The Charter Blog


Nina Rees


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

July Newsletter

I had a fantastic time at the National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month. It’s so energizing to be with the people who are on the ground every day working in America’s charter schools. We can never say thank you enough to the teachers and school leaders who show up before sunrise and head home after sunset, and who take time away from their own families so that they can change the lives of the children from other families.

With the 50th anniversary of the signing of the federal Civil Rights Act just behind us, I’ve been thinking a lot about diversity. Not just the diversity of America’s student body today, but the diverse learning environments charter schools offer to millions of families. I wrote about this in my U.S. News & World Report column. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I hope you’re enjoying the summer!

What Happens in Vegas…

We are just back from a fantastic National Charter Schools Conference in Las Vegas where we had a record 4,800 attendees. Sal Kahn, Frank Luntz, and Campbell Brown inspired us to think bigger about using technology to bring world-class instruction to all corners of the globe and to never give up on our work to ensure all children have access to a great public school. Steven Michael Quezada of Breaking Bad fame opened the conference with a heartfelt story about his own experience in an underperforming public school and how it has motivated him to become involved with charter schools that engage students from all types of backgrounds.


It was our best conference yet—and we thank each of you for joining us. Education Week put together a fun roundup of the conference in 13 tweets—each tweet captures the essence of the conference in 140 characters or less.

We hope you will mark your calendar for next year’s conference, June 21-24 in New Orleans. When we convene, New Orleans will have just finished its first school year as an all-charter school district and it will be great to see first-hand how charter schools have dramatically improved the lives of so many students.

If you were with us in Las Vegas, please be sure to take our attendee survey if you haven’t already. The feedback you offer will help us make next year’s conference even better. Also, if you would like to receive a copy of Frank Luntz’s presentation, be sure to sign up for one of his focus groups here.

KIPP Wins Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools

For the past three years, at the National Charter Schools Conference, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has awarded a high-performing charter school network with The Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. The prize honors the public charter school network with the most outstanding overall student performance and graduation rates, as well as the ability to close achievement gaps among low-income and minority students. The winner receives $250,000 to put toward college-readiness efforts for low-income students, such as scholarships, a speaker series, and campus visits.

KIPP Schools won the prize this year and it comes at no better time. This year marks their 20th anniversary—an entire generation of students has now had the opportunity to attend a KIPP school. KIPP has 141 schools across 20 states, and serves 50,000 students. In recent years, KIPP closed 21 percent of its racial achievement gaps in middle school reading, math and science. KIPP narrowed 65 percent of its racial and income achievement gaps in elementary school reading, math and science.

Congratulations to KIPP Schools! Because of their efforts, tens of thousands of students have gone on to brighter futures and many more are on their way. Click here to see a video highlighting the work of this year’s three finalists.

Pictured in photo (left to right): Steve Mancini, Director of Public Affairs at the KIPP Foundation; Bruce Reed, President of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; Carissa Godwin, Director of Development at KIPP Delta Public Schools; Eric Schmidt, Principal of KIPP Courage Middle School; Nina Rees

Charter Schools Hall of Fame Welcomes Three New Members

Also at the conference, three new members were inducted into the Charter Schools Hall of Fame: Eva Moskowitz, founder of Success Academy Charter Schools; Chester “Checker” E. Finn, Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation; and The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund. Hall of Fame members include schoolteachers and leaders, thinkers, policy experts, and funders that have paved the way for the success and growth of public charter schools. You can read more and watch a short video about the work of each of the inductees here. Congratulations and thank you to Eva, Checker, and the Fisher Fund!

Two new members join the National Alliance Board of Directors

I am pleased to announce two new members of the National Alliance board of directors: Jeb Bush, Jr., and Moctesuma Esparza.

Jeb Bush, Jr., is managing partner for Jeb Bush & Associates, LLC and president of Bush Realty, LLC. He has been involved with education reform efforts through the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Moctesuma Esparza is CEO at Maya Cinemas North America and is an award-winning producer, entertainment executive, entrepreneur and community activist. Moctesuma founded the Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise Charter School and has been active in education reform efforts in Latino communities for decades. We are grateful to both Jeb and Moctesuma for joining our board.

