The Charter Blog

 

Nora Kern

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New Keynote Speaker Announced for 2011 NCSC!

The NAPCS is thrilled to announce that President Bill Clinton, founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation and 42nd President of the United States, has just been added to the star-studded keynote speakers lineup at the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference (NCSC). For some background on his charter-related activities, the Clinton-Gore Administration supported the growth of public charter schools, which increased from only one charter school in in 1992, to over 2,000 schools in President Clinton’s second term! While in office, President Clinton commemorated National Charter Schools Week, increased funding for the Charter Schools Program, and released an Executive Memorandum directing the Secretary of Education to develop guidelines for businesses and faith-based organizations to help charter schools succeed. If you haven’t already signed up for the NCSC in Atlanta, from June 20-23 (What are you waiting for???), register here.

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US Congress Holds Hearing on Charter Schools: The Highlights

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing titled “Education Reforms: Exploring the Vital Role of Charter Schools.” Expert witnesses discussed a range of topics and answered questions from Members of the committee about how charter schools serve the local communities and special populations; the importance of options (and knowledge of those options) for parents; and ideas for collaboration with traditional public schools. DeAnna Rowe, executive director of the AZ State Board for Charter Schools, positioned charters as an “integral part of a complex system.” The proof is in the pudding: Arizona has recently adopted new growth models that will be used to evaluate all public schools, which grew out of the charter sector in the state. With 1/3 of its student population English language learners (mostly recent Iraqi immigrants), Literacy First Charter Schools in El Cajon, CA focus on what works to serve the community of learners. And if it doesn’t work, Debbie Byer, executive director, says, “We change!”  When pushed by Congresswoman Woolsey (CA) as to what Literacy First is doing that is different from public schools in the area, Byer noted the flexibility of the curriculum and school calendar as well as the control she has on every single dollar that is being spent in her school. Dr. Beth Purvis, executive director of the Chicago International Charter Schools, is squarely focused on serving the communities that need the most help and hope: 86% of CICS students qualify for free and reduced lunch, 95% are African American or Latino, and 6 of the 14 Chicago campuses are located in the 10 highest violent crime neighborhoods in the city.  She told a story about opening a high school in one of the most blighted areas; a desire that was raised by the Chicago Public Schools so students would not have to travel across gang lines to get to school.  A community that long felt ignored by the city, now speaks of having a “school just for them” as Dr. Purvis remarked. Quite possibly the highlight of the hearing was listening to Dr. Purvis and Congresswoman Roby (AL) talk to a group of sharp students from Democracy Prep –and outstanding charter school in New York City.  When asked how their school was different from the traditional public schools that most of them had previously attended, we couldn’t have scripted better answers ourselves! Some children noted the feeling of safety within the school, others mentioned the afterschool activities, and while others simply said they like knowing that the teachers expect a lot from students. Of course there are always areas ripe for improvement, and Dr. Gary Miron, professor at Western Michigan University, addressed a few of these in his testimony: access to IDEA funds and incentives for charters to expand special education services; transportation for all students to and from charter schools; innovative outreach to parents and families to attract a diverse student body; and full participation in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. And these improvements take commitment from federal, state and local policymakers and from district and charter school leaders to put kids first. Read our statement on the hearing from President & CEO Peter Groff.
Todd Ziebarth

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Wisconsin Public Charter Schools Gain Access to Public Buildings

This week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed SB 20 into law, an important piece of legislation that will increase public charter school access to surplus district school buildings in Milwaukee.  What is most significant about SB 20 is that it transfers the ownership and decision-making about these surplus buildings from the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to the City of Milwaukee.  Not surprisingly, MPS has been extremely resistant to providing charters approved by entities other than MPS with access to MPS buildings.  The City of Milwaukee, on the other hand, is one of three charter authorizers in Milwaukee, and has expressed its desire to put these abandoned buildings to their original purpose – educating the city’s schoolchildren, no matter which type of school is serving them. This legislation is notable because only a handful of states and school districts have policies and practices that promote the use of available district facilities by public charter schools.  Through legislation such as SB 20, charter school students will have a much better shot at the quality facilities they deserve and taxpayer monies will be used more effectively.  You can learn more about the facilities challenges charter schools face, as well as innovative ways that seven school districts are sharing public education facilities with charter schools, here.
Nora Kern

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The Truth About Myths

Paul Farhi’s recent WaPo piece, “Five myths about America’s schools,” has created a swirl of opposition in the blogosphere (seeherehere, and here for starters). To add a little more fuel to the fire, I’ll briefly weigh in on “myth #4: Charter schools are the answer.” Farhi raises a point of contention that charter schools are “siphoning off” more motivated students and parents who have “mastered the intricacies of admission.” Come on…we’re not talking about admission to elite New York City preschools here. By definition, charter schools are to have open-enrollment policies for vacant spaces and a lottery drawing for spaces that open up to students on a waitlist. The admissions process usually entails filling out a form with basic contact information, same as on the first day of a traditional public school. Farhi also charges that the enthusiasm about charter schools is “all for results that are not uniformly impressive.” Like in the traditional school system, there are high and low performing charter schools. Nobody denies this. But the potential of the charter model is space for innovation to develop and grow promising designs and close down schools that are not meeting performance requirements. And to trivialize the exciting results that high-performing charter schools have yielded is as ludicrous as claiming that charters alone will save the education system. As Luke Kohlmoos notes, “Most would say that charter schools are a component of a larger context.  Some charters are good and some are bad.  This myth is arguing against nobody at all.”

