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Nora Kern

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Trends in Public Charter Schools’ Instructional Delivery and Focus

During the spring of 2012, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) conducted its first national public charter school survey. The survey asked public charter school leaders to respond to questions on school waitlistscurriculumfacilities and a variety of other operational elements. A primary goal of the survey was to collect information that would help to better understand the wide range of instructional strategies public charter schools use. With 6,000 autonomous charter schools operating nationwide, the responses to our first national survey demonstrate that public charter schools are a varied bunch. Our new report analyzes the survey responses to provide new details about emerging trends and differences in the instructional delivery strategies and focus of public charter schools. Top trends identified by the survey include:
  • Almost three-quarters (71.8 percent) of the respondents use a combination of off-the-shelf and customized curriculum;
  • Over half (57.7 percent) of respondents from charter schools that enroll students in grades 9 through 12 described their schools as having a “college-prep” instructional focus;
  • Half (49.3 percent) of the respondents indicated an extended school day to increase instructional learning time; and
  • Nearly half (48.8 percent) of the respondents from charter schools that enroll students in grades 9 through 12 said their students take classes at local universities or colleges.
The survey asked public charter schools to select their instructional focus from a list of 44 options, including a write-in option, and two out of five public charter schools (40.5 percent) respondents indicated a college-prep instructional focus. Based on the many approaches that schools use to implement a “college-prep” instructional focus, we asked charter school leaders tell us in their own words how they use different instructional methods to achieve their school’s mission. For example, The Intergenerational School in Cleveland, Ohio, pairs students with adult and senior citizen mentors to let the generations learn from each other, while the Paulo Freire Freedom School, a charter middle school in Tucson, Arizona, adopted project-based learning to impart knowledge through experiences that are authentic and engaging. These are just two of the many innovative approaches that public charter schools use to make a difference in the lives of children. You can also check out blogs from a virtual school in Hawaii, a Japanese immersion charter in Oregon, a wellness-focused charter in New York, and a service-learning school in Pennsylvania. Whether through a customized curriculum or extended learning time, public charter schools are innovating to meet their students’ needs. Charter schools use their autonomy to select instructional focuses that run the gamut: from career-based to vocational and from traditional to project-based learning. Instr Strategy Infographic

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Turning Over the Teacher Turnover Question

More teachers leave charters than leave district-run schools – a familiar phenomenon that’s currently drawing a flurry of research scrutiny. The sector usually contends that turnover is to be expected in start-ups, and that the numbers are really driven by terminations of ineffective teachers. Not so fast, said a recent DOE study, blogged by colleague Anna Nicotera: salary and working conditions seem to play a big role too. A couple of new studies may further reframe the discussion. The National Charter School Research Project’s new look at charter vs. district teacher mobility in Wisconsin finds that “charter” per se may have little to do with whether teachers leave or stay. Younger teachers tend to move more whether in charters or traditional schools, and so do those who teach in disadvantaged areas, where most charters are located. In fact, urban charters actually retain teachers somewhat better than their district-school counterparts. (A caveat here: WI may not be the ideal state for this comparison, since teachers in so many charters stay in the district’s union contracts – a point noted by the researchers.) But maybe the whole debate is upside-down. Maybe the problem is not too many charter school teachers moving, but too few teachers leaving district-run schools. As a new Education Sector report notes, the vast majority of teachers in traditional district schools are tightly tethered to defined-benefit pension systems of the sort rarely found in the private workforce anymore. They lose out if they sever that connection, whether it’s to move to another kind of school or to switch careers altogether. Ed Sector cites a 2008 survey in which nearly four out of five teachers agreed that ‘too many veteran teachers who are burned out stay because they do not want to walk away from the benefits and service time they have accrued.’  (Remember that one next time you hear the charge of “too many young, inexperienced teachers in charter schools.”) Most of our economy now functions on the assumption of worker mobility. Eighty percent of pensions are now portable plans such as 401Ks and 403Bs; just 7.2 percent of private-sector workers are covered by collective-bargaining agreements; and COBRA provides a long off-ramp for health coverage when employment ends.  Public charter schools are clearly riding this wave, reflecting the realities of the current and future workforce more closely than their counterparts in public school districts. The Alliance’s Model State Charter Law gives its highest rating in this area to just 11 states that provide access to state-run employee retirement systems, but do not force charter schools to participate. It’s a macro version of the balancing act required in today’s best-run charters, who are offering compensation and benefit packages that permit – but do not require – making a career of it.