Education Insiders Support Charter Schools

Last month, Whiteboard Advisors released the results of a poll of high-level “insiders” in education about their views on charter schools and recently introduced Senate legislation, backed by the National Alliance, to reauthorize the federal investment in charter schools. Ninety percent of the insiders polled want to see the Senate take action on the bill, but only 3 percent think it will actually happen. Also of note, 87 percent of the insiders polled viewed charter schools positively. That’s great news for all the school leaders and teachers in the trenches working hard every day to improve student learning.

New Report on Special Needs Students in Denver Charter Schools

Last month, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report that found students with special needs are less likely to leave Denver, Colorado charter schools than traditional public schools. They also found charter schools are less likely to classify students as special education, and more likely to declassify them. These findings are really important in light of the on-going (and unfounded) criticism by charter school opponents that charter schools push out students who are hard to teach. Click to read the report, Understanding the Charter School Special Education Gap: Evidence from Denver, Colorado.

See You in September!

We’re going to take a break from producing this monthly newsletter in August and look forward to updating you on our work again in mid-September. Have a great summer!

Susan Aud


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Charter Schools in St. Louis Giving Students Greater Access to a High-Quality Education, Paving the Way for Even More Success

The city of St. Louis recently released a study that showed public education is improving for their students. The study, produced by IFF, looks at where children live, where they go to school, and if they have access to a high-quality schools, based on state accreditation. The study uses 2013 data and is an update to a similar study produced five years ago.

Contrary to what is happening in many of our nation’s urban areas, public school enrollment in St. Louis increased by five percent over the last five years. This is partly due to parents having more options and choosing to keep their children in the public school system. During that time, enrollment in neighborhood schools declined, while enrollment in charter, magnet, and select magnet schools increased.

More importantly, access to accredited schools (those that met the state proficiency standards) has increased dramatically. In 2008, just over 6,000 of the approximately 33,000 public school students in St. Louis attended schools that were performing at half of the state accreditation level or better. By 2013, more than double that number (12,500) of students were in quality seats, meaning that their schools were fully accredited or accredited with distinction.

Further, 40 percent of the quality seats were in charter schools, even though charter schools only account for 23 percent of enrollment in the St. Louis school district. This means that about 5,000 of the city’s 8,000 charter school students, or 62 percent, are in quality seats versus about 28 percent of students in traditional public schools.

One critical contribution of the study is that it calculates a gap between the number of children in a given neighborhood or zip code and the availability of quality seats. This information is being used by the city to prioritize the placement of new charter schools, and to target and close poor-performing schools to pave the way for more high-quality schools in these under-served neighborhoods.

“Closing poor-performing schools, including poor-performing charter schools, does not decrease the access to good schools,” said Dr. Doug Thaman, Executive Director of the Missouri Charter Public School Association. “In fact, closing poor-performing schools opens the door for the addition of new, innovative and successful options.”

This fall, two new charters – KIPP: Victory and The International School – are opening their doors, followed by five additional charters in 2015. Based on the findings of this study, the city’s targeted and strategic decision to place these new charter schools where they are most-needed will continue to improve the quality of public education in St. Louis.

Susan Aud is the senior director for research and evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 

Susan Aud


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

How are Michigan charter schools performing?

A recent news series by the Detroit Free Press has questioned the performance of Michigan charter schools. Unfortunately, the series fails to acknowledge or glosses over key facts. So here is a look at the evidence regarding the performance of charter schools in Michigan.

Michigan charter schools have a proven track record of academic performance.

Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has been conducting rigorous analyses of charter school performance data to determine how charter school students would have fared if they had attended a traditional public school. In CREDO’s 2013 study of Michigan charter schools, they found that Michigan is among the highest performing charter school states they have studied to date. In fact, charter school students in Michigan gained an additional two months of learning in reading and math compared to their traditional public school peers. Charter students in Detroit are performing even better than their peers in the rest of the state – gaining nearly 3 months achievement for each year they attend a charter school.

