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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.

Nina Rees


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National Alliance October Newsletter

It’s been an exciting month at the National Alliance as we’ve released new reports highlighting the quality, innovation, and growth of the charter school movement (more details below). I’ve also spent time over the last few weeks in several states – including Delaware, Missouri, and North Carolina – meeting many of you and talking about the future direction of the charter school movement. Hearing from and learning about your work is motivating and pushes us at the National Alliance to work even harder on your behalf.

One of the most important things we can all do to ensure that our movement continues to get stronger is to support leaders at every level – local, state, and federal – who will fight to give high-quality public charter schools the resources and freedom they need. Please remember that Election Day is only a few weeks away – on Tuesday, November 4th. I urge you to get acquainted with the candidates in your area and to vote for those offering the best future for public charter schools and our students.

Best regards,

Nina Rees,
President & CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

The Health of the Charter School Movement

How healthy is the charter school movement in your state? A groundbreaking analysis from the National Alliance has the answer. The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: A State-By-State Analysis assesses charter school movements across the nation according to measures of quality, innovation, and growth. At a rollout event on October 1st, we joined our friends at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to reveal that Washington, D.C., has the healthiest charter movement in the nation, with Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York rounding out the top five.

The new report serves as a companion piece to our annual state charter law rankings, and it finds that more than a good legal framework is necessary for a strong and effective charter movement; authorizers, school leaders, teachers, and parents all must work together to give more students the best educational options. Our new interactive web page allows users to explore how the new rankings stack up against the model law rankings. Together, the reports can guide policymakers and charter supporters as they take action to improve schools for all students.

Next Generation Learning

Innovation is at the heart of the charter school model. Charter schools are uniquely positioned to use time, talent, and technology to create a wide variety of personalized learning experiences to help every student reach his or her full potential. A new report from the National Alliance shines a light on four schools that are examples of innovation at work. Breakthroughs in Time, Talent, and Technology: Next Generation Learning Models in Public Charter Schools describes what’s working at these four schools and offers recommendations for how policymakers can support high-quality individualized learning. The lessons are not only valuable to school leaders who have the freedom to replicate these models but they also offer lawmakers greater evidence to encourage policies to foster these innovations.

Weighing In on School Improvement Grants

We recently submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education with our suggestions to help strengthen and improve the nation’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. We believe that SIG should be about increasing access to high-quality schools and more focused on the needs of students. Our comments urge the Department to ensure that states have the flexibility to direct SIG funds to turnaround strategies in their state that have the greatest likelihood of producing results, including by opening new public charter schools and expanding existing high-quality public charter schools. We highlight that charter schools are perfect for this work because they have a proven track record of replicating success in a variety of settings and they are sustainable over the long-term. Joining us in submitting our letter were numerous charter school leaders, state chiefs, and partner organizations.

To read the comments we submitted, click here. Or check out the paper we published last month on how to strengthen the nation’s SIG program.

Congratulations to the Latest Charter School Program Grantees

A big congratulations to the charter schools across the country who have received grants in the most recent round of funding through the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). From brand new charter schools in Washington State to established high-achieving charter school networks in states like New York and Texas, we’re pleased to see a strong list of grantees. The federal Charter Schools Program continues to be a valuable resource to help new charter schools open their doors and provide funding for existing high-quality schools to expand and replicate. Here at the National Alliance, we are proud to advocate for more federal dollars to support your work and we’ll continue fighting for more funding so that even more schools can take advantage of this important program. To see the full list of grantees, click here.

Washington State Court to Hear Charter Challenge

On October 28th, the Washington State Supreme Court will hear arguments related to the 2012 voter-approved law that made Washington the 42nd state in the nation (plus the District of Columbia) to allow public charter schools. Opponents of charter schools have once again fought tooth and nail to prevent progress for students and parents, trotting out tired arguments we have heard before. Fortunately, these arguments have been defeated in state after state, and we expect Washington will be no different.

To help clarify the arguments, the National Alliance joined with the Black Alliance for Educational Options and the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools to file an amicus brief with the court. The brief explains the history, growth, and success of public charter schools nationwide in providing millions of students with a high-quality education. It also addresses opponents’ specific claims and details one-by-one how similar claims have been rejected by courts across the country.

