National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Mon, 31 Aug 2015 14:46:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Test results support Achievement School District’s approach Wed, 12 Aug 2015 15:52:48 +0000 The following op-ed from National Alliance President and CEO Nina Rees first appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal

When Tennessee lawmakers created the Achievement School District (ASD) three years ago, they had a clear vision of what they wanted the new statewide district to achieve, but no guarantee of success.

The goal was to take some of Tennessee’s Priority schools — those in the bottom 5 percent of achievement — and turn them around so they would reach the top 25 percent of schools.

Today we know that the ASD is succeeding, lifting schools and students at a faster pace than in other districts across the state. Policymakers in Tennessee should build on this success, while other states should look to replicate the formula the ASD is using to help children achieve.

A lot of the ASD’s success is rooted in leadership. Chris Barbic, a former charter school founder, was hired as superintendent of the ASD, and he relied heavily on high-quality charter networks to bring rapid improvement to ASD schools. The strategy is working.

Students in ASD elementary and middle schools had greater gains in math and science than their peers in district schools statewide. The district’s neighborhood-based high schools also delivered an impressive performance, improving in every subject and outpacing other schools statewide in a remarkable five out of six subjects, including posting double-digit gains in algebra and English.

Like the rest of the state, ASD’s reading scores are lagging, evidence that there’s still plenty of work to do.

Charter schools have been able to drive rapid improvement because teachers and school leaders can adapt quickly to what is happening in their classrooms. If a teaching method or curriculum is working, it gets expanded; if it is not, it is replaced by something else. While change is slow and cumbersome in district-run schools, the ASD and its charter schools can continue trying new ways to help students until they get it right.

Such trial-and-error tactics can take time to be effective. Barbic and other charter leaders will be the first to admit that creating a statewide portfolio of turnaround schools and changing the way schools are run isn’t a quick and easy fix. It’s tough work, and some school leaders won’t succeed.

But this, too, is a benefit of charter schools: When unsuccessful school leaders don’t get the job done, they can be replaced. Students don’t have to suffer while adults argue over contract provisions.

After launching the ASD so successfully, Barbic recently announced that he will be leaving the district at the end of the year. The next group of ASD leaders — supported by state officials — should build on what Barbic set in motion. And with evidence of the ASD’s success, we should try to replicate it in other places.

Nevada is in the process of setting up a statewide improvement district right now, and several other states are investigating whether a similar structure would work for them. States considering the ASD turnaround model should move forward with a clear understanding that progress won’t come easily.

But with patience, persistence and the power to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, charter schools can help deliver the boost in learning and achievement that so many students desperately need.

Nina Rees is the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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Charter Schools in Tennessee’s Achievement School District Show Top Growth on State Assessment Wed, 12 Aug 2015 13:06:09 +0000 The Achievement School District (ASD) is a statewide school district that was conceptualized four years ago to move schools performing at the bottom five percent (“Priority schools”) in Tennessee to the top 25 percent within five years. The ASD relies heavily on public charter school autonomies and operators as a reform tool. And the original schools that joined the ASD are showing great progress towards this audacious reform goal: 2014-15 test results show that schools in their second and third years in the ASD earned the state’s highest possible growth rating (averaging a Level 5) on the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAS).

Other great news from the ASD 2014-15 test results include:

ASD Results

Source: Achievement School District

The results show that the longer students stay in the ASD, the greater they improve. ASD Superintendent Chris Barbic notes, “As we move forward, we will continue to monitor progress, hold our school operators accountable for results, and expand what works.” At the start of the 2015-16 school year, 29 ASD public schools in Memphis and Nashville will be serving over 10,000 students zoned to Priority schools.

Public charter school supporters have the opportunity to visit Nashville, Tennessee next year for our National Charter School Conference. Please save the date—June 26-29, 2016.

Nora Kern is the Senior Manager for Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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The Aftermath Series: A Turnaround Model Tue, 11 Aug 2015 13:07:11 +0000 In the midst of national and statewide education reform efforts, K-12 education is coming to the forefront as a national issue. Though reform is sometimes a frustratingly slow process, one thing is for certain: New Orleans is getting it right.