Michigan charter schools are serving higher percentages of disadvantaged students.

Charter schools in Michigan serve greater percentages of low-income and minority students, making their achievement gains even more remarkable. In the 2009-10 school year, 70 percent of charter school students in Michigan were living in poverty, compared to 43 percent in traditional public schools, and 33 percent were White, compared to 73 percent in traditional public schools. Even the students in the feeder schools (the traditional public schools from which students transfer to charter schools) had a lower percentage of low-income students (55 percent) and more White students (64 percent).

Michigan charter schools are closing the achievement gap.

The gaps in performance gains between White and Black students and between White and Hispanic students is a constant concern in public education. The CREDO study found that both of these gaps were smaller for students in charter schools than for students in traditional public schools in both reading and math. The same result was found for students living in poverty and for the combined groups of Black students in poverty and Hispanic students in poverty.

To track the achievement gap in individual schools, the Michigan Department of Education categorizes schools as “Focus” schools.  Focus schools are the 10 percent of schools with the largest achievement gaps between their top 30 percent of students and their bottom 30 percent of students. Twenty of the 347 schools identified as Focus schools in 2012-13 were charter schools. This represents 6 percent of the group, even though 10 percent of schools in Michigan are charters.

Michigan is closing poor performing charter schools.

A critical component of the charter school bargain is that underperforming schools should not be allowed to keep their doors open. Between 2005 and 2010, some 94 charter schools in Michigan were opened and 55 were closed, or about ten per year. The effort to hold schools accountable is paying off. In 2012-13, of the 86 charter schools in Detroit, only eight were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings. That same year, 25 of the 129 traditional public schools in Detroit, or nearly 20 percent, were in the lowest 5 percent of statewide rankings.

We believe strongly in accountability and welcome any examination into the performance of charter schools. However, it is important that all facts are presented accurately.

Susan Aud is Senior Director of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 

Nina Rees


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Diverse Schools Bring Many Benefits

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

After a long weekend of celebrating America with fireworks, food and family, I was thinking about what Independence Day means to today’s generation. I immigrated to this country as a child, thanks to parents who wanted me to have access to all the opportunities America offers. And I’m forever grateful for the risks they took to get our family here.

I was motivated to get involved in education reform because in some communities, low-income students don’t have access to the high quality education needed to succeed in today’s competitive global marketplace. It’s not for lack of trying. Ever since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago, and then the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the federal government and state governments have been trying to give every child a solid foundation for an exceptional life…read more here.


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Connecticut Charter School Graduate Works to Reduce Violence in Her Community

Ariana Rodriguez recently graduated from Common Ground High School in New Haven, CT. She says she is very proud of her accomplishments throughout her four years of high school, and one project of which she is most proud is a video honoring friend and classmate Javier Martinez who died in a shooting in December, 2013.

Part of her video includes research on the correlation between tree cover and violence rates. This research, done by Yale University, shows that violence goes down as tree cover and green spaces go up. Part of that research is included in the video, which shows students and friends planting a tree in remembrance of Javier. Ariana says it is both important to remember her friend, and be a good steward of the environment.

Ariana says, “My school helps guide kids not only to a bright future but a meaningful one as well. I started off as a free spirited person coming into Common Ground and left as a leader ready to change the world.”

Ariana has also organized projects at Common Ground such as Trees for Peace, and other healing activities as students coped with the loss of their friend. Common Ground was one of the first charter schools approved in Connecticut in the nineties. The school focuses on caring for the environment, sustainability, and connecting the students to the land.

Ariana says she has had numerous opportunities for internships at places such as the Nature Conservancy, and has been taking college courses since her sophomore year.

She will be attending Southern Connecticut State University, majoring in nursing and minoring in environmental science.She wants to continue to promote goodwill and peace in the world.

She says, “I plan to go to third world countries or places that have had disasters and work to set up health tents.”

A link to her recent work:

This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Determined Mom Earns High School Diploma at 22

Today’s #30DaysOfGrad post was written by Adali Ortiz, a recent graduate of Arizona Collegiate High School, right before her high school graduation.

