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The Public Charter School Movement Celebrates 20 Years Today

Twenty years ago today, the first public charter school opened in St Paul, MN, forging the path for the most innovative public education reform movement in a century. The concept of charter schools was proposed by a local Citizens League and authorized by bi-partisan legislation endorsed by a Democratic-majority legislature and a Republican governor. City Academy High School was started by two teachers and a youth recreation leader who wanted the autonomy to provide students at high risk of dropping out with the choice of a new type of public school that could better serve their needs. Today, politicians from both sides of the aisle support charter schools, including Presidents Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Governor Romney. Legislatures in 41 states and Washington, D.C. have adopted charter school legislation. Additionally, in the last two years, 19 states strengthened their charter school laws by lifting caps restricting charter growth, providing more equitable funding and facilities support, and enacting new authorizing and accountability measures. Maine enacted its first charter school law. And demand for public charter schools is at an all time high. More than 2,000,000 students attend approximately 5,600 charter schools, and more than 610,000 more are on waiting lists. The public nationwide supports public charter schools by a two to one margin, and the movement has been embraced by a wide swath of Americans, from business leaders Bill Gates and Craig Barrett, to organizations including the National Council of La Raza and the United Negro College Fund. The cornerstones of the public charter school movement are bringing effective innovation into the teaching and learning process, providing parents choices that better suit their children’s personal needs, and allowing educators the autonomy they deserve to best educate their students. Because of this, charter schools have driven many trends, including integrating and utilizing technology in effective ways; transforming how teachers and school leaders are recruited, supported, and retained; and reinventing how schools are operated and educational opportunities are provided. After more than 200 studies on charter schools, we’ve learned that eliminating unnecessary restrictions on how education is delivered, and breaking down the barriers of who can help children learn, has enhanced how children achieve and develop. Public charter schools are demonstrating that the achievement gap can be closed and that every child, regardless of where they live or their socio-economic status, can achieve at high academic levels. In the coming decade, leaders of the public charter school movement must concentrate their efforts on making the charter sector the source of innovative solutions to public education’s most pressing challenges and providing more high-performing schools to families and students across the nation. This is where effective charter authorizers come in. They must find ways to create an atmosphere for new operators to enter the space – and exit swiftly when they fail. We want the charter school brand to be synonymous with academic excellence and operational integrity. The students we serve deserve no less. Charter schools offer the promise of preserving the American ideal of a quality public education, particularly in the many communities with under-performing public schools. It is clear what charter schools can accomplish. The next challenge is to build on those accomplishments to ensure that every child can realize the benefits of a high-quality public school education.
Eric Paisner

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The Public Charter School Talent Landscape

The charter schools sector has changed public education in our nation. After just 20 years, charter schools now make up more than five percent of all public schools across the country and serve more than 2 million students. At current growth rates, the charter sector will serve 3 million students in another 3.5 years and 5 million within 8 years. Charter schools are a permanent and growing segment of our public schools system. In order to satisfy the overwhelming parent and student demand for more high quality public school options, we need to create more schools, hire more teachers, and locate more leaders. NAPCS estimated in 2008 that the public charter school movement would need to find between 6,000 and 21,000 new school leaders over the next 10 years in order to keep pace with the growth of the sector. While the upper estimate is likely a bit high, demand for charters still exceeds supply by a significant amount. In 2012, NAPCS estimated that more than 600,000 students remained on waitlistsfor charter schools across the nation. That means we need almost 2,000 more charter schools just to find seats for these children. And, we need at least that many new leaders to open new charter schools and take over for retiring leaders of established ones. The charter sector has attracted a significant amount of new talent to the sector. Since there is no special certification required to lead a charter school in many states, the sector HAS drawn in a large number of entrepreneurial leaders from other fields. Leaders of several highly successful charter schools, including Deborah Kenny of Harlem Village Academies, John Danner of Rocketship Education and Dacia Toll of Achievement First, did not take traditional routes to school leadership (i.e. teacher, assistant principal, principal). In cities like New Orleans, New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington, D.C., high concentration of charter schools have created thriving talent markets. Unfortunately, despite the ability to attract talent from outside normal pools, the sector still cannot keep pace with demand. Further, since experience outside the education realm doesn’t guarantee success in the education field, we should not merely attempt to bring in large numbers of outsiders and expect success. More than likely, additional supports are necessary. Tomorrow on The Charter Blog, we’ll look at some of the larger nonprofit charter school networks that have developed in-house training programs for future leaders. Kenny Cosby NCSC (1)           Photo: Deborah Kenny of Harlem Village Academies, who took a nontraditional path into school leadership, speaking with Bill Bosby at the 2012 National Charter Schools Conference. 
Nora Kern

