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Carlene’s Story: From Foster Care to Yale

carleneCarlene Ervin is a graduating senior from Aspire California College Preparatory Academy in the Bay Area who grew up in foster care. She will finally be leaving the foster care system when she begins Yale University next fall. Here she shares a bit of the challenges she’s overcome, her experience at Aspire, and her career goals.

What obstacles have you overcome?

My biggest obstacle was often myself. Growing up in foster care made me a very angry and bitter child. I didn’t trust anyone and felt like it was me against the world. My biggest obstacle was understanding that I wasn’t alone and if you let them, people will conspire to help you.

How has Aspire helped you?

Aspire has helped me by having amazing teachers who dedicated their time to work with me to improve in my education but also my character. It also gave me a sense of community that I could call my own. From my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Chai to my ex-math teacher/current Dean of Student Life at Cal Prep, Ms. Salazar

What is your college career goal?

My college career goal is to major in Political Science. I want to eventually go to law school and focus my attention on education reform on a state (and eventually national) level. I am inspired by the work that Aspire does in communities. I want to change things on a grander scale so that opening Aspire Charter Schools is an easier process.

Where will you be attending college?

Yale University!


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.

Rashaun Bennett


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Liberty Common High School Receives Highest ACT Math Scores in Colorado

When graduation rolled around this month for Students of Liberty Common High School, they were smiling about more than graduation. Results from the Colorado Department of Education show that Liberty’s Class of 2014 earned the state’s highest composite ACT math score since Colorado first began requiring all high-school juniors to take the ACT exam. The scholars’ achievement marks the second year in a row that Liberty High School has achieved such an honor.

It is no surprise that the scholars have achieved so much success. At Liberty Common High School, the students are immersed in a classical liberal arts curriculum that rigorously prepares them for success in college. School principal Bob Schaffer says, “These scores are a reflection of a solid classical, college-preparatory curriculum we’ve built atop the powerful Core Knowledge Curriculum we use in grades K through eight.”

To add even more to smile about, the graduating seniors earned over $3.5 million in college scholarships. Among the many graduates going to college, three received appointments from the U.S Air Force, West Point and the U.S Naval Academy. Congrats Class of 2014!

Rashaun Bennett is a communications intern with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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.

Kim Kober


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Charter Schools Make Strong Showing in US News Best High School Rankings

In April, U.S. News & World Report released its 2014 Best High Schools Rankings, and 24 public charter schools are among the top 100. Three of those public charter schools made it into the top 10: BASIS Scottsdale (#2), Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (#3) and BASIS Tucson North (#5).

U.S. News teamed up with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to produce the 2014 rankings. Public high schools were evaluated by their students’ performance on state-mandated assessments, minority and economically disadvantaged student performance, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exam results to determine preparedness for college-level work.

Public charter high schools are consistently over-represented in the top 100 of the U.S. News Best High Schools Ranking. This year, nearly one-quarter of the top 100 high schools are public charter schools, despite charter schools making up only 6 percent of all public schools in the country.

A full list of the top public charter high schools ranked by U.S. News is available on their website.

Congratulations to these charter schools recognized as the top public high schools in the nation!

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

Nora Kern


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Charter School Presence on “Challenge Index” High School Rankings Continues to Grow

Recently, the Washington Post released the results of its annual Challenge Index rankings that looks at college-level tests given at a high school and the number of graduates that year.  This year, the number of charter schools ranked in the top 100 reached an all-time high. Thirty-one public charter schools are among the 2013-2014 Challenge Index top 100 schools. Charter schools also make up half of the top ten—including #1, American Indian Public Charter (Oakland, CA); #2, Uplift Education North Hills Preparatory (Irving, TX); #3, Corbett Charter (Corbett, OR); #6, Signature (Evansville, IN); and #10, BASIS Tucson North (Tucson, AZ).

The Challenge Index is calculated by dividing the number of college-level tests given at a school in 2013, by the number of graduates that year (education columnist Jay Mathews answers Challenge Index FAQs here). The Index also notes the percentage of students who come from families that qualify for lunch subsidies and the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career.

Public charter schools have consistently grown among the top 100 of the Challenge Index.  Over the past four years, charter schools have comprised:

  • 2013-2014: 31 of the top 100
  • 2012-2013: 28 of the top 100
  • 2011-2012: 25 of the top 100
  • 2010-2011: 17 of the top 100

Public charter schools are over-represented on this ranking list compared to the percentage of charter high schools within the U.S. public high school system (only about 6 percent of all public schools). Congratulations to these public charter schools being recognized for providing a rigorous academic experience for their students.

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

Nina Rees


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Education Is A Primary Issue

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

Public charter schools and other education reforms have proven to be pivotal issues in several primary elections from coast to coast, with more to come this summer and fall.

In California, incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will head into a November runoff with Marshall Tuck. Tuck was the first head of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a body set up by former mayor Demcoratic Antonio Villaraigosa to help improve some of the city’s most struggling schools. Tuck is also a former president of Green Dot Public Schools, a widely acclaimed network of charter schools.