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Nearly 20 Percent of the Top 100 U.S. Public High-Schools are Charters

The Washington Post on Monday released a list of the highest-performing public high schools in the nation based upon a special index that measures how effective a school prepares its students for college. The “High School Challenge” index named the top 1900 public high schools in the nation—we’re proud to announce 18 public charter schools were among the top 100:  
Rank (High School Challenge, Washington Post) Public Charter School City, State
#3  Corbett Charter School Corbett, Oregon
#4  BASIS Tucson Tucson, Arizona
#8  Signature Evansville Evansville, Indiana
#10  North Hills Prep Irving, Texas
 #11  Peak Preparatory School  Dallas, Texas
#19 Westlake Academy  Westlake, Texas
#24 Preuss School UCSD  La Jolla, California
#27  Sonoran Science Academy – Tucson Tucson, Arizona
#36  University High Fresno, California
#37  Eastwood Academy Houston, Texas
#41  Sturgis Charter Hyannis, Massachusetts
#42  American Indian Public Charter Oakland, California
#50  Peak to Peak Charter Lafayette, Colorado
#54  Raleigh Charter Raleigh, North Carolina
#57  Benjamin Franklin New Orleans, Louisiana
#60  MATCH Charter Boston, Massachusetts
#62  Harding Charter Prep Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
#83  Summit Preparatory Charter High Redwood City, California
  Read how the Post used academic indicators such as AP-course enrollment and graduation rates to compile the list. Congratulations to all of the school leaders, teachers, administrators, families and students that are affiliated with these public charter high schools. Be sure to notify us of any press you garner so we can share news of your media spotlight in our social network spaces and advocacy e-blasts. Please send us pictures of any recognition ceremonies you may coordinate as well:NAPCSpressroom@publiccharters.org.

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In the Area of Nutrition, Charters Are Getting It Done

A few weeks ago, the Education and Workforce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law in November by President Obama. Outspoken district food service leaders decried the USDA’s proposed rule that the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs align nutrition standards with national dietary guidelines saying it puts an undue burden on cash-strapped schools. Second to the money argument was an appeal that the nutrition guidelines might be so restrictive that kids simply won’t like the food. Change is hard; we certainly get it. The charter movement has continually met change head-on time and time again—changed structures of governance, changed ideas of teaching and learning, and changed minds on what a 21st century school can and should look like in today’s public system. Often receiving far less than their fair shares of the pot, charter schools find ways to be innovative and still provide necessary supports. There’s plenty of evidence that more often than not charter school students are experiencing similar or greater achievement gains than students in comparable traditional public schools. But charters are not only getting it done in academics; they are also working to make schools a place where children learn about healthy eating habits. Family Life Academy Charter School in the Bronx created a five-year food revolution to get its students to not only like the food being served up, but to understand its nutritional benefits. Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Washington, DC, has put cost-effective fresh cooking atop its list of priorities, no matter how tough the job. The school recognizes“when children are properly nourished and their bodies are healthier, they can learn, think and play better, and are ultimately better equipped to reach their potential.” Despite the barriers that district leaders espoused at the hearing—fear of change, pushback from students, the high costs of healthy food—many charter schools are unwilling to sacrifice their mission and goals because of apparent obstacles. We reinvent. We make tough decisions. We learn to change in order to provide what’s best for our students. It’s critical that charter schools continue to have full access to the federal school meals programs as well as the flexibility in choosing partners who care about nutrition. Do you have a healthy food service program? Tell us about it: http://www.publiccharters.org/Additional-Pages/HealthyLunch.aspx
Nora Kern

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What Works in U.S. Charter Schools Translates Across the Pond

Former head of the New York City Charter Schools Office Michael T. Duffy, recently wrote an article comparing similarities between the models and challenges faced by British Free Schools and U.S. charter schools. Free Schools, a policy centerpiece of the Conservative-Liberal coalition in the UK, enable parents, teachers, charities and businesses to set up schools in England. The first free schools are slated to open in September 2011. These schools will be taxpayer funded, free to attend and have open enrollment, but are not administered by local authorities. Sound familiar? The UK Department for Education has been doing its homework on U.S. charter schools, especially on the quality front. Its webpage about applying to open a free school states, “We want to ensure only high-quality applications are approved. We know from the United States that the best charter schools are in states with a rigorous approval process.” Drawing upon his extensive experience as a charter school leader, Duffy offers lessons learned from the U.S. charter school movement that can apply to the Free Schools model. He observes:
  1. Parental choice, properly harnessed, is a driver for change and better schools
  2. Given effective schools, children from poorer communities can succeed academically
  3. Those that benefit from the status-quo will be fierce in defending it
  4. Developing suitable premises is a challenge: be adaptive and recognize the spill-over effects
  5. Newly formed schools can be laboratories of innovation
  As the free schools movement begins in the UK, time will tell if the U.S. charter model can be successfully adapted to the British context or gets lost in translation.