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The Quest for Quality

A recent op-ed by Douglas Thaman, Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association (MCPSA), makes a strong call for the enforcement of quality in public charter schools operated by Imagine Schools Inc. While the issues generally facingMissouri charter schools—and those specifically perpetuated by Imagine Schools—are extreme, they are problems universally faced by charter schools: high facilities costs, the need for a strong governance body to set policies for sound business operations, and authorizer enforcement of quality and accountability. MCPSA is right to call for a state auditor investigation of the Imagine Schools practices that shortchange its students of a superior education. As a sector, we are only as strong as our weakest link. Whether it is through additional support or ultimately the closure of underperforming schools, or setting a new performance bar for high achievers, the public charter school sector must be vigilant when it comes to enforcing quality. And as MCPSA’s demand demonstrates, enforcement of quality starts in our own back yard.
Gina Mahony

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The Quest to Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Congress made progress this summer on efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This important law, which governs nearly all K-12 education programs, is long overdue for reauthorization. There is a long way to go (and it’s a bit discouraging that President Obama didn’t even mention it in either of his speeches last week); but the National Alliance is focused on ensuring that the final legislation reflects the priorities of the public charter school community. On July 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of ESEA in H.R. 5, the Student Success Act. While H.R. 5 passed on a party-line vote, with no Democrats in support of the bill, we are pleased that the Charter Schools Program (CSP) section of the bill mirrored a bipartisan compromise reached in 2011 with the House Committee on Education and the Workforce’s Senior Democrat, Rep. George Miller (D-CA). In addition, a number of key changes were made to the bill during negotiations and floor consideration that reflected the National Alliance’s guiding principles for ESEA reauthorization. Now that the House has completed its work, all eyes are on the Senate. In mid-June, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed its version of ESEA reauthorization, S. 1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, also on a party-line vote, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposing. The bill now awaits consideration by the full Senate. Once the Senate bill is passed, the differences between the House and Senate bills will be resolved in a conference committee. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to strengthen public charter schools, and are eager for more forward progress! Gina Mahony is senior vice president of government relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Additional Resources: National Alliance Letter of Support to Chairman John Kline (R-MN) National Alliance Letter of Support to Senior Democrat George Miller (D-CA)

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The Race-Ethnicity Demographics of Public Charter Schools

Over the last several years, public charter schools have faced steady criticism that there are a larger percentage of charter schools with majority race/ethnicity groups than traditional public schools. The critics will point to national, state, or peculiar comparisons at metropolitan statistical areas to show that charter schools enroll more students of color. Regrettably, racial isolation has been growing in our public school systems, largely as a result of the lifting of court order busing mandates, limitations on the use of race/ethnicity as an assignment mechanism, residential segregation, school district boundaries, attendance zones, and limited transportation. The fact is that, more often than not, charter schools mirror the demographic trends of the surrounding school district (read more here). Today NAPCS is releasing a Details from the Dashboard report that presents race/ethnicity breakouts for public charter schools and traditional public schools at the state and school district levels. We present the data at these two levels to show that when comparisons are made solely at the state level, the differences between charter schools and traditional public schools in the demographics of students enrolled are exaggerated. District level comparisons provide a much better assessment of student demographics. The table below shows a couple of examples of states where charter schools appear to enroll a much different student population than the state average, but in reality the charter schools are on par with traditional public schools in the surrounding district. The Details from the Dashboard report serves as a complement to our recently released issue brief on the different ways in which public charter schools serve the diverse needs of communities. The state and district statistics provide context to the case studies presented in the report. Race/Ethnicity Percentages by Public Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools, 2010-2011  
State (School District) White % Black % Hispanic % Asian % Other %
Indiana CPS 32.6 51.2 8.1 0.7 7.3
TPS 74.0 11.2 8.4 1.6 4.8
  Indianapolis Public Schools CPS 28.2 53.1 8.9 0.3 9.5
  TPS 24.2 53.9 15.6 0.4 5.9
  Gary Community School Corporation CPS 1.0 90.6 6.9 0.0 1.5
  TPS 0.7 88.4 2.7 0.1 8.1
Maryland CPS 11.7 80.0 4.8 1.2 2.2
TPS 43.5 35.1 11.7 5.8 4.0
  Baltimore City Public Schools CPS 8.2 83.9 5.1 1.0 1.8
  TPS 7.8 86.6 3.9 1.0 0.7
  Prince George’s County Public Schools CPS 1.3 91.7 3.5 1.3 2.1
  TPS 4.5 68.9 21.0 2.9 2.7
Michigan CPS 33.1 54.4 6.7 2.1 3.2
TPS 72.5 16.3 5.8 2.7 2.7
  Detroit Public Schools CPS 4.1 85.9 8.6 0.9 0.3
  TPS 3.0 86.7 8.9 1.0 0.3
  Southfield Public Schools CPS 7.1 91.6 0.4 0.0 0.8
  TPS 4.9 93.9 0.4 0.3 0.5
Missouri CPS 10.0 78.2 9.7 1.3 0.2
TPS 76.1 15.7 4.4 1.9 1.9
  Saint Louis Public Schools CPS 11.2 82.8 4.0 0.8 0.2
  TPS 12.8 81.1 3.4 2.2 0.2
  Kansas  City, Missouri School District CPS 8.6 73.1 16.0 1.8 0.1
  TPS 8.9 66.5 21.8 2.5 0.2
Pennsylvania CPS 40.4 42.4 11.9 2.3 2.8
TPS 72.8 14.2 8.1 3.2 1.7
  The School District of Philadelphia CPS 15.6 64.4 15.9 2.7 1.3
  TPS 13.8 59.5 17.7 6.1 2.9
  Source: Compiled by NAPCS using the Public Charter Schools Dashboard.

