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Danny Sosa

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Student Voices: Danny Sosa

Today’s featured student blogger, Danny Sosa, is a student at YES Prep Gulfton in Houston, TX. The school’s student body is made up of almost entirely minority students, and nearly 97% are low-income.  In his post, Danny talks about the defining role that YES Prep has played in his life so far, as well as his future plans. You can learn more about YES Prep Gulfton on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

This fall, I’ll be attending Colorado State University. For many students, college is their destiny, but for me, it could have just as easily been an afterthought. I’ll be the first in my family to attend, and I can still remember the day I was put on that path.

I was in the fifth grade, a YES Prep Public Schools recruiter walked into my classroom. I remember asking myself who this crazy white man was, and what he was trying to do by yelling at us about the importance of giving back to our community and going to college. I was eleven, so what did I care? Becoming a Pokémon master was my main goal at the time.

But Mr. Durbin was very convincing and when it came time to apply to middle school, I won a seat in the YES Prep Gulfton lottery. I was excited and just as equally nervous. As far as I knew, this was just a regular middle school. I didn’t expect it to be anything special; we were only one grade at the time, and we didn’t even have our own building. But what we lacked in size, our teachers more than made up for in heart and determination. Their enthusiasm and belief in the potential of each of us has pushed me forward from that very first day.

YES Prep is where I learned to care about my education, give back to the people in my community, and become a better person. I couldn’t have chosen a better school than YES, that’s for sure. I’ve had some of my best memories while engaging in the classroom with my teachers. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, they worked exceptionally hard to make our lessons engaging and even when I’d struggle to understand a concept, they would gladly help. (They give us their cell numbers and we can call or text when we get stuck on anything at home.) I had never earned Commended scores on any of my TAKS tests previous to coming here. It felt so good knowing I could perform well with hard work, and lots of support from people who wanted to see me succeed.

Soon after, I began seeing everyone around me as more than just friends or teachers. These people became my really-large-away-from-home family that wants to prepare me for the college experience. I started visiting universities when I was in sixth grade and when I got to high school, YES further prepared me by making me take seminar courses that required me to think more about what I wanted to do once I graduated. The major lesson I’m taking with me to CSU is that asking for help is a requirement to succeed. I appreciate all the experiences YES has given me, along with all the people who’ve been there working with us to pave a road as the first graduating class.

As I prepare to go to college to pursue a degree in what I love most, biology and animals, I get to be the first to show everyone in my family that it’s possible to be successful. Hopefully I’ll turn out to be an inspiration to all my younger siblings; I want them to continue working hard in school and not be afraid to reach higher.

Jasmine Claybrooks

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Parent Voices: Jasmine Claybrooks

Today’s featured blogger is Jasmine Claybrooks, the mother of Elyuz Lukes, a 7th grade student at Nashville Prep in Nashville, TN. The school’s student body 97% minority students, and 85% are low-income.  In her post, Jasmine talks about her experience sending her son to Nashville Prep, and the level of commitment she has enjoyed from faculty and staff. You can learn more about Nashville Prep on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

When asked why I choose Nashville Prep School as the choice for my son, I had to think long and hard. Initially I thought of all the easy, common answers that people go to when asked about school choices: the teachers care, the curriculum is better, they spend more time individually with my child. All of the above reasons are true, but I choose Nashville Prep for very different reasons.  I choose Nashville Prep because after the initial community meeting, Ravi Gupta (Founder and Executive Director of Nashville Prep) had me excited about sending my child to school. I am a firm believer that teaching begins at home.  I felt like the school would be more than just a school, it would be an extension of home for my son, that the staff truly cared about our children and I could trust that he was getting the very best education that I could offer him.

