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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.
Todd Ziebarth

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To achieve a strong charter sector, start with supportive laws

Senior VP of State Advocacy and Support Todd Ziebarth has a guest blog at Flypaper as part of their “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while other are falling behind. Here’s an excerpt of Todd’s response:

The short, but unsatisfying, answer to Mike’s question: It’s complicated.

Since we released our first rankings of state charter school laws against our model law in 2010, we’ve been asked about the relationship between a state’s ranking in our report and the results of that state’s charter schools—so much so that we’ll be releasing a new report in a couple of months that begins to tease out this relationship in each state entitled The Health of the Public Charter School Sector: A State-By-State Report. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about this relationship.

Supportive laws are necessary but not sufficient

First, to quote directly from our model law,

It is important to note that a strong charter law is a necessary but insufficient factor in driving positive results for public charter schools. Experience with public charter schools across the country has shown that there are five primary ingredients of a successful public charter school environment in a state, as demonstrated by strong student results:

  • Supportive laws and regulations (both what is on the books and how it is implemented);
  • Quality authorizers;
  • Effective charter support organizations, such as state charter associations and resource centers;
  • Outstanding school leaders and teachers; and,
  • Engaged parents and community members. 

While it is critical to get the law right, it is equally critical to ensure these additional ingredients exist in a state’s charter sector.

Some states with supportive laws (those that show up high in our annual rankings) have implemented them well and have therefore achieved strong results. Conversely, other states with supportive laws that show up high in our rankings have implemented them inconsistently—and have therefore achieved uneven results.

To read the rest of Todd’s response, visit Flypaper

   

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Top Federal Officials Support National Charter Schools Week 2013

Public Charter Schools and National Charter Schools Week have recently had support from some of the highest elected officials in the country. President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation recognizing National Charter Schools Week, 2013.  U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), co-chairs of the Senate Public Charter Schools Caucus, also expressed strong support for public charter schools and marked the start of the 14thannual National Charter Schools Week, which lasts from May 5 to May 11 this year. President Obama“Many charter schools choose to locate in communities with few high-quality educational options, making them an important partner in widening the circle of opportunity for students who need it most.” Senator Alexander: “Charter schools give principals the freedom to lead, teachers the freedom to exercise their own good judgment and parents the freedom to choose the school that is best for their child. This is the formula to help our children learn what they need to know and be able to do so they can succeed in life.” Senator Landrieu: “Our future will continue to be shaped by how well we prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s challenges.  The freedom charter schools have to innovate has invigorated the public education system in New Orleans and across Louisiana, providing parents with a quality choice for their children. Across the country, they are helping shape the conversation about how to improve our education strategy and outcomes, and they should remain one of the key components of that mission.” We thank these public officials for their outstanding service to the students, parents and families of the public charter school movement.
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