The Charter Blog

 

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Dr. Tell? Don’t Ask!

One of the advantages of reading the news online is that you get reader comments too. That helps when a curious piece appears – as in the case of one Shawgi Tell, Ph.D., who reminded Rochester readers of some “overlooked facts” about charter schools in a Saturday op-ed. Facts such as “Many principals at charter schools lack the same credentials as their counterparts in traditional public schools” and “Charter schools siphon away millions of dollars from school systems in segregated and impoverished urban communities.” (And so on…) Hold your cards and letters, folks; readers have already done a job on Dr. Tell’s thesis. (Was it below the belt to include students’ reviews of the good Dr.’s classes from Ratemyprofessors.com? You decide.)
Jed Wallace

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

California’s Portrait of the Movement – A Closer Look At Charter School Academic Performance

Education reform has taken center stage in many debates around the nation over the past couple of years, as parents, students and communities demand better educational outcomes for all students from public schools. Generating those better outcomes while closing the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students is a daunting challenge but not an impossible one. Members of the California Charter Schools Association believe, like I do, that we must be relentless in our pursuit of ever-higher academic performance if charter schools are to contribute even more significantly to making high-performing schools a reality for every student in California. For almost two decades, charter schools in California have offered parents, students and communities options for a better education.  Our state now has the largest concentration of charters in the country.  At 912 schools, we saw our most significant growth ever this school year, with 115 charters opening across the state.  But growth alone isn’t enough. While we know the state has some of the best charter schools in the country, we are also aware that there are weaknesses within the movement.  That is why the California Charter Schools Association is taking unprecedented and proactive steps to ensure that all students attending charter schools are getting an education that will help them succeed as adults. This week our first annual Portrait of the Movement report, which details the academic performance of charter schools, provides a framework to press for higher accountability for low-performing charters.  The report reveals reasons for great optimism in the areas where charter schools are excelling and for greater resolve in the areas where charter schools need to improve. The most significant finding in Portrait of the Movement is that California charter schools are accelerating the closure of the achievement gap between low-income and affluent students.  This finding is supported with ample evidence that charter schools serving low-income populations are generating better academic results than traditional public schools serving students with similar demographics. These results are cause for celebration, proving that charters are breaking the link between poverty and under-performance. For far too long, too many within our traditional public school system have believed that poverty and underperformance are inexorably linked and there is little schools can do to help students overcome the various social barriers they face.  This paralyzing belief – undergirded by a self-perpetuating view that only some students, and not all students, are actually able to learn at high levels – has been used by many as justification for the various objections they raise to proposed reforms of our public education system.  The performance of California’s charter schools – from classrooms in South Los Angeles to Oakland and San Diego to Sacramento – demonstrates that the possibility of transformational change is within our grasp if we have the courage to embrace reforms which serve the interests of students. Another important finding with Portrait of the Movement is more charter schools are over-performing than under-performing, and that, in terms of numbers of students served, more than two times as many students attend over-performing than under-performing schools.  We are also encouraged to see that the number and proportion of under-performing charters appears to be decreasing over time. With that said, the Portrait of the Movement also clearly reveals that there are simply too many underperforming charter schools and we must as a movement act with commensurate courage to improve academic accountability systems. While current state law calls on charter authorizers—school districts, county offices of education, and the State Board of Education—to close schools that have not met minimum academic requirements, the process has not been a consistent one, and under-performing charters have slipped through the cracks.  CCSA is proactively working to close these loopholes and has established minimum performance criteria for charter renewal to ensure that charters are delivering on the promise of a high-quality education for all students in California, In tandem with the release of Portrait of the Movement, CCSA is activating a series of Web-enabled tools to help families and the public understand the picture of performance for every single charter in California that opened before fall of 2010. An interactive map provides the public access to the performance record of all charter schools as well as all traditional public schools in their surrounding areas, giving families for the first time a highly detailed look of the options available to them based on a measure that renders a picture of added value. For more information, visit www.calcharters.org/portraitofthemovement. Submitted by Jed Wallace, President and CEO, California Charter Schools Association

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Charter Schools as a Catalyst for Building Civic Capacity

