The Charter Blog


Nora Kern


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Parents’ Perspective on School Choice

This month, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report, How Parents Experience Public School Choice, which contains survey findings from 4,000 parents of K-12 students living in eight “high-choice” U.S. cities, defined as those with many non-neighborhood-based schools and with a range of oversight structures. The 500 parents from each location—Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—answered questions about their ability to access other school options, their impression of the trajectory of their school district, their priorities for selecting a school, and their ability to find a school that fits their student’s needs.

Some key findings include:

  • In districts that offer parents an alternative to their assigned school, parents are utilizing their ability to choose. On the high end, 87 percent of New Orleans parents choose an alternative to their neighborhood school, while 35 percent of Indianapolis parents choose public charter schools.
  • School choice experiences vary for parents in different cities. Sixty percent of Denver parents said they had another good public school option in addition to their child’s current school. Just 40 percent of Philadelphia parents reported another quality option.
  • Navigating school choice options is more challenging for parents with less education, minority parents, and those whose children have special needs.
  • There have been uneven investments in school choice supports—namely, centralized information, enrollment, and transportation systems—among the high-choice cities.

In these eight cities, CPRE found that at least half of the city’s parents were choosing a school other than their assigned district school. This corresponds with the data in our latest A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities report, in which Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. rank among the top ten school districts in the nation for the highest charter school enrollment share, and Baltimore and Denver are both in the top 25.

It’s no surprise that parents in Denver, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. reported more positive results. These cities have been actively investing in developing high-quality school options, closing low performers, developing transportation systems, creating accessible information on school features and performance, and implementing a common enrollment system. CRPE notes “more than half of the parents in these cities reported that their cities’ schools are getting better, compared to less than a third of parents in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.” Further, 80 percent of D.C. parents and 79 percent of those in New Orleans reported that academics are the most important factor in choosing a school—over safety and location. This is a testament that families in these cities have access to safe schools.

The report concludes that “all cities have work to do to ensure choice works for all families.” To improve access to high-quality schools, CRPE recommends expanding the supply of high-quality schools, providing for specialized student needs, providing free and safe transportation to schools, and investing in information systems to help parents make informed choices.

Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Susan Aud Pendergrass


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Public Charter School Enrollment Share Continues to Grow Across U.S. Communities

Twenty years ago, charter schools were a novel idea in most communities. States began passing laws that allowed groups of motivated individuals to create innovative public schools outside of the traditional system. It took some time for parents and students to get to know these new and unique public schools. Now, however, charter schools are a growing, thriving, and integral part of more and more communities. The National Alliance’s most recent report on enrollment share shows that we now have seven major urban school districts with more than one-third of their students attending charter schools. In three of these – Detroit, Mich., Washington, D.C., and Flint, Mich. – about half of all public school students attend a charter school. For school districts that have struggled to “fix” their schools for decades, parents are clearly taking advantage of the opportunity to choose charters instead.

Not only are there more districts with a large charter enrollment share, there are also 30 districts from 19 different states that have more than 10,000 students in charter schools. In these districts, charter schools and their students are simply part of the education landscape. And 23 of those districts with the largest number of charter school students grew by more than 10 percent in just the last year. These districts show that the demand for charters gets stronger as they become more prevalent.

At the National Alliance, we collect data on student enrollment and demographics for every charter school in the US. Our database allows us to track trends in enrollment, school openings and closings, and the unmet demand that still exists in the form of students being on wait lists instead of in the charter of their choice.  Our latest report on enrollment share is the ninth in the series and like the previous editions, demonstrates that the charter school movement continues to grow.

Nina Rees


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5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About Education

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

Though it’s easy to get lost in the myriad of negative stories and feuds swirling around American education, as we approach Thanksgiving I’d like to pause and reflect on all the positive trends impacting our education system and students. Here are my top 5 reasons for being optimistic…Read more here.


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The season of thanksgiving is upon us, so it’s the perfect time to be thankful for charter schools. Here are six reasons why we’re especially grateful for charter schools at the National Alliance:

Charter school leaders aim to hire talented, passionate, and qualified teachers who will boost student achievement and contribute to a thriving school culture. Charter schools also have the freedom to ensure that the teachers they hire are not only qualified, but produce results for students and families. Furthermore, the public charter school model gives teachers the flexibility to use their talents and abilities to design programs that work better for the students they serve, while being accountable for student achievement.