Resulting from the creation of the Recovery School District (RSD) and devastation of Hurricane Katrina, some of the worst-performing schools in New Orleans rebuilt as charter schools. This allowed for more authorizer oversight but gave principals and teachers autonomy in exchange for successful results—which ultimately led to the improvements in the New Orleans school system. Over the past decade, graduation rates have risen and the achievement gap soon nearly disappeared.

In a recent article written by National Alliance president and CEO, Nina Rees, New Orleans is acknowledged as a model for turnaround school districts, and three key lessons are outlined:

  1. School-level autonomy should be offered to all schools. Lawmakers should consider the bigger picture by focusing on repairing entire districts versus single schools. Like New Orleans, other districts can use charter schools as a reform tool by giving power to principals and teachers to construct school curricula and cultures that best fit their students’ needs.
  2. Engage and empower community leaders to help solve the problem. The “It takes a village” concept can also be applied to education reform. Schools need a way to connect with and enlist the help of existing resources through community groups and leaders that can provide services such as extracurricular activities and after-school care, so that schools can have a laser focus on the academic needs of their students.
  3. Fund the interventions. Like any institutional turnaround, schools reform is going to take funding—and a lot of it. In order for us to be serious about education reform, it is important that we invest in the best techniques, teachers, and training for our schools so that our children are well-equipped to be leaders of our nation.

New Orleans’ school system has become a model for success for all school districts. Increasing  school-level autonomy helped the district to rebuild itself into one of vast improvements. While school reform tactics are not one-size-fits-all, it is important that we begin with a model that has consistently proven results.

To read Nina’s full article and find out more about Louisiana’s success with the turnaround district, click here.

Recovery School District

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Diversity in Charter School Models Mon, 10 Aug 2015 16:03:59 +0000 A recent report by AEI, Measuring Diversity in Charter School Offerings, examines the type of instructional model used by 1,151 public charter schools in 17 U.S. cities to see what the available options are for families interested in public schools of choice. Using the National Alliance’s Data Dashboard to identify every charter school in their target cities, the researchers then scoured each school’s website and coded information about its pedagogy (e.g. “no excuses,” online, or single-sex learning) and content (e.g. STEM, arts, or vocational) emphasis. Overall, the report found an almost even split between “specialized” and “general” public charter schools—those without a particular pedagogy or curriculum. A foundational idea behind the public charter school movement is to give charter schools the autonomy to be innovative, and the amount of specialized schools suggests that this idea is being implemented.  

In terms of the specialized schools, the most common models were no excuses (“generally used to describe schools that have strict discipline systems and high expectations for student behavior,” according to the AEI report) and progressive (including “project- and inquiry-based,” and “child-centered” learning) schools.  The authors analyzed each city and found that demographics, the charter school enrollment share, and the number and type of authorizers contributed to differences in the educational offerings. For example, the researchers postulate that, “academic achievement is often the primary concern for low-income communities; thus, there are more no-excuses and STEM schools in poorer communities,” because they are tested and trusted methods.

In 2012, the National Alliance conducted a nationwide survey of charter schools to learn more about their instructional models, among other information. Our survey found that more than half (58 percent) of respondents categorized their school as “college prep,” with STEM, community service, and arts-focused schools comprising the most common secondary categories also selected by “college prep” school leaders.

Data on instructional public charter school models are difficult to collect. We appreciate AEI’s report which helps to pull back the curtain on public charter school instructional strategies.

Nora Kern is the Senior Manager for Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Diversity in Charter School Models

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Politico Showcases DC’s Thriving Charter School Movement Fri, 07 Aug 2015 13:00:02 +0000 When the National Alliance determined last fall that Washington, DC, has America’s strongest charter school movement, many people were shocked. For decades, education in the nation’s capital was a national disgrace, with high dropout rates, low achievement scores, and little hope. Yet charter schools helped to launch an education revolution in the District, and a recent Politico magazine profile of DC’s charter movement is showing how that revolution came about.

As it turns out, the secret sauce isn’t very secret at all. DC charters are thriving thanks to a combination of strong local leadership, excellent authorizing and oversight, and a plethora of school models, including schools run by high-performing national CMOs such as KIPP and local start-ups like the Thurgood Marshall Academy. As a result of the hard work put in by educators, policymakers, students, and parents, DC now has one of the  highest charter school enrollment rates in the nation (44 percent), rising achievement scores, higher graduation rates, and positive spillover effects for the broader public school system.

