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Three Reasons Why Authorizer Accountability Is Right Policy for Every State

In a new report, “Holding Public Charter School Authorizers Accountable,” the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association for Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) take a closer look at why policy that creates quality, strong authorizing is an essential part of model charter policy.

Quality authorizing looks after the interests of students and the taxpayer, while protecting school autonomy and fostering high standards. As the field has coalesced around these core principles, it has also concluded that policies can be powerful levers for authorizer quality—with authorizer accountability chief among them. Get authorizer accountability right and you create an environment where quality charter schools can thrive and grow. Get it wrong and it may lead down a path where school autonomy, a fundamental part of the charter promise, is threatened.

We can get authorizer accountability right. The recommendations and case studies in this report demonstrate how authorizer accountability can be used in every state to enhance the quality of their charter sector. The specific policy changes that will help the most in each state require customization and an understanding of the particular challenges the individual state faces. But you don’t need to start from scratch. Authorizer accountability includes three core tenets that are appropriate everywhere:

  • Standards of Practice: Authorizing is both a major public stewardship role and a complex profession requiring particular capacities and commitment. Professional standards help set the bar for authorizing high and establish a uniform measure to hold authorizers to.
  • Transparency: States should require authorizers to report annually on the performance of the portfolio of schools they oversee and, separately, on select practices authorizers employ. These reports not only help schools, policymakers and parents know how each school is performing academically, but also help identify patterns of school performance or authorizing activities that may point to poor or hostile authorizing practices.
  • Accountability for Practices and School Performance: We trust authorizers to serve the public good. Authorizers who are too willing to grant charters to poor applicants or continue to allow persistently poor-performing schools to remain open are violating this trust. By the same measure, authorizers who are hostile and erode school autonomy are also violating this trust. Policymakers should have an appropriate mechanism for evaluating authorizer behavior, intervening, and, if necessary, pushing these kinds of authorizers out of the sector.

Authorizers exist to facilitate the creation and maintenance of a quality charter school sector. Authorizer standards give authorizers a roadmap to do their job; and transparency and accountability give the public the tools they need identify and correct authorizers if they go off course. Let’s continue to push all states to adopt accountability policies that incorporate these core tenets. Through authorizer accountability we can protect students and the public from failing or fraudulent charter schools, while protecting the autonomy of great charter schools.

Alex Medler is the Vice President of Policy at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

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Thoughtful, Committed Citizens

Attending the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference each year has become a priority for the leadership at our K-12 charter school in Boulder County, Colorado. We have found that these three days in the summer allow our leadership team to spend extended, focused time together reflecting on issues of key importance to our organization. This year’s conference in New Orleans will be our fourth, and because of the wide variety of sessions and speakers featured each year, we continue to add to the list of staff members who attend.  

The conference serves many purposes for our school. The opportunity to participate in conversations about national charter schools legislation and funding always leads to deeper, more nuanced discussions of what’s happening in our own state. Workshop sessions targeting the challenges and opportunities unique to charter schools have enhanced and informed decisions we’ve made with regard to technology, teacher evaluation, media relations, and communication, to name a few. At the same time, the chance for us to share our own experiences and expertise by facilitating breakout sessions helps raise our school’s profile and leads to expanded networking and relationship building with other charter leaders around the country. Finally, the conference consistently features speakers doing critical work on the cutting edge of education, charter or otherwise. Their keynote addresses inspire important conversations among our school’s leadership team and between charter leaders across our state and across the nation.

Being part of the charter school movement means being part of a solution to the many troubled aspects of education. It means creative problem solving and innovating against all odds. It means coming to the table with an open mindset and the knowledge that Margaret Mead was right when she said that it only takes “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens to change the world.” Attending the National Charter Schools Conference each year reunites and reinvigorates that small group of committed citizens, which is why it is and will continue to be an important priority for the leaders of our school.

 

Megan Freeman directs the Center for Professional Development at Peak to Peak Charter School. She leads workshops in best practices and consults with schools and universities throughout the state of Colorado.  She can be reached at megan@CPDcolorado.org.

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High School Winner – National Charter Schools Week Essay Contest

Leila from Western Sierra Collegiate Academy in California won the high school category of the 2015 Charter Schools Week essay contest! Read about why she loves her charter school: 

As people become increasingly aware of the unique learning systems offered by non-traditional institutions, the amount of students enrolled in charter schools continues to grow. Parents nationwide choose to enroll their children in charter schools for a variety of reasons; however, I love my charter school because of its welcoming campus culture, wealth of student opportunities, and heavy emphasis on college preparation.

