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NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond comments on Sarah Carr’s piece  in The Atlantic on discipline in New Orleans’ charter schools over at Education Post:

…Carr’s article does an excellent job of describing how school leaders, parents, students and communities are re-thinking how the implementation of high behavioral expectations happen on a day-to-day basis.

Many of them come to appreciate the intense structure, but only if they also come to trust the mostly young educators who enforce it. As school leaders in New Orleans are discovering, forging that trust is far harder than teaching someone to say thank you and toe an orange line.

And importantly, it appears that part of that re-thinking is reducing the number of kids who are suspended and expelled—demonstrating that it’s possible to embrace “no excuses” and “strict discipline” without removing a lot of students from school as many effective schools have done for decades…

Read the whole thing here.

 

First Page PCSBA new case study, funded by the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), and conducted by the FSG consultants, was released today.  The study, Transforming Education in the Nation’s Capital, examines the practices of D.C.’s charter school authorizer, the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board’s (DCPCSB). This is a welcome analysis of a top-flight authorizer in the country. We need more detailed examinations like this one that highlight the practices used by authorizers to promote quality charter schools.

The study is important for several reasons.  First, it is empirically focused on a city where there is evidence of success.  As the study outlines, charters have a strong record of performance in the District. The results charters are getting there are among the strongest in the nation’s charter sectors.  They beg the question: what are people doing in DC to support this kind of sector-wide performance?  What role could DCPCSB be playing? This report offers some answers.

Second, it presents a broad range of actionable strategies that authorizers in other settings can bring to their own work. The case study isn’t describing a silver-bullet. Instead, it describes a body of work, and a set of practices that fit together in a comprehensive approach that addresses student performance, equity, and oversight in the public interest. No single piece of the DC strategy likely makes “the” difference. But other authorizers and policy makers can look at this set of practices, which align closely with NACSA’s Principles and Standards, and figure out what they can do to bring about similar action in their community.

Finally, it is provides a substantive and positive counter-foil to so much of what we see passing for policy debate.  Hopefully, additional case studies of other strong leaders in our sector will follow.  And more and more of the stories about what leaders, like Scott Pearson recently, and Josephine Baker before him, have done to give us the chance to acknowledge, and even celebrate, when things work.

We learned a lot about what is working this week at the NACSA Annual Leadership Conference in Miami. Close to 500 authorizers and others interested in advancing quality in the charter school sector shared effective practices, discussing common challenges, and learning from each other. We asked each other hard questions. We focused on difficult issues. We even got worked up sometimes about things that matter, not just to authorizers and others who care about expanding quality educational opportunities but also to the millions of children who are depending on our success. We also made sure to acknowledge the hard work, brave leadership, and successes that authorizers are achieving every day, all over the country.  We still have a lot of work to do, but we are making great progress. Those working in the charter sector see this progress all the time. It is nice to have somebody focus on it and describe it in detail.

 

NACSA recently released a set of materials to help policymakers and advocates working to improve their charter school laws. Believe it or not, we think this next session will be a productive one.  Additional states will join the group that endorses professional standards for authorizers; or they will give authorizers the performance management tools they need to truly hold schools accountable for their results while protecting the crucial autonomy schools need to innovate. Hopefully, states will add new state-level authorizers.

Most of the national political news seems hopelessly focused on the horse race for control of the U.S. Senate.  If domestic issues get any attention, journalists seem to think education reform and charter schools represent a proxy-fight between otherworldly forces of good and evil. (Perhaps those two things are linked.)  Meanwhile, outside the beltway and between the add-buys, I remain convinced that most of the meaningful political action in education over the next two years will occur in state capitals. I will even go out on a limb and suggest that, despite grid-lock in Washington, the next legislative session will produce quite a bit of debate as well as meaningful changes to state laws that advance the charter school sector.

If you want to read the latest materials, you can review them on line.  Our full set of policy materials, is available here.   Several pieces discuss the different approaches pursued by states that add new authorizers.  These include specific summaries describing independent charter boards (ICBs), SEA authorizers, and HEI authorizers. One brief describe how states have endorsed authorizer standards in state policy.  We also worked with the team at Public Impact to address the issue of “authorizer hopping”.  States are trying to figure out how to stop failing schools from switching to a new authorizer with low standards when their current authorizer tries to close them for legitimate reasons.  We have also updated some briefs that cover important developments, like the effort in Ohio to pursue the closure of failing schools through a default closure law, or the effort to evaluate and potentially sanction authorizers in Minnesota.

Hopefully you’re joining us this week in Miami for our annual conference, and we hope you find these new policy documents helpful.  We look forward to the work this session.

