May 8th, 2013 by Amanda Fenton
This past week has been a whirlwind in statehouses across the country, as the pace of legislative proposals picked up in the face of end-of-session deadlines. Over a dozen states are considering policies that would improve authorizing policies and practices.
We are awaiting the final approval by the governors of Indiana and Florida to important changes to their charter laws. In Texas—home to 10% of the nation’s charter schools—a bill making its way through the legislature has the opportunity for significant impact on the quality of the state’s portfolio of charters. Nevada and South Carolina are both considering bills that advance an approach to authorizing that reflects NACSA’s significant work in the area of performance management for charter schools. And in North Carolina, the Senate passed a bill (SB 337) that would create a new independent commission to oversee charter schools in the state. Unfortunately it lacks some basic quality control provisions for the authorizer and the charter sector.
As we said at the top: a whirlwind. There is a growing appetite for good authorizing and NACSA is encouraged to see this level of thoughtful discourse in statehouses across the country. With proposals still expected to see action this year in New Jersey and Delaware, this is just the start. Read more here.
May 6th, 2013 by Parker Baxter
The California U-Curve, California Charter Schools Association
Last month, the US Department of Education and the National Charter School Resource Center hosted an Accountability Summit to explore emerging accountability challenges across the charter school sector and to discuss a variety of strategy and policy options to support quality as the sector expands. NACSA helped organize the event and almost 100 SEA charter school program leaders, representatives from charter support organizations, authorizers, research, advocacy, and policy organizations participated in the event. NACSA president and CEO, Greg Richmond, gave the keynote. Richmond introduced the audience to NACSA’s One Million Lives Campaign and urged the audience to confront the reality that while there are many charter schools that are succeeding by creating new high-quality education opportunities for tens of thousands of students across the country, many of whom our traditional systems have failed to serve, there are also far too many charter schools that are failing to serve their students and need to be closed. Richmond encouraged participants, many if not most of whom were not authorizers but SEA administrators and charter support organization executives, to follow the lead of organizations like the California Charter Schools Association by finding ways to work together with and alongside authorizers to improve accountability for low-performing charters. As the summit proceeded, the need for the wide variety of charter quality stakeholders to create a broad ecosystem of accountability emerged as the clear theme.
Apr 25th, 2013 by Nelson Smith
American public education has overcome all sorts of roadblocks in its illustrious history — but in facing the problem of persistently failing schools, our traditional systems have hit a wall. Even when given some powerful turnaround tools under NCLB — including chartering — districts typically have opted for the most cosmetic and non-disruptive options. States have generally acquiesced.
A breakthrough happened in 2004, when Louisiana created its Recovery School District (PDF), able to take over schools (not districts) and either run them directly or charter them. The RSD’s success (which I’m happy to debate with the chronic skeptics) has so far inspired three other states to create full-scale recovery districts with similar intervention powers (Tennessee and Michigan, both underway, and Virginia, due to start next year). Texas has a strong recovery-district bill now moving through its legislature; and a half-dozen states have created “RSD-Lite” knockoffs that provide new resources but no change in district governance.
The good folks at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute asked me to look at these innovations, and this week published Redefining the School District in Tennessee, my take on the Volunteer State’s Achievement School District. It’s partly an attempt to describe the nuts and bolts — how they do finance and services and teacher recruitment — but also to convey the flavor of this enterprise under the galvanic leadership of Chris Barbic, who took on the ASD after a decade spent founding and running Houston’s Broad-Prize-winning Yes Prep. He and his team are not only setting serious stretch goals — moving bottom-5% schools into the top 25% of proficiency statewide — but getting there by attending to “hearts and minds” as well as classroom practice.
Read some coverage and reactions to report here, here and here.
Lots of lessons to learn, lots to argue about… have at it!
Apr 12th, 2013 by Alex Medler
The interesting case of a district creating a shell charter school in order to operate a private school voucher program that includes about 25 schools is working its way through Colorado courts. The Douglas County School District approved the Choice Scholarship Program, using the state’s charter law.
The program has been on hold since it was initially declared unconstitutional, but in February an appeals court overturned that decision 2-1. This week, the opponents are bringing an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Most of the legal battle has been about Colorado’s constitutional prohibitions on state support for religion, which continues with this challenge. Not much attention has been focused the host of issues that the program raises about core requirements and norms in the charter school space. The district’s voucher program uses the state charter law to create a charter school in name only-no teachers, no classrooms, no building-a fictional shell into which students would be “enrolled” even though they in fact would be attending a private school, using the public funds that would flow through the shell charter entity. The program includes mostly religious private schools and allows the schools to base admission on a student’s religious beliefs or academic achievement or any other criteria. Private schools in the program are also not required to provide special education services and may refuse admission to students they don’t wish to serve.