At Western Sierra Collegiate Academy (WSCA), students are immersed in a rich campus culture that fosters great individual learning and growth. Enjoying high student diversity, WSCA is home to students from many different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Whereas diversity has sometimes led to social issues at other schools, at WSCA it is these very cultural differences that make us a stronger and more unified student body. Having attended WSCA for four years, I have definitely been on campus long enough to say that the people at my school truly feel like family. I am extremely grateful to have been able to thrive in an environment that not only respects but wholeheartedly welcomes individuality. When I go to school, I see students who are unafraid to be themselves and express their opinions, and I believe that WSCA’s positive campus culture is what makes this possible.

In addition to fostering a rich social environment, WSCA also offers numerous student opportunities unavailable at other schools. Because of WSCA’s open-minded mission statement, students have the rare chance to participate in competitions on a smaller-scale, potentially opening up doors for the future. Kids are also encouraged to start clubs according to their interests. Because of this, I have been able to found and lead my high school’s community service club and gain valuable leadership skills. Other clubs supported by WSCA include: computer club, international dance club, yoga club, and Pokemon club. Students also have access to extra-learning enrichment sessions and student tutoring should they need any further help in a specific area.

Finally, perhaps WSCA’s most defining quality is the emphasis that is placed on college preparedness. Students are encouraged to challenge themselves with rigorous AP classes and regularly attend the monthly college informational night to learn how to build college transcripts and start early preparations. At the College and Career Center, students can arrange a meeting with the college counselor to discuss future plans and make long-term goals for success. Whenever a senior receives a college acceptance letter, their name and school of acceptance goes on display on the big bulletin board so everyone can share their excitement. Counselors and faculty interact with students on such a personal level (often waving “hello” in the hallways, or asking about their day) that genuinely makes each student feel valued and important.

Western Sierra Collegiate Academy is truly a special school, and I love being a WSCA student for many reasons. However, although the list of WSCA pros is vast, without a doubt, its rich campus culture, broad range of student opportunities, and college-geared mission are primary reasons to love my charter school.

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Middle School Winner – National Charter Schools Week Essay Contest

Omara from Community Day Charter Public School in Massachusetts won the middle school category of the 2015 Charter Schools Week essay contest! Read about why she loves her charter school: 

I entered Community Day Charter Public School (CDCPS) eight years ago as a kindergartener similar to how many of my peers did–very quiet and very nervous. I was extremely introverted and liked to keep things to myself. Through the many grades I have grown to be a much more outspoken student who isn’t afraid of raising her hand and voicing her opinion in all her classes. I achieved this with the help the amazing adults and classmates who have taught me so many academic and life lessons during my years at CDCPS. Looking back now as an 8th grader, I couldn’t imagine myself in any other school doing the things I’m doing. Each day that I go to the charter, I’m pushed to be the best version of myself. I am encouraged to go “above and beyond” by all my teachers in every subject and on every assignment. This year in English class, we are reading one of Shakespeare’s plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The language is difficult and many of my peers and I struggle to understand some sections, but we are given the opportunity to break down words and phrases and comprehend. In math class, we are learning algebra, and in science we learn about chemical reactions through experimentation. This challenging work gives students a feeling of self-pride. We the Students are taught to make goals for ourselves and try to not only complete them but surpass them every school year.

At our charter school every single student is cared for and supported–nobody is left behind. The teachers at CDCPS get to know all of their students and recognize each individual’s strength and weaknesses. They bring their best to all of their lessons and have high expectations, which, in turn, motivates students to want to learn more and meet those high standards.

Not only does CDCPS guide students to a road of academic success, it also develops students into people with good character for life outside of school. We learned from the start of our schooling career to be kind to one another and always give back to our community. As a whole school we have done many service projects like can drives, coin wars, and clean-ups. Each project helped us mature and acknowledge how grateful we really are. The life lessons and skills that have been a part of us since first grade and stayed with us up through eighth grade will come in handy when we step away from our charter school and enter a new environment where we can make the difference. CDCPS develops well-rounded students who stand out in large crowds for their leadership abilities.

Community Day Charter Public School is a community of children, teachers, and parents who work together to support the finest hard-working, dedicated students in Lawrence, Massachusetts, if not in our entire state or nation. I am honored to have been given the chance to be a part of the great academic and character-driven community that is CDCPS.

