE teacher and one of our support teachers within the first month of school. Additionally, we decided that we would pinch our pennies even more by not hiring a school secretary. Every person on staff had a shift at the front desk answering phones, sorting mail and assisting our students. Despite these roadblocks, by many accounts, our year was a success. Our scholars averaged 1.9 years worth of growth in Reading and 1.7 years worth of growth in Math as measured by a national norm referenced exam. Our families love our school and during our first year, we heard countless tales of gratitude from these same families. In looking back, I’m amazed that these families “took the leap” with our school. When they were touring our facility, all we could point out were dusty, empty classrooms with no walls. August 2012 signals the start of our 2nd year. Sitting at coffee shops working on our charter now seems light years away. We have doubled our students and added 5 new staff members. Having 16 staff members feels like an embarrassment of riches compared to our first year as we even have someone to answer the phones! We’ve earned a positive reputation in our community and feel proud about our first year. However, we also know that thousands of students in our city do not have access to high quality schools and thousands are doomed to failure in failing schools. We know that we must do our job well as the reality for many of our students is that we are their only hope. Additionally, once we’ve laid the groundwork for this school and proved that it can work, we have to replicate the model. The beauty of the public charter model is that we can serve as an incubator for what works. When something is working, it can be replicated and expanded; when it is not working, it can be changed or closed. We look forward to building more great schools in the St. Louis region so that we can dramatically change the educational landscape of our city and our nation. Big dreams from a humble beginning. Staff_Malone (2a)             Photo: Author Mike Malone, Head of School of South City Preparatory Academy (St. Louis, Missouri)
Nora Kern

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Spelling out Success: A Wyoming Public Charter Student’s Path to the Scripps National Spelling Bee

When you ask the average twelve year-old, ‘what’s the hardest word you’ve ever had to spell?’ most probably couldn’t give you an answer. Then again, Lia Eggleston isn’t your typical twelve year-old. After a moment’s reflection, the poised 8th grader, who attends Snowy Range Academy—a public charter school in Laramie, Wyoming—definitively responds, “koan.” Not only do I have no idea what this word means, I have to ask Lia to spell it for me. Lia is the winner of the 2012 Wyoming State Spelling Bee. With that accomplishment comes a next step that has been a dream for Lia: being a competitor in the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee. The event, which has captivated audiences and Hollywood (fiction and nonfiction films), will be held in National Harbor, Maryland on May 29-31, 2012. Lia’s path to becoming a spelling bee champion was inspired at home: her brother participated in a state spelling bee, so she decided to give it a try. She admitted that her first year of competition included a few lucky guesses, such as Japanese-rooted word “koan,” and Lia ended up placing 2nd in the 2010 Wyoming State Spelling Bee. From there, she became more dedicated in pursuit of the state title. She began studying and memorizing words from Spell It!, a list of a approximately 1,150 words created in cooperation with Merriam-Webster as a study aid for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In her second attempt, Lia placed 3rd in the 2011 Wyoming State Spelling Bee. Spelling Bee Headshot (1)               Photo: Lia Eggleston’s official headshot for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. With her mantra “the only place left is 1st” keeping her motivated, Lia began working with a coach, University of Wyoming student Jen Black, who was a former Scripps Spelling Bee competitor. Together, they study word origins—Lia notes that the Greek and Latin derived words are easy once you have roots memorized, Spanish and Japanese-based words are more phonetic, but words with Germanic and Slavic bases are really hard—and practice the most challenging words on the Spell It! list. Lia estimates that she spends at least a few hours on the weekend and an hour after school with Jen once or twice each week practicing, adding in a half hour a day before school doing computerized spelling tests over the past month.  The study limit permitted by Scripps is four hours a day, but Lia’s eighth grade schoolwork at Snowy Range Academy Charter School, and her other extracurricular activities—cello, dance, and theater—mean that she has to make tough choices about how to spend her time. With the support of her Snowy Range Academy and dance school classmates (see picture below), who Lia says are “pretty excited” for her, and teachers (“they already knew I had won the state bee before I could tell them”), Lia has her eye on the prize. She will just have time to finish her school year (classes end on May 25th) before flying to the East Coast for the competition on the 27th. As a representative of the public charter school movement, we will “bee” cheering her on. You can follow Lia and the National Bee on www.spellingbee.com, Facebook, or on ESPN during the week of the Bee. G-O Lia! Even I can spell that one. Spelling Bee-Pfeffernuss             Photo: Lia Eggleston (bottom row, second from right) spells her favorite word (Pfeffernuss–a German spice cookie) with help from her friends in the Laramie Dance Center’s Advanced Irish Step dance class. Photo credit: Anne Brande, photographer at Ludwig Photography.