Interested in contributing your talents to the charter school community? Check out the charter school job board here.

In exchange for greater flexibility, charter schools are held to high standards and are accountable to the public. Charter schools introduce an unprecedented level of accountability in public education. They are uniquely accountable to the public because they sign contracts with a government-endorsed authorizer explaining how the schools will operate and the results they will achieve. If they don’t produce these results, their authorizer has the power to work to immediately fix these schools. Conversely, traditional public schools can fail for years – even generations – and never be closed down for bad performance.

Charter school students are excelling academically. Between 2010 and 2013, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending charter schools do better academically than their traditional school peers. For example, the 2013 Stanford CREDO national study found that overall, students in public charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average of seven additional days of learning per year.

Charter school students are also achieving remarkable results on a global level. Read our latest report to learn about how charter schools are preparing their students to be competitive with students across the world.

This year, 21 charter schools were among the 287 public schools throughout the nation named 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Read more about this award and the charter schools honored this year.

Despite public charter schools making up only 6% of public high schools nationwide, they have been a continuous presence on national ranking lists. See how charter schools stacked up on four major lists.

Want to see what the future of learning looks like? Look no further than public charter schools. At their inception, charter schools were designed to be laboratories for innovation in education, and that spirit is alive and well today. Charter schools are using their autonomy to push boundaries to better serve students, creating lessons that can be refined and shared throughout the public school system. Furthermore, the charter school model is an innovation in itself. Time and time again, charter schools are proving that a governance structure that provides autonomy from politics and bureaucracy can yield outstanding results for students.

Learn more about what next generation learning looks like in a recent report published by the National Alliance and Public Impact.

Charter schools are arming students with knowledge for success in college, career, and beyond. And that all starts with a high school diploma. YES Prep Public Schools in Houston and Memphis, Chicago’s Urban Prep Academies, and Aspire Public Schools in California are just a few examples of charter schools that pride themselves on 100 percent high school graduation. The success that students experience while attending a charter school also travels with them through college. Nationally, only 12 percent of low-income high school graduates go on to earn a four-year college degree. But charter schools like Boston-based Match Education, serving primarily low-income and minority students, has a college completion rate of nearly 4.5 times higher. Read more of these stories here.

A study by Mathematica Policy Research found that public charter schools in Florida and Chicago are helping more students get into college and earn higher incomes once they graduate. Read it here.

Charter schools are public schools, which means their doors are open to all students. According to federal law, they must accept all students, including students with disabilities and English Learners, regardless of previous academic performance. In fact, charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds than traditional public schools.

Kids dream big in small towns too. Watch our video about how charter schools are creating high-quality learning opportunities for students in rural America.

Learn more about how charter schools serve all students through our Truth About Charters campaign.



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Over Half a Million Students Attending CA Charters, 91,000 Remain on Waitlists

The California Charter Schools Association announced this week that nearly 548,000 students are enrolled in public charter schools across California for this school year. Additionally, with 87 new charter schools opening their doors this year, the total number of charter schools in California has reached 1,184.

Year after year, we see parents demanding the kind of high-quality educational options their children deserve in the form of charter schools. This year is no exception. In fact, there are 91,000 students on waiting lists in California.

Evidence over the past five years shows that the public has never been more supportive of public charter schools than they are right now based on growth in charter school enrollment, waiting list numbers, and polling data. This growth in support has happened during a period when public charter schools have been held more accountable than traditional public schools, and have strengthened their performance, especially with underserved students.

California’s charters are getting academic results. That fact is undeniable. We see that the number of charter schools making gains in student achievement is growing. At the same time, charters that aren’t succeeding with students are closing. In the 2013-14 school year, 34 charter schools closed. Of those with academic data, more than half (13) were among the lowest performing charters in the state. Overall, this means that tens of thousands of California’s students are being educated in better performing charter schools than just five years ago.

We anticipate continued growth over the next several years, as momentum builds for what has already been a very robust growth picture for charter schools in California. 

