The Charter Blog

 

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Chad Miller, Senior Director of Federal Advocacy, tells us his favorites of the day: Link: AEI’s new report, “Strengthening the Civic Mission of Charter Schools,” looks at how charter schools are uniquely poised to rethink the role of public schools in preparing students to become informed and engaged participants in the American political system. Likes: That the Pittsburgh Steelers follow me on Twitter.

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Taishya Adams, Director of State Services, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: I just read an article in the NY Times about a new film, ‘Won’t Back Down,’ that is starting to get buzz even though it won’t be released until September.  The film tells the story of a group of parents and teachers trying to utilize the parent trigger law to reform their underperforming schools. Like: Just last week, Chelsea Clinton did a segment on Rock Center with Brian Williams about a remarkable collaboration between The Learning Community charter school and surrounding non-charter public elementary schools in Rhode Island.  What I always find most intriguing about making films is which stories make it to the big or small screen.

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Jenny Wanger, National Charter Schools Conference Coordinator, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: This was one of the original policy papers written on charter schooling. I love looking at this and reflecting on how far we’ve come since the first school opened 20 years ago. Like:We’re very excited to have the conference in the Twin Cities this year. And with perfect summer weather, we know it’s going to be a great time. Are you coming?

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Preserving Charter School Autonomy and Accountability in ESEA Flexibility

On February 9th, President Obama announced that 10 states have been granted waivers under the U.S. Department of Education’s ESEA Flexibility program. These states are the first to receive waivers from elements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) if they adopt several reform practices. This includes focusing their accountability and intervention efforts on two groups of low performing schools that make up roughly the lowest-performing 15 percent of public schools in a state. You may be wondering what impact the waiver program will have on charter schools. You’re not alone. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) wondered the same thing, and has discussed the potential impact on charter school autonomy and accountability with Department officials and Secretary Arne Duncan. After reviewing the first 11 applications submitted for the waiver, we observed that none addressed how their proposed policies would affect low-performing charters. We’re concerned state education agencies (SEAs) will inadvertently harm charter school autonomy and accountability unless they give specific attention to the unique aspects of charter schools. One of our concerns is that SEAs will seek to apply the same intervention policies to charter schools that they apply to district schools. For young charter schools that are struggling, SEAs would require state-mandated improvement plans – greatly reducing charter schools’ autonomy over their educational program. For consistently low-performing charter schools that come up for renewal, states would require multi-year corrective action plans that keep low-performing charter schools open for years. As states implement these waivers, we want to ensure that struggling charter schools that would be closed by their authorizer do not stay open longer because they are involved in these improvement processes. The good news is that the department is aware of our concerns, and is working to address them with the current waiver recipients and future waiver applicants. Furthermore, authorizers across the country have reached out to their SEAs to discuss their ESEA waivers. State charter associations and charter schools can join us in this discussion. Please consider contacting your SEA to work with them to develop ESEA Flexibility plans that consider the charter sector. Working together, I’m confident we can preserve charter school autonomy and accountability through this process.

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Nora Kern, Senior Manager of Research and Analysis, tells us her favorites of the day: Links: The President of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) and a Detroit News op-ed give insight on the debate surrounding the removal of Michigan’s growth cap on cyber charter schools. Likes: The Mackinac Center for Public Policy conducted analysis of online charter school spending trends. The table below compares Michigan Virtual Charter Academy’s current spending to conventional district averages in 2010 (the most recent data available):
Itemized spending as a percent of total general fund spending MVCA (FY’12) Conventional district average (FY’10)
Instruction 61% 60%
Instructional support 9% 10%
Administration/Management 17% 12%
Technology Services 7%
Authorizer fee 3%
Operations and maintenance 2% 10%
Transportation 0% 4%
Other 0% 4%
Total noninstructional spending 29% 30%

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Kristin Yochum, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, tells us her favorites of the day: Link: NCPSE compiled a go-to resource for national and state organizations that take a stand on school choice. Like: Jon Stewart tests Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on February 16th. Jon pushed the Secretary on Race to the Top’s (RTT) focus on rewarding states with the highest achievement rates, and the impact that ultimately has in the classroom. Do yourself a favor and check out the whole interview–Part 1Part 2Part 3. (Part 2 has the most focus on RTT, for the other RTT-geeks out there).
Daniel L. Quisenberry