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The Results Are In…

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the opening of the first charter school, we’re at a critical moment for reflection. Many are understandably asking: are charters performing any better than their traditional public school counterparts? There have been a number of conflicting studies on charter school performance, with some receiving a fair share of attention over the past several years. Making sense of the often wide variation in findings can become quite overwhelming, given the differences in samples and locations, years studied, and research design strategies. But now there is some clarity in the muddy charter school research waters. Researchers from the University of California San Diego just released a meta-analysis of studies on charter school achievement, a must read for folks who want to keep up with the growing charter school performance research base. Meta-analysis, which is a study of studies strategy popularized by the medical research field, pulls together the results from a body of research and analyzes the overall effect of the program. Consequently, the findings from a meta-analysis—in this case, the overall impact of charter schools on student outcomes—are stronger than results from any individual study. The UCSD meta-analysis shows that public charter schools outperform traditional public schools in the following break-outs (drumroll please…): elementary reading and math, middle school math, and urban high school reading. Given the large number of studies on KIPP charter schools, the authors were able to break out the findings and found large, positive results for KIPP middle schools in reading and math. In sum, charters serving elementary and middle school grades by and large outperform traditional public schools. The positive results are testimony to the constant efforts by all the students, parents, educators, and others in the charter world whose daily work makes these results a reality.
Nora Kern

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The Truth About Myths

Paul Farhi’s recent WaPo piece, “Five myths about America’s schools,” has created a swirl of opposition in the blogosphere (seeherehere, and here for starters). To add a little more fuel to the fire, I’ll briefly weigh in on “myth #4: Charter schools are the answer.” Farhi raises a point of contention that charter schools are “siphoning off” more motivated students and parents who have “mastered the intricacies of admission.” Come on…we’re not talking about admission to elite New York City preschools here. By definition, charter schools are to have open-enrollment policies for vacant spaces and a lottery drawing for spaces that open up to students on a waitlist. The admissions process usually entails filling out a form with basic contact information, same as on the first day of a traditional public school. Farhi also charges that the enthusiasm about charter schools is “all for results that are not uniformly impressive.” Like in the traditional school system, there are high and low performing charter schools. Nobody denies this. But the potential of the charter model is space for innovation to develop and grow promising designs and close down schools that are not meeting performance requirements. And to trivialize the exciting results that high-performing charter schools have yielded is as ludicrous as claiming that charters alone will save the education system. As Luke Kohlmoos notes, “Most would say that charter schools are a component of a larger context.  Some charters are good and some are bad.  This myth is arguing against nobody at all.”

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Thoughtless Pause

Elegant phraseology doesn’t conceal the fact that the “thoughtful pause” proposed by Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee is a moratorium on charter growth. Some actual thinking has been provided by RI-CAN, the state’s new ed-reform group, who looked at data and found that charters are pushing achievement upward. Think again, Governor.