Washington’s new law is one of the best in the nation and it is strongly aligned to our model law. And the movement is already growing. After serving homeless children and families for 25 years in southeast Seattle, First Place Scholars has opened its doors as the state’s first public charter school. Seven more authorized schools serving children at risk of academic failure will open in the fall of 2015. We look forward to the state Supreme Court rejecting the latest attempt to stop public charter schools from serving students, and we will update you when a decision is reached.

21 Charter Schools Named Blue Ribbon Schools

We’re thrilled that 21 public charter schools were honored as 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes elementary, middle, and high schools for their academic excellence and progress in closing achievement gaps. Congratulations to this year’s National Blue Ribbon public charter schools for earning national recognition for their outstanding educational programs and accomplishments. For more details and a list of charter schools recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools, click here.

Is Your School World Class?

Is your charter school better in reading, math, and science than schools in top-ranked Shanghai? What about compared with similar schools in the United States? This is your opportunity to get important data to help position your school on a global scale, boost recruitment and fundraising, and validate your school model. The National Alliance is offering a select number of charter schools the chance to participate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Test for Schools at no cost. This is a voluntary diagnostic tool to benchmark your school against the academic success of similar schools worldwide – a valuable learning opportunity for your students, faculty, and entire school community. To learn more, visit and check out this piece highlighting the results from charter schools that have participated in the test.

Parents Want More Charter Schools

A new survey by Education Post reveals that 78 percent of parents support “expanding the number of charter schools so parents have more options.” The survey of 1,800 parents asked a range of questions about the quality of American education. It revealed a strong desire for schools to improve and to offer more personalized learning options. Underlying the need for change is a sense that schools aren’t doing a good enough job preparing students for the future. Eighty-five percent of parents believe that America is “falling behind in competitiveness,” while 73 percent said they are “very” or “somewhat” worried that their child’s education won’t prepare them for success in today’s world. Full survey results are available at Education Post.

Ready for New Orleans?

The 2015 National Charter Schools Conference will take place June 21-24 in New Orleans, and early bird registration is now open! Early registration allows you to enjoy the best rates for next year’s event and to start planning for three days of professional development, networking, and fun. We’re also accepting session proposals through October 31st. This is your opportunity to share best practices with colleagues from around the nation, and to benefit from their feedback.

Click here for more information about early registration and proposal submission. Please reach out to the conference team at with any questions. We look forward to seeing you in New Orleans!

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is a non-profit organization that relies on friends like you to support our work. From releasing important research reports and new data on charter schools, to advocating on behalf of charters at the federal, state, and local levels, and sharing the important stories of how charter schools are changing children’s lives, the National Alliance works every day to make the charter school movement stronger. Please consider a tax-deductible donation to support our work. Thank you!

Donate now!

Nora Kern


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21 Public Charter Schools Recognized as 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, as described by the U.S. Department of Education, “recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.” This year, the 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.

In order to be eligible for the National Blue Ribbon award, the school must have made Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) or 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 serve at least 40 percent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This year there are nine more public charter schools that earned the National Blue Ribbon School—up from twelve charter school award winners in 2013. Congratulations to the 2014 National Blue Ribbon public charter schools for their outstanding educational programs and accomplishments!

Charter School State
Mesquite Elementary School Arizona
Reid Traditional Schools’ Valley Academy Arizona
Bullis Purissima Charter School California
KIPP Summit Academy California
Academy of Dover Charter School Delaware
Crossroad Academy Florida
Doral Performing Arts & Entertainment Academy Florida
Mater Gardens Academy Florida
Terrace Community Middle School Florida
Elite Scholars Academy Charter School Georgia
Lake Oconee Academy Georgia
Signature School Indiana
Pace Charter School of Hamilton New Jersey
Genesee Community Charter School New York
South Bronx Classical Charter School New York
Raleigh Charter High School North Carolina
Columbus Preparatory Academy Ohio
Franklin Towne Charter High School Pennsylvania
Houston Academy for International Studies Texas
KIPP Houston High School Texas
KIPP Sharp College Prep Texas

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

Nina Rees


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A Real Threat to the Status Quo

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

Campbell Brown, the journalist-turned-education-reformer, has been in the news a lot lately. Her Partnership for Educational Justice recently filed suit in New York, challenging the city’s teacher tenure laws. The organization is chaired by David Boies, who represented Al Gore in the contested presidential election of 2000 and recently argued against California’s ban on gay marriage. Brown and Boies have pledged to file several other suits around the country, focused on upending the status quo in education.