I never once before had faith that teachers and staff at my children’s school were as invested in my child as I am. I believed Mr. Gupta when he said that he was fighting for our children regardless of where they lived, or what educational level that they were on. My son was not below his grade level, he actually is a highly exceptional child that was already a part of Metro Nashville Public School System ENCORE gifted learners program. Although a very good program, it didn’t extend into the classroom outside of the weekly class that they offered. At Nashville Prep, they keep the children engaged, and ready to learn, no matter what level that they are on.  I also liked the discipline that they expected from day one. The expectations from the students, parents & staff are clearly defined. They don’t let the small stuff pass, so the “big stuff” never comes to pass.  I love Nashville Prep and would recommend it to any parent looking for a school of excellence for their child.

Maria Nolasco Ramirez

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Student Voices: Maria Nolasco Ramirez

Today’s featured student blogger, Maria Nolasco Ramirez, is a senior at the Roseland University Prep Charter High School in Santa Rosa, California. The school’s student body is made up of almost entirely minority students, and nearly 90% are low-income.  In her post, Maria talks about her academic experience as well as her extra-curricular involvement at RUP. You can learn more about Roseland University Prep on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

Anyone who has driven down Sebastopol Road and has come across a small purple warehouse does not realize that it is actually a high school. Some people are not fully aware of what Roseland University Prep (RUP) contains. Yes, the school is small. It is centered in the Roseland community and it is different from other high schools. What makes RUP Charter High School different is the rigorous A-G requirement classes that all students need to pass in order to graduate and move on to a four-year university. RUP is also different because everyone, staff and students, work together to move forward and build a better RUP.

There is no day that I regret my decision to attend Roseland University Prep for all four years of high school. When I was making my selection of high schools, I knew that I wanted to attend a high school that offered the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program. Most of all, I wanted to attend a high school that would prepare me for a four-year university. That is exactly what I found at RUP. I have received endless support from teachers and counselors. I know that my teachers will set time aside to help me learn concepts that I may not understand. Coming to this school has opened my eyes to seeing the challenges that the Roseland Community faces. These last four years, I was fortunate to be a founder of a couple of school clubs. I helped start the Newspaper Club, the RUP Drama Club, and the Anatomy Club. Due to the popularity of the Drama Club, the school board approved a Drama class. RUP is definitely not the poor, small warehouse by the train tracks; it is home to future doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, psychologists, and future leaders. I consider myself fortunate and blessed to have been a RUP Knight all four years of high school.

AB Bustamante

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Student Voices: AB Bustamante

Today’s featured student blogger, AB Bustamante, is a charter school student at the Uplift Peak Preparatory High School. The school’s student body is made up of approximately 90% minority students, and nearly 93% are low-income.  In his post, AB talks about Uplift’s Road to College program and his plans after graduating high school. You can learn more about Uplift Peak Preparatory Academy on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

What has been the best part about being in the Road to College program?

“The best part about being in the Road to College program is having a dedicated and motivated college counseling team ready to assist me through the entire college process. There is nothing more satisfying and calming than knowing that I have four college counselors willing to set everything aside to help me file my taxes, fill out college applications, revise my essays, etc. Without their unrelenting help, my senior year would have been much more stressful, and I wouldn’t have sought the many scholarship opportunities they found for me.”

What are you most excited about for college?

“It was an exciting moment when I opened my letter of acceptance and offer of appointment to the United States Naval Academy. I knew that the next four years would be the most challenging and demanding four years of my life. I’m excited to attend Plebe Summer after my graduation and undergo the transformation from a civilian to a midshipman. I am eager to discover the vast opportunities the Naval Academy will offer me to engage in politics in Washington D.C. as I pursue a major in Political Science. However, the most exciting thing will be graduating with my Class of 2018 and being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.”

What drives you to succeed?

“There is a motto among the elite fighting warriors, the U.S. Navy SEALs, which states, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.” I have experienced the meaning of this motto firsthand. Being the eldest of three children and the only male figure in a household under the poverty line has been a challenging reality I have had to face since the age of 13. Seeing my mother struggle alone with the burdens of poverty enraged me but also motivated me to get a job to help my mom pay monthly expenses. Having a job and going to school at the same time has been tough, and although I doubted my efforts at times, I never quit. It was a drive within me that pushed me to face the next day’s problems with determination and confidence. I don’t plan to quit any time soon either; I plan to work in public policy/public administration to pressure our legislative body to enact policies to target and solve the rising problem of poverty in America. Although I can’t eradicate poverty completely, I won’t be satisfied until I reach something close to complete eradication.”

