NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond has joined the Advisory Board of Education Post, a new organization created to foster a better conversation “about public education and what our children need — an honest and civil conversation of many voices, united by a common belief in the power of education to transform lives.”
Greg made his own contribution to this better conversation in a post about the need for ideologues on both sides of the charter school debate to turn down the rhetoric and consider ways that we can learn from each other and work together. Greg notes that “Charter critics often dismiss [Al] Shanker’s vision of collaboration because the debate is consumed by an “us versus them mentality” and the baseless notion that charters exist solely to “privatize” education, destroy unions and drain traditional schools of money and motivated students.” Opponents, he says “should be delighted to learn that Shanker’s vision is alive and well in district-charter partnerships across the nation” but that these partnerships, while promising are far from the norm.
Too often, the political rhetoric surrounding charter schools is so toxic that district and neighborhood educators feel uneasy meeting with “the enemy” — much less acknowledging they may be able to learn from each other.
Read the whole thing here.
Guest Post: Larry Miller and Betheny Gross
Charter schools are leading the nation in seeking new ways to personalize learning with a blend of teacher-led and technology-based instruction. If they are successful, these schools will dramatically accelerate student learning and use their funding much more strategically. Unfortunately, early bumps in the road (bumps familiar to anyone who has started a new school) are steering some of these schools off course. But as authorizers, you can help these schools stay on track with hard but pointed questions to leaders proposing these new models.
Over the last year at CRPE we’ve been examining the finances of 8 new charter schools that opened in 2012 with personalized learning models that incorporated strong technology elements. The schools were all recipients of startup grants from Next General Learning Challenges (NGLC).
In the first year of implementation many of these schools missed enrollment projections and fundraising targets leading to budget gaps. That they faced these challenges is not surprising – missed projections are fairly common in startups. The way these schools handled those budget gaps, however, raised some red flags. Six of the schools severely cut their technology budgets, potentially jeopardizing their efforts to personalize learning and more productively use their resources.
Authorizers reviewing applications for these schools can do themselves and the prospective school leaders a favor by asking a few pointed questions like the following:
- What are your plans for student recruitment and private fundraising? What will make these efforts successful?
- How will your resource allocations change if you miss your enrollment target?
- What will you cut if you miss your revenue target? What if your budget gap is $200,000 or more?
- How will your contracts for software, hardware, and even facilities allow you to flex costs with enrollment fluctuations?
- What contingency plans do you have in place for technology that does not work out?
Charter schools, with all their flexibility and incentives to improve, are the perfect testing ground for the most innovative and modern approaches to personalized learning and more productive ways to organize staff and time. But new charter schools, whether or not they use technology, are often overly optimistic about enrollment and fundraising projections. And when revenues fall short, they can easily fall back into very traditional thinking: that technology is an add-on, not a new way of doing business. Authorizers can help by pushing schools to be both realistic about budgets and ambitious about new, more productive ways to approach schooling.
Jan 21st, 2014 by Alex Medler
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently released a set of draft priorities that would be used in future competitions under the Charter Schools Programs’ (CSP) to award grants under the National Leadership Activities Grant Program. NACSA and a group of leaders from authorizers, state agencies, and other stakeholders submitted group letters that supported the new priorities and suggested a few technical fixes. Click here for the NACSA group letter. The draft was particularly welcome because of its attention to strengthening accountability by improving authorizing, and for its attention to the needs of students with disabilities and English Learners.
We expect the Department to release a similar set of draft guidance in the next few weeks that will address the start-up grants administered by State Education Agencies (SEAs) through the CSP. Based on discussions with the Department officials, we expect the priorities for the SEA grant competition to also advance our goals. These are good victories for trying to promote high quality authorizing in the charter school sector
ED’s guidance included priorities in five areas, including: improving access and services for Special Education and English Language Learners; strengthening accountability through improved charter school authorizing; using economies of scale to provide services and help to charter schools; and supporting the effective use of technology.
In general, we strongly support the Department’s approach in the notice, and applaud the attention to accountability, as well as the prioritization of efforts to enhance access and the quality of services provided to SWD and EL.
There are a few areas of concern in the guidance that we commented on in our letters, and which we are working closely with our partners at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, to jointly influence the Department. One issue the guidance bungles is a definition of “high-quality” charter schools. They tend to treat high quality charters as those worthy of national replication, and all other charter schools as worthy of closure. We, of course, see a much more nuanced distribution of quality — with many levels of school performance. The real world includes many schools that may not be as good as they could be, but which deserve to stay open. There are other schools that are doing fine, but which are not interested in, nor should they be expected to, start replicating at a large scale. We also called for more support for collaboration between the charter school sector, and those in the communities with expertise and experience special education and English Language Learners to work together on common challenges.