The Charter Blog

 

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Links and Likes

Taishya Adams, Director of State Services, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: In preparation for National Charter Schools Week (NCSW), we will be hosting a webinar on Wednesday, April 18th at 4:00 pm EST. During the webinar, we will review the 2012 NCSW Advocacy Toolkit, offer guidance on potential activities, and answer any questions that you and your members may have about how to improve public charter school laws and regulations at both the state and federal levels. Please join us for the first in a series of webinars designed to offer tips and tools to more fully engage the collective action of charter school individuals and communities in policy advocacy. Click here to register. Like: I stayed up late last week to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final between the University of Kentucky and the University of Kansas. It was made even more special knowing that a charter school graduate, Anthony Davis, led Kentucky to win the championship. The commentators talked at length about the depth of talent on the Kentucky team and stressed that talent in isolation was not enough to win the game. To win, these talented players had to work as a team, be generous, and supportive of each other. That’s exactly what they did! Let us take a page out of their playbook as we look down the road at National Charter Schools Week. This week is the only opportunity where the light shines solely on charter schooling in the United States. Together, let’s make sure the light shines so brightly that it reaches Mars!
Eric Paisner

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Tennessee’s Misguided Proposed Limits on Charter School Hiring

Recently, EdWeek and The Tennessean reported that Tennessee lawmakers are pushing legislation to limit the number of foreign born teachers that can be employed by a charter school. House Bill 3540 passed the House Education Committee earlier this week. The companion bill, Senate Bill 3345, cleared the Senate Education Committee last week and is headed to the Senate Floor. The bill has a host of other restrictions related to charter school affiliation with foreign nationals, and also requires charter schools to disclose all funding from foreign sources. Without even getting into why the legislature would want to do this (here is a major supporter of the bill), this is a huge overreach into charter school autonomy. Autonomy is a bedrock principal of charter schools. And, as we’ve mentioned before, the ability to create and manage a team is a critical element of charter school autonomy. If charter schools are high quality and operating within the law, we should not restrict who charter schools can and cannot hire. Moreover, this bill doesn’t even address any issues that currently exist. As reported in the EdWeek piece, Matt Throckmorton, the executive director of the Tennessee Charter Schools Association knows of only six teachers in the state who have been hired on a foreign-worker visa. But, he notes, the low threshold provided in this bill would restrict most charter schools from hiring even one foreign teacher on a work visa. Surely, limiting the potential pool of teachers can’t be productive, especially when we know there is a shortage of high quality teachers already.
Eric Paisner

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Urban Prep Achieves 100% College Acceptance Rate

We write a lot about education reform and charter school policy on this blog. It’s our bread and butter at NAPCS; we advocate for better policy support at all levels of government. Why? So we’ll see more schools like Urban Prep. For the third straight year, Chicago-based Urban Prep is sending 100 percent of its kids to college. And, equally as important, it’s keeping them there. For the class of 2010, the first graduating class at Urban Prep, 83 percent of the students are still enrolled in 4-year schools. The Chicago Tribune gave Urban Prep some prime real estate on Friday’s editorial page, and we’re proud to showcase the their accomplishments on our blog too. Congratulations to Urban Prep, it’s teachers, leadership staff, and most importantly, its 2012 graduating class. You keep doing what you’re doing, and we’ll keep fighting for you in Washington.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Links and Likes

Taishya Adams, Director of State Services, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation commissioned a report to look at how high-performing CMOs were dealing with succession planning. Check out these three case studies of charter organizations that have been through leadership transitions. Like: Atlantic City already held a special place in my heart. I have vivid childhood memories of running up and down the boardwalk, darting between the arcade and the ocean. Now, I have something new to add to those treasured memories – attending and presenting at the New Jersey Charter Schools Association’s 4th Annual Conference.
Nora Kern

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

March Madness: Player of the Year attended a Chicago public charter high school

University of Kentucky star Anthony Davis has won the Naismith Trophy for men’s college player of the year. Davis, who is the second freshman to earn the Naismith Trophy, has another unique line on his resume; he attended a Chicago charter high school that didn’t have a gym. Perspectives Charter School is an award-winning Near South Side school designed by Chicago architect Ralph Johnson. The absence of a gym is one of many ways that Johnson and his clients kept costs down. In an interview, Davis explained why he chose Perspectives despite its notable absence of athletic facilities: “I didn’t go there for basketball. The academic program was great. They have a 95 percent rate of kids graduating and going to college, so my dream was always to go to college, so I decided to go there.” We wish Davis and the Wildcats the best of luck tonight. We love to see successful charter graduates (and a KY win will give me official bragging rights for my bracket)!
Eric Paisner

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Charter Autonomy and Waivers: Can they coexist?

