The Charter Blog

 

Jed Wallace

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5,000+ Charter School Parents Rally in Los Angeles

On Feb. 4, charter school parents, students and teachers from more than 100 schools across Los Angeles rallied for “Schools We Can Believe In,” making this the biggest parent rally in LA history and possibly the biggest charter school rally ever anywhere in the country. We showed the strength of the charter school movement, but more importantly, we showed the depth of our commitment to ensuring that all students have high-quality public schools in their communities. I was moved by the stories parents told of their own struggles to find a high-quality school in their neighborhoods and their incredible pride in their charter schools. As one our parent speakers said, “I want every family in LA to have what my family has – a great public school.” We also heard from leaders like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Board President and Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Parents spoke out to demand fairness in funding and facilities for all public school students, including charter public schools and to have a voice in their child’s education. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the “Schools we Can Believe In” Rally was to help our own movement recognize its potential. We were able to see what is within our potential to unleash and to recognize our own unique position to play a catalytic role that could greatly improve educational opportunity for all of California’s students. We did a statewide poll earlier this year and it showed us that the biggest predictor of whether someone will support charter schools is that person’s direct or indirect experience with charter schools. We have to invite elected officials to visit our schools and to meet the amazing parents and students and teachers like those that rallied this past Saturday and hear their incredible stories. On Feb. 29, we will rally again, this time in our state capitol in conjunction with our 19th annual Charter Schools Conference to push for funding equity for charter schools and the students they serve. IMG_8550 (2)-cropped-proto-custom_6

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Links and Likes

Nora Kern, Senior Manager for Research and Analysis, tells us her favorites of the day Links: Tony Robert’s ‘laugh so you don’t cry’ insider account of the Georgia State legislature vote on the public charter school constitutional amendment. Likes: Gotye’s “Thanks for your time.” I wish I was the type of person who could turn my annoying customer service experiences into artistic expression.

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Research Suggests that Public Charter Schools Do Not Push Out Low-Performing Students

There is an argument propagated by charter school critics that public charter schools systematically push out low-performing students. While critics do not provide evidence of specific examples of charter school policies that explicitly push out students, the hypothesis underlying the argument is that there are subtle policies—such as strict discipline and attendance rules, retention if students are not performing at grade-level, or expectations for parent involvement—that effectively counsel out hard-to-educate students. Moreover, critics contend that charter schools are under intense pressure to perform well, which may provide incentives to find ways to attract high performing students and to discourage low-performing students from staying. (However, traditional public schools face similar accountability pressures and may theoretically advise low-performing students to transfer to schools of choice in the district.) A recent study of KIPP charter schools challenged the notion that there is more student attrition out of KIPP schools or that attrition explains higher levels of academic performance in the schools. Now, a new working paper by Ron Zimmer and Cassandra Guarino provides additional evidence that public charter schools are not pushing out low-performing students. The study examined patterns of student transfers in an anonymous school district with over 60 charter schools. A larger percentage of charter schools in the district met AYP compared with traditional public schools, making the district a good case study for examining whether charter schools were pushing out low-performing students in order to meet federal accountability standards. The study finds no evidence that public charter schools were more likely to push out low-performing students. Conversely, the study finds that below-average students were five percent more likely to leave traditional public schools than below-average students in charter schools. The authors write, “In looking at different groups of charter schools (i.e., charter schools near AYP proficiency thresholds, low- and high-performing schools, primary and secondary schools), we generally find no evidence consistent with the claim of pushing out low-performing students.” Even though the study provides evidence for only one school district, it is a good example of the empirical research needed to determine whether the persistent critiques of public charter schools are accurate. Charter kids           Image via flickr

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Defeat of Public Charter Schools Amendment in Georgia Legislature Leaves no Winners