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Three Charter School Advocates Inducted into Charter School Hall of Fame

Each year at the National Charter School Conference, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducts outstanding charter school advocates into the National Charter Schools Hall of Fame. To be recognized for the Hall of Fame an inductee must have pioneered efforts in the development and growth of charter schools, developed innovative education reform ideas and successfully implemented those ideas, and inspired others in the charter school movement. This year’s inductees are no exception to that high standard and we are pleased to introduce you to the 2013 Hall of Fame inductees: Lisa Graham Keegan, Linda Moore, and the Walton Family Foundation. Lisa Graham Keegan           Lisa Graham Keegan CEO, Education Breakthrough Network Lisa Graham Keegan has been a champion of education reform for over 25 years. As a state representative in the mid-1990s, she led officials in Arizona to pass a charter school law that was one of the first of its kind in the country. Keegan also played an integral role in the successful movement to update content and graduation standards for students in Arizona public schools. In 1999, she was recognized as the National Republican Women Educator of the Year and received the first ever Friedman Foundation Award for Leadership in Educational Choice. Following her time in the state legislature, Keegan continued her public service as Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1995 to 2001. She came to Washington, D.C. to accept the role of CEO for the Education Leaders Council in 2001 and has been a key player in national education policy over the past two decades. As a vice chairman of the political platform committee at the 2008 National Republican Convention, she helped craft the party’s formal stance on education policy issues. Keegan also served as a senior advisor for education policy to John McCain’s presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2008 and has provided her policy expertise to governors Jeb Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Keegan currently serves as the CEO of the Education Breakthrough Network, an online community she founded in 2010 for advocates of school choice. She is also a member of the Century Council board in D.C. and active member of her church and community in Arizona. Simple Choices, Keegan’s book on students and schools, was published earlier this year.   Linda Moore             Linda Moore Founder & Executive Director, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School The daughter of a longtime elementary school teacher, Linda Moore has become a powerful education reform advocate for children in Washington, D.C. and across the country. She founded and currently serves as the Executive Director of Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Northeast D.C., which has grown from serving 35 students when it opened in 1998 to over 350 today. Labeled a Tier 1 Performing D.C. Charter School for 2012 by the DC Public Charter School Board, Elsie Whitlow PCS has been a center for innovative teaching and learning over the course of its 15-year existence. The school is built on a bilingual education model that places two teachers in every classroom and ensures that students leave with a strong grasp of not only English but Spanish or French as well. Moore’s school also focuses heavily on developing its students as leaders through a unique curriculum that draws on concepts of citizenship, nonviolence, community service, and social justice. She currently serves as Chair of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools and has served education organizations across the country as the Director of Community Education Project for Memphis City Schools and the Director of Minority Leadership Development at the National Community Education Association (NCEA). Moore has also recently led a partnership with three other public charter schools to open a language immersion charter high school in DC for 2014-2015 school year and has testified before Congress on education policy issues. WFF logo           Walton Family Foundation The Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation has provided an unprecedented level of financial support to schools and education organizations across the country over the past decade. Founded and run by the family of billionaire businessman Sam Walton, the foundation supports a wide range of causes but education organizations are its top funding priority and received over $158 million in grants in 2012 alone. The foundation’s core strategy is “to infuse competitive pressure into America’s K-12 education system by increasing the quantity and quality of school choices available to parents, especially in low-income communities.” To do so, it spreads its education funding across three distinct initiatives: shaping public policy, creating quality schools, and improving existing schools. Charter schools have especially benefitted from the second initiative: to date, the Walton Family Foundation has invested over $300 million in start-up schools and is now the largest single funder of new charters. Additionally, the foundation has funded state charter organizations, local charter networks, national advocacy groups, teacher training programs, and research initiatives. The Walton Family Foundation focuses its education funding on 16 designated investment sites across the country: Albany, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Harlem (NY), Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Newark (NJ), Phoenix, and Washington, D.C. We are proud to honor the foundation for its substantial contribution to education reform and all the children’s lives it has changed.
Christy Wolfe

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Title I Funding and Charter Schools: How the Dollars Follow (or Don’t Follow) Students

The Title I portability proposals in the House (H.R. 5) and Senate ESEA reauthorization bills have generated a fair amount of debate (and hand wringing) in the last few months. So much so that the President has threatened to veto H.R. 5, and the Senate responded by removing the portability language from its original proposal. For those who are not familiar with the portability concept, the portability proposals would allow states to make an average allocation per-child to public schools based on the number of eligible students choosing to attend that school, instead of using the current Title I formulas to determine allocations to school districts. In doing so, it would flatten out funding and eliminate high per-child allocations to districts and schools with higher concentrations of poverty.

In order to understand how charter schools could be impacted by portability, it is important to understand how charter schools are currently funded under Title I. In the case of a charter school that is a Local Education Agency (LEA), determining Title I allocations is complicated. In some cases funds follow the child from a district to some charter school LEAs, and in other cases charter LEAs receive statewide average per-child allocations. Given how little is generally understood of how Title I funding reaches charter schools, consider this blog your opportunity to get a crash-course in how it works.

