The Charter Blog

 

Nina Rees

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Learning the Facts of Financial Life

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report) Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently offered a compelling speech pushing American students to learn about money and finance in school. “Young people, to be successful, to secure retirement, to take care of their families, and to not be in poverty, have to have a level of financial literacy that 30, 40, 50 years ago maybe wasn’t required,” Duncan said. “Today it’s an absolute necessity.”

This is important for several reasons.

First, when tested for financial literacy in 2012, American teens scored below average and far short of those in countries like China, Australia and New Zealand, according to the results of a recently published Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development survey…read more here.

Susan Aud

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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

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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

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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.

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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Nr0H7-ZS6U&feature=youtu.be&noredirect=1

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.

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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.

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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.
Nina Rees

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Graduating Against the Odds

(Originally published in U.S. News & World Report) June is graduation season and this year, in particular, it’s nice to take a step back from often contentious debates over Common Core, teacher tenure, school choice and an array of other education reform issues, and recognize those students who have overcome the odds by graduating from high school and being the first in their families to attend college.

For instance, there are students like AB Bustamante. Bustamante just graduated from Uplift Peak Preparatory High School in Dallas – the first member of his family to graduate from high school. Throughout his years at Uplift, he also worked part-time to help his single mom pay the bills. Dedicated to hard work and excellence, he not only graduated high school, but secured acceptance to the United States Naval Academy. This summer, he will head to Annapolis with his sights set on becoming a Marine Corps Officer and one day working in public policy…read more here.

Nora Kern

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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 

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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.