The score yesterday was 110-62, but nobody won!  No, not a ball game, but the single most important piece of legislation (HR1162) in Georgia to continue the growth of high quality charter schools here. The measure would allow the voters of Georgia to decide about a Constitutional Amendment that would restore the ability of the State to authorize charter schools.  This is in response to our Supreme Court that struck down our law that established an effective alternative authorizer—the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. Now the readers of this blog do not need to be persuaded about the value of an alternative authorizer for charter schools.   So, I am “preaching to the choir.”  I am going to share some observations and rants about the “sinners” that are doing their darn best to stop this charter movement here–and in your state as well. Big nuisance to me: hearing all the opposing legislators yesterday start their speeches with: “Now I support charter schools.”  Charter grammar lesson number 1—this phrase will always be followed with the conjunction “but.” We heard that over and over yesterday.  One representative who used that line yesterday, then referred to every study ever known to mankind doubting the value of charter schools.  He even referred to some studies that have never been done!  Where is the logic in this? This rep “supports charter schools” even though he thinks they are the worst development in public education and certainly should be burned to the ground (good thing we don’t have facilities?).  Suggested response to him and others like him:  “Now I support you,” but “your voting record is atrocious, you have bad grammar, bad logic, are ignorant of our dire K-12 education problems, clueless what we really need, and that a five-year old could represent the children of your district better.” Another big nuisance to those of us on the front lines: “friendly” fire.  You know—getting shot in the back from those who should be with you—and that some legislators actually think do support children in schools. It’s the worst opposition of all.  Consider the Georgia PTA.  I thought their mission was to facilitate greater communication between parents and teachers for the children’s sake.  Are they no longer about chili suppers, school festival days, cookies for parties, and apples for teachers?  When did they become one of the loudest voices AGAINST charter schools?  Did they poll all parents and teachers to get this position?  Are they now Professional Teachers Association? Other “friendly” fire here has come from Georgia School Boards Association, Georgia Superintendents Association, and PAGE (Professional Association of Georgia Educators). Most gratifying has been the development of a broad-based and growing coalition   to fight for the children.  With eleven current members, we are pushing for the growth of quality charter schools.  Check out www.brightergeorgia.org.  We are expecting an opposition website www.wesupportcharterschools.but. The good news is the game is not over; there has been a delay in the game.  The issue will return to the House after 10-15 more representatives realize this issue is about children—not job security.

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Charter School Cap Lifted in TN; Quality Remains the Priority

Tennessee is positioned to see a large expansion in the number of charter schools over the next several years. Changes in the state’s charter law, driven by the state’s Race to the Top efforts, effectively removed the artificial cap on charter schools growth, eliminated enrollment restrictions, and created an Achievement School District–which can contract with high performing charter networks for school turnaround efforts. These legislative changes that increase student access to charter schools gave Tennessee a 7 point bump in our Model Law Rankings Database. Moreover, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean launched the Tennessee Charter Incubator to attract high performing charter school operators to the state.  As a result, eleven new charters opened in Tennessee this past fall, representing 38% growth in the total number of charter schools. Perhaps in earlier years of the charter movement, these legislative changes would have led to a massive influx of new charter schools based on the idea of letting a thousand flowers bloom. However, the response in Tennessee demonstrates that policymakers and educators are thinking carefully about expanding charter schools with an eye toward quality. (Check out this article for an engaging read on what’s going on in Tennessee charter schools.) And Tennessee is not alone in its focus on quality for new charter schools. NACSA’s recent report on authorizer acceptance and closure rates suggests that authorizers are getting tougher on charter school applications. Authorizer approval rates have decreased from over 60% a decade ago to closer to 40%. The focus on quality by policymakers, authorizers, and educators in Tennessee reflects a shift in the charter movement and proves that charter school growth and quality can go hand in hand.
Nora Kern

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Protect Charter School Teacher Retirement Funds!

The Internal Revenue Service recently issued a Proposed Regulation titled “Determination of Government Plan Status.” This regulation would force states to prohibit charter school teachers from participating in state retirement plans. Presently, every single state that authorizes charter schools either requires or permits charter school participation in the state’s retirement system. Therefore, this regulation would negatively impact nearly all charter school teachers in the country. In total, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools estimates more than 90,000 charter school teachers – more than 90% of our country’s charter school workforce – will be affected by the Proposed regulations. All of these teachers will be forced to either leave their charter schools or lose their accrued pension wealth. For this reason, we cannot allow these regulations to be adopted in their current form. We encourage you to take action here. And for a more detailed analysis of the issue, check out the excerpted blog below that was co-authored by our Senior Director of Legal Affairs. Flypaper Blog, Thomas B. Fordham Institute Michael Podgusrky, Stuart Buck, and Renita Thukral / January 23, 2012 Charter school teachers would be hit hard by new Treasury Department ruling on pensions When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did not participate in the state plan. In 2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the Treasury Department approved. The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a plan to be a “governmental plan.” In November, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations on the subject, and the news is not good for charter school teachers in Louisiana, or anywhere, since these new rules would affect charter schools in all states. The legal issues are complex, and in a forthcoming study, two of us (Buck and Thukral) will attempt to sort them out. However, the nub of the matter centers on whether charter school teachers are considered government employees. In particular, are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that they can participate in state and local pension plans?…Click here to read the full analysis.
Nora Kern

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Seeing is Believing

Across the nation, more than 5,600 high-quality public charter schools are providing 2 million students with revolutionary educational opportunities. While many people know that charter schools are working to close the achievement gap and transform children’s lives, some have never seen these inspiring public schools in action. NAPCS, joined by numerous charter school advocates nationwide, want to change that! Today is National Visit a Public Charter School Day, an event that corresponds with National School Choice Week. Charter schools across the country have invited legislators, reporters and community business leaders to tour high-quality public charter schools. These visits are designed to familiarize visitors with the charter school model and demonstrate the benefits of high-quality public charter schools. It is our hope that because of this experience, participants will be more likely to engage in the charter movement as advocates, board members, and financial supporters to help ensure that all students have high quality education options. In addition to charter school visits, state charter support organizations (CSOs) are providing members of the media and state representatives preparing to kick off their legislative sessions with information on the role of charters in education reform. More than 14 states and the District of Columbia are participating in National Visit a Public Charter School Day activities. To learn more about National Visit a Public Charter School Day, we encourage you to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see highlights from events across the country.