Civic capacity—the notion of  multiple sectors of the community coming together in concerted action to address big issues—has been examined by education reformers and researchers who argue it is critical to making systemic and long lasting improvements in the public education system. It has been suggested that public charter schools do a great job of engaging parents, educators, community groups, and philanthropists in individual schools. But charter school critics raise the lingering question: is the charter school model serving the greater public good in terms of efforts to improve all public schools? Sure, larger entities like traditional school districts or cities are positioned to engage with a wide array of public and private actors in collective commitments to reform school systems. However, despite a markedly smaller scale, charter schools are not isolated institutions with limited connections to the larger public education system. Rather, charter schools are public schools that open pathways for non-traditional groups to get involved in operating schools. And charter schools can be (and have been) used within school districts and cities to provide new opportunities to mobilize large-scale civic engagement. In cities like New OrleansD.C., and Philadelphia, charter schools have served as catalysts for building civic capacity through strategically engaging community leaders to operate charter schools. In New York, authorizers are actively recruiting existing organizations that provide services to high-needs students to found charter schools. Or take Indianapolis. A new study describes in detail the way in which government officials, business leaders, local philanthropists, university scholars, and local educators identified big problems—a declining economy and dismal education outcomes—and then coalesced around charter schools to meet the needs of the community. The strategy was not about any specific charter school, but about creating a new landscape for public education where community support for public education was put into practice. (Check out this report from Bryan Hassel that lists the community organizations that founded some of the early charter schools in Indianapolis.) These cities show that charter schools can be used to mobilize civic engagement for the greater good of the public education system. And current trends show this work is being cultivated to expand mutual impact and quality of traditional and public charter schools.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Thoughtless Pause

Elegant phraseology doesn’t conceal the fact that the “thoughtful pause” proposed by Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee is a moratorium on charter growth. Some actual thinking has been provided by RI-CAN, the state’s new ed-reform group, who looked at data and found that charters are pushing achievement upward. Think again, Governor.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Harriett Ball, RIP

A great teacher died yesterday. Back in the ’90s, Harriett Ball took two rookie Houston teachers under her wing and showed them how to make a classroom a joyous place to learn … and then travelled with Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg through the amazing journey of KIPP, while continuing to teach and consult. We were proud to induct this great lady into the Charter School Hall of Fame along with her KIPP colleagues in 2009. She succumbed to a sudden heart attack on Tuesday. What a legacy she leaves!

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Delivering on the Promise in Missouri

The Land of Truman has a unique charter environment. State law restricts chartering to St. Louis and Kansas City, but charter schools account for major market share in both places. Where 90 percent of charter authorizers around the country are local school districts, it’s universities that oversee nearly all the charters in the Show-Me state. There are some stars but, alas, way too many charters that keep scraping the bottom year after year. Policymakers (and the state’s charter movement leaders)  have grown  impatient. We’ve just taken a thorough look at this situation and are calling for some tough love….

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Obama’s Challenge

Last night’s briskly-delivered State of the Union address capped a dizzying few months for President Obama. He was looking out at 84 new GOP House of Representatives members — 63 of whom were occupying seats previously held by Democrats.  However, he was enjoying a rebound in personal popularity, coming off a surprisingly productive lame-duck session, and hoping to sustain and leverage the shift in national mood following the Tucson tragedy. It was  not the night to play the usual SOTU games – how many times did he mention “X” – and so the absence of the words “charter schools” didn’t bother me a bit. The key points on education weren’t drawn from a laundry list of programs; instead he tried to frame the challenge and leave the details for the upcoming budget message. Some of the key education passages: The rules have changed.  In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business.  Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100.  Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers and sell their products wherever there’s an Internet connection. Nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. Over the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.  And yet, as many as a quarter of our students aren’t even finishing high school.  The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.  America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.  And so the question is whether all of us –- as citizens, and as parents –- are willing to do what’s necessary to give every child a chance to succeed. The task for charter folks is to show that our schools are part of the solution…that our kids leave 12th grade ready for college –and ready to succeed in college and beyond. Let’s show that we’re using our freedom not just to get rid of paperwork, but to equip kids with the knowledge and habits of mind to lead an international economy. And if a charter school is part of the problem, we need to take action. Now. Without saying exactly how, the President did also say that “Race to the Top should be the approach we follow this year as we replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.”  I trust that means the Administration will continue pressing states for facilities aid, fiscal equity and an end to caps. It will be interesting to see how those proposals fare in a Congress that generally wants to expand state rather than federal authority. By the way, today’s New York Times has a cool seating chart illustrating the “new civility,” with some odd couples listening to the speech: Schumer and Coburn; Patty Murray and John Cornyn; Louie Gohmert and Carolyn Maloney. Let’s hope the era of good feelings persists.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

It’s National School Choice Week!