My name is Adali Ortiz. On May 22nd I will finally earn my high school diploma. I dropped out of high school because I got pregnant. I then stayed home with my daughter for two years until I could find somebody I could really trust to care for her.

Two months before I turned 21, I tried to re-enroll at several high schools, but they wouldn’t take me because I was too old. My hopes were down because I didn’t want a GED. I preferred a diploma because I wanted to be a good role model for my daughter. I started to think I would never get a diploma, then came to Arizona Collegiate High School (ACHS) and got accepted. I said to myself, ‘This is my chance to work really hard!’

At 21-years-old, I was only a sophomore, so I had to work really hard to get good grades. I only had nine credits when I started at ACHS. In two years, I made up three years of school. I took online classes and came to school all day for 8 hours.

My teachers at Arizona Collegiate have given me a lot of support and helped me with my classes. Every question I have, they help me answer it. They are always there for me. My husband and dad helped a lot too.

Without ACHS I would be in a different situation because I tried to enroll in other schools and they wouldn’t accept me. ACHS gave me a chance to earn my diploma.
It’s been worth all the struggles because I’m at the end now and everything is going great.

I’m just waiting for the day to be able to reach for that diploma and have my baby run to me and give me a hug and show her that mommy made it. I want her to be proud of me. I want to work hard, have a career and give my daughter a really good education and everything she needs. My immediate plans are to be an interpreter at a children’s hospital. I’ve applied for the training classes that start in August. I also plan to go to college and work in the medical field.

In life it’s hard because sometimes you find yourself in situations that you think you are not going to be able to keep up with, but if there’s a chance then take it! Everything will be worth it in the end.

This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Rosario’s Story: Dreaming of Better Health Care

FinRosario BHancial troubles meant that Rosario’s family didn’t always have healthcare. When visiting urgent care facilities, she noticed that those giving medical care to her family didn’t look like those receiving the help. Rosario vowed she would change that. That’s why she’s put so much effort into her schoolwork over the years.

“School has always been my priority because I know what my parents have sacrificed to give me a good education and I know the benefits that come from having a college degree will be well worth the hustle put into achieving one,” she says.

At Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy, Rosario was not only challenged by her teachers but given extra support when it was needed. Teachers made sure that she not only understood the material being taught but also how to analyze it, question it, and apply it to real problems that require reasoning skills. She was even pushed to apply to schools she didn’t think were within her reach – like Cornell.

At Cornell University, Rosario plans to gain a better understanding of healthcare, both nationally and globally. She hopes to become a physician who supports her community through free clinics and workshops aimed at preventative treatment.

This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.

Nora Kern


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

From Ghana to America to College: Matilda’s Story

matildaDuring a recent visit to the Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), I had the opportunity to talk with 12th grade student Matilda Patterson. In the interview excerpt below, Matilda discusses her favorite opportunities she’s had at CMSA and her plans after graduation.  

Q: What do you like about attending your school?

I like the fact that the teachers here are so welcoming. That wasn’t necessarily the case in other schools I’ve attended. They know your name, your strengths and weaknesses, and how to work with you on things you need to improve.

Q: What is your school culture like?

The school culture is diverse. It’s very family-like. I’ve discovered so many cultures being here.

I used to be in the Ivy League Mentoring Program (IMP)—a mentoring club that helped with extra ACT practice. We got partnered with a teacher, and after school and ACT practice, we would go with our mentor to reflect on stuff we learned in class. Even though participating in IMP meant giving up my Saturdays, I feel really lucky to be part of IMP.

Q: How did your family find out about CMSA?

My family is from Ghana, and we first came to America in Boston, and then we transferred to Chicago. My dad wanted me in any school because we had had a three month lag in our schooling during the move. Then we started hearing about charter schools. Family friends talked about CMSA. We were very lucky because CMSA had a mid-year spot open and we’ve been here ever since (Matilda has younger siblings who also attend CMSA).

Q: Who is your favorite teacher and why?