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Michigan Cyber Schools give Parents a Choice Outside the District Box

Michigan has two cyber public charter schools, and the demand by parents for these schools is incredible. Under current law, each of the schools will never be able to accept more than 1,000 students. Both schools have already reached that limit. Combined, the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy and Michigan Connections Academy currently have a waiting list of approximately 10,000 students. These students are now waiting on the lottery, hoping their number gets called. Currently, a legislative effort is taking place in Michigan to lift the cap on cyber charters, and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) strongly supports this effort.  We support the expansion of parent choice, believing that every child matters and every parent should have a variety of high-quality options. Public charter schools, and public cyber charter schools are quality options. As it stands now, only a small percentage of parents in Michigan have that option. And that’s not right. The traditional school community in Michigan has been fighting this legislation tooth and nail, simply because they don’t want to lose market share. They’ve tried to advance the false argument that a cyber education lacks quality safeguards and results. This is a curious argument for them to be making, considering that 90 percent of more than 500 traditional school districts offer these very same online learning programs, using the very same online education providers they’ve been criticizing. As a cyber charter school, these schools are held to a higher standard of accountability.  Each school has a separate school board of public officials, an authorizer with a contract that audits and monitors academic performance, fiscal stewardship, and sound and appropriate governance.  Charter schools in Michigan must also comply with most rules and regulations that apply to all public schools, certified teachers, reporting, testing, etc. Most importantly though, charter schools are held accountable by parents, through their choice to attend or leave. The cyber charter school legislation, SB 619, has passed the State Senate, come out of the State House Education Committee and is expected to be taken up in the full House next week.  If passed there, some modifications would need to be approved by the Senate before moving to Governor Rick Snyder who is expected to sign the bill when it reaches him. Ultimately, MAPSA supports lifting the cap on cyber charter schools for Michigan’s future, the students. Students like Steve Slisko. He’s a boy I met who lives in a suburb of Detroit, and has cognitive impairments that prevent him from speaking or holding a pencil. He’s extremely bright, but has struggled in a traditional school setting. Thankfully, his family found the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, and he was able to win a coveted spot in the school. Now he is thriving. He can type his assignments; communicate with his teachers via e-mail, which has resulted in his grades skyrocketing. His grandfather says the school is a “miracle.” Steve is just one example from the many students in Michigan who have found success by attending a cyber charter school. There are thousands of other students, each with their own story, and their own reason why a cyber education is the best option for them. Our job is to provide sound policy and a quality opportunity for them, then let them decide. Our job is to ensure a quality education for each child in Michigan.

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Re: “Why states should say ‘no thanks’ to charter schools”

In Tuesday’s Washington Post, Diane Ravitch calls Washington D.C.’s public schools “no model for school reform,” clearly demonstrating that she is in need of a history lesson.  Ravitch may recall that just eight short years ago, prior to the emergence of charter schools, Washington D.C. students scored dead last among every major U.S. city, according to NAEP.  That has remarkably changed, as D.C.’s public schools have made steady gains, with charter school achievement rates rising even faster. D.C.’s regular public schools are improving by mimicking charters’ successes.  Schools such as Achievement Prep Academy, D.C.’s highest-performing middle school, located in the city’s poorest Ward, along with several KIPP charter schools are inspiring broader public school improvements for families that need them most. Across the country, in places like New Orleans – with an educational environment now thriving with 80 percent of students in charter schools, Los Angeles – where 5,000 parents recently gathered with the city’s Mayor to press for more high-quality charters, and even Denver – where a supportive school district is replicating charter innovations into its broader school system, charter schools are a welcome solution. This school year, 200,000 additional students enrolled in charter schools – bringing national charter enrollment above two million students. More families are getting what they have needed for decades, the ability to choose the best public school for their child.  This is why the 42 states that allow them are saying ‘thanks’ to charter schools.

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Taishya Adams, Director of State Services, tells us her favorites of the day: Links: The Politics K-12 blog examines the National Governor’s Association interim proposal to give states lots of running room when it comes to crafting their accountability plans under ESEA reauthorization. Likes: Everywhere I turned this past weekend, I could not get away from the news of Whitney Houston’s death. I’ve loved Whitney’s music as long as I can remember. My favorite performance was at the Super Bowl singing the national anthem. It is a rendition that never ceases to raise the hairs on my arms and warm my heart with pride of being a citizen of this fine nation.