Opponents have already cried foul, questioning Brown’s credentials and the motives of her funders. But what Brown brings to the table is not only an ability to fight in the court of law but to win in the court of public opinion. That explains why her advocacy has attracted such vitriol by opponents – they see it as a real threat. For education reformers, the work is encouraging, since she has the potential to galvanize public support…. Read more here.

Nina Rees


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Charter Schools Deserve Equal Funding

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

While all eyes in New York are on a lawsuit challenging teacher tenure, another suit stands to have an even larger impact on the future of the state’s low-income and minority students – and it could set a precedent for other states. Five families in Buffalo and Rochester have filed suit challenging the state’s persistent underfunding of public charter schools. The Northeast Charter Schools Network is assisting the families with the suit, which seeks equal funding for all public school students, whether they attend a charter school or a traditional district school.

The gap in funding between the two types of public schools is sometimes startling. In Buffalo, charter schools receive about $9,800 less per pupil than district schools; in Rochester the gap is about $6,600. This difference is largely due to the fact that charter schools, unlike district schools, have to pay for their facilities costs. Renting space, changing light bulbs and keeping the plumbing in working order all diverts money that should be used for instruction….. Read more here.

Andrew Schantz


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California Charter Schools Association: Portrait of the Movement

In late August, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released its fourth annual Portrait of the Movement, a report that tells the story of what has happened in California’s charter school movement over the past five years, why it has happened, and what can be done to ensure continued growth and momentum. 

Trends highlighted throughout Portrait of the Movement, Five Year Retrospective: A Charter Sector Growing in Numbers and Strength indicate that tens of thousands of California’s students are being educated in better performing charter schools than just five years ago.

The California charter schools movement is large and diverse and now serving over half a million public school students. This number is growing every year and more importantly, these students are making significant improvements in academic performance. That performance has been driven by the growth of quality schools and the closure of underperforming schools.

Our research shows that charters have made improvements in academic performance during a time of explosive growth in enrollment, and during a severe funding crisis in California that disproportionately affected charters. We’ve highlighted many of the key findings from the report on our website.

I am delighted that CCSA’s research, recent findings from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes and the National Alliance for Public Charters Schools, as well as other national data all continue to point in the same direction – that charter schools are performing incredibly well, especially with historically underserved students. Even better, they’re improving over time.

Jed Wallace, president and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Nora Kern


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Public Charter Schools Top All Best High School Ranking Lists

U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post, and Newsweek all have annual rankings of the best public high schools in the nation. Despite public charter schools making up only 6 percent of public high schools nationwide, they have been a continuous presence on national ranking lists

The table below presents the public charter schools that were ranked in the top 100 on at least one of the lists, as well as the public charter schools ranked in Newsweek’s top “25 Doing the Most with the Least” list. BASIS Tuscon North, Signature School, and Archmedean Upper Conservatory were listed in the top 100 on all three major lists. Fourteen public charter schools were among the top 100 on two national high school rankings.

The U.S. News & World Report’s Best High Schools list had 24 public charter schools in the top 100. The report also ranked three public charters in the top 10. The Washington Post’s Most Challenging High Schools ranked 31 public charter schools in their top 100—up from 28 charters in 2013—and comprised half of the top 10. In Newsweek’s Top High Schools list, there were 17 public charter schools in the top 100, four more charters than in 2013, with three reaching their top 10.

Newsweek also came out with their “25 Doing the Most with the Least” list, which takes students’ socioeconomic status into account. Ten public charter schools were on the list, making up 40 percent of the nation’s top high schools that are closing the achievement gap. 

Congratulations to these public charter schools that are providing their students with the best education in the nation.