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Charter School “Hopes, Fears, & Reality” in 2011

The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released its 6th edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality, an annual compilation of interesting articles on timely issues in the charter sector. (The 2008 article on special education in charter schools is a definite go-to for great information on how charters can offer unique delivery models.) This year’s report focuses on relationships between charter schools and school districts. Again, a well-timed topic given the District-Charter Collaboration Compact initiative supported by the Gates Foundation. And don’t miss the Assessing the Charter School Landscape chapter—it is full of great statistics on the charter sector from NAPCS’ dashboard and reports!
Todd Ziebarth

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Charter Law Rankings Demonstrate Significant Progress in State Policy across the Country

This week, we released the third edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Charter School Laws.  Notwithstanding the positive response the report has received, there were two criticisms of it worth addressing. The first came from Diane Ravitch: “This is a national advocacy group that wants more charter schools. It speaks for the charter industry,” says Diane Ravitch, a prominent education historian and critic of charters. “Asking them to judge your charter law is like asking Philip Morris whether your state is doing enough to regulate tobacco.” We doubt Dr. Ravitch actually read the report because it hardly reflects her critique. We plead guilty to wanting more charter schools, but we also want those that open to be high quality. That’s why this ranking places significant weight on quality-control provisions such as transparent application and renewal processes as well as performance-based charter contracts, while also valuing provisions that support growth such as autonomy, funding equity, facilities provisions and no caps. The second came from the Center for Education Reform (CER), which criticized our report for ranking Maine’s new law at the top.  We acknowledge the complexity of evaluating the strengths of state charter school laws, and understand that the ranking process should undergo scrutiny.  We note, for example, that CER ranks the District of Columbia’s generally good law as #1.  Yet there is a 40 percent funding gap between D.C.’s traditional public schools and public charter schools – the largest such gap in the country according to this study.  This hardly represents true educational justice and equality for kids, which is why Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools are fighting to remedy this significant inequity (and a major reason why D.C. is ranked #11 in this year’s report). By highlighting this point, we believe this report can drive policy makers towards rectifying this inequity. The NAPCS model law, which was developed by a broad group of individuals with deep expertise in public charter school law and is the basis of our rankings report, is grounded in two decades of experience about how good legislation supports successful charters. Maine enacted a law that is well aligned with many of the NAPCS model’s 20 components, receiving the highest scores possible on eight of the 20 components including those related to autonomy, operational and categorical funding equity, and performance-based charter contracts.  Maine’s law is far from perfect – it received 158 points out of a possible 208 – and we will assist state leaders in pressing ahead to strengthen it.  Also, Maine’s law is brand new – which means its impact on Maine’s charter school sector needs close monitoring. This year’s rankings demonstrate the positive momentum for the movement in state capitols across the country. Sixteen states strengthened their charter laws this year, leading to an increase in their scores in our report. Nine states lifted caps, seven strengthened their authorizing environments and 10 improved support for funding and facilities. Indiana, for example, overhauled its charter school law last year, lifting its caps, allowing for multiple authorizers, providing facilities access and increasing flexibility and accountability. As a result, its overall score increased from 97 points to 132 points and its ranking catapulted from #25 to #6 – the largest leap for any state on record. Many states based new legislation on the experiences of those with stronger laws such as CaliforniaColorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York. Some states fell in the rankings simply because other states made positive strides by enacting stronger laws.  These developments represent progress for the movement, not black eyes for any set of states. In addition, four states saw their scores in our report drop this past year.  For example, Georgia’s Supreme Court invalidated its statewide charter school authorizer, causing the state to slip from #7 to #14.  This was a tremendous setback for Georgia’s charter movement, and this report serves as a reminder to Georgia’s policy makers that they need to act boldly to rectify it. Strong laws matter.  They allow good educators to create quality opportunities for more kids.  Weak laws prevent these opportunities from happening.   NAPCS welcomes healthy discussion about what constitutes a good charter law (and how to evaluate them) and will continue to work with charter leaders to drive positive changes in charter school laws across the country – from actually getting them on the books in states like Alabama and West Virginia to significantly improving them in states like Mississippi and Missouri.