The Charter Blog

 

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.

Lisa Grover

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Will This Be the Year? Efforts to Strengthen New Jersey Charter School Law Underway

The time has come to update New Jersey’s charter school law. Currently ranked #29 out of 43 in our annual state charter laws rankings report, the law needs improvement in several areas, including expanding authorizer options, increasing operational autonomy, ensuring equitable funding, and strengthening charter contract requirements. Attempts to change the law over the years have been thwarted by the usual politics. However, strong momentum for a comprehensive overhaul appears to be building this legislative session.

Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton recently unveiled his much-anticipated bill to overhaul the Garden State’s charter school law. The bill contains provisions to establish an independent charter board, provide more flexibility to public charter schools, enhance the charter school application process, and grant first-refusal rights to charter schools for surplus public property. Already the bill is generating considerable discussion from both supporters and opponents of public charter schools. Some local district supporters believe the bill goes too far in expanding public policy support of charter schools and have said they will fight bill.

Senate Education Committee Chair Teresa Ruiz also sees the need to modernize the charter law and has pre-filed two charter school bills. The first bill proposes to align charter school enrollment and demographic patterns with those in the charter school’s district of residence. While Assemblyman Singleton’s bill encourages charter schools to follow the same demographic patterns of the districts they serve, it does not have explicit requirements for them to do so.  The second bill would establish university authorizers instead of an independent charter commission, as called for Assemblyman Singleton’s bill. Both the Senate and Assembly bills increase authorizer accountability and mandate that authorizer practices align with nationally-recognized best practices.

Considerable support for and opposition to all of these bills is expected. However, with the gubernatorial and legislative elections behind us, and the case for updating the charter law clearly stated, charter school supporters are hoping that this is the year to revamp New Jersey’s 19-year-old charter law.

Lisa Grover is senior director for state advocacy for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern

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Reason #1: Public charter schools are closing the achievement gap

The start of School Choice Week is a great time to reflect on the National Alliance’s core belief: that all families deserve access to high-quality public school options. National demographic data show that public charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds than traditional public schools. On average, these students don’t perform as well as white and more affluent students. But public charter schools are starting to change that.

A 2013 national CREDO study looked at charter schools in 27 states through the 2010-2011 school year, covering 95 percent of students attending charter schools across the country. The study found that students in public charter schools are outperformingtheir traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average seven days of learning per year, and performing as well as students in traditional public schools in math. The results were particularly impressive for students from specific demographic backgrounds—such as English Language Learners and minority students.

These results are a great start to closing the achievement gap; however, there are still families that don’t have access to a great public school. The National Alliance will continue our work to grow the number of high-quality charter schools available to all families, especially those who do not have access to high-quality public schools.

This blog is post is the first in a five part series, 
“5 Reasons Public Charter Schools Are Great” to help celebrate School Choice Week. 

Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Media Round Up

National Alliance in the News

  • “The Charter School Tipping Point,” National Alliance mentioned, Voice of San Diego, Jan. 21

News to Know

  • “Spokane Approves Washington State’s First Charter School,” Spokesman-Review, Jan. 24
  • “Washington State Poised for First Public Charter School,” KREM, Jan. 23
  • “New Jersey Bill Would Revise Charter School Law,” NJ Spotlight, Jan. 22
  • “Chicago Needs More High-Quality Charter Schools,” Chicago Tribune, Jan. 21

Audience Favorites

Facebook— Chicago Tribune makes the case for more public charters schools:

“Parents don’t want to have to ‘negotiate the system.’ They don’t want to languish on waiting lists. They want access to more innovative schools. They want more charter schools. There aren’t enough of them in Chicago.”

Twitter— @charteralliance “Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr. #MLKDay2014

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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A Legal Question for Charter Schools: Can We Operate a Single-Gender Charter School in Delaware?

In early January, a federal district court in Delaware was asked to consider a very tricky question: would closing an academically failing all-girls charter school (as the school’s authorizer recommended) violate the federal constitutional ban against gender discrimination? The all-girls school argued it would; the state of Delaware argued it would not and emphasized the state’s authority and obligation to close failing charter schools. The court sided with the school. As a result, the academically failing all-girls charter school will continue to operate for an additional year.

This feels like an odd result: A court permits a failing school to continue operating, even though the school’s authorizer says it needs to close. What’s going on?

The federal constitution and Title IX require boys and girls to have substantially equivalent access to educational opportunities. Right now, there is an all-boys charter school operating in Delaware. It performs well and continues to be renewed. The failing all-girls charter school in question is the state’s only all-girls charter school.  If it is closed, no equivalent educational option would exist for Delaware girls.  Further complicating matters, new single-gender charter schools cannot open in Delaware because the statutory provision permitting such schools sunset on June 30, 2013.

Taken together, the court determined that closing the only all-girls charter school combined with the state’s statutory ban against opening a new all-girls charter school would indefinitely prevent Delaware girls from accessing a substantially equivalent education, as is required under binding Supreme Court precedent interpreting Title IX in this context (established in 1995 in United States v. Virginia). Even though this means Delaware girls may continue choosing and attending a failing school for another year, the federal district court felt its hands were tied.