Last month, Greg Richmond, President & CEO of NACSA warned us in a guest blog about the potential losses of charter autonomy that could result from the state plans offered to the Department of Education in return for the first round of NCLB waivers.  Mr. Richmond wondered what might happen to low performing charter schools and the role of charter authorizers. As we approach the second round of waivers, we continue to be concerned that charter schools could lose some of their flexibility, this time as it relates to staffing.  The ability to create and manage a team is a critical element of charter autonomy.  Todd Zeibarth, our VP of State Advocacy & Support stated the issue clearly in EdWeek: “Ensuring that charters preserve autonomy over teacher evaluations in the face of these statewide system overhauls has been an increasing challenge across the country…Some state policymakers… either overlook or don’t care about preserving charter autonomy over these decisions in the process.”  This issue has come up outside of the waiver process (see here in Virginia where charter employees are considered district employees), and it has had an impact on charter growth. Whether value-added-type measures proposed by some states for teacher evaluation are good solutions is still an open question.  But, either way, let’s make sure charters aren’t compelled to use these new state plans.  On top of being a threat to autonomy, it might actually be a step backwards for charter schools.  Many charters have done a really good job of figuring out how to hire, evaluate, reward and retain teachers.  Check out the Teacher Talent Toolbox released by the New Teacher Project this week to see what I mean.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Why Examining the Promising Practices of Charter Schools Matters

Earlier this week the Washington Post published a blog taking shots at findings from the recent CMO study that demonstrated a correlation between high performing CMOs and the strategies of teacher coaching and strict behavioral management. The blog’s critique boils down to suggesting that we should disregard the findings for being anecdotal (e.g., only five CMOs are highlighted in the study) and failing to establish causal order (e.g., are the CMOs high performing because they use teacher coaching or are they able to focus on teacher coaching because they are high performing?). Sure, these are valid methodological concerns (and they mirror the critiques of the “effective schools literature” of the 80s and 90s). But the authors of the CMO study are very careful to explain that their results are exploratory. So should we disregard the findings? I would argue no, and here’s why. The charter sector needs more exploratory research. The majority of research on charter schools uses large administrative databases to compare charter schools to traditional public schools at the district, state, and national level. These types of analyses are important, but they are only able to compare the performance of charter schools in the aggregate to comparison traditional public schools in the aggregate. And what has this type of research uncovered? In some instances, charter schools perform better than traditional public schools, sometimes they perform the same, and sometimes they perform worse. The findings are mixed, with evidence that overall charters perform a little better. But there are a good number phenomenally successful charter schools (too many to ignore, regardless of aggregate results), and when research clumps all charter schools into a homogenous dummy variable, it is difficult to tease out why some charter schools perform so well. What the charter sector needs is a significant amount of exploratory research to identify promising practices. Then the research can move from exploratory to explanatory by taking the promising areas of instructional and governance practices and use experimental and quasi-experimental research methods to determine what practices impact student performance (e.g., the research should move from development to scale-up to validity, the i3 categories). Rather than boohooing the CMO study results, we should use them as a launching pad to ask more questions about how successful CMOs and other high performing charter schools function to improve student learning.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Utah Provides Meaningful Support for Charter School Facilities