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Midnight in Georgia

Pretty amazing week. Charter School Hall of Famer John King was named New York State education commissioner; New Schools Venture Fund’s Summit 2011 brought the “edurati” together for another exhilarating brainfest; liberal icon Howard Deandeclared charters “the future”;  the UFT and NYC’s NAACP chapter filed another lawsuit to block closure of failing schools and co-locations with charters; and the who-interrupted-whom saga of Diane Ravitch and Rhode Island Education Commission Deborah Gist took an intriguing turn when it became known that a filmmaker recorded their disputed meeting with Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee (hint: Gist is fine with releasing the video).  But the central event took place in the Georgia Supreme Court, where the abominable Gwinnett v. Cox decision abolished the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, the statewide authorizer created in the wake of district refusals to approve new charters.  No wonder that two days later, hundreds of Georgia parents, and kids rallied against the ruling, which derailed (we hope temporarily) the schools the Commission had chartered. The 4-3 decision turned on a semantic distinction finer than “what the meaning of ‘is’ is. The Court held that Georgia’s constitution forbids “special” schools unless they’re intended for specific slices of the student population not served by district schools. (Apparently the Court hasn’t heard of IDEA and the fact that districts are actually required to serve those “special” kids.) Nor did they provide more than a footnote about why state-chartered schools approved by the State Board of Education on appeal are OK, but not state-chartered schools approved by a State Commission. Neither have they read up on Georgia’s history of creating other state-approved schools, as the “superbly researched, reasoned and argued” dissent by Justice David Nahmias shows. Nahmias also points out that the state’s $400 million Race to the Top federal grant was awarded in part because the state could claim an alternative charter authorizer. Note to Arne Duncan…. This is a worse act of judicial usurpation than the 2008 Florida appeals court decision that struck down the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, similarly created as a statewide authorizer. There, the language of the state constitution was clear, if perverse: “The school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district.” (Article IX(4)(b). That geographic specificity proved to be an insurmountable barrier to the arguments of charter lawyers.  In the Georgia case, the court is taking language far less clear, and using it to reach an ideological – and perhaps partisan — conclusion. What both these decisions have in common is the musty odor of senescence. State constitutions that treat local districts as fiefdoms, funded through 19th-century tax schemes that treat land as the source of all wealth, surrounded by a legal moat keeping children in and everything from charter schools to online-learning out, need to be updated.  Especially when decisions like this one shred a promise the state made to thousands of families whose aspirations were being thwarted by local school districts.

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Guest Blog: Rally at the Georgia State Capitol in Support of Georgia Charter Schools Commission

Nearly 500 charter schools supporters rallied on the front steps of the Georgia State Capitol Building on Tuesday, May 17, in support of the 16 charter schools approved by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, an entity that was ruled unconstitutional by four of the seven judges on the Georgia Supreme Court on Monday. The event was highlighted by spirited remarks from influential politicians such as Georgia House Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones, Sen. Chip Rogers and Rep. Alisha Morgan, as well as Nina Gilbert, head of school, Ivy Preparatory, Ivy Prep sixth grader Lauren Williams, Peachtree Hope Principal Kendra Shipman, Museum School mom Annemarie Eades and Tony Roberts, president and CEO, Georgia Charter School Association. The rally garnered scores of media coverage. Here are some of those clips: Hundreds protest overturning of charter school law Gwinnett Daily Post Hundreds Rally Against Charter School Ruling WSB-TV 2 Atlanta Supremes say charter schools out, Senate says not so quick The Fayette Citizen Hundreds protest Ga. charter school ruling Seattle Post Intelligencer

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National Charter Schools Week Round Up

Thanks to all who joined us in celebrating charters during the 12th annual National Charter Schools Week!   Our advocacy efforts, both online and on Capitol Hill, were a great success this year:
  • 75 participants from 35 states participated in nearly 200 meetings with Members of Congress and their staff;
  • Nearly 100 advocates used our text campaign to contact their elected representatives to express support for high quality charter schools;
  • The NAPCS honored Rep. “Buck” McKeon (CA-25) with his [Champion for Charters Award] at a reception in the House of Representatives;
  • President Obama formally acknowledges National Charter Schools Week by issuing an official Presidential Proclamation.
  Participants came to Washington D.C. from as far as Hawaii and as close as Maryland to meet with policymakers to discuss how the federal government can better support the growth and development of high-quality charter schools.  In addition to the Washington based activities, National Charter Schools Week was marked across the nation by supporter-hosted rallies, school tours, student competitions and various acknowledgements of charter school success by state level officials. Charter Rally_NCSW_May2011               In Texas, more than 1700 parents of charter students returned rallied to encourage lawmakers to complete their work and send the bills to the Governor’s desk. GeorgiaGovernor_2011NCSW_ChildrenPhoto             In Georgia, charter students pose with Governor Nathan Deal and the National Charter School’s Week proclamation.