Title I Funding Works Differently for Charter School LEAs

First, it is important to understand that all charter schools are public schools and are subject to the same Title I eligibility requirements as district-run public schools. While some charter schools receive their funding through a school district, other charter schools operate as their own school district (LEA), and the state determines their funding share. Many of these charter school LEAs have a type of Title I portability funding their school, because Title I dollars go directly to the school instead of the district. But this doesn’t necessarily lead to equitable funding, or a Title I allocation that corresponds to the actual number or percentage of students in poverty in each school.

Second, under current law, census data on children living in poverty determines the amount of Title I funds that go to the district (in accordance with four complex funding formulas). This is what is called a per “formula” child allotment. After the funds reach the district, there is an entirely different process for determining which schools get funded.

For charter schools that are their own LEAs, understanding how their allocation from their State Educational Agencies (SEA) corresponds to their number or percentage of children living in poverty is even more difficult. This is because, unlike most Title I schools receiving funds from their district, there isn’t a direct or consistent relationship between the number or percentage of eligible children attending a charter school LEA and their average Title I per-pupil allotment.

So, why is Title I charter school funding all over the map? Shouldn’t a charter school serving similar concentrations of students in poverty get the same funding as a traditional public school in the same neighborhood, serving the same students? While that seems logical, charter schools don’t fit neatly into Title I calculations. Since charter school LEAs do not have district boundaries, census data on children in poverty in a geographic area can’t be used (generally) to determine their federal formula allocations. Consequently, SEAs can’t use any of the four funding formulas as it does for traditional public school districts, and must use a different process to calculate what a charter school LEA gets.

Calculating How Much (or Whether) Money Follows the Child

There are two ways to determine how much a charter school LEA receives, and both depend on SEA estimates of census poverty children, using data such as free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Once the SEA has this data, the following are the methods prescribed by U.S. Department Education (ED) guidance and regulations for allocating Title I funds to charter schools:

  1. Title I traditional district “per-child” allocations follow the child to a charter school LEA: If an SEA can determine the traditional LEA where the students attending a charter school came from, the charter school LEA receives the per formula child allocation that a state allocates to the “sending” LEA (ie, the school district where the child would otherwise attend school). As a result, charter school LEAs can receive differing amounts per eligible child attending their school depending on where their students live. Due to a bias in the formula in favor of large districts, among other factors, allocations per formula child to districts can range widely—In Texas, for example, from less than $500 to more than $3,000 per student.

As a result, a charter school LEA’s average Title I grants per child is a function of the percentage and number of formula children in the sending LEAs, not of the charter school LEA itself. In other words, a child can come to the school with their district’s Title I allocation strapped to their back, but not all funding backpacks will have the same amount of funds in them. In a large metropolitan area with multiple charter school LEAs and traditional LEAs, the average Title I grant per formula child may vary widely, depending on the proportions of students from low-income families from different sending LEAs.

  1. Statewide average “per-child” allocations follow the child to a charter school LEA: If an SEA is not able to determine the “sending” school district of charter school students, charter school LEAs are funded similar to the current Title I portability proposals: they receive the statewide formula per-child allocation. Unlike the first option, these allocations are taken from every school district in the state, not just the sending school districts. Under this policy, grants per child do not generally vary among charter school LEAs within the same state—so all those funding backpacks are pretty much the same. Notably these “average” allocations may not be the right size if the school is a high- or low-poverty school.

In either of the two methods described above, the Title I formulas are not directly used to calculate the allocation of a particular charter school LEA, which is why the poverty of the school doesn’t necessarily correspond to the funding it receives. An alternative approach to the two methods could instead allow charter schools to receive allocations based on the formulas, using an option available to states when they allocate funds to areas with fewer than 20,000 people. Under this method, a charter school LEA would receive an allocation from its SEA using the poverty data available for its school, and the per-child allocation would be determined by the four Title I formulas, not by the statewide allocation or the sending LEA. Under this option, increases in the number of students in poverty attending a charter school could increase the amount allocated per child and the amount of funds allocated to the school.

There are other issues in the formulas themselves that affect allocations to charters, including the bias in the formula towards large, urban LEAs, which can mean that some traditional school districts get a significantly higher per child allocation than smaller districts with higher poverty rates. The National Alliance explores these issues in its recently released publication by Wayne Riddle: Issues in the Allocation of ESEA Title I Funds to Charter Schools. In this paper we provide a detailed explanation of current law and how the formulas work in the allocation of funds to charter schools. Our goal is to explore what changes in the law and ED guidance might help improve the transparency of allocations to charter school LEAs, as well as ensure that higher-poverty charter schools receive funds consistent with the Title I formulas’ intent to allocate larger amounts per child to LEAs with higher levels of poverty.