What are you most proud of that you have accomplished in your high school career?

“Being the first in my family to graduate from high school is the accomplishment I’m most proud of. My parents never reached high school, as they dropped out of sixth grade in Mexico in order to come to the United States. Graduating will not only make my parents proud, but I will also send a message to my younger sisters (both of whom attend Uplift Peak) that with a goal in mind and strong determination, nothing is impossible.”

 

Post originally published on Uplift Voices blog

Jose Serrano

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Student Voices: Jose Serrano

Today’s featured student blogger, Jose Serrano, is a charter school student at Noble Street College Prep in Chicago. The Noble Network of Charter Schools has a student body made up of almost entirely minority students, 90% of whom are low-income.  The son of a single mother in a low-income household in Chicago, Jose was recently accepted by Stanford University on a full-ride scholarship to study astrophysics. In his college admissions essay below, Jose talks about what he’s overcome to get where he is today: college bound with a bright future ahead.

There is soreness that sits on my lower back indefinitely. It comes from sleeping on a worn out, second-hand couch the last ten years of my life. The couch and I reside in a one bedroom apartment with my mother. This is the place I call home. My couch is a deserted and lonely planet; I get to escape this planet during the day, but I must return to my lonely planet every night. This one bedroom apartment has been the most challenging and enlightening part of my life.

Every night, on my dank couch, I would dream that space was my escape out of my living situation. Every night, I would look up through my window and see the beautiful dark sky, illuminated by the moon and the stars and wonder what it felt like to leave all my hardships at
home and live in the peace of space. There would be no soreness in space; I would have nothing to worry about.

I did not have privacy, and it took a toll on me. I was embarrassed to invite friends over. When friends wanted to come over to study or get group work done, I would tell them that my mom did not allow it instead of the truth. I was ashamed because I felt that my friends would make fun of me for sleeping on a couch and somehow think less of me. It seemed like the couch followed me everywhere I went.

The soreness in my lower back was revived by sitting down in class. It reminded me of waking up on the foamless couch every day. I was orbiting from my lonely planet to school and back on a daily basis. School was a planet I loved because I did not have to deal with the couch
that was waiting for me. My lonely planet never left my mind. From taking the ACT to school work, I was challenged with being able to focus, and my body told me to give up. That seemed like the easy path out. I pushed away the thoughts of giving up by reminding myself of my lonely planet and finished the ACT and school work with my best effort.

In high school, it was like breathing in the troposphere- not the stratosphere; I developed a mature view on my living situation. I knew that this couch would not get the best of me, so in order for me to be successful in life, I had to accept my lonely planet. I was not afraid to talk about sleeping on a couch to my friends because I knew that if my friends were truly there for me, they would not think differently of me. My couch was my Earth; it did not seem as emotionally painful anymore. My couch inspired me to work harder for what I want in the future. I began to see that I had a fascination with all things outside of this Earth and my couch.

All of those nights of staring into the universe meant something. The passion ignited like a bursting gamma ray in Physics. I had opportunities through school to study Physics. I decided to take an additional after school honors physics class in order to grow stronger in the subject. I realized that I want to study Astronomical Physics in college because I want to help discover new planets and solar systems. Sleeping on the couch reminds me of what I do not want in my future. I have nothing against sleeping on the couch now because my lonely planet has allowed me to become the person I am today. I look forward to college because I will leave my lonely planet and sleep on a warm, soft, and comfortable bed. The soreness in my back that has followed me throughout my life will finally be healed.

Togtuun Munkhtsetseg

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Student Voices: Togtuun Munkhtsetseg

Today’s featured student blogger, Togtuun (Todd) Munkhtsetseg, is a charter school student at the Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) Green Valley Ranch High School. The school’s student body is made up of approximately 93% minority students, and over 70% are low-income.  In his post, Todd describes how his school has equipped him with the skills and determination to enter a four-year college after graduation. You can learn more about DSST on the Public Charter Schools Data Dashboard.

