The Charter Blog

 

Christy Wolfe

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Some Federal Implications of NACSA Quality Recommendations

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) released Replicating Quality: Policy Recommendations to Support the Replication and Growth of High-Performing Charter Schools and Networks in collaboration with the Charter School Growth Fund last week. This report lays out key policies and practices for legislators, authorizers, and state education agencies that have the greatest potential to accelerate the growth of high-performing charter schools. Although the report is focused on state policies, there are implications for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) and how it prioritizes funds to states. As we outline in our guiding principles for ESEA reauthorization, Free to Succeed, the National Alliance supports prioritizing federal funds for charter schools for states with laws that are best positioned to encourage quality charter schools. Unless ESEA is reauthorized and includes our recommendations before the next round of five year state CSP grants are awarded in FY 2015, the department should set priorities for the next competition that are effective in directing funds to states with strong charter school laws.  Several of NACSA’s policy recommendations are well-aligned with our recommendations for state law priorities for the Charter Schools Program including:
  • Independent Charter Boards:  To ensure authorizers are committed to quality (NACSA Policy Recommendation #2), NACSA advocates that states adopt  the National Alliance’s Model Law recommendation for creating at least one statewide authorizing entity.  Federal law already encourages states to create a statewide authorizer, so this would be a plus for applicants in the grant competition process.
  • Remove caps on growth: To allow quality charters to grow, states should remove caps from their laws (NACSA Policy Recommendation #3). Charter caps limit replication of proven, quality charter schools. In Free to Succeed we call for a funding priority to be given to states with charter laws that allow for high-quality school growth without artificial caps.
  • Differentiated renewal processes:  NACSA recommends differentiating and streamlining the renewal process for high-performing charters (NACSA Policy Recommendation #5). For example, Texas and Delaware offer ten-year reviews for their highest-performing charter schools. Federal law, however, prioritizes states that review all charters at least every five years. The next grant competition should not penalize states that have developed a more nuanced renewal process that supports high-quality charters.
NACSA’s report also underscores that creating high-quality charter schools is not as simple as coming up with a federal definition of quality. It takes a comprehensive effort to develop the essential policies and practices at the state, authorizer, and school level.  Federal priorities for state grants should recognize state, authorizer, and school-driven efforts to implement these important strategies. Christy Wolfe is senior policy advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nora Kern, senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, also contributed to this blog post.
Renita Thukral

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Weighted Lotteries: Bringing Federal Rules in Line with State Charter School Laws

For years, charter schools across the country have been trying to give preferences to underserved students in their lotteries, only to find themselves barred from federal funding by the Department of Education. In an issue brief published in May 2012, titled “A Mission to Serve: How Public Charter Schools Are Designed to Meet the Diverse Demands of Our Communities,”the National Alliance identified this federal barrier as a major obstacle for the charter school community and urged the department to reconsider its position. Now, they have. On January 29th, the department released new non-regulatory guidance permitting the targeted use of weighted lotteries. Randomized lotteries still will be used to enroll students on waitlists;, however, a slight preference may be given to certain groups of students – for instance, students with special needs, those who are low-income, homeless or neglected, or those who are learning English.  The updated guidance establishes that a charter school may give a slightly better chance of admission to these educationally disadvantaged students and still be eligible for federal dollars. The department is not requiring, encouraging, or discouraging schools to use weighted lotteries; this new guidance simply offers charter schools an additional tool to better serve these students. The use of weighted lotteries remains completely voluntary. So, what does this mean for a school interested in conducting weighted lotteries?  The impact of the new guidance will hinge on state law. Specifically, according to the revised language, a charter school may use a weighted lottery only if such lottery is permitted under state law. The guidance details several ways in which state law may articulate such permission:  either expressly in statute, policy or regulation, or in a written opinion by the state attorney general. Moreover, if state law provides permission, additional criteria must be satisfied in order for the Department to sign off on a grantee’s eligibility to receive federal dollars. Such additional criteria include whether there is an oversight entity (such as an authorizer) monitoring the use of weighted lotteries, whether such lotteries serve the approved mission of the school, and whether the weights assigned through the lottery are reasonable. This new guidance brings the federal government in line with existing state statutes and policies and offers another tool to charter schools to enroll a greater number of educationally disadvantaged students. Renita Thukral is the vice president of legal affairs at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

Research shows NYC public charter schools have lower student transfer rates

The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) released a study last month that examined whether students transfer out of charter schools at higher rates than traditional public schools. This issue is important because researchers have found that changing schools can affect student achievement, and it may be a contributor to the achievement gap for minority and disadvantaged students who change schools frequently. For the study, IBO monitored a cohort of students starting kindergarten in 2008 at 53 charter schools and 116 traditional public schools, and followed these students through their third grade year. The study found that on average, students attending public charter schools stay enrolled in the same school at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools. Specifically:
  • About 70 percent of students attending charter schools in school year 2008-2009 remained in the same school three years later.
  • 61 percent of the traditional school student cohort attended the same school three years later.
  • Charter schools continued to show a higher retention rate when students are compared by gender, race/ethnicity, poverty level, and English language learner status.
The one exception is special education students, who transfer from charter schools at a higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools. While we don’t know why these students are leaving charter schools and there were very few special needs students in the study, we are concerned by this finding. To continue work on this issue, the National Alliance is working closely with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools to help charter schools better serve students with special needs. The study further found that—regardless of school type—students who remained in the same school from kindergarten through third grade scored higher on standardized math and reading tests in third grade than their peers who switched schools. This is an important policy issue for New York City as Mayor de Blasio considers ending co-location and facility funding for public charter schools. If charter schools are financially forced out of operation and students have to transfer to a different school, research shows that their students, especially those who are most disadvantaged, will suffer. Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  
Nick Fickler

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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.  

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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.  

Share 

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Googleplus Email

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.