The Charter Blog

 

Nick Fickler

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News
  • “Why the GOP Should Get On Board With Preschool,” op-ed by Nina Rees (President & CEO), U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 3
  • “Preferential treatment: Fed eases rules to admit disadvantaged students through lotteries,” Nina quoted, Watchdog, Feb. 3
  • “Threshold staff, students celebrate school choice,” National Alliance mentioned, Ionia Sentinel-Standard, Feb. 4
News to Know
  • “Charging Rent for New York Charters Hits Wrinkle,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 7
  • “Editorial: A Bad Deal for D.C. Charter Schools,” Washington Post, Feb. 6
  • “Charter School Inequality,” Houston Chronicle, Feb. 5
  • “De Blasio Says He Won’t Allow Co-Locations for Charter Schools,” New York Post, Feb. 4
  • “Washington State Approves Its First Batch of Charter Schools,” Education Week, Feb. 3
  Audience Favorites Facebook— Can attending a charter high school help you go to college and make more money? Our latest blog post has the answer Twitter—Study: #charterschool students earn more than traditional public school peers cc: @MathPolResearch bit.ly/1k7I16f  You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.  

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Using Charter Schools to Strengthen Rural Education

Bellwether recently released a new report on the promise of charter schooling in rural America—and the very real challenges facing it. The paper is part the ROCI initiative, a two-year project on rural education reform funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. We went into this project knowing relatively little about rural charters. It turns out that this is partially because there are so few of them. There are a mere 785 rural charter schools, and only 111 of them are in the most remote rural areas. High-performing charter schools have accomplished great things for many inner-city kids, so we wondered whether they could do the same in rural areas. The need is great. There are 11 million students in rural public schools, and kids in rural America are more likely than their peers in any other geography to live in poverty. Only 27 percent of rural high school graduates go on to college, and just one in five rural adults has earned a bachelor’s degree. But bringing public charter schools to these communities is knottier than we imagined. First, “rural” defies a simple definition. As one scholar put it, the term includes “hollows in the Appalachian Mountains, former sharecroppers’ shacks in the Mississippi Delta, desolate Indian reservations on the Great Plains, and emerging colonia along the Rio Grande.”  What is good for one rural community may not be for another. Second, since many rural areas are isolated and sparsely populated, a new schools strategy faces numerous obstacles, such as enrolling enough students, acquiring facilities, and recruiting teachers and administrators. Third, it’s often the case that a rural district-run school is the largest employer in the area, the hub of local activities, and one of the few visible public investments for miles. As a result, the existing district school is woven tightly into the community’s fabric. New charter schools are often seen through narrowed eyes. But our research also gave us reason for encouragement. There are numerous examples of successful rural charters, from KIPP’s cluster in the Mississippi Delta to the Upper Carmen Charter School in Idaho. There have been heartening instances where charter schools enabled a community—threatened by a consolidation effort—to maintain a local school, preserving the community and its heritage. The paper is sprinkled with facts that we found fascinating, often surprising, and occasionally frustrating.
  • Very few charter management organizations (CMOs) operate in rural areas.
  • Of the nation’s 10 most rural states, 7 have no charter law.
  • States without one of the nation’s 50 largest cities are more likely to lack a charter school law, and, when they do have one, it’s more likely to be rated poorly by both the National Alliance and Center for Education Reform.
  • Some state charter schools laws have provisions that make starting a rural charter nearly impossible or prohibited.
  • Rural charter schools get substantially less funding than district-run schools and face high costs related to transportation and buildings. 
The report makes a number of recommendations related to teacher preparation and certification, technology, charter caps, funding, and transportation. There are clearly a number of policies that states ought to revisit. But a big takeaway from this project is that better policy alone won’t expand the public school options available to rural kids. Charter school advocates need to better understand rural communities, their strengths, and their challenges. And given the differences among rural communities, different approaches are going to be needed for deciding if, when, where, and how a new charter school should emerge. Andy Smarick is a partner at Bellwhether Education Partners and author of A New Frontier, Using Charter Schooling to Strengthen Rural Education.  Juliet Squire is an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners. Click here to view the National Alliance’s recent video, The Story of Rural Charter Schools.
Todd Ziebarth

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Major takeaways from our 2014 rankings of state charter school laws