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Elementary School Winner – National Charter Schools Week Essay Contest

Lydia from Riverview Charter School in South Carolina won the elementary school category of the 2015 Charter Schools Week essay contest! Read about why she loves her charter school: 

Have you ever taken the time to think about why you love your school? I love my school in many different ways. Those ways are the teachers, field trips, school plays, and specials. In this essay, you will read about why I love my school so much.

First of all, I love my school because all of the teachers have amazing personalities and backgrounds. For instance, Mr. Malijenovsky is from France and now he teaches in America. Mr. Good is totally hilarious and he is always really kind. Next, the teachers teach us in awesome ways. They act out what we’re learning and they sometimes do funny voices! Lastly, they are all so different. Mr. Bridge loves sports and Mrs. Duffy loves animals.

Second of all, I love the field trips. They help us understand learning 10 times more! They make learning really exciting and enjoyable. There is a lot of hands on learning so we can touch interesting animals and such. Field trips are especially exciting when we get to go to Barrier Island in the second grade, Washington D.C. in the fifth grade, and Costa Rice in eighth grade!

Next, I love my school because we do school plays. Everybody gets a change to have a main role and lines. I especially like the plays because they are based on what we’re learning in class. They especially help us remember all of the information we need to know. The plays are awesome!

Last but not least, I love my school because we have specials. The specials are P.E., art, music, Spanish, French, technology, and drama. We get to play cool and boisterous sports and games! In music we have concerts, drum battles, and do singing contests girls versus boys. P.E. and music are two of my favorite specials. That is the last reason why I love my school.

Now you know that I love my school because of the teachers, field trips, school plays, and specials. One day you should visit my school, Riverview Charter School.

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An Oasis of “We Can” and “What’s Next”

Four years ago, I found myself living in Kansas City, MO, pregnant, and teaching in a neighboring suburban school district. I felt an impending urgency to find a public elementary school where I would be pushed professionally and my future child would be given a high-quality education. And I didn’t want to move away from the city I had grown to love.

Reflecting on those days of urgent conversations surrounding the state of public education, my passion for providing a high quality public education that I desperately sought for my own child grew to include all of the children of my beloved Kansas City. In one of many conversations about where I would be sending my son/daughter to school, I heard about Crossroads Academy of Kansas City (CAKC), a charter school that was set to open the following school year.

Now as a kindergarten teacher at CAKC, I listen to incoming parents, many of whom had similar stories as mine. “Welcome to Crossroads Academy! How did you hear about us?” I ask. This simple question evokes passionate stories of how families have made the choice to send their scholar to start kindergarten in my classroom. Relief that they don’t have to move, or scramble to figure out how to pay for private school, or take a spot at a school where they do not have a belief that the school will provide the highest quality of education for their child. As I honestly respond, “Me too,” our bond to create a model of change in education is sparked. We are in this together, to show Kansas City that our children are scholars, can exceed any expectation that we set for them, will be raised to serve our community, and prove that the kids of Kansas City can!

We are three years into our mission at CAKC to become the premiere urban school serving Kansas City and as our waiting list grows, so does my passion and drive to serve the scholars who sit in my kindergarten class. My colleagues and I are given the professional freedom to create curriculum, assessments, and pacing guides that fit the needs of each individual class and child; we are encouraged to push forward with project based learning while partnering with the community; and to seek professional development to hone our craft.

To give you a brief look into the heart of what we are striving to accomplish, this spring our scholars were presented with information of an orphanage in Guatemala where one of the orphans had opened a bakery and was in need of many supplies to support his brothers and sisters. The kindergarten scholars decided they would hold a bake sale to raise money and set their goal at $800. When trying to give them an idea on how much that amount was, our Rosie the Riveter stood and passionately exclaimed with an arm raised, “WE CAN DO THIS!” They went on to raise over $1700.

In the age of naysayers concerning educational innovation, it’s refreshing to call a place like CAKC home. Crossroads is an oasis of reform. An oasis of “we can,” and “what’s next?”

Crossroads Academy of Kansas City

Kara Schumacher is a kindergarten teacher at Crossroads Academy of Kansas City.