School Name State U.S. News & World Report, Best High Schools Washington Post, High School Challenge Index Newsweek, America’s Best High Schools Newsweek, 25 Schools Doing the Most with the Least
Haas Hall Academy AR 25
Accelerated Elementary and Secondary AZ 24
BASIS Oro Valley AZ 7
BASIS Scottsdale AZ 2 2
BASIS Tuscon North AZ 5 10 29
Northland Preparatory Academy AZ 44
American Indian Public Charter CA 44 1
Animo Jackie Robinson Charter High School CA 9
Hawthorne Math and Science Academy CA 55
KIPP King Collegiate High CA 67
KIPP San Jose Collegiate CA 41
Lennox Mathematics, Science & Technology Academy CA 59
Northcoast Prep and Performing Arts Academy CA 21
Orange County School of the Arts CA 52
Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School CA 25
Pacific Collegiate School CA 25 83
Stockton Collegiate International CA 44
The Preuss School UCSD CA 42 40 1
University High School CA 53 98
Peak to Peak Charter School CO 66 28
The Charter School of Wilmington DE 30
Archimedean Upper Conservatory FL 100 19 67
City of Hialeah Educational Academy FL 13
Doral Academy Performing Arts and Entertainment FL 86
International Studies Charter high School FL 24
Mater Academy Charter High FL 22
Gwinnett School of Math, Science & Tech GA 3 17
Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy ID 47 66
Noble Street College Prep IL 4
Signature School IN 21 6 5
Mystic Valley Regional Charter School MA 92
Sturgis Charter MA 88
Nova Classical MN 86
St. Croix Prep MN 80
Raleigh Charter High School NC 55 33
Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science at UNM NM 64 48
Coral Academy of Science Las Vegas NV 73
Dove Science Academy Tulsa OK 8
Harding Charter Preparatory High School OK 89
Corbett Charter OR 3
Challenge Early College TX 97
Energized for STEM TX 32
Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts TX 91
Harmony School of Innovation – Fort Worth TX 59
Harmony Science Academy – North Austin TX 25
Harmony Science Academy Brownsville TX 30
Harmony Science Academy Houston TX 51
Harmony Science Academy-Waco TX 42
IDEA Academy and Collegy Preparatory School TX 30
IDEA Frontier College Preparatory TX 85
KIPP Austin Col TX 63
NYOS Charter School TX 93
Uplift North Hills Preparatory TX 2 40
Uplift Peak Preparatory TX 2
Uplift Summit International Preparatory TX 16 99 19
Uplift Williams Prepatory TX 29 3
YES Prep East End Campus TX 81 74
YES Prep North Central TX 28 57
YES Prep Southeast TX 95

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

Nina Rees


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School Improvement Done Right

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

Today, 15,000 U.S. schools are considered persistently low-achieving. The Obama administration has invested heavily in a portion of these schools through a program called School Improvement Grants. Since 2009, nearly $3 billion in improvement grants has been directed at about 1,700 schools. (Fiscal year 2014 funding for the grants is $506 million, and the same amount is expected in fiscal year 2015.) But the grant program’s record has been underwhelming: A third of schools that were given major cash infusions to boost student achievement actually regressed.

While disconcerting, the results shouldn’t be entirely unexpected, nor should they put a nail in the program’s coffin. Overhauling an institution is always hard. In fact, 75 percent of efforts at restructuring in the private sector end up failing, partly because changing cultures and habits is difficult and the private sector is not patient enough with many change management efforts. Put simply, it is easier to close and start over than to restructure… read more here.

Nora Kern


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Public Charter Schools Once Again Top Newsweek Best High School Rankings

Last week, Newsweek/The Daily Beast released their rankings of the top U.S. high schools—with 17 public charter schools in the top 100. Like in last year’s Newsweek rankings, two BASIS schools were in the top 10, along with the Signature School as the other public charter school in the top 10.

In an accompanying The Daily Beast article titled “What Charter Schools Are Getting Right and Why They Top Our High School Rankings,” the authors point out that, “Even though charters educate just five percent of American students, they represent 30 percent of the top ten schools in this year’s rankings. What’s more—and this is really the kicker—they’re the only ones in the top ten that do not use selective admissions.” The article further looks at key charter autonomies that make a difference: their ability to hire (and fire) staff, set their own schedule, and choose curricula.

For the top 100 schools, charters held 17 spots. This number is up from 13 charter schools in the top 100 last year. 

The Newsweek/Daily Beast ranking methodology tweaked some components and their weighting compared to last year, but the overarching goal to identify the schools that best prepare their students for college remains the same. This year’s four ranking components are: four-year cohort graduation rate (30 percent weight); college acceptance rate (30 percent weight); rigor/college preparedness (30 percent weight)—measured by the student participation in AP, IB, or AICE courses and passage rates for those exams; and college entrance exams (10 percent weight)—meaning average SAT or ACT scores.

Another change was that the former “Transformative High Schools” list is now titled “25 Doing the Most with the Least.” However, the methodology is still the same; the best high schools list is additionally filtered for schools serving the highest number of free and reduced price eligible students—a key indicator of socioeconomic status. Ten of the 25 schools on the list are public charter schools, including those in the top 4 spots. 

Congratulations to these public charter schools that are seeing amazing results for their students and closing the achievement gap!

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