Today I had the opportunity to visit University of Northern Colorado and experience life on a college campus.  Since freshman year, I have had the pleasure of visiting CSU Ft. Collins, CU Anschutz, CU Boulder, and UNC.  I have always thought this is an opportunity that all schools offered.  However, once I talked with my friends, I realized DSST is somewhat unique for providing this opportunity.

Although DSST is challenging and rigorous because we are held to such a high standard every day, the opportunities DSST offers, such as college visits, give me the motivation to work harder than I thought I could.  There are many times people have thought of quitting and attending another school, but then we remember the fact that DSST’s rigor has allowed us to be more prepared for college. Our core values (Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Doing your best, Courage, and Curiosity) shape us to be mature young adults. When I do not live by my core values I am constantly corrected or reminded by my teachers that I can do better. The high standards at DSST encourage us to surpass our limits.

Our preparation for the ACT is an example of DSST’s high standards.  At DSST, since day one of freshman year, we have been encouraged to show our full potential in every situation.  On the day of the ACT, I never felt more ready.  Because we had received lots of ACT prep throughout my time at DSST, I knew I could excel on the ACT.

Another thing that makes DSST so unique is the community.  An example of our strong community is morning meeting.  Every day we gather as a school for the morning meeting.  When I sit in the meeting, I feel extremely happy as I look around at all of my peers’ and teachers’ faces. I know I could approach any one of my classmates and feel welcomed. I also know my teachers are willing to stay after school longer if I am facing challenges in my academics. Their willingness to ensure my success makes me realize that my teachers truly care for their students.  For example, we have a test every week for our classes and one of the hardest classes at DSST is Biology.  My teacher, Mr. Wick, stays late to help me out.  I can recall a time that the entire class was struggling with a standard and he held a tutoring session to make sure we all mastered it.  It is these little actions that create our strong community.

I am very proud to be a raptor because without DSST, I know that I would not be as prepared to get into a four year college.  I would also be without this welcoming community.  I know all my hard work at DSST will pay off once I am accepted to a four year college.  This opportunity could not be possible without DSST.

Nina Rees

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Separating Common Core Fact From Fiction

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

The Common Core State Standards and their assessments continue to capture headlines. As a parent and an education reformer, I am often asked what I think about these standards.

The fact that I get asked about this in settings other than work is an incredibly healthy sign. After all, education policy belongs to all of us – parents, teachers, education researchers, taxpayers, employers and policymakers – and our schools benefit from informed discussions that lead to the best outcomes for students.

But in the debate over state education standards, we can’t let the facts get caught in the crossfire. Here are a few facts about the Common Core State Standards…read more here.

Kim Kober

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National Alliance testifies before Congress on the importance of the federal Charter Schools Program

Earlier this month, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing, “Raising the Bar: The Role of Charter Schools in K-12 Education,” to highlight the growth of charter schools, their positive impact on K-12 education across the country, and the role of the federal Charter Schools Program. The hearing allowed members of the charter school community to showcase the ways federal policy can impact charter school growth, encourage best practices, and foster district-charter collaboration.

Deb McGriffFive charter school leaders from across the country were invited to testify, including the National Alliance’s Chair of the Board, Dr. Deborah McGriff.

In her testimony, Dr. McGriff stressed the importance of the federal Charter Schools Program. “I don’t believe the public charter school sector’s growth to meet parental demand for educational options would have occurred the way it has without the presence of dedicated federal funding. Let me say that again to be perfectly clear: while public charter schools are inherently local, the movement would not have achieved its current success had it not been for the federal Charter Schools Program.”