We recently released the fifth annual edition of Measuring Up to the Model: A Ranking of State Public Charter School Laws. This report evaluates, scores, and ranks each of the country’s 43 state charter school laws against the 20 essential components from the National Alliance model law. Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 5.12.43 PMOver the past few years, there has been significant activity in state capitols to improve public charter school laws, and 2013 was no exception. Governors and legislators from coast to coast worked to lift caps that are constraining growth, enhance quality controls to better encourage the opening of great schools, and provide additional funding to decrease the equity gap between public charter school students and their counterparts in traditional public schools. All of this work was done with one simple goal in mind: create more high-quality public charter schools to meet surging parental demand. Given all of the state legislative activity across the country, there were several notable moves within our rankings this year. Here are the major takeaways:
  • Minnesota remained #1, but just barely.
  • Indiana moved up seven spots from #9 to #2 because it enacted legislation that strengthened charter renewal processes, created statutory guidelines for relationships between charter schools and educational service providers, and created statutory guidelines to govern the expansion of high-quality charter schools through multi-school charter contracts.
  • Mississippi moved up 29 spots from #43 to #14, the largest jump in rankings in the five years we have been producing this report. Mississippi enacted a significant overhaul of its charter school law in 2013. Under its previous charter school law, the state allowed only up to 12 chronically low-performing schools to convert to charter status; provided weak autonomy, accountability, and funding; and required applicants to apply to the state board of education. Under its new charter school law, the state allows up to 15 start-ups and conversions per year; provided strong autonomy, accountability, and operational and categorical funding; and created a new state authorizer to be the state’s sole authorizing entity.
  • Idaho moved up 12 spots from #32 to #20, the second largest jump in the 2014 rankings. Idaho enacted two major pieces of charter school legislation in 2013. The first expanded the types of entities that can serve as authorizers, created performance frameworks as part of charter contracts, and created charter renewal processes. The second provided facilities funding.
  • Nevada moved up nine spots from #22 to #13. Nevada enacted two major pieces of charter school legislation in 2013. The first created performance frameworks as part of charter contracts, strengthened the application and renewal processes, and provided for stronger authorizer accountability. The second provided facilities support.
  • States with weak or no charter laws are basing new legislation on the experiences of states with stronger laws, while states that fell in the rankings did so because other states enacted stronger laws. These changes represent progress for the movement.
  • Despite significant improvements in several states in 2013, our highest-scoring state only received 75 percent of the total points, meaning there is still much work to do to improve policies for charters, especially in the areas of operational and capital funding equity.
Look for a new annual report from us about the health of the public charter school sector in each state later this year. This report, meant to be a companion to our annual state charter school laws rankings report, will analyze the impact of charter laws by looking at growth, innovation, and quality with the public charter school sector in each state. In the meantime, we hope that the most recent edition of the state charter school laws rankings report will be used by charter advocates to help push for laws that support the creation of high-quality public charter schools, particularly for those students most in need of a better public school option. Todd Ziebarth is senior vice president of state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  
Nora Kern

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Can attending a charter high school help you go to college and earn more money?

A new working paper released by Mathematica Policy Research and sponsored by the Joyce Foundation finds that public charter schools in Florida and Chicago are helping more students get into college and earn higher incomes once they graduate. Compared to their traditional school peers, the study found:
  • Enrolling in a charter high school increases a student’s probability of graduating from high school and entering college by 11 percentage points in Florida and by seven in Chicago.
  • Enrollment in a Florida charter high school leads to a 10 percentage point increase in the probability of attending college.
  • Chicago charter schools boost their students’ chances of attending college by 11 percentage points.
  • Florida charter high school graduates have a 13 percentage point advantage for completing at least two consecutive years of college.
  • Florida charter high schools may raise their students’ earnings in their mid-20s by as much as 12.7 percent. 

College Attendance Graph

Source: Kevin Booker, Brian Gill, Tim Sass, and Ron Zimmre,Charter High Schools’ Effects on Educational Attainment and Earnings, Mathematica Policy Research, January 2014. This report is particularly compelling when you consider the methodology. Most charter school studies use a lottery admission strategy, one that compares students who enrolled in an oversubscribed charter school lottery and either won admission to the charter or enrolled in a traditional public school. This Mathematica study, however, looks at students who were enrolled in charter schools in 8th grade, and either enrolled in a charter or switched to a traditional public school for high school. Therefore all the students had previously shown the disposition to enroll in a charter school. The study further controlled for student characteristics such as test scores, race/ethnicity, poverty, mobility, and special education status. While this report’s methodology is rigorous, it still doesn’t answer the “secret sauce” question of what these public charter schools are doing to achieve these great results for their students’ long-term outcomes and acknowledged the need for further research. But regardless of further research, it’s clear that public charter school students in Chicago and Florida are seeing significant academic results that are helping them well beyond their K-12 years.   Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Russ Simnick

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National Report Shows Need for Education Reform in Oklahoma: Charter Schools in Capital City Provide Model for Rest of State