Of course, the news isn’t all positive. Politico showcases Thurgood Marshall Academy’s stunning success in helping students prepare for and succeed in college, yet the story also documents how the school struggled to get off the ground. School founders had a tough time finding adequate facilities and appropriate school leadership—issues that everyone in the charter school movement can relate to. And, as in most big cities in America, parental demand for charter schools in Washington, DC, outstrips the availability of seats. Both of these challenges point to the need for more funding for the federal Charter Schools Program, which is absolutely critical to launching new charter schools and replicating high-quality schools to serve more students.

Click here to read about the tremendous turnaround in Washington, DC, and share the lessons of how charter schools can bring new hope to a city and its students.

Thurgood Marshall Academy ]]> 0 The Aftermath Series: New Orleans Changes the Narrative Thu, 06 Aug 2015 19:07:45 +0000 What happens to a city nearly leveled by a natural disaster? What would happen if this destruction resulted in thousands of deaths, poverty-stricken families displaced in massive evacuations, and schools and businesses were shut down? This scenario could quickly become dire. New Orleans, however, used these circumstances as grounds for reinvention of their broken city.

The state of Louisiana created the Recovery School District (RSD) to explore ways to strengthen the city’s educational options about two years before Hurricane Katrina struck. In the wake of the storm, decades old buildings lay in pieces. The destruction of the city’s school buildings and infrastructure required the state government to act—and fast.

The disaster created room to reinvent a deeply troubled school system. The ability to rebuild was an invitation to be innovative and to start fresh. And instead of going back to the district-run business as usually, New Orleans decided to give schools autonomy to make school-level decisions to best serve their students’ needs. The city chose to convert failing schools into public charter schools as part of the RSD, with resource organizations working to support the ideal of strong, high-quality schools. These reforms resulted in a city whose schools are now almost all public charter schools.

Despite the unique circumstances New Orleans faced in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the overall lesson is that New Orleans’ success story can be replicated. Any district can leverage public charter school autonomy to empower school-level decisions, coupled with accountability for those choices. However, the strength and persistence of New Orleans’ citizens to rebuild their historic city translated into the school system as well.

Recovery School District

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New National Alliance Report Examines the Role of a Charter School Model in Turning around Failing Schools Wed, 05 Aug 2015 16:45:04 +0000

The latest efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), H.R. 5 and S. 1177, have passed the House and Senate, but the issue of accountability for intervening in low-performing schools is far-from settled.  While both bills require states to measure student academic achievement, states are not required to intervene in struggling schools based on those results.  And while the National Alliance supports requiring states to intervene in the lowest performing schools, as well as closing failing public charter schools, the effectiveness of current federally funded school improvement is still in question.  How have students benefitted from billions of dollars in funds to turn around schools, particularly since 2010?

The National Alliance has been a strong advocate leveraging federal school improvement dollars more effectively to provide students in those failing schools with access to seats in high quality schools.  We’ve called for changes to the current School Improvement Grant program in order to make it possible for states to implement city-based school improvement strategies and to encourage the use of the charter school restart of traditional public schools.  To date, less than 80 schools have undergone a charter school restart, a small fraction of the approximately 2,000 schools that have received funding.

Because of the small number of charter school restarts of traditional public schools, there hasn’t been statistically significant data showing how those schools are performing as a subset of all schools doing turnaround.  In order to highlight the work of charter organizations doing the difficult work of turning around persistently low-achieving schools, we’ve published a new report, Chartering Turnaround: Leveraging Public Charter School Autonomy to Address Failure, which profiles the work of three charter management organizations (CMOs) to restart traditional public schools.

This report finds that there isn’t anything “magic” about making schools charter schools that leads to achievement gains.  The work is difficult, but it is leading to promising results. The operators of these schools point to autonomy over staff, access to facilities, curriculum, use of time and finances as empowering them to overhaul the school, change the culture and move it forward.  Moreover, there are a number of obstacles that make a restart more challenging than opening a new charter school, such as transition costs and overlapping accountability requirements. And unlike new start charter schools, they must accept all students in their attendance zone that want to attend their school, regardless of capacity. In spite of these challenges, the CMOs in our report are achieving results high-need student populations.