For years, I’ve heard critics of the charter school movement make the following outrageous allegations:
False Statement #1: Charter schools can be religious schools and teach religion and choose students and teachers on the basis of religion;
False Statement #2: Charter schools are really private schools just trying to get public money;
False Statement #3: Charter schools don’t have to provide special education services or serve special education students;
False Statement #4: Charter schools are just a strategy to get a voucher program in under a different name.
I have always taken the time to educate people about each of these mythical falsehoods, explaining how none of these allegations are true. The problem is, for this particular program, they are all true.
Apr 11th, 2013 by Parker Baxter
There has been a lot of heated rhetoric over the spread of so-called “parent trigger” or “parent petition” laws which allow parents and in some cases teachers to vote to restructure the school’s management in whole or in part. Seven states now have some form of parent petition legislation on the books and at least 20 others are considering it.
“On Tuesday, 190 parents from 24th Street Elementary showed up at a public park to choose from one of four operators to take over their children’s school.” (Photo courtesy Parent Revolution via The Hechinger Report)
Until only recently, opponents and critics of these laws focused on how no parents had successfully “pulled the trigger.” The first effort under the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010 came in Compton, CA but was eventually dropped after a bitter battle. Then, after two years of district opposition and wrangling in court, parents from Desert Trails Elementary School in the isolated desert community of Adelanto, CA were successful in their efforts to bring in a proven charter school operator to take over their struggling school. No longer able to paint them as an “imaginary gimmick,” opponents of parent empowerment laws focused instead on how bitter and divisive the process was in both Compton and Adelanto. Last summer, in response to the movie “Won’t Back Down,” a fictional depiction of a parent revolution, AFT President Randi Weingarten argued that parent empowerment laws “deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and helping children” and noted that ” in real life, there have been only two attempts to pull the parent trigger: One never made it to the approval process, but both were incredibly divisive and disruptive to the communities and schools involved.”
- “These laws deny both parents and teachers a voice in improving schools and helping children, by using parents to give control of our schools over to for-profit corporations.”
- Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers
This week, though, comes the news that parents at another school in California, 21st Street Elementary in Los Angeles, have successfully used the Parent Empowerment Act to select a new operator for their school, and this time, instead of fighting with the school district, they are partnering with it. In January, LAUSD made news when instead of opposing the parents’ demand for a restart of the school under a new model, the district embraced the request, quickly approved the petition and then submitted its own plan to the parents for consideration. The result is the plan that was approved this week by 80 percent of the parents who voted. It calls for a partnership between the district and a local (nonprofit) charter school, Crown Prep. The district will introduce a new preschool program and operate grades K-4, while Crown Prep will operate grades 5-8.
While future efforts at parent empowerment aren’t likely to go as smoothly as they have at 21st Street Elementary, the collaborative efforts of the district and its willingness to work with instead of against parents is a hopeful sign that parent empowerment doesn’t have to be nasty and divisive and instead can be an opportunity for renewed trust and new beginnings.
Apr 11th, 2013 by Parker Baxter
NACSA’s president and CEO, Greg Richmond, has a op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times arguing that charter schools are being used in Chicago’s “school wars” in ways that only serve adult interests and harm kids.
While the schools themselves focus on their students, the rhetoric of charter schools has become a political football, used by politicians of every stripe for self-serving purposes.
Check out the whole piece here.
Apr 4th, 2013 by Parker Baxter
This week the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released Serving English Language Learners: A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools. This timely resource is designed to provide charter school leaders with clear guidance and concrete examples to assist them in designing, implementing, and improving their services to ELL students. The Alliance’s Renita Thukal who spearheaded the development of the toolkit, notes that the number of ELL students in the U.S. increased by 27 percent over the past decade and will become an even larger percentage of the school-age population in the years to come. A new report from the Council of the Great City Schools explores the growth of this population in more depth and found that large achievement gaps persist for ELLs in its member cities.
