The Grand Rapids Press: Lawmakers hope to lure successful charter school companies to Michigan

By Dave Murray
The Grand Rapids Press

September 30, 2011

LANSING – Companies managing charter schools would no longer pay property taxes as part of reforms aimed at luring successful out-of-state operators to Michigan.

The package is headed to the state Senate, with a vote expected in the next two weeks. It includes lifting a cap on university-approved charter schools and allowing all public schools to hire companies to provide teachers.

Supporters say the bills are intended to spark more competition for struggling schools, but critics charge competition alone won’t help them do better.

“They’ve taken a free-market approach to education and providing parents with more and more choices and seeing if anything sticks,” said Donald Wotruba, deputy director for the Michigan Association of School Boards.

“But when you have a struggling business, you either shut it down or use resources to fix it. They’re doing neither to the low-performing schools.”

The reforms passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday on a party line vote.

Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov said it’s fair to waive property taxes for charter schools because they can’t collect taxes for new buildings or improvements, as districts do, He said tax payments for charters mean taking money from the classroom.

“I look at this as a tax abatement,” said Pavlov, R-St. Chair Township. “Governments offer tax abatements to industries all the time, so why not for education?”

The savings to schools or their landlords would be considerable. Property taxes for National Heritage Academy’s Knapp Charter Academy in Grand Rapids Township were $90,800 in 2010. The company manages 44 schools in Michigan.

Pavlov also said allowing charter schools and traditional districts to contract with outsiders to provide teachers is intended to allow districts flexibility and cost saving, not break unions, as critics contend.

Districts pay an amount equal to 24 percent of each employee’s salary into the state retirement fund, but do not have to pay into the system for contracted employees.

Wotruba said the school board association opposes privatizing teachers, adding that districts might save money but could lose control.

“I know our schools outsource transportation and janitorial services, and those people have some contact with kids,” he said. “But that’s a lot different than privatizing your teachers.”

Lobbyists expect the bills to clear the Senate, but they could meet resistance in the House, Wotruba said. He believes the goal is to have a bill on Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk by the end of November.

But a teacher union leader questions whether Pavlov can muster Senate support.

“This is going to be a step too far for many people, and it’s going to be a hard sell to the public,” said Doug Pratt, the Michigan Education Association’s public policy director.

“I’d hate to be in their seats when the public realizes that their local, neighborhood schools are under attack.”

Michigan has 255 charter schools, intended to be innovative, independent schools approved by a public university, community college or school district. Expanding their numbers is among reforms backed by state GOP leaders and President Obama.

But lawmakers and university leaders said obstacles – especially the cap on university-approved schools – are preventing successful groups in other states from setting up in Michigan.

A national school choice group said the changes could attract more operators, but noted Michigan already is charter friendly.

Michigan is ranked No. 5 by the Center for Education Reform, out of 41 states and the District of Columbia with charter laws.

Allowing community colleges and universities to authorize charters is considered a plus, and Central Michigan University is a national leader in school oversight, said Alison Consoletti, vice president for research with the Washington, D.C., group.

“There are states that allow only school boards to authorize schools, and not all of them are open to the idea of allowing competition,” she said.

Timothy Wood, who heads Grand Valley State University’s charter school office, said operators also want to have one board oversee multiple charter schools.

GVSU is the state’s second-largest authorizer with 44 schools and three set to open in 2012. He said the university would add schools, but wouldn’t expand dramatically if the cap is lifted.

“We’re looking at growth with quality,” Wood said. “We’re going to look to those quality operators who have demonstrated success, not open schools just to open them.”

He said university charter authorizers met recently with leaders from California-based Rocketship Education, Massachusetts-based Lighthouse Academies and Minnesota-based SABIS School Network, which already operates schools in Flint, Saginaw and Detroit.

Representatives from Rocketship were among those testifying before the Senate Education Committee.

Washington Post: Passions on charter schools surface quickly at ed finance commission

By Bill Turque
Washington Post
September 30, 2011

There was certainly nothing energizing about the venue–a windowless, stifling basement room beneath the MLK Library. But this was where the 13 members of the new D.C. Public Education Finance Reform Commission met Tuesday evening to begin their complex and politically fraught mission: sorting out questions of equity and fairness around the $1 billion that taxpayers spend annually on schools.