 

This week at the Fordham Foundation’s event on the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s new state-by-state report on the health of the charter school movement, Scott Pearson, Executive Director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board and a member of NACSA’s Board of Directors made a critical point. When asked about the reasons behind the success of charter schools in his city (D.C. was ranked first in the nation in the Alliance report), Scott explained that in addition to a strong charter law, a vibrant philanthropic and advocacy community and a wealth of great people, the District also has an effective authorizer. Moreover, he said, the District doesn’t just have an authorizer that is committed to quality–one that only approves schools that are likely to succeed and closes those that are failing–but also “an authorizer that has a real commitment to equity, making sure that charter schools act as public schools, that they serve all students.”

Scott is absolutely right. The success of charter schools doesn’t doesn’t just depend on strong policy, great people, and energetic support. Charter school success also depends on quality authorizers–authorizers who uphold high standards, ensure that schools have the flexibility they need to succeed and protect student rights and the public interest.

In describing his authorizing organization’s commitment to equity, Scott highlighted a practice that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and one that I hope other authorizers across the country will emulate. Scott described DCPCSB’s Mystery Shopper Program–a strategy his organization uses to ensure that charter schools are not discouraging students with special needs from applying and enrolling. Throughout the school year, DCPCSB staff pretending to be prospective parents of special education students randomly call schools to inquire about enrollment. Schools that discourage “mystery shoppers” from enrolling “mystery children” are held accountable, and schools with repeated violations can have their charters revoked.

This is a bold but totally reasonable–and effective–practice that demonstrates that DCPCSB does not just talk about equity. It takes concrete steps to ensure it. It’s not a program designed to punish schools; it’s not used as a gotcha–schools were informed of the effort before it began and know that they could be called at any time. Rather, it puts schools on notice that they are truly public schools with real public obligations and real consequences for failure to live up to them. It demonstrates that charter schools really are accountable in ways that other public schools are not–accountable to their authorizers and to the public whose trust they are charged with upholding.

School choice doesn’t just happen. It takes real work. Authorizers play a critical role in making it work for all children.

Want to learn more about DCPCSB’s Myster Shopper program? Join us at NACSA’s Annual Leadership Conference. We’ll be talking about this and other ways that charter school authorizers are working to ensure that the schools they authorize live up to their promise and act like the public schools they are.

 

NACSA’s Alex Medler and I have published an op-ed over at Real Clear Education on steps that charter school governing boards, authorizers, and policy makers can take to prevent charter school collapse:

While many charters will thrive, inevitably some will need to close. But not all charter school closures are the same. Many of the schools that have closed over the past month never should have been approved to open in the first place, or the boards of these schools should not have tried to start the new school year. It’s only a month into the new school year, and already charter schools have closed in Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania North Carolina, and Ohio.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are steps that charter school leaders, authorizers, and policymakers can take to ensure that bad schools never get approved and that those that do fail are closed with as little disruption as possible. With smart policy, strong authorizing, and responsible governance, many of these closures are preventable. Others can be timed and managed better.

Check out the whole thing here.

 

logoEPNACSA 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.

 

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) released the following statement in response to the recommendations in a report on authorizer accountability released yesterday by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University:

“The Annenberg Institute’s report on “Public Accountability for Charter Schools” is a disappointing entry in the important discussion of how to improve education for America’s children. Its recommendations are incomplete, judgmental, and not based on research or data. If the report’s recommendations were implemented, charter schools would become clones of traditional public schools, losing the flexibility needed to be innovative and better.

In Annenberg’s report, a significant number of important accountability standards and authorizing practices are unaddressed or superficially addressed. Throughout the report, the author repeatedly assumes the worst about charter schools and fails to acknowledge the thousands of charter schools that are working well and the millions of families who believe a charter school is the best choice for their children. The citations that the author offers in support of her recommendations are almost entirely newspaper articles and blog posts. This is surprisingly sloppy work for an institute housed at Brown University.

We appreciate that the author did take the time to look at our work and our Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing, which were developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Education and are considered the most comprehensive and detailed authorizing standards in the country. Our standards have been publicly developed, reviewed, criticized, tested and modified for more than ten years. Numerous states have embraced our standards in law and in practice. Unlike the Annenberg report, the names of our board members and the individuals who contributed to the development of our standards are printed clearly on the front cover of our Principles & Standards. Almost all of those individuals actually work in this field.

More importantly, when put into practice, our standards enhance accountability in order to strengthen school quality and honor the autonomy charter schools need to innovate, while protecting the rights of students and the interests of the public. We need more states to set truly high standards for their authorizers, through mechanisms like endorsing our own Principles & Standards. We welcome all allies in our effort to promote high expectations for authorizers, but a new set of deeply flawed recommendations is not helpful. And while we appreciate Annenberg’s interest in this important topic, its report leaves much to be desired and makes little progress toward our shared goal: for all children to have the opportunity to attend great schools that prepare them for success in life.”

 

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