Nora Kern

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CSP Funding Profile: Namaste Charter School

A Mission to Serve

Namaste Charter School was founded on the belief that healthy children are better learners. Its vision—to change the trajectory of underserved children’s lives—is enacted through holistic education for the children of Chicago’s South Side. Namaste’s daily health and wellness programs include 60 minutes of physical education and 20 minutes of recess, a ten-minute “Morning Movement” stretching and exercise routine set to music, and healthy breakfasts and lunches. Additionally, a peaceful school culture, collaborative practice, and respect of other languages and cultures are among the school’s core values. The public charter school operates on an extended school day and year, offers half of its classes as bilingual education (English and Spanish), and provides support for families through its Parent Center, so that teachers, staff, parents, and neighborhood leaders can work together to provide an exceptional academic environment.

From Vision to Reality: How CSP Funds Enabled Namaste to Open

The state of Illinois received a federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) State Education Agency (SEA) Grant in 2003. In December 2003, Illinois allocated funds from its CSP SEA Grant to award a pre-planning grant to Namaste Charter School prior to its authorization. Namaste used these funds to plan for the curriculum and structure of the school, as well as research the implementation of best practices.

Namaste opened in 2004 with just a kindergarten and first grade class, and has grown by one grade level each year to now serve K-8. For the first eight years of the school’s operation, Namaste had fixed asset costs for desks, furniture, books, computers, teacher professional development, and “everything under the sun” as founder Allison Slade described it. In addition, the school’s original building needed about $100,000 of renovations to the infrastructure—including building a kitchen, which was essential to provide the healthy meals that are a central part of the school model.

In 2006 Namaste received a second CSP grant, which was crucial to helping the charter school grow. The CSP funds were used to cover start-up costs, as well as seed money for the school library. The library resource center has been crucial for providing high-quality literacy instruction and increasing access to text for students and their families during the school day and on weekends. After three years of operation, Namaste outgrew its original building and needed to renovate a larger school space.

For its future, Namaste has invested in circulating its best practices nationwide instead of replicating the school. It received a $192,000 two-year CSP Dissemination Grant in 2012 from the U.S. Department of Education that helped launch the Learning the Namaste Way Institute, which has trained more than 80 school leaders during two- to three- day seminars that share holistic education best practices and provide ongoing support for implementing them in their own schools. For the future of all public charter schools, Ms. Slade believes that Congress can best support high-quality growth through access to facilities funding and protecting the autonomy that allows a charter school to nimbly allocate its resources to serve student needs.

Principal’s Office

During her career as a teacher, as a Teach for America corps member in Houston and then in the Chicago inner-city and suburbs, Ms. Slade never felt that she really found a place that matched her beliefs about education and had all of the elements in place to propel teachers, students, and families to their highest possible achievement. She was on a volleyball team with fellow educators, and they would discuss what the perfect school would look like. At the same time, Illinois raised the cap on the number of public charter schools allowed in Chicago. So Ms. Slade decided to pull together everything she had talked about with fellow educators, health professionals, and other experts, into a proposal for an innovative public charter school.

As Ms. Slade describes the resulting Namaste Charter School, “We pride ourselves on having this rigorous academic curricula that is tied together with health and wellness and a peaceful school culture. We not only implement that in our school, but now with the CSP funding, we also disseminate those best practices to other schools across the country.”

Heard in the Halls: Teacher and Student Perspectives

  • “What I enjoy teaching most at Namaste is that beyond our health and wellness initiative, I truly think that students, staff, parents are all pushed to be our best selves.”—Veronica Acuna, Special Education Manager 

  • “Seeing students just happy to come to school is a very rewarding thing. Parents come to us and say ‘we’re so lucky we found you. We are so happy that we got a lottery spot for Namaste.’”—Veronica Acuna

  • “I am proud to work at Namaste because I have the freedom to choose a curriculum that fits my students’ lives.”— Milli Salguero, middle school Social Studies

  • “Teachers feel really empowered here to implement what they think is most necessary for their students to achieve at high levels. Now, after three years of graduating classes, we have the great fortune to have our alumni return back and talk to us about how Namaste has impacted their lives.”—Allison Slade, Founder

  • “Really changing the trajectory of underserved children’s lives, which is Namaste’s vision, is a long-term prospect. That is not something you’re going to see after a year or two years. But after 11 years [of operation], we are far into really feeling some very powerful examples of that.” —Allison Slade, Founder

  • “I truly believe that charter schools are houses of innovation that can try things differently and teach public schools, and other schools, ways to do things more efficiently to get better results quicker. And really and truly here at Namaste, that’s what we’re trying to do.” —Allison Slade, Founder

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Operationalizing Systems to Build Better Boards

One of my favorite events of the year is the National Charter Schools Conference. Where and when else do thousands of charter school community members from across the country come together to learn, collaborate, and celebrate? This year’s conference will be especially awesome because it will be in New Orleans—a resilient and innovative city that epitomizes culture, music, and culinary genius. To accentuate the liveliness of the city, NCSC 2015 will kick off with a Mardi Gras welcome reception parade!