The upcoming general election battle will be fierce, with Torlakson benefiting from heavy support by the powerful California Teachers Association, the state’s largest union. Tuck brings a track record of educational innovation in a state that has proven open to reform. And as the Los Angeles Times noted in endorsing him, Tuck successfully worked with unions at both the Partnership for LA Schools and Green Dot. While the superintendent position holds little policy-making power, the race will be an important barometer of the popularity of charter schools and other education reforms in California…read more here.


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Overcoming the Odds: Yasbad’s Story

Yasbad Senior PicNot only was Yasbad acclimating to a new country when moving to America from Ethiopia, the then middle school student was also getting to know his immediate family. Up until that point, Yasbad had been raised by other family members. In a new country, with a new language and customs, Yasbad was also getting to know his father.

Access to a better education prompted the family move, but Yasbad faced his share of challenges as he started school in America. He knew little English and was constantly bullied. With no one to talk to, he spent much of his free time in the library reading. For him, that extra time paid off. He quickly improved in school and is now looking forward to attending college.

This month Yasbad will graduate from Aspire Alexander Twilight Secondary Academy in California.  “Aspire has made me realize that no matter how different others are from me, I should respect them and their differences from me,” he says. “I have become more tolerant of others. Because of Aspire, I am ready to face any challenge that comes my way, and I am ready to help others with theirs.”

Yasbad is the first in his family to attend college, and will go to California State University-Chico next fall, where he plans to continue learning about the world around him. Yasbad hopes that by earning a college degree, he will be better prepared to give back to the important people in his life.

This blog post is part of an ongoing series during the month of June celebrating #30DaysofGrad. Click here to read other graduation stories from charter school students and schools across the country.

Todd Ziebarth


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To achieve a strong charter sector, start with supportive laws

Senior VP of State Advocacy and Support Todd Ziebarth has a guest blog at Flypaper as part of their “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while other are falling behind. Here’s an excerpt of Todd’s response:

The short, but unsatisfying, answer to Mike’s question: It’s complicated.

Since we released our first rankings of state charter school laws against our model law in 2010, we’ve been asked about the relationship between a state’s ranking in our report and the results of that state’s charter schools—so much so that we’ll be releasing a new report in a couple of months that begins to tease out this relationship in each state entitled The Health of the Public Charter School Sector: A State-By-State Report. In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about this relationship.

Supportive laws are necessary but not sufficient

First, to quote directly from our model law,

It is important to note that a strong charter law is a necessary but insufficient factor in driving positive results for public charter schools. Experience with public charter schools across the country has shown that there are five primary ingredients of a successful public charter school environment in a state, as demonstrated by strong student results:

  • Supportive laws and regulations (both what is on the books and how it is implemented);
  • Quality authorizers;
  • Effective charter support organizations, such as state charter associations and resource centers;
  • Outstanding school leaders and teachers; and,
  • Engaged parents and community members. 

While it is critical to get the law right, it is equally critical to ensure these additional ingredients exist in a state’s charter sector.

Some states with supportive laws (those that show up high in our annual rankings) have implemented them well and have therefore achieved strong results. Conversely, other states with supportive laws that show up high in our rankings have implemented them inconsistently—and have therefore achieved uneven results.

To read the rest of Todd’s response, visit Flypaper



Rashaun Bennett


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Congratulations Horizon Honors High School! 100% of Seniors Graduate

Kondapi_ManuThere was much to be celebrated on May 27, 2014, as 78 students—100 percent of them—at Horizon Honors High School received their diplomas.

Not only has the school excelled by achieving a 100 percent graduation rate, the student have also excelled by earning a combined total of $5.7 million in college scholarships.

Of the 78 graduates, 16 of them have attended Horizon Community Learning Center since kindergarten. Nancy Emmons, principal at Horizon Honors, says, “Being a smaller community, we have personal relationships with kids and families who we get to know on an individual basis. Along with their families we get to celebrate these amazing accomplishments. They get into great colleges and do amazing things.”

During the commencement ceremony, the school’s valedictorian, Manu Kondapi, addressed the graduating class. Manu will be attending Harvey Mudd College next fall, an elite liberal arts college focused on science, math, and engineering.

Seventy-two percent of Manu’s classmates will enroll in a four-year university next fall. Seventeen percent will attend a community college with plans to transfer to a university, 8 percent will continue at a community college or tech school, 2 percent will join the military, and 1 percent of the class will immediately join the workforce.

Congratulations Horizon Honors Class of 2014! You have bright futures ahead!

Rashaun Bennett is a communications intern with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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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‘Brown’ at 60: Time to Fulfill the Promise

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

Just as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which officially barred segregation in public schools, we have new evidence that schools are failing to give all students the best start in life.

Results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as “the nation’s report card,” show that the performance of high school seniors in reading and math has stagnated in recent years. Only 37 percent of seniors are reading at grade level and only 26 percent of seniors are doing math at grade level. Even worse, the achievement gap between white and black students in reading has widened since 1992. In math, there’s been no improvement.

The stark reality is that despite two decades of education reform efforts, high school students on the whole aren’t registering better results. The effects are potentially catastrophic…read more here.

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.