Dr. McGriff was joined by other charter school leaders and advocates who added unique perspectives to the hearing discussion:

  • Board Chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) Lisa Graham Keegan focused on they ways the charter school authorizing process has improved, as authorizers build and identify best practices. Keegan emphasized the key role authorizers play to ensure quality, and close low-performing schools.
  • Alan Rosskamm, Chief Executive Officer of Breakthrough Schools, highlighted the organization’s collaboration with the City of Cleveland to strengthen public education for all students. As the highest rated charter network in Ohio, Rosskamm attributed much of Breakthrough’s success to their strong partnerships with families—a defining characteristic behind the mission of public charter schools.
  • Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, Chief of Innovation and Reform at Denver Public Schools, provided the perspective of a school district administrator who works to ensure that district schools and charter school collaborate and complement each other to provide families with quality public school options.
  • David Linzey, Executive Director at Clayton Valley Charter High School, spoke of his work in converting a district public school to a charter school and the high demand for this school – with a waiting list of nearly 400 students for the upcoming school year. Last year, the school experienced the most academic achievement growth for a large high school in the state of California, with a 62 point jump on the state’s API in a single year.

The hearing was a great opportunity for the charter school community to share its most promising practices with the committee.

Board Chair McGriff summed up her opening remarks with a request to Congress: “The number one message that I bring you today is that the CSP is working and that both the Congress and the administration should prioritize funding for the program to help us meet the demands of parents and ensure funding equity for students who attend public charter schools.”

Want to build on Dr. McGriff’s request? Make the ask yourself with a quick email to your members of Congress.

hearing

To view an archived webcast and all witness testimony, click here.

Kim Kober is the federal policy and government relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern

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New study shows Los Angeles charter schools students are beating the odds

A new report released last week by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that public charter schools in Los Angeles, which serve the largest number of students in the country, are outperforming traditional public schools. Following the methodology of CREDO’s 2013 National Charter School study, which found charter schools are outperforming their district peers across the country, the report translates the impact of attending a charter school into additional days of learning. This study finds that the typical student in a Los Angeles public charter school gains about 50 more days of learning in reading and an additional 79 days of learning in math.

Credo Graphic

Source: CREDO, pg. 37, http://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/Los_Angeles_report_2014_FINAL_000.pdf.

The study also found public charter schools are greatly impacting Hispanic students living in poverty— with these students gaining an additional half year of learning in math by being enrolled in a charter school. Below are the positive study results by different demographic groups, grade levels, type of charter school, and years enrolled.  In each of these cases, “additional days of learning” is compared to traditional public school students.
 


  Reading Math
Charter Student Characteristics

Additional Days of Learning

Poverty (overall) 14 43
Black 14 14
Black in Poverty 36 58
Hispanic 43 72
Hispanic in Poverty 58 115
White 14 N/A
Asian 14 N/A
ELL 36 N/A
Grade Levels
Elementary 58 50
Middle 36 158
High 50 58
Multi-Level 36 65
Charter School Characteristics
CMO affiliated 65 122
Non-CMO affiliated 36 43
Urban 50 79
Suburban 65 101
Years of Charter Enrollment
1 Year 50 101
2 Years 58 72
3 Years 58 187




The report concludes with a strong endorsement of these results across student groups and  over time: “…The typical student in a Los Angeles charter school gains more learning in a year than her [traditional public school] counterpart…These positive patterns emerge in a student’s first year of charter attendance and persist over time. Black and Hispanic students in poverty especially benefit from attendance at charter schools. A substantial share of Los Angeles charter schools appear to outpace [traditional public schools] in how well they support academic learning gains in their students in both reading and math.”

The findings of this report show yet again that when public charter schools are allowed to thrive, so do our students. Click here to read the full Charter School Performance in Los Angeles report.

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

Nina Rees

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March Update

I just wrapped up two days in New York City at a series of meetings with journalists and others to talk about the role of charter schools in American education. It’s an interesting time to be in New York, in light of the significant media attention and political backlash that Mayor Bill de Blasio has received after his decision a few weeks ago to revoke three charter school co-locations, including one for a school that is already open and teaching children. Success Academy’s Harlem 4 middle school is teaching children so well, in fact, that it is one of the top-performing middle schools in the entire state.