As a program committee member, I had the tough role of helping to shape the conference content. This was a challenging process and highly competitive, but the results include an excellent collection of sessions that will elevate the discourse about charter school governance. While the entire Governance line-up will offer thought-provoking and relevant information, I’m specifically thrilled for two sessions that I know I will attend.

In Paradise by the Dashboard Lights: How to Build and Use Academic Dashboards, Simmons Lettre and Carrie Irvin from Charter Board Partners and Susannah Staats from KIPP Foundation will share their unique insights on how to create academic dashboards and monitor progress from a high level. Board members and school leaders will use sample academic dashboards and role-playing to learn how boards can use dashboards effectively without stepping on school leaders’ toes.

In Beyond the Revolving Door: Institutionalizing Board Mindset, Jennifer Dauzvardis from Peak to Peak Charter School is going to make the case for why boards must create systems to manage knowledge over time. She realizes that maintaining quality governance requires institutionalized systems for developing board members, implementing effective governance practices, and interpreting board-level data. Participants in this session will explore strategies and identify solutions to promote appropriate board engagement and processes for board decision-making.

We are each on a journey towards continuous improvement. Just like the students we serve, we should invest in our development through learning opportunities such as NCSC 2015. I’m excited to see you in the Crescent City from June 21-24!

 

Makiyah Moody is the Governance Initiatives Director, Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and Co-Chair of the 2015 National Charter Schools Conference Program Committee

Susan Aud Pendergrass

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Why School Closures Matter

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has consistently believed that all schools should be held accountable for the performance of their students and any school that isn’t performing should be closed.

But closing a school can be difficult, and the impact of any closure ripples through the community and the lives of the students. Some question whether the disruption is worth it. In the traditional public school system, avoiding this disruption almost always carries the day and, in the rare event that a school is closed, it’s usually due to persistent dwindling enrollment. Fortunately, we have emerging research that sheds light on the effect of school closures on students who attended those schools.

The Fordham Institute has conducted a study that measures the achievement trends of nearly 23,000 students who attended one of 198 urban schools in Ohio, both traditional and public charter schools, that closed between 2006 and 2012. With the use of student-level longitudinal data provided by the Ohio Department of Education, the Fordham researchers were able to determine how the students from the closed schools fared after they were moved to a new school. The study found that school closures had a positive impact on students, with substantial learning gains three years after their schools closed. Students from the traditional public schools that closed achieved learning gains in both reading and math, and students from charter schools achieved learning gains in math.  

Operating under a limited amount of time – usually three to eight years – to meet performance targets is an integral part of the charter school equation and has been from the beginning. This study suggests that traditional public schools and their students would likely benefit from a similar approach.

 

Susan Aud Pendergrass is the Senior Director for Research and Evaluation at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Andrew Schantz

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5 Ways to Make This Year’s National Charter Schools Week the Best One Yet

We still have a few days to go before National Charter Schools Week kicks off, but there are plenty of things you can do to start the celebration early and get in the #CharterSchoolsWeek spirit!

  1. Change your profile picture to one of our official Charter Schools Week badges! Whether you’re a charter school parent, student, administrator, or advocate, we have a badge for you!
  2. Invite elected officials to your school. National Charter Schools Week is the perfect opportunity to show off the great things that are happening in your school. Use our guide to plan a visit for local, state, or federal elected officials. And be sure to let us know if you need any help setting one up by contacting us here.
  3. Tell us why you love charter schools! Print out a template, take a picture or video, and share it with us on social media using #CharterSchoolsWeek.
  4. Set a calendar reminder for Wednesday, May 6 from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET for the #CharterSchoolsWeek tweetup! We’ll be sharing some tweets that morning for you to use, but in the meantime, click here to get the conversation started.
  5. Know a charter school student who loves to write? Encourage them to submit an entry for the first-ever Charter Schools Week Student Essay Contest! Get the details and submit essays by Friday, May 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET by clicking here.

Lastly, are you planning an event for Charter Schools Week in your state or community? Be sure to let us know!

For all the latest news and updates, follow us on Twitter and like our page on Facebook.

Looking forward to celebrating with you next week!

 

Andrew Schantz is the digital communications and marketing manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.