The CMOs profiled in our report – Green Dot Public Schools, LEAD Public Schools and Mastery Charter Schools – believe strongly that more CMOs need to be doing this work; that even though it is more difficult than opening a brand new charter school, the opportunities outweigh the challenges.

Download our latest report

Christy Wolfe is a Senior Policy Advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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New Orleans Reforms Boost Student Performance Wed, 05 Aug 2015 13:21:05 +0000 Families have many options as 93 percent of public school students attend charter schools

The National Alliance received the news yesterday from Education Next that researchers with the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University determined that the education reforms initiated since Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans have increased student achievement.  Read the news release below.

Before Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans in 2005, it was the second-lowest-ranked district in the second-lowest-ranked state in the country, as measured by student performance on state and national tests. After the hurricane, the city essentially erased its school district and started over. Within the span of one year, all public-school employees were fired, the teacher contract expired and was not replaced, and the state took control of almost all public schools. Eventually the state turned all the schools under its authority over to charter management organizations (CMOs), dramatically reshaping the teacher workforce and providing the first direct test of an alternative to the U.S.’s century-old system of school governance.

But are New Orleans’ schools living up to the expectation that once schools are freed from district and union contract rules and allowed to innovate, schools will work better and students will learn more? In three new articles published in Education Next, researchers with the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (ERA-New Orleans) at Tulane University, directed by professor of economics, Douglas Harris, investigate how schools and student performance have responded to the policy shifts.

In “Good News for New Orleans,” Harris summarizes research conducted with ERA analyst Matthew Larsen that uses two complementary strategies to determine how the reforms affected student performance on state tests. The analysis first compares the test scores of students who returned to New Orleans after the hurricane to their own performance before the storm. The analysis then also compares the performance of different cohorts of students before and after the reforms – for example, students in 3rd grade in 2005 and students in 3rd grade in 2012. In both cases, the changes in performance in New Orleans are compared to those in a comparison group of other districts in Louisiana that were affected by the hurricane.

Before the reforms, students in New Orleans performed well below the Louisiana average, at about the 30th percentile statewide. The comparison group also trailed the state average, although to a lesser extent. After the reforms, the performance of New Orleans’s students shot upward by 0.2 to 0.4 standard deviations by 2012, enough to improve a typical student’s performance by 8 to 15 percentile points. In contrast, the comparison group from other districts largely continued its prior trajectory. Over the same time period, state reports indicate that the high school graduation rate in New Orleans rose by 10 percentage points and the share of high school graduates entering college rose by 14 percentage points.

The article also describes how the reforms changed New Orleans schools and, in particular, their teacher workforce. The percentages of teachers with regular certification and with 20 or more years of experience both dropped by about 20 points. The teacher turnover rate also nearly doubled, apparently because schools had greater autonomy over personnel and because of the increase in educators from alternative preparation programs such as Teach for America.

In “Many Options in New Orleans Choice System,” ERA-New Orleans researchers consider to what degree the city’s system of school choice, where 93 percent of public school students attend charter schools, provides a variety of distinct options for families. The schools are overseen by three different agencies and managed by more than 30 school operators and CMOs. To determine if schools differ substantially from one another, the researchers use a statistical method known as cluster analysis to group the schools based on similar characteristics, including whether they have a college-prep mission; a curricular theme; selective admissions; and comparable school hours, grade span, sports, extracurriculars, and support staff levels. They find considerable differentiation among the schools. Their analysis reveals that school characteristics vary even within governing agencies and CMOs.

In “The New Orleans OneApp,” the research team takes a careful look at the city’s unique centralized enrollment system, which enables families to apply for a seat in 89 percent of the city’s public schools by ranking their preferred schools on a single application known as the OneApp. A strategy-proof computer algorithm then assigns students to schools. They conclude that, in many ways, the OneApp is more efficient, fair, and transparent than the decentralized choice system that preceded it. But the system is also more complex, leading some families to misunderstand and distrust it. The OneApp continues to evolve as its administrators learn more about school-choosing families and families learn more about this novel system.