As the Oklahoma General Assembly convenes this week, it will have a lot of issues on its plate. Always important is the issue of education. Though there are bright spots, such as Oklahoma City charter schools, statewide academic performance is lagging the nation. A recent Education Week report reveals that Oklahoma eighth grade students ranking “advanced” in math measures on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test was just 3.7 percent, less than half the national average. And fewer than 14 percent of Oklahoma students who took advanced placement tests achieved a high score, which is also about half the national average. Additional student performance measures on the NAEP math assessments paint a similarly bleak picture. For fourth graders, only 36.4 percent scored proficient in math and fewer than 30 percent hit proficiency in reading. Among eighth graders, one quarter of students were proficient in math, and 28.7 percent in reading. Again, these rank far below the national averages. However, there was also some positive education news to come out of Oklahoma this month. In an article in the Oklahoman, “Charter Schools Make their Mark on OKC District,” Tim Willert writes that Oklahoma’s small charter school movement is making an impact for kids in the capital city. On the state’s A-F grading metrics, five of the district’s 13 public charter schools received an “A” designation, and three received a “B.” That is more than 60 percent of charter schools in Oklahoma City receiving either of the top two rankings. For the non-charter schools in that district, more than 63 percent schools in the Oklahoma City district schools scored either a “D” or “F,” with only slightly more than 20 percent scoring an “A” or “B.” Fortunately, rather than seeing these rankings as something to divide charter and non-charter schools, traditional district schools have started to embrace public charter schools as a collaborative partner. Willert notes an interest from interim superintendent Dave Lopez to bring “best practices” from Oklahoma City’s charters to the rest of the district. Strong charter school academic performance and charter-district collaboration are changing lives in Oklahoma City and it is exciting to see families access these innovative educational options for their children. However, parents outside of the urban centers in Oklahoma do not have this choice, as state law restricts charter schools (with very few exceptions) to Oklahoma City and Tulsa. As the Education Week report demonstrates, improvement in Oklahoma’s education system is not just a big city issue, but a statewide priority. We know that charter schools are a key part of the solution. With high demand and demonstrated success for charter schools, there has never been a better time for policymakers to lift the restrictions that keep charters confined to the cities and let this proven model be accessible for all of Oklahoma’s students and families. Russ Simnick is senior director of state advocacy for the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. 
Nora Kern

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Reason #5: Charter schools are innovating to improve student achievement

Innovation GraphicCharter schools are public schools that are given the freedom to innovate while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. They create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are allowed to innovate in the classroom, and students are provided the structure they need to learn. Across the country, public charter schools are leading in innovation by:
  • Transforming teacher development. California charter school network High Tech High has created a one-year hybrid program designed to support teams of educators from around the world in transforming their schools. This type of collaboration allows teachers to learn and share best practices with others.  High Tech High also runs a certified Master’s Programs in Teacher Leadership and School Leadership. Through these efforts, High Tech High is working to ensure every student in their schools has the opportunity to learn from a highly-effective teacher.
  • Piloting blended learning educational models. Like many charter schools across the country, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a charter management organization based in Los Angeles, California, has implemented a blended learning model to help integrate technology in the classroom. Their program, called Blended Learning for Alliance School Transformation (BLAST) makes learning more relevant, personalized, and dynamic. The model was piloted in 2010-11 at two Alliance high schools and has since expanded to five high schools and five middle schools.
  • Partnering with community groups to provide needed health services. Students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, may not always have access to the health services they need to help them succeed in school. Codman Academy Charter Public School in Massachusetts shares facilities with Codman Square Health Center, allowing not just sharing of space, but also of resources. The charter school and health center formed a partnership program to holistically address students’ physical and mental health needs along with academics.
Members of the charter school community—including parents, teachers, and school leaders—know firsthand the importance of flexibility for schools to make decisions about curriculum, staffing, and other issues. This freedom allows these educators to lead their schools and students to even greater levels of academic achievement. This blog is the fifth in a series called “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools are Great” to celebrate School Choice Week. To read the other posts in the series, visit The Charter Blog here. Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  

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Media Round Up

NAPCS in the News

  • “School Choice Should Be a Fundamental Right,” op-ed by Nina Rees (President & CEO), U.S. News & World Report, Jan. 28
  • “Minnesota ranked first in charter school report,” National Alliance Mentioned, Budgeteer, Jan. 29
  • “President Obama’s education comments: A little something for everyone?” Nina quoted, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 29
  • “Harkin’s 2014 priorities – Charters freed up for federal cash – CEOs call for E-Rate capital,” Nina quoted, Politico, Jan. 30

News to Know

  • “Two New Charter Networks Win Endorsement to Operate in Camden,” NJ Spotlight, Jan. 31
  • “South Carolina, Nevada Note Charter Law Rankings,” Beaufort Gazette, Jan. 30
  • “Minnesota Clings onto Top Spot in National Alliance Charter Law Rankings; Ind., Miss. Rise,” Education Week, Jan. 29
  • “Six Charter Proposals Likely to Be Approved in Washington State,” Columbian, Jan. 28
  • “National School Choice Week Aims to Spread Awareness,” Education Week, Jan. 27

Audience Favorites

Facebook— Charter schools are closing the achievement gap and making the difference for students and families. LIKE and SHARE to spread the word! Twitter—#Charterschool students attend college at higher rates. Read blog series 5 Reasons Public Charter Schools Are Great. http://bit.ly/1jFSQML You can stay up to date on all the developments in the public charter school sector by subscribing to our regular news updates…Sign up here.
Renita Thukral

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Reason #4: Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools, open to anyone.

