The Charter Blog


Jed Wallace


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California Charter School Growth Ushers in New Public Education Era

This is a historic time for charter schools in California.  Despite tough economic times, charter supporters continue to turn their commitment into opportunities for thousands of students and families seeking more options in public education.

This school year, 115 new charter schools opened, marking the most significant growth since California approved its charter school Law in 1992.  This unparalleled growth pushed the state’s total number of charter schools to 912, the highest of any state in the nation.  Every major region, as well as both urban and rural areas, saw charter schools open.

For charter school leaders, this growth is encouraging and exciting, and we believe it is proof that a new era of public education has taken hold. This new era is one  in which parents, teachers and communities haven’t more flexibility and local control of schools  making them better at serving individual student’s needs.  It also means that we at the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) must do more than ever to advocate on behalf of charter schools, and continue our efforts to ensure equitable access of funding and facilities for public charter schools.  Accountability is another top priority at CCSA, and this growth underlines the need for a system in which high performing charter schools in which high performing charter schools are replicated, while low-performing ones undergo a deep review to determine if they are serving their student’s needs.

With this year’s newly opened schools, an even larger number of families in California will now have more options for high-quality education options for their students.


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Klein Moves On

Joel Klein is resigning as chancellor of the New York City school system. In eight years as leader of that mammoth organization, Joel Klein showed what decisiveness looks like. He closed chronically failing schools despite clamorous opposition; he invited top-performing charter operators to open up shop in the city’s toughest neighborhoods, and made them an example for their district counterparts; he provided unparalleled autonomy to traditional schools and overhauled the city’s accountability systems. And the results were recognized with a coveted Broad Prize. What propelled all this was his unapologetic determination that kids should come first. Not teachers, not principals, not systems, but kids. And he led with a fine sense of outrage about the way kids had been treated by public education. I will not soon forget the way this balding, bespectacled man raised the roof of a Harlem church a couple of years back as 1500 parents and activists responded to the passion and intensity of his call to do better by the city’s schoolchildren. The Alliance is honored to have him as a member of its board, and New York City is a better place for his service.


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Another Mid-Term Victory

Whatever your thoughts about the mid-term elections, it’s clear we will have many new faces in state capitols, governors’ mansions and at the U.S. Capitol. The vast majority of these newly-elected people were not voted in purely on an education platform. However, many of them ran in part as education reformers, and on a night where seemingly everyone was concerned about red and blue, it was the color purple that surprised me most.  Candidates from both parties who are supporters of substantive education reform in general, and charter schools in particular, were elected from every region of the country.

Some notable examples include Janet Barresi, the new Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction who helped found two charter schools in Oklahoma City and Delaware’s new U.S. Senator, Chris Coons also knows his way around education reform issues. John Hickenlooper, governor-elect from my home state of Colorado, and Joe Walsh, a newly-elected U.S. Representative from Illinois are also friends of education reform.

While it’s too early to say exactly how these new players will affect key education issues, it is another indication of the growing support for high-quality education from both parties.  Who can say whether we’ll see the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a third round of Race to the Top funding, or improvements to weak charter laws in several states?  It’s anyone’s guess. But, I do know that if there’s one issue everyone can agree to work on, it’s education.

Voters had a lot on their minds this election season, and school reform was admittedly a few notches down from hot-button issues like jobs and the economy. Yet, buoyed by the release of “Waiting for Superman,” the attention of Oprah Winfrey and a solid two months of news coverage on the issue, education reform has dominated political discourse like never before.  While it still falls shy of being a deciding issue for voters, more and more people are holding their elected officials accountable for improving public education for all students.


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Alliance’s “Charter Law Rankings Report” Gets Nod From NACSA

Yesterday in Scottsdale AZ, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers announced that How State Charter Laws Rank Against The New Model Public Charter School Law, by Todd Ziebarth and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, is the 2010 recipient of the NACSA Award for Excellence in Advancing Knowledge.

NACSA drew particular attention to the rankings’ potential impact on the craft of authorizers, who were largely overlooked in the first generation of charter laws:  It is critical that state laws accelerate the movement of more authorizers toward the “best-in-class” practices exhibited by the nation’s best ones.  Aligning state laws with the model law’s “quality control” provisions will move us in that direction….These new rankings not only show which state laws are making the grade, but also show how they do it:  by paying attention to specific issues that are crucial to school and student success.

We’re thrilled that the Alliance and Model Law pub (with its online database) have won this recognition. It has already helped move the national conversation toward fostering great charter schools, not just lots of them. But know something else: This is just the latest instance of Todd Ziebarth’s “Advancing Knowledge.”  He’s been doing that for a long time now, going back to his days envisioning the shape of all-charter districts for the Education Commission of the States; through all kinds of publications rooted solidly in fact;  and especially, doing what he does every day to advise movement leaders and policymakers around the country on how to ground decisions in real evidence about what works.
Although aided by a blue-ribbon task force, supported by able consultants, and cheered on by Alliance staff, Todd was the driving force behind the 2009 model state charter law, and it was he who made the rankings themselves a wonderfully substantive tool for serious policy analysis.