The Utah Legislative Session has ended. That’s right, for all of those that are still in the trenches, we are done and grateful for an efficient 45 day session. The Utah Association of Public Charter Schools is even happier because this was the greatest session in Utah for charter schools since our original authorizing legislation. After not receiving any federal start up grants, we worked with the Legislature, Governor’s office and State Board of Education to replace them. We also partnered on a bill to strengthen the ability of our higher education institutions to authorize charter schools. However, the most important legislation was SB 152 sponsored by Senator John Valentine and Representative Derek Brown that creates a moral obligation pledge for qualified charter schools buildings. The recent LISC study made the following observation that all charter school people will fully understand: “Because charter schools finance their facilities with per pupil operating revenue rather than a general obligation pledge tied to taxing authority, they pay significantly higher interest rates on facility debt than their school district counterparts. Yet, charter schools pay these higher rates with public dollars. Many charter school proponents, taxpayers and school districts have pointed out the inefficient use of tax dollars, which results from this two-tiered system. With the mounting public mandate to improve the quality of the nation’s public education system and the need to use scarce public resources more efficiently in a difficult fiscal environment, this is the ideal time for the public sector to address this inequitable and inefficient system. Short of publicly financing charter school facilities directly with tax-backed structures, expansion of state, municipal or federal credit enhancement programs that use balance sheet pledges rather than appropriated funds to reduce interest expense for charter schools would be an extremely efficient use of a superior governmental credit in a tight fiscal environment. The resulting savings would not only be invaluable to charter schools, enabling them to spend more operating dollars in the classroom, it would reduce aggregate public outlays for public school facilities.” This sums up the public policy argument that we made, and it was fully embraced by our State Treasurer, Legislature and Governor. We are forcing non-traditional public schools, charter schools to spend money on high interest rates and financing costs rather than spending that money in the school and ultimately in our State. SB 152 – Charter School Financing – not only created the moral obligation for qualified charter schools, it also laid out the criteria for a school to qualify as well as risk mitigation mechanisms to protect the State of Utah. Like Colorado and Texas, the State of Utah’s credit enhancement will require schools to be independently investment grade rated. This is a high financial bar, but we agreed that it was critical that our schools be able to reach that level before receiving the State’s moral obligation pledge. (I might note that Utah is very focused on it’s credit rating. It is one of only a handful of States that are AAA rated by all 3 credit rating agencies and is a constant discussion item in public policy debates). In addition, we created a State level debt reserve fund that was seeded with three million dollars. This fund, which schools will pay into as part of their financing, will serve as the ultimate backstop in case the moral obligation pledge is ever called upon. Although there are other important features to this legislation that will greatly aid charter schools and allow them to better utilize their “income,” the miracle of this legislation is the preparation and earnest way in which all parties involved approached this legislation. After the 2011 legislative session ended, I began discussions with a few key charter school people about our next big initiative. We all agreed that facilities financing was a significant issue, but we also saw the benefit that could come out of passing this legislation. I believe strongly in allowing charter schools to be independent and have the ability to carry out their unique charter as they see fit. However, charter schools that understand governance and wise financial management almost always seem to be successful in academically. I wanted to offer a significant carrot to those that were strong financial stewards of our taxpayer dollars. The Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, in conjunction with the State Treasurer’s office, convened a group to begin working on this legislation. The group included the State’s financial advisor (Zions Public Finance), bond attorneys from Ballard Spahr and Chapman and Cutler, a charter school financial advisor, the Governor’s office, our legislative sponsors and a few charter school board members. (I might also add that some key charter underwriters, specifically DA Davidson and Piper Jaffray, provided invaluable support). This working group spent countless hours over a number of months preparing the legislation. We talked openly and candidly about issues, but every participant came to the meeting willing to embrace the final goal. I was lucky; it’s not easy to get a bunch of people with different agendas to get together and work towards the common goal. However, I believe that positive working environment came as a result of having enough time to work on the issue and fully vet all concerns within the group. That group has already started meeting after the session to begin discussing the rules and process by which the moral obligation program will work. We have outlined the steps that we will take to make this program a reality and hopefully make a significant change in the cost of how our charter schools are financed.
Eric Paisner

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

High Performing CMOs Reveal Promising Practices for All Students and Teachers

Last week, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and Mathematica Policy Research released the final report in their series examining  nonprofit charter management organization (CMO) effectiveness (see prior reports here and here).  Over the course of four years, the two research organizations sought to determine whether CMOs have an impact on student achievement (some do), and to identify common elements among high performing CMOs. This report gets under the hood of the previous report—providing details about what the practices associated with higher performance look like, as well as naming some of the top performing CMOs.  Although we were curious about who was included in the prior studies, they didn’t name names.  Now we know 5 out of the 10 top performing CMOs found in the study: Aspire Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), KIPP DCUncommon Schools, and YES Prep Public Schools.  We are excited that these great organizations are getting credit for the amazing work they do.  They are dramatically improving the life opportunities for their students. We are also excited that this and some other recent reports are exploring promising practices found in high performing charter schools.  This report found that high expectations for student behavior and intensive teacher coaching and mentoring are common across these schools, and statistically correlate with higher achievement.  These are high yield practices that could be applied in both charter and traditional public schools.  Similarly, a research study conducted by the California Charter Schools Association highlighted practices common among California schools that are closing the achievement gap, including: results-focused instructional practices, data-driven curricular and instructional decisions, and making parents full partners in students’ education.  And, this article by Jim Peyser of New Schools Venture Fund (and National Charter School Hall of Famer) revealed operational practices common among high performing charter schools he has observed over many years. While much more research needs to be done to uncover the most promising practices for all types of students, recent research has added to this discussion.  We hope researchers continue their commitment to identifying and disseminating more information about effective practices.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Links and Likes

Katherine Schaff, National Charter Schools Conference Intern, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: Getting excited for the National Charter Schools Conference? I sure am! Take a sneak peek at some of this year’s sessions. Like: I can’t help but brag about the talented musicians that come from my hometown, Chicago.  Check out Andrew Bird’s new album Break It Yourself.