NACPS_fb_v2-05Charter schools are open-enrollment, tuition-free, public schools. Any student can attend a public charter school and typically there are no admissions requirements. In addition, public charter schools must serve all students who seek to attend (provided there are available seats). Under the law, public charter schools cannot discriminate, and state and federal civil rights laws apply to every public charter school in the country. If more students wish to enroll in public charter schools than the schools can accommodate, the school must hold an admissions lottery.  These admission lotteries are random—everyone has an equal chance of being selected. But some charter schools are created with a mission to serve a special blend of students. Just yesterday, the United States Department of Education released new guidance allowing public charter schools to give preference in enrollment lotteries to students who are low-income, have special education needs, are neglected or homeless, or may be learning English. This new guidance gives charter schools another tool to ensure high-quality options are available to educate more of our country’s most underserved families and students. Unlike traditional district schools, no student is ever assigned to a charter schools.  Instead, families and students choose to attend public charter schools. As schools of choice, charter schools compete with other schools to fill their seats and receive funding only for the students who enroll.  As a result, the pressure is on schools to offer unique, innovating teaching models in order to attract and retain students. Public charter schools are held to the same academic standards, established by state law, as all other public schools. And, notably, unlike traditional public schools, public charter schools can be—and sometimes are—shut down for failing to meet state academic standards. Simply put, failing charter schools are not permitted to continue operating. All children deserve access to high-quality public schools. For families who need options, public charter schools are here to serve students of every type. This blog is the fourth in a series called “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools are Great” to celebrate School Choice Week. To read the other posts in the series, visit The Charter Blog here. Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Gina Mahony

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Reason #3: Public charter schools are collaborating with district schools to raise the bar for ALL students

One of the valuable things about public charter schools is their ability to innovate. With the flexibility they are given, public charter schools are able to explore new teaching methods or customize curriculum to help students succeed. As charter schools develop these best practices, they should be shared with the traditional public schools so that all students benefit. Over the past several years, we’ve seen increased collaboration between public charter schools and traditional public schools that empowers teachers, parents, students, and communities. Collaboration can take shape in many forms, such as joint professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders or shared purchasing agreements. But in recent years, these efforts have been more formalized, with leaders joining together to provide parents with more educational choices and improve all public schools. Here are a few examples: These communities are leading the way toward a better public education system that serves the needs of all students. By working together, public charter schools and district schools can help raise the bar in our nation’s schools. This blog is the third in a series called “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools are Great” to celebrate School Choice Week. To read the other posts in the series, visit The Charter Blog here Gina Mahony is senior vice president for government affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Lisa Grover

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Reason # 2: Public charter schools are helping more students attend college

reason2Charter schools are great because they are helping a growing number of low-income students beat the odds. Nationally, only 12 % of low income high school graduates go on to earn a four-year college degree. Yet a small but emerging body of research proves that enrolling in a public charter schools can increase a student’s chance of graduating from both high school and college. Public charter schools such as the SEED school in Washington, D.C., the Charles A. Tindley School in Indianapolis, Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, and ASPIRE Public Schools in California and Tennessee, all boast close to 100% college acceptance rates and a college graduation rate higher than 80%. It’s powerful stuff, especially when considering that the national high school drop-out rate for African-American males remains just above 50 percent. In these high-performing charter schools, the road to college is more than just an expectation–it’s a large part of the schools’ culture and everyday practice:
  • Beginning in sixth grade, students in YES Prep Schools in Houston and Memphis go on annual college tours and all seniors are required to apply to at least eight four-year colleges by mid-November.
  • Dallas’ Uplift Education Charter School, uses a “Road to College Team” to take scholars on college field trips, help them with college applications, make sure parents understand all their financial options, and even provide graduates with support while they are in college.
  • Boston-based Match Education incorporates a tutoring program to help ensure that students do not have to take remedial math courses once in college, particularly because such courses cost money and carry no credits, which can be particularly burdensome for low-income families. Match’s 54% college completion rate of low-income and minority graduates has captured the attention of some traditional school districts, like Chicago Public School, which now partners with Match to borrow its tutoring program.
These high performing charter schools change lives, and are just few examples of why charter schools are great, for students, for families, and for the country. This blog is post is the second in a five part series, “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools Are Great” to help celebrate School Choice Week. To see the first entry on how charter schools are helping to close the achievement gap, click here. Lisa Grover is senior director of state advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.