And he’s the best kind of colleague: He knows his stuff but lets you think you thought it up.

The charter movement is awfully lucky to have him on our side.

Submitted by Macke Raymond on Fri, 10/22/2010 – 5:42pm.

Congratulations, NAPCS and Todd! Recognition well-deserved!!


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Bridging Differences, Fudging Facts

Diane Ravitch has finally hit bottom in her bout with OCD (Obsessive Charter Disorder).  In her current Education Week blog she grumps at “Waiting for Superman” for failing to feature successful public (sic) schools and schoolteachers, and then responds by listing six bad things she’s learned recently about charter schools. Her argument is basically that of Pee-Wee Herman: “I know you are, but what am I?”

I can no longer tell whether Ravitch’s distortions are willful or whether she’s just too busy Tweeting to check facts. She trots out news about Inner City Education Foundation being rescued by major donors, not mentioning the schools’ superior academic performance, or the abysmal charter funding in California (see Eduwonk on that).  She gloats that a Los Angeles charter operator was accused of embezzling more than $1 million in school funds, without noting that Ray Cortines, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), is taking steps to shut down the school (or, ahem, mentioning the $578 million LAUSD just spent on RFK High School).

She writes that  the New York State Charter Schools Association “sued to block any public audits” of charters, when their suit actually contended (and the Court agreed) that the State Comptroller’s Office lacked jurisdiction to audit charters. However, they also argued that the Board of Regents and charter authorizers do have authority to conduct financial and program audits — which they do conduct, and vigorously. (More on NYCSA’a rationale here.) And she positively lights up at the news that Ross Global Academy in New York is in “a heap of trouble.” With 100 NYC charters generally doing terrific work, why single this one out? Because it was founded by a wealthy person, and we know what DR thinks of “the Billionaires Boys Club” and the Hedge Fund Mob, and anyone else who’s made a few bucks. File under “Schadenfreude.”

And then the finale: “Those promoting the privatization of American public education are blinded by free-market ideology. They refuse to pay attention to evidence, whether it be research or the accumulating anecdotal evidence of misbehavior, incompetence, fraud, greed, and chicanery that the free market facilitates.”  So…the thousands of charter parents and teachers are really just stooges of the Robber Barons? Puh-leeeze.

BTW –Make sure to check out the comments after the blog. “Bridging Differences” usually draws a flock of fawning admirers; this time it also includes some folks who, in the most thoughtful and temperate language, rake Ravitch over the coals for the her reductionist and ill-grounded tirade.


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Vote for a Hero

People magazine is in the midst of its Readers’ Choice Hero Campaign. The campaign identifies nine inspirational stories that were featured in People this year, and gives the public a chance to vote for their favorite. If you’ve got a minute, check it out; the campaign ends Friday, Oct. 8. These are some awe-inspiring stories about some pretty amazing folks. Many of their stories  involve helping children and young people, and one even features an outstanding charter school leader…our very own Tim King of Urban Prep Charter Academy in Chicago.

Of course, we can’t tell you how to vote (we would NEVER do that at the CharterBlog, since we’re non-partisan!), but we do hope you’ll vote for someone.  Their causes are all very compelling and worthy, and the cash award will help the winner further his or her work.  We’ve got our favorite, and we sure hope he wins.


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Reward Me for Being Excellent?

While there has been a lot of discussion about the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) since its first appropriations in 2006, there hasn’t been any new funding to make new awards.  Late last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced 62 new TIF grantees!  KUDOS to all  the winners, but an ESPECIALLY BIG PAT ON THE BACK to the 13 awardees who use charters in their application: Achievement First, ARISE HIGH School, Center for Educational Innovation (x2), Hogan Preparatory Academy, Indiana Department of Education, Michigan Association of Public School Academies, Mastery Charter High School, National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, New Schools for New Orleans (also an i3 winner), The College-Ready Promise, Uplift Education, and Youth Empowerment Services, Inc.

TIF is based on a simple premise, rewarding excellent teachers can incentivize and improve teaching AND increase entrants into the teaching profession. It’s no secret that many of our nation’s teachers are not from the top of their college classes…so the idea is a simple one: To improve the chances of schools getting the best and the brightest in the classroom we need to offer them an incentive.  And certainly in this economy, we are kidding ourselves if we don’t think financial incentives don’t make a difference. And, to help study that out-of-the-box notion, part of this year’s TIF grants go to a research competition too.