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Twelve Public Charter Schools Recognized as National Blue Ribbon Schools in 2013

The U.S. Department of Education announced the winners of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program last week and 12 public charter schools were among the recognized schools. Each year, Chief State School Officers are invited to nominate public and private schools that meet criteria established by the U.S. Department of Education. Public schools must have made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for three consecutive years including the year the school is nominated. Additionally, one-third of all the nominated schools in a state must be schools with at least 40 percent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Once schools are nominated, they must submit detailed applications that describe the instructional program and performance outcomes of students at the school. The program also profiles a small number of winning schools each year. The North Star Academy Charter School was profiled as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2010. Congratulations to the 2013 National Blue Ribbon public charter schools!  
Charter School State
DC Prep Edgewood Elementary Campus District of Columbia
Charter School of Wilmington Delaware
Hartridge Academy Florida
Collegiate High School at Northwest Florida State College Florida
Prairie Crossing Charter School Illinois
Lake Forest Elementary Charter School Louisiana
International Spanish Language Academy Minnesota
Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science New Mexico
Harding Charter Preparatory High School Oklahoma
The Laboratory Charter School of Communication and Languages Pennsylvania
Souderton Charter School Collaborative Pennsylvania
Tidioute Community Charter School Pennsylvania
Anna Nicotera is the senior director of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern

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Two BASIS Schools Top U.S. News Best High School Rankings

As we noted yesterday, public charter schools represented 28 percent of the Top 100 on the U.S. News Best High School Rankings. Three public charter schools held spots in the Top 5—and two of those three top public charter schools are part of the BASIS Schools network. Our president and CEO remarked that BASIS Schools’ incredible academic performance “is a sign that there is something in their formula that needs to be replicated as quickly as possible, because it seems to be producing great results.” You can learn more about BASIS schools at the National Charter Schools Conference, where BASIS board chair Dr. Craig Barrett, who was fromerly Intel’s president (in 1997), CEO (in 1998) and chairman of the board (in 2005), will be part of a keynote panel on “Educating Tomorrow’s Leaders.” Dr. Barrett         Dr. Craig Barrett
Kim Kober

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Two Charter Management Organizations Named Race to the Top-District Finalists

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 31 Race to the Top-District (RTT-D) competition finalists, including two charter management organizations (CMOs). The 2013 competition will provide nearly $120 million to support strategies developed by school districts (including charter schools that are their own district) that have a direct impact on improving student learning and closing achievement gaps in schools serving high populations of low-income families. The RTT-D’s focus on classroom activities, personalized learning, and the relationships between educators and students is similar to the priorities of many public charter schools—to improve student achievement through innovative learning strategies and engagement between teachers, parents, and students. Two CMO’s, Rocketship Education and the KIPP Foundation, are listed as finalists in the competition. It’s no surprise given that these organizations easily meet RTT-D’s top criteria for strong vision, proven track records, and successful college preparation for students. Rocketship’s elementary schools in the Bay Area, Milwaukee, and Nashville are already making progress closing the achievement gap. The Rocketship model promotes individualized student learning and their efforts are paying off. In California, Rocketship continues to be in the top five percent of school districts serving low-income children. The model rotates students through a learning lab each day where students use online adaptive software to tailor their lessons. The Rocketship proposal includes a plan to provide students with computers so that they can work at home and over the summer to prevent learning loss. KIPP’s TEAM Academy, with schools in Newark and Camden, was also selected as a finalist. At TEAM Academy, everything is earned. Students start each year earning their chair and uniform for doing the right thing, and they soon move on to earning trips and activities. The Academy’s founding principle—that together, everyone achieves more—has become a reality in student achievement. If selected to receive the grant, their plan will allow the charter to develop a personalized college readiness plan for each student to help families manage the path to and through college. ` While the final list of this year’s RTT-D awardees has not yet been announced, last year three CMOs–Harmony Public Schools,IDEA Public Schools, and KIPP DC–were awarded funds and set a strong precedent for the inclusion of public charter schools in the grant competition. By the end of the year, the list of 31 finalists will be narrowed down to five to ten winning applicants for the four-year awards. Funding will range from $4 million to $30 million per awardee, with the amount determined by the population of students served. View the full list of finalists for the 2013 Race to the Top-District competition. Kim Kober is the federal policy and government relations coordinator.

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Two Million Charter Students!

This certainly is a momentous year for the charter sector. Two million students enrolled (200K new students)!  500 new schools! Twenty years since the first charter school opened! Oh my! The growth in the number of public charter schools and students demonstrates parents’ continued demand for high quality educational options. Follow the yellow brick road to here and here for our newly released estimates of the number of students enrolled in charter schools for the 2011-12 school year.

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U.S. ED Announces Race to the Top-District Consortium Webinar

As promised, the Department of Education will offer another webinar to help prepare applicants for applying as a consortium to Race to the Top–District (RTT-D). The webinar will be held on Thursday, August 30, 2012 from 2:00-3:30 PM EST. To register for the webinar, please complete the registration form. The slides will be available on the Department’s website prior to the webinar. In addition to this webinar, the Department will offer additional Technical Assistance webinar opportunities on budget requirements. Announcements of any other conference calls or webinars will also be available on their website. NAPCS will also offer a webinar targeted toward charter applicants. For more information, please see the Department’s website, and you can alsocontact me.