Jed Wallace, president and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Nina Rees


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National Alliance November Newsletter

A Note From Nina

Nina ReesThis month’s elections shifted the political landscape in Washington, D.C. and in state capitals across the country, and supporters of public charter schools in both parties scored solid victories. Now that attention will turn from campaigning to governing, we look forward to working with members of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate to advance sound education policy and increase support for the federal Charter Schools Program that has helped so many charter schools open their doors and begin serving students. We will also work with our state-level partners to build and strengthen relationships with new and returning governors and other state leaders. For more on our thoughts on the impact of the elections, check out this interview Todd Ziebarth did for Education Week or view my latest U.S. News column.

I encourage you to do your part, too! One great step is to take our pledge to fight for the day that parents in every community and from every walk of life will have the opportunity to send their child to a high-performing public school. With more allies on our side, we’ll have an even greater impact for students and families.

As always, thank you for all you do to support and grow our movement. Happy Thanksgiving!


Nina Rees
President and CEO

A Revolution in Educational Innovation

1776The public charter school movement is all about quality innovation in education, so we are thrilled to partner with 1776 to connect public charter schools with innovative K-12 startups. 1776 is a global incubator and investment fund dedicated to creating opportunities for promising startups, and our partnership will help connect some of the most innovative and creative business and policy entrepreneurs with the teachers and school leaders who are working every day to improve educational opportunities for all students.

As part of the collaboration with 1776, the National Alliance will provide mentors for 1776’s Challenge Cup 2015, a global competition spanning 16 cities in 11 countries to identify the most promising startups to solve the world’s biggest challenges. In addition, this year’s Challenge Cup winners will have the opportunity to attend the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference and present their ideas to school leaders and teachers from around the country.

We’re excited to work with 1776 over the coming year to explore new and innovative ways to strengthen public education for all students.

New Report Shows Public Charter School Students are Globally Competitive

OECD ReportPublic charters schools are on a constant mission to improve quality and results so that students are prepared for the demands of a competitive global workforce. A report released last week by the National Alliance reveals the results of four public charter schools that participated in an international exam to measure their academic success against both students in the U.S. and those in developed countries. All four schools outperformed U.S. averages and demonstrated their students are prepared to compete with students across the world in reading, math, and science.

On Top of the World: Public Charter Schools and International Benchmarking, 2013-2014 examines the success of Peak to Peak Charter School (Lafayette, Colorado), NYOS Charter School (Austin, Texas), Sturgis Charter Public School (Hyannis, Massachusetts), and University Laboratory School (Honolulu, Hawaii) – and takes a look at the practices and philosophies that place them among the best schools in the world.

If you’d like to measure your school against your international peers, the OECD Test for Schools is being administered again in 2014-15. Thanks to a grant from the Kern Family Foundation, the National Alliance will pay for up to 28 schools to take the test. Click here for more details about how to participate.

Raising Our Voice for Equitable Funding

Obtaining equitable funding for public charter schools is a challenge across America. In the nation’s capital, a group of public charter school parents are asking a federal court to insist that the D.C. government live up to its charter school law and provide equal resources for public charter schools. In an op-ed published in the Washington Times, I note that D.C. charter students have been shortchanged by as much as $770 million over eight years and urge D.C.’s leaders to erase the current inequality: “By underfunding [public charter schools], the D.C. government is not only breaking its own laws, but penalizing often excellent schools to subsidize schools that aren’t doing nearly as well.” We’re hoping for a positive result from the lawsuit, so that the 45 percent of D.C. public school students who attend charters get the resources they’re entitled to. Read the full op-ed here.

Welcome to Our New Team Members

Robert Reed, Jr. has joined the National Alliance as Senior Director of Legal Affairs. Robert comes to us from the Vera Institute of Justice, where he was a senior policy adviser. His 14 years of experience as a litigator and policy leader includes service in both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government, as the Associate Director of Legislative Affairs for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), and as oversight counsel for the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Robert previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., a senior judicial law clerk for the D.C. Court of Appeals, and as a litigation attorney with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C. Robert holds a B.A., with honors, from Stanford University and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. He has served on KIPP DC’s inaugural associate board, as well as the board of the Luke Moore Academy in Washington, D.C.