While I wish Mayor de Blasio were embracing charter schools, instead of closing them, it has been a true pleasure helping New York’s charter school community share its success stories. In case you’re not familiar with what’s been happening in New York, these short clips from CNBC’s Kudlow Report and MSNBC’s Morning Joe capture what’s at stake.

Best regards,
Nina

Nina Rees
President & CEO
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
T. 202.289.2700
www.publiccharters.org

 

Support Grows for Charter Schools on Capitol Hill

Last week the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing on charter schools where five witnesses testified on the progress charter schools are making in closing the achievement gap, helping more children graduate from high school and go on to college, and sharing best practices with their school district counterparts. The chair of our board, Deborah McGriff, testified, along with Lisa Graham Keegan, the chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Alan Rosskaam, the CEO of the Breakthrough network of schools, David Linzey, Executive Director of Clayton Valley Charter High School and Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, Chief of Innovation and Reform at Denver Public Schools. You can read their testimonies and watch footage from the hearing here.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the committee praised charter schools—which is good news because bipartisan support will be critical to expanding the federal Charter Schools Program so that more charter schools can open and high-performing networks can grow. There is talk that the U.S. House will vote on a bill to revise the Charter Schools Program this spring. We will work with members of the House to ensure the guiding principles outlined in our publication “Free to Succeed” are included in any bill that is considered.

The Charter Schools Program is the only source of federal funding dedicated to charter schools. Right now the program is funded at $248 million dollars—less than 1 percent of the federal money spent on K-12 education. We are asking Congress to fund the program at $330 million. Congress is making funding decisions this month, and if you’d like to see more high-quality charter schools open and serving children, please take just a moment to send a letter to your members of Congress.

Our Work in States

The National Alliance continues its work to help pass strong charter school laws in states that either do not have a charter school law or where the law is weak. We are working actively in Kentucky, Nebraska, and Oklahoma right now.

Oklahoma has had a charter school bill on the books since the ‘90s, but the law has allowed charters only in major urban areas. As a result, only two-dozen charter schools have opened. This year we are working with lawmakers to expand the law to allow charter schools to open in any community where there is a need and demand from parents. We expect to have a hearing on the bill by the end of this month. In Oklahoma, charter schools are working, and we want see more of them!

Capture

In Kentucky, the state Senate education committee is expected to vote soon on a bill to allow a charter school pilot program. While the bill doesn’t create the strong law that we would prefer, it is a step in the right direction.

A charter school bill has been introduced in Nebraska the last several years, but hasn’t gained much traction until this year. This year’s bill would allow five charter schools to open in Omaha. At a recent legislative hearing, dozens of local charter school supporters came to testify in support of the bill. This is the first year that we have seen widespread grassroots support for bringing charter schools to Nebraska, so we are encouraged about the bill’s prospects.

Charter Schools are Working in Los Angeles, Too!

A new study from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that the typical student in a Los Angeles charter school learns more in a school year than a typical student in a district school. Charter students gain the equivalent of 50 additional days of learning in reading and 72 additional days of learning in math. For low-income minority students, the learning gains were even more impressive. Low-income Hispanic students, for example, gained 58 additional days of learning in reading and 115 in math. Considering the average school year is 180 days, that means they are gaining another half-year’s learning in math. You can read more about the CREDO study here.

Save the Date for National Charter Schools Week

The first full week of each May is National Charter Schools Week, when we celebrate the accomplishments of our teachers, school leaders, and students, and thank the policymakers who have helped make charter schools a possibility. Mark your calendar for May 5-9 to join the celebration in your community. More details will be coming soon about events being planned and how you can get involved.

Will We See You in Vegas?

The National Charter Schools Conference is just three short months away and we’re putting the finishing touches on planning. This year will feature inspirational keynote talks from Sal Khan, Steven Michael Quezada, and others, along with more than 100 breakout sessions with practical content that you can take back to your school or organization. The conference is taking place at the fabulous Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas and we hope you’ll register today.

Support the National Alliance

The National Alliance is the voice of the charter school community in Washington, D.C., and in states that don’t yet have charter schools. To fulfill our mission we need your support. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift to the National Alliance today. Thank you!