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U.S. ED Awards Green Ribbon Schools on Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, and in conjunction with this event, the U.S. Department of Education announced the 2013 winners of their Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) award. GRS honors schools that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education, which incorporates STEM, civic skills and green career pathways. This year’s winners were 64 traditional public, public charter, and private schools and 14 districts. Among the seven public charter schools honored in the GRS award, here are some highlights:
  •  Journey School (Aliso Viejo, CA) offers a comprehensive eco-education program; has a partnership with Tanaka Farms, which delivers baskets of fresh organic produce weekly for faculty, students, and parents; and the school has established five gardens in its community.
  • Redding School of the Arts II (Redding, CA) was the first school campus worldwide to be certified LEED Platinum in 2009 and is a national model of sustainability. In addition to being a visual and performing arts school, RSA has a Mandarin language immersion program that includes outdoor learning, and maintains a relationship with a sister school in China.
  • Common Ground High School (New Haven, CT) was the nation’s first environment-themed charter school; composts 100 percent of its organic waste onsite; and its campus is a 20-acre demonstration farm at the base of a state park.
  • Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School (Washington, D.C.) was the first public charter school in D.C. explicitly dedicated to being a green school. All of the school’s furniture is always certified as 100 percent recycled, sustainably made, and non-toxic, and students enjoy activity through yoga, physical education classes, and enjoy an hour of outdoor time each day.
  • Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School (Washington, D.C.) has a new permanent campus on three wooded acres of land, a unique and treasured setting for an urban school. The school lunch vendor, Revolution Foods, is committed to providing clients with healthy, unprocessed food, and adheres to the school’s “no junk food” policy.
  • Ivy Academy (Soddy-Daisy, TN) takes advantage of its location near state-protected land, and its students spend 30-50 percent of the school day outside—including academic classes commonly held outside. Students are also required to participate in at least one year of service learning courses which focus partly on environmental projects.
  • Jefferson Elementary-Fox River Academy (Appleton, WI) has integrated sustainability topics to the academic curriculum, and uses a Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS) with rewards such as basketball, dance, and open gym.
Congratulations to all the GRS winners recognized for their exemplary efforts to make their schools healthier, safer, more cost efficient, and sustainable. GRS Logo

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U.S. House Majority Leader Tours Virginia Public Charter School

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA-07) toured the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts (PHSSA) and held an education roundtable with school leaders and parents last Friday, June 7th. PHSSA is a public charter school in Richmond, Virginia that is dedicated to educating and inspiring their students through active community involvement. PHSSA is one of four public charter schools in Virginia and serves 210 elementary aged students. Virginia is ranked 38 out of 43 by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) Model Law ranking. At PHSSA, 84 percent of the students passed the statewide English exam. However, only 48 percent of the students passed the Mathematics exam, much lower than the 68 percent statewide passing rate. Despite these results, parents and community members truly value the education their children are receiving at PHSSA. In fact, as stakeholders in their children’s education, parents and teachers stood up to the Richmond school board to renew the schools charter in March. Stories like this confirm the impact public charter schools can have on families and highlight the importance of school choice. NAPCS applauds Congressman Cantor on his support for public charter schools. Cantor school visit               Image via @GOPLeader on twitter (June 7, 2013). “Great visit to Patrick Henry elementary school in #RVA. #SchoolChoicepic.twitter.com/QgiOPWTjVL

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U.S. House Republicans Tour Two Rivers Public Charter School

GOP Leader Eric Cantor, House Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, Representative Todd Rokita, Representative Martha Roby, and Representative Luke Messer toured Two Rivers Public Charter School on Tuesday, July 16th. The members participated in a tour of the school, a roundtable with parents and charter school leaders, and held a press conference to highlight the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) and its charter school legislation. GOP tour 1                           U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor visits with students The roundtable was full of lively discussion on school choice, waiting lists, accountability, and student achievement. The parents were thrilled that they had the opportunity to send their child to such an impactful school; many exclaimed that they had “won the lottery” by being able to attend Two Rivers! GOP tour 2                       Congressman Cantor, Congressman Kline, Scott Pearson (D.C. Public Charter School Board Executive Director), Congressman Messer, and Jessica Wodatch (Two Rivers Public Charter School Executive Director) Two Rivers is a tier-one charter school in the District of Columbia that has outstanding outcomes, with 73 percent proficiency in math and 74 percent proficiency in reading on the state test. Two Rivers proves that public charter schools are having a huge impact on this community. In fact, Two Rivers has been so successful that it has a student waiting list of 1,776 names. Unfortunately, in D.C. alone there are 22,000 names on charter school waiting lists, and in the United States there are 920,000 names. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools commends the House Republicans for visiting Two Rivers Public Charter School, a D.C. success story of how school choice, flexibility and accountability generate innovation in charter schools. The National Alliance looks forward to the ESEA reauthorization momentum in the House and continues to support legislation that further develops the charter school movement and reduces the number of names on charter school waiting lists nationwide.