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Teachers Are Giving ‘Em Something to Talk About

Education reform is on everybody’s lips, and just about everybody has an idea for making schools better.  The discourse is dominated by elected officials (or hopefuls), policy folks, academicians and researchers. And although we’ve heard plenty from the teachers unions, teachers themselves haven’t really much of a platform.  So, I was fascinated to learn about this new project called VIVA (Vision Idea Voice Action).  The project just kicked off last Monday as an incubated initiative of the New York Charter Schools Association.

Here’s how it works. There are two moderated online conversations — one for teachers in New York, and one for teachers across the country — and these websites allow classroom teachers to engage directly in education policy.  They are tackling some meaty issues like Race to the Top and Title II, as well as teacher pay, burnout and class size.  Best of all, their ideas will be presented directly to U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  A small group of these teachers will be asked to write a summary of the action plan they are crafting now, and then to come for a private meeting with Arne in Washington, D.C. or New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in Albany.

Classroom teachers helping to shape education policy…now, that’s a novel idea, eh?  I like it.

The conversation will be going on for the next three weeks.  Check it out.

Submitted by drobinson on Tue, 10/05/2010 – 10:57am.

Dear My Foot,
We appreciate your comments, and just wanted to make sure you have the facts about charter schools.  Charter schools absolutely do not eliminate teacher unions. In fact, about 12 percent of charter schools are unionized.  It is always the teachers who decide whether or not they’d like to be unionized.  Oddly enough, when given that choice, most of the time charter teachers decide not to.  We at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools are neither pro-union nor anti-union.  We are pro-child and pro-achievement.  And by the way, we LOVE teachers.

Submitted by My Foot on Mon, 10/04/2010 – 9:55pm.
Charter Schools eliminate teacher unions and thus lower teacher and staff wages further, increasing the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Want to see teacher benefits vaporize along with weekends off? Charter Schools are union busting! Say NO to charter schools now!


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Oprah Gives Millions for Charter Children

Charter schools just got the gift of a lifetime.  Yesterday, Oprah Winfrey  gave out the last Oprah’s Angel Network grants – and the recipients were all charter schools.  How’s that for going out with a bang?

The September  20, 2010 episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show”  was dedicated to the new documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” and featured a special presentation of  $1 million grants by Ms. Winfrey to six high-performing charter school networks.  These organizations were recognized for producing great student outcomes and living out the spirit of  “Waiting for Superman” with the great work they do every day.

Congratulations to The Mastery Charter Schools of Philadelphia; Aspire Public Schools in California; Denver School of Science and Technology; LEARN Charter School in Chicago; New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy; and YES Prep Public Schools in Houston.

Ms. Winfrey will continue the conversation on the “Oprah” Show’s LIVE episode on Friday, September 24, 2010.  I’m told it will be a rich dialogue including many more voices with a stake in public education.  Stay tuned…


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Finally, the “ Waiting for Superman” Is Over

This has been whirlwind week for education reform.  “Superman” is finally here.  It will be the topic of the Oprah show today, and I’m told there are some big surprises coming for a group of great charter schools.  Time magazine devoted a cover to this issue last week, and last Wednesday night I went to the Washington, D.C. premier of “Waiting for Superman,” a  new documentary about some of the major challenges facing America’s education system.  It was like Hollywood on the Potomac.  All of D.C.’s beautiful people came together with the education wonks and official Washington, and we were all talking about how to make our schools better. It was a moment I’ve been waiting for a long time.

It is a tremendous time in education reform when an acclaimed advocacy filmmaker (An Inconvenient Truth’s Davis Guggenheim) takes on the crisis in education and the tangle of policy challenges we face every day. The result is an unprecedented opportunity for a true national discourse on reform. The film has rightfully attracted interest and attention from all areas of education and I’m  happy, because it means many who have been talking about education policy around private conference tables have come together to speak now around a bigger and more public table.

For years, folks on all sides of this issue have debated the best and most effective ways to fix public education. In fact, there are so many different ideas about what to do fix  first, there is sometimes a paralysis of indecision. However, “Waiting for Superman” reminds us that it is simpler than we think. If you back away from the nuances of policy far enough to look at the children who are really the focus of this work, it becomes a lot clearer. If we can all remember to put children first and make decisions based on what is best for them, we’ll find that we agree on more than we think. In fact, I bet we agree on more than we don’t.

The door opened by this film brings the conversations to the widest and most influential group, the public, and that is as it should be. Public education is, after all, a public trust. If we’re going to achieve the long-term, systemic change that public education needs, we’ve got to use this opportunity to make sure the people in every community understand and engage on this issue and build the highest quality public school system this country has ever seen.

Submitted by mrs t on Tue, 09/21/2010 – 12:22am.
I cannot wait for this documentary. I work at a new (4th year) inner city charter and our entire staff is going to watch it together. I am currently reading “Whatever it takes” about the founder of the Harlem Childrens Zone schools. It is so inspiring to read/learn about what other schools are doing right, especially when all we hear are negative things and criticism about education