A writer, photographer, and self-described information geek, Riya Anandwala joins the National Alliance as Manager of Communications and Marketing. Riya started her exciting journey in the field of journalism halfway around the world in Mumbai, India, and continued her passion for writing in the American Midwest. She wrote for the Indianapolis Business Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Peoria Journal Star, and many other news websites before moving into higher education communications. Riya worked as a communications specialist for Waldorf College in Iowa and as a media relations specialist for Saint Louis University’s medical center, where she focused on promoting the institution’s cutting-edge research. Riya has a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University, Bloomington and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Mumbai, India. Riya loves talking about geography, social issues, current affairs, and all things India. She also loves to travel and try out new restaurants with her fiancé.

Rebecca David, a former intern at the National Alliance, is our newest Research Assistant. Rebecca is a D.C.-area native who earned a bachelor of science in communications at Florida State University. As Research Assistant, Rebecca ensures that the National Alliance’s database – a vital source of information about the nationwide charter school movement – is accurate and current. Prior to joining the National Alliance, Rebecca was the Production Assistant at Devine Mulvey Longabaugh, where she edited footage to create TV and radio advertisements for Democrat candidates across the United States. In her spare time, Rebecca enjoys volunteering, traveling, and kayaking.

Register Now for the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference

The National Charter Schools Conference will be held June 21-24, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana! As everyone who’s been to past conferences knows, you don’t want to miss this extraordinary opportunity to connect with friends and colleagues from across America who are sustaining and growing our schools. The early registration deadline is December 19th, so be sure to register now for the lowest rates.

Support the National Alliance

You know about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard about Giving Tuesday? Giving Tuesday is the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving – December 2nd this year – and it’s a day designated for supporting charities that are especially meaningful to you. We encourage you to support the great charter schools and charter support organizations that are giving hope to more than 2.5 million students and families around America. And, of course, we would be immensely grateful for your donation to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools so that we can continue our work on behalf of the entire charter school community. The National Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so your donation is completely tax deductible. Thank you for your support – and Happy Thanksgiving!

Donate now!

Nina Rees


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Put Money Where Your School Choice Mouth Is

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

One of the outcomes from last week’s midterm elections was the success of school choice. According to the American Federation for Children, “the 2014 midterm elections will go down in history as the election cycle in which parents rose up in support of educational choice.” Despite more than $80 million dollars of expenditures by the teachers’ unions, choice advocates saw supportive governors re-elected in states such as Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin, and newly elected in Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland.

Never before has there been more momentum behind efforts to expand school choice – a reform that places parents in charge of their child’s education. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge for Republicans at the federal level. On one hand, congressional Republicans generally support efforts to give parents more authority to decide which school their child will attend. On the other hand, many Republicans oppose federal investments and mandates in education as a violation of their principles of spending restraint and local control of education….Read more here.


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Startups and Charter Schools: How Some Fresh Ideas Can Help Address the Challenges Schools Face

I recently had the opportunity to attend the first of 16 Challenge Cup events hosted by 1776, a startup incubator here in D.C. that the National Alliance has partnered with to help connect innovators and educators. When I entered the room where the startup showdown would commence, the energy was contagious. Hundreds of startup enthusiasts (including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray) were gathered together to identify and celebrate promising startups tackling big challenges in four categories: education, energy, health, and cities.

While listening to 60-second pitches from the ten startups in the education category, I was intrigued by the way each of them had the potential to help public charter schools better serve students. Here are just a few examples of some of the challenges charter schools face and the ways these innovative startups may help provide much-needed solutions.

Charter schools receive 70 cents to the dollar for per-pupil funding when compared to traditional public schools. As a result, finding funds to pay for special projects to enhance learning can be a challenge. Enter edbacker: a service that allows educators to raise the money they need for important education-related projects, programs, and events. This platform could help charters raise necessary funds to continue offering high-quality, innovative learning opportunities for students.

Teacher Collaboration
Nearly 70% of charter schools are single-site schools and do not belong to a regional or national network. Educators at these standalone charter schools do not always have access to a diverse group of peers to help them hone and improve their skills. That’s where KickUp comes in. This on-demand support network for teachers allows them to find thought partners, mentors, and inspiration within and outside of their network. Teachers can post a challenge they’re facing in the classroom to a closed, secure network. Expert-appointed members of the network address those challenges via video session or mobile chat.