We know that some charter schools are doing amazing work with ELL students and are demonstrating that these students are capable of the same greatness as their non-ELL peers. At Rocketship’s seven charter schools in Santa Clara County, CA, for example, 69 percent of students speak English as a second language, compared to 24 percent countywide. Yet Rocketship’s English language learners had a state performance score of 843 while the statewide average was 762. Strive Prep in Denver (formerly West Denver Prep) has also shown outstanding results with its high ELL population and has been recognized for its strong program.
We also know, however, that many charter schools struggle with serving ELL students, both in terms of compliance with federal and state legal requirements and program design and delivery. Hopefully, Serving English Language Learners: A Toolkit for Public Charter Schools can help all charter schools better meet the challenge of providing ELL students the same high quality educational opportunities that all children need and deserve.
Apr 3rd, 2013 by Alex Medler
Robin Lake and I wrote a commentary about special education in charter schools for Ed Week that was released yesterday. Earlier this year, Robin Lake and her colleagues at CRPE examined enrollment of students with disabilities in New York’s charter schools and traditional public schools in a study commissioned by NACSA. Robin and I discussed the study and its implications in an Ed Week Commentary released today.
This isn’t a simple problem. Consequently, people shouldn’t expect simple solutions. We need to understand all the nuances to this issue. If we can better diagnose the good and bad that is happening out there, we will be better able to address the — very real – challenges.
There are challenges that discourage or prevent kids with disabilities from enrolling in charter schools, as well as district practices that make it less likely that families will exercise choices and other obstacles that make it difficult for charter schools to serve all kids well.
Unfortunately, every time I have tried to pursue this line of reasoning in the past, people jump to the conclusion that what I am really trying to do is minimize the problem. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Acknowledging that this is complicated, and that simplistic solutions are ill-advised, and more important unlikely to succeed, seems to tragically and regularly translate into an argument from charter critics that allege I am secretly trying to prove that, “special education under-enrollment is not a problem or that policies should not (or should) address the problem.”
It is a problem. It is tricky. We should work together to understand it better. Armed with a better understanding of what is happening, I hope we can work together fix it.
Fingers crossed for substantive responses.
Mar 26th, 2013 by Parker Baxter
While most of the education-related news coming out of Philadelphia lately has been about school closures similar to those just announced in Chicago, there is other work going on that has the potential to dramatically expand access to school choice for the city’s families, particularly the city’s most disadvantaged families who might otherwise be left out. The Inquirer reported last week on a nascent effort to create a single, unified school choice process for all of the city’s public school’s, both district and charter. The work is part of the Great Schools Compact for the Philadelphia Schools Partnership, an ongoing effort to increase collaboration between the city’s school district and its 80+ charter schools, and is modeled on similar efforts in Denver and New Orleans. The goal is to simplify the school choice process for parents and students by joining together dozens of different application processes and enrollment lotteries that they must now navigate, into one, coordinated system of choice with one, common application and a single enrollment lottery. In Denver, where there were previously more than sixty unique applications and multiple overlapping processes there is now a one page form for choosing one of more than 160 public school in the city. Ideally, a unified system in Philadelphia will not just be easier for families already taking advantage of choice, but also for the city’s most disadvantaged and disenfranchised who might otherwise be left out, making school choice in the city more equitable and transparent for all.
Mar 21st, 2013 by Alex Medler
Last week, Chris Korsmo, of Washington state’s League of Education Voters crafted a powerful and personal commentary for the Seattle Times confronting the argument that people ought to “finish” the effort to eliminate poverty before they insist on dramatic improvements in the schools we give our poor children.
You see it all the time. Last month, even the traditionally astute Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, repeated the line of argument with Michelle Rhee, asking how we can demand so much education reform, when we know that poverty is really the real problem. As Stewart offered, “It seems like education can only be put in place once the soil is fertile.”
Can you imagine any other problem faced by the poor, for which otherwise intelligent liberals would say it is wrong to try to fix it before we eliminate poverty? According to this line of reasoning, we shouldn’t work to alleviate or end homelessness, hunger, violence, obesity, or substance abuse until poverty is gone — ridiculous. Like education, poverty is correlated with, and exacerbates, each of these problems. Yet we work to reduce them in the face of continuing income inequality.
No one says, “Stop! You are just helping people ignore the real problem of poverty by criticizing our health, housing, or criminal justice systems.” For some reason, reasonable people repeat the absurd argument when it comes to education.
What do you suppose makes so many people leave their brain behind when it comes to arguing against efforts to give more poor kids a good education?