The band director; she is like a second mom to me…beyond just a teacher. To be honest, she knows me to the brink. She knows when to be strict like a teacher, and when to be there for her students. The band family is very strong.

Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve learned this year?

It has a lot to do with self-discovery: don’t care what others think and be yourself. Everything is easier said than done. When I came to America, from Ghana…my accent was hard to get over. My replies were slow and I had a hard time understanding other people. This made it hard for me to fit in…I participated in a ton of clubs to interact with people and learn American slang. I kept myself busy every day before I’d go home to do homework.  Junior year, I took college classes, and I took a speech class just to practice speaking…Senior year so much has happened that has affected me so much, looking back, I could have believed in myself more.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

I will attend Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio) this fall, and I want to major in health science or engineering and minor in business.


This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.

Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Overcoming Violence: Esmeralda’s Story

Esmeralda Cortez“Kids growing up in Oakland grow up with guns instead of their toys, with drugs instead of their pacifiers, and with gangs instead of their families. When I was in the fifth grade my brother, Hernan Cortez, was murdered. I didn’t know how to react to any of it.”

She was 11 at the time. In the days and months that followed, Esmeralda started acting up in school, getting suspended frequently, until she was finally expelled. Losing a brother and getting expelled from school was challenging for Esmeralda both academically and mentally.

Fortunately, Esmeralda enrolled in Aspire Lionel Wilson Preparatory Academy. Teachers and school leaders immediately stepped in, supporting her in classes and helping her cope with regular life stress. Esmeralda had teachers who challenged her, counselors who offered a little extra help when needed, and after-school programs to keep her safe and on task.

Now, Esmeralda plans to attend the University of California at Berkeley. She’s unsure what path she’ll take. She could be a teacher, a politician, an activist. But whatever she does, Esmeralda dreams of making Oakland a safer place to live and to support the success of local teenagers.

This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.

Nora Kern


Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

A Home and a Family at School: Daniel’s Story

NYOSDaniel Langford, a 12th grade student at NYOS Charter School in Austin, Texas tells us what he enjoyed about his high school experience–especially the many teachers who have influenced him–and how he feels prepared to achieve his future goals.

Q: What do you like about attending your school?

There’s so much! It was a big contrast from my old school. I got bullied in 4th grade, so my mom put me on the waitlist for NYOS. I got in in 5th grade.

One of the main things I’ve seen that is different at NYOS is because it is so small, you get to know your teachers better. Because of the small student teacher ratio, you can go to them whenever you need to—which really helps your academics. I would stay after school in physics and the teacher would work out problems with me.

Q: What is your school culture like?

I love the school…I almost don’t want to go to college and leave. This is my second home. No matter what your home situation is, [NYOS] is a home for you. NYOS is a family, and we all know each other. That is very powerful.

I can walk through the high school building, and I can turn to any person and they are there for me. Whatever it is, everyone is there for each other…We all respect each other. We can all graduate as friends.

Q: Who is your favorite teacher and why?

My freshman year, Mr. Thompson started band class. His personality and discipline is great for band. Our second band concert had so much energy. You can see that he really enjoys what he does, and students can see that. It’s obvious if you don’t enjoy teaching, and that impacts student learning.

Ms. Hill was one of the hardest English teachers I’ve ever had, but I learned so much. You aren’t babysat in college and she helped prepare me for that.

Mr. Pfaff had a quote, “never stop trying and never quit.” He’s an avid runner and I am too, so we connected through that. He chose to make a difference through teaching here.

Mr. Sinkar – I had him for physics, and I was so blessed to have him. We had great projects and he cares so much.

I had Mr. Perrmann for 11-12 grade band. He enjoys what he does. He’s really young, but that is nice because he can connect with the students. There’s a good mix of teacher experience levels here.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

I want to go to ACC (Austin Community College) and get the basics out of the way and figure out what I want to do…maybe music.

High school is an important time in your life because the choices you make mold you for later in life. If you’re stressed or make bad choices, your life could be different. Being at NYOS has prepared me for life. I’ll walk across the stage to get my diploma. There have been bumps and bruises along the way, but I’m standing. Enjoy life!

This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.


Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.