Parental Engagement
Students learn concepts in the classroom differently today than their parents did, so it can be difficult for parents to be involved in their child’s learning at home. Homework Unlocked is coming to the rescue. This online resource library of videos, quick-reference guides, dictionaries, and audio podcasts allows parents to learn the content that their children are learning in school, and in turn help them out with their homework.

Have a solution to an education problem you’ve identified? Check out five guidelines for innovation success from Nina Rees in her latest U.S. News Opinion column here.

Andrew Schantz is the communications and marketing coordinator for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


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My First Charter School Visit

As someone who had never visited a charter school before, my tour of KIPP DC’s Shaw Campus was a great opportunity to see what happens in one of the most successful schools in Washington, D.C. The diverse teaching staff, friendly environment, and college-striving atmosphere demonstrate why KIPP schools nationally succeed.

photo (1)Environment
The tagline “Work hard. Be nice.” is painted on hallway walls to remind students that their school is a place for learning and interacting with peers. This anti-bullying environment was apparent in the friendly collaboration I witnessed in a 7th grade reading class. Students know that their school is a place where they are safe and supported by their peers.

In each age group, there was a noticeably consistent level of student engagement. At KIPP’s Grow Academy, serving PreK3-Kindergarten, they played games together in a way that was inclusive and exciting for every child in the classroom. In an elementary math class I visited, almost every student raised his or her hand to eagerly answer the questions asked by the math teacher (with the correct answer, too). Students in a 7th grade reading class worked with partners to analyze a passage from a novel about slavery. Put simply, the students showed a positive, engaging attitude toward the curriculum and their classmates.

Part of why KIPP is successful is likely due to the school’s forward thinking. They have ambitious plans to double the number of students that are served and are college-ready. As part of their future goals, they plan to open 20 or more schools each year. KIPP’s growth is good news for the students waiting to attend their high-quality schools.  

College readiness
From an early age, KIPP students see pendants, names, and symbols of colleges throughout the halls. By exposing them to the idea of college early, and instilling its benefits, the kids take it on as a goal throughout their school years. Not only do they strive to attend the colleges they see pinned on the walls, but the KIPP Through College program ensures that each student receives support from alumni and better prepare for their future career. For many of the school’s low-income students, reaching college is life-changing for their entire family.

KIPP Schools are providing  opportunities that students may not have had otherwise.  Forty percent of KIPP alumni have earned a four-year college degree, which is greater than the national average of 29 percent, and more than four times the low-income average of only eight percent. Additionally, 93 percent of KIPP students graduate from high school, and 82 percent of those graduates go on to college.

My tour of KIPP DC’s Shaw Campus revealed that smart education beginning in early childhood, diverse and enthusiastic staff, and a focus on college-readiness give KIPP DC students a great start in life. I’m ready to see more schools now. Knowing that charter schools thrive on innovative learning models, unique school cultures, and varied curriculums, I would definitely say that seeing one school does not mean that you’ve seen them all.

Thank you KIPP DC for allowing me to tour your Shaw Campus!

Dylan Kama is an intern for the federal government relations team at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nina Rees


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How to Shake Up the Education Status Quo

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

Last week, I met with a group of education technology entrepreneurs at 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based startup incubator and venture fund that supports innovators working to solve major public policy challenges. It was inspiring to meet so many people interested in pitching their ideas to schools and to see how much technology stands to help the space. From a platform designed to boost teacher retention by offering peer-to-peer mentoring and one designed to empower data-driven decision-making, to a resource to help Parent-Teacher Organizations and Parent-Teacher Associations with their fundraising needs, these early- to mid-stage ventures are testing the waters with ideas that could revolutionize how our schools operate. Many will fail, some will be able to sell their innovation to larger companies and others will hopefully take off a la Uber one day.

As the former head of the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education who later worked for a for-profit company interested in pitching its services to the K-12 sector, I have a keen appreciation for ideas and products that can shake up the status quo in education. There are, of course, countless challenges involved with penetrating the K-12 space, but the odds of success will improve if innovators follow five guidelines…Read more here.