Today, folks across the country are kicking off the first-ever National School Choice Week. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is proud to join more than 150 other organizations in acknowledging the need for greater educational options for America’s children. I celebrated the start of the week by participating in a Town Hall meeting in Charlotte, N.C., today.  I was proud to join a group of community leaders, parents and elected officials who are committed to making sure all students have access to a high quality education.  I was even more proud to see that charter schools are recognized as a critical component of school choice.  North Carolina has had a cap of 100 charter schools since its charter law was enacted in 1996. That cap, which was reached more than a decade ago, has effectively halted charter school growth and replication in the state.  But after what I saw today, I am encouraged and I hope the cap is going to be lifted soon. I was also encouraged to hear about some of the fantastic work happening in other states.  Here are just a couple of the events going on this week:
  • A bipartisan coalition of Missouri legislators called today for changes aimed to help failing urban schools and give parents more choices. Among the items on the agenda: Expanding charter schools, which are now permitted only in St. Louis and Kansas City, to the rest of the state.
  • Grandmas for Charter Schools will host Coffee House meetings daily during National School Choice Week.  These ladies will be giving out information on school choice options in Albany, N.Y., signing up folks for the Parent Army and registering parents to vote!
  • Grammy Award-winning recording artist Patti Austin will host an evening of entertainment at the “Get Real about Education Musical Town Hall,” an event to inspire a vision for the future of Dallas-area public schools.
There are tons of other great things happening, and if you’d like to tell us about yours…please post a comment below.  We’d love to hear about it! Comment Submitted by Ted Fujimoto (not verified) on Fri, 01/28/2011 – 4:08am. For Dallas Event with Patti Austin, RSVP at http://getrealabouteducationdallas-estw.eventbrite.com Enjoy an evening of entertainment and inspiration toward a vision for the future of Dallas area public schools with Grammy winner Patti Austin, local artist Matt Wilson, and inspirational speakers. The event will also launch the Right to Succeed Dallas Chapter, an effort to transform public education in the Dallas area and cut the dropout rate in half over the next five years. This free family event is open to all ages. Click to view the powerful video about the Right to Succeed and the National School Choice Week cause! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CIPm1pxHWw www.RightToSucceed.org
Nora Kern

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Holding Charter Schools to a Higher Standard Is a Good Thing!

New York City is drawing attention for its recent decision to close three underperforming schools that make up the Believe High School Network, as well as the ‘C’ graded Peninsula Preparatory Charter School. James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center, penned an eloquent explanation of why these closure decisions by the city’s Education Department are so critical to living up to the charter bargain of increased autonomy in exchange for greater accountability for student achievement. We’ve long stated the power of school choice when parental decision is based on academic quality and the importance of local enforcement of school quality. Through the NYC Education Department’s decisions, the city is one step closer to providing public charter schools that are truly high quality to its children and families. Why Failing Charters Must Be Closed By JAMES MERRIMAN At their core, public charter schools are about one simple trade-off: a charter school receives more autonomy to operate in the way its staff thinks will provide the best results for students. In return, it accepts greater accountability for the results it achieves academically and operationally — with the understanding that if a school fails, it will be closed. That is why charters get a license to operate for five years at a time — and have to make the case that they should be renewed. Because accountability and autonomy are what charters are about, the decisions this week to close one poorly performing charter school, only conditionally renew another and provide notice to three others that they will be closed shortly unless they clean up their acts, is exactly the right move to ensure charters fulfill their promise to students and their role in the larger public education system. The decisions also show not just what chartering is at its heart, but also how complex, and even difficult, chartering actually is. …To read the full editorial, click here.

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Perfection First, Change Last

Over the holidays the NY Times ran a piece about NYC’s use of student data in teacher rankings, and the tug of war that’s emerging over so-called “value-added” evaluations. Among a slew of letters it generated was one from Deputy Chancellor John White, concluding with this biting comment: “Shame on unions and school districts charged with improving antiquated evaluation systems if they hide behind sideline critics advocating perfection first and change last. No system is perfect, but the status quo is not fair to children.” Researcher Dan Goldhaber, subbing for Rick Hess over at Straight Up, makes a similar point:  “I am continually struck by the fact that policy debates over a whole variety of issues focus almost entirely on the downside risks of reform, while massively ignoring the costs or downsides of business as usual.” Citing work he and co-authors contributed to a recent Brookings report, he says “much of the debate about using value-added for teacher evaluation is framed around the potential consequences for teachers rather than focusing on the known or potential consequences for students,” and adds: “The counterfactual matters and we are not comparing reform to an existing nirvana.” White and Goldhaber aren’t talking about charter schools, but we need to keep their argument handy. Sure there are imperfections in charter schools – we worry more about them than anyone else does. But parents who choose them know the “counterfactual” all too well. Here’s a suggestion for the new year.  When you hear someone railing about the dangers of public charter schools, hit them with the question a parent asks: “Compared to what?”