The articles, all of which, will appear in the fall 2015 issue of Education Next.

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In Indiana, Good Policy Leads to Better Results for Children Tue, 04 Aug 2015 12:09:56 +0000 There is a real link between good education policy and improved outcomes. This theory shines through in a recent Chalkbeat article that discusses the growth of public charter schools in Indiana after the state strengthened its law in 2011.

Some background first: the 2011 policy improvements for charters in Indiana date, in part, to when the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released its first state charter school law rankings report in January 2010. This report assesses the strength of each state’s charter law as compared to our model law and found that Indiana ranked a paltry 29 out of 40 (which is the number states with charter laws at that time). This low ranking was quite a surprise in a state where policy makers believed they had a high-quality law. The Indiana Public Charter Schools Association (IPCSA) seized upon this dissonance by working with the National Alliance to build legislative support and coalition partners to draft a bill that would significantly improve charter policy in Indiana.

Around the same time, Gov. Mitch Daniels made charter schools a legislative priority for the 2011 Indiana General Assembly and Speaker of the House Brian Bosma authored a bill with all the proposals from IPCSA and the National Alliance that session. Specifically, HB 1002-11 created a new statewide authorizer and a system of authorizer accountability, increased oversight of schools, and provided more access to facilities.

After HB 1002-11 passed, it propelled Indiana to the number 2 position in the National Alliance state rankings in 2012. More importantly, it had a significant effect on the state’s charter school movement.

Let’s look at some recent numbers as evidence. The article points out that when HB 1002-11 passed there were 49 public charter schools operating in Indiana. Fast forward to today: 14 schools were approved and are slated to open this fall, which means the number of charter schools operating in 2015 could be 86, a 75 percent increase since the bill passed in 2011.

Also important to note, at the time when new schools were opening, authorizers redoubled their focus on accountability. Seven schools sponsored by Ball State University and five schools sponsored by the Mayor of Indianapolis that were open when the law passed in 2011 are no longer in operation.

It is doubtful that either of these results – the growth of new schools and the closure of low performing charters – would have occurred without the complete overhaul of the law in 2011, making a strong argument for the impact of policy on results.

The work continues in Indiana, though. Just this year, the National Alliance worked with partners there to address two shortfalls of the 2011 law. First, HB 1636 closed a loophole that allowed some failing schools to jump to another authorizer before being closed. Second, HB 1001 provided facilities funding and a sizable facilities loan program allocated on a per-pupil basis tied to the charter school’s performance.

If the trend of good policy translating to strong performance continues in Indiana, look for a movement that has its best days ahead.

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Parents Taking Big Risks for School Choice Fri, 31 Jul 2015 18:09:57 +0000 Washington D.C. has cracked down on parents from Maryland and Virginia who lie about where they live so that their children can attend D.C. schools. Education Watchdog reports that D.C. officials conducted 70 investigations for residency fraud last year. The stakes are high for these parents: those who commit residency fraud face up to 90 days in jail and may be required to pay back tuition, which can come in at $15,000 per year.

Why would parents be willing to take this kind of risk? Most likely, due to a lack of school choice in their home school districts. While Washington has a healthy school choice environment—about 76 percent of students in D.C. attend a school other than their assigned school—the city’s suburbs offer few options for families. Parents who feel that their child’s school isn’t the right fit can either pay for a private school education or they can move. For most families, those aren’t options.

Perhaps that’s why 70 percent of Americans support charter schools. They don’t think it’s right that a student’s education, and their future, should be tied to their zip code. All students, regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make, have the right to a high-quality education at a school that works for them. Some students are thriving in arts-focused charter schools while others succeed in a bilingual program.

One-size education does not fit all and the growing number of parents taking great risks to access school choice for the sake of their children’s futures agree. Likely, there are many more families that, while unwilling to break the law, wish they had more options. We know that’s the case for the more than one million student names on charter school wait lists.

You can make a difference for these families without options. Join the charter schools action network to make sure that charter schools continue to grow and give families real school choice in public education.


Kim McCabe is the Advocacy Manager at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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