“In some ways these issues are very concrete and objective. I also understand that discussion about the use of limited budget resources are impassioned discussions,” said commission chairman Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

It didn’t take long for those passions to surface on Tuesday. During the public comment period Ramona Edelin, veteran civil rights activist and executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, said there was a moral imperative to the funding issue.

“Many of us come out of a long history of separate and unequal,” and inequitably funded charters must not be part of that tradition, she said.

The charter community, which pushed hard for the D.C. Council’s creation of the commission last year, has long contended that their publicly-funded, independently operated schools–which serve about 40 percent of the city’s 75,000 public school students–are treated unfairly in the budget process.

By late November, the commission is required to submit an “Equity Report” that lays out where and how DCPS and the public charters get money and in-kind services–and recommendations for addressing inequities. The group’s findings are expected to inform decision-making on the FY13 budget.

By multiple measures, the District has among the most generous charter funding laws in the country. A 2010 survey by the pro-charter Center for Education Reform ranks D.C. as the nation’s most legally and fiscally hospitable environment for charters–ahead of all 50 states. It is among the very few jurisdictions that provides an allotment for facilities as well as operating expenses.

But whether the District follows its own law is a different question.

“The good news is that D.C. does a better job in approximating equity for charter schools than just about anywhere. The reality is that it is still not equitable,” said center president Jeanne Allen.

Charter advocates say the city has long-violated the letter and spirit of the law that created the uniform per student funding formula to ensure that public and public charter school operating costs are covered equitably.

They point, for example, to the benefits DCPS receives from tens of millions in extra operating dollars spent by other city agencies. The Office of Public Education Facilities Management (OPEFM) spent more than $27 million last year on maintenance of DCPS buildings. These are costs that charters must support with their per-student allotment.

Charters don’t get their money from the District in the same way. They receive quarterly payments, based on enrollment. If schools don’t meet projections, allotments are docked accordingly. DCPS gets all of its money up front–regardless of whether it meets enrollment projections.

These issues have all been in plain view for years, but the politics surrounding charters have made a robust public discussion difficult. D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi commissioned his own study of school funding last year, bringing on education budget expert Mary Levy as a consultant. Levy said she wrote a large chunk of an extensive report, and there is considerable curiosity about what it says. Levy won’t discuss it specifically, but said it explores the funding that DCPS receives outside the uniform formula. A member of Gandhi’s staff, Yesim Yilmaz, sits on the commission.

David Umansky, Gandhi’s spokesman, said that no such report exists.

“There is no report. It was an information-gathering exercise,” he said this week. “There is no written report so there is nothing to be made public.”

But Yilmaz “has agreed to sit down and share data from the report,” according to Elizabeth Partoyan, vice president of Collaborative Communications Group, one of two outside firms engaged by the District to assist the commission.

At Tuesday’s inaugural meeting, some charter advocates took issue with the group’s composition. Partoyan said members were selected by Collaborative Communications in consultation with Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright.

Robert Cane, executive director of FOCUS (Friends of Choice in Urban Schools) a charter lobbying organization and one of the prime proponents of the commission, protested his exclusion and that of Levy and Edelin.

“We are the experts,” Cane said. We have a lot of data that we’re going to be sending you. He also contended that the two members representing local charter schools (Allison Kokkoros, chief academic officer of Carlos Rosario International PCS and Irasema Salcido, founder and president of Cesar Chavez PCS) did not have enough big-picture grasp of funding issues.

FOCUS also unearthed a 2009 blog post in which Lazere approved of former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s unsuccessful attempt to trim the charter facility allotment to cover actual facility expenses (some schools use it to build up reserves for future capital needs).

Michael Musante, FOCUS government relations director, said in an e-mail the organization was not questioning Lazere’s ability to serve as chairman. “We just don’t agree with the stance he took on some of the issues…so we would hope that he is open to seeing certain issues like facilities funding through the eyes of the charter school community and would allow us to educate him a bit more deeply on the relevant issues.”

Said Lazere: “I recognize that there is plenty all of us on the commission need to learn and am personally aware that facilities issue is an important one. I’m open to having the whole commission educated.”

Daily Headlines for September 30, 2011

Saving Catholic Education
Wall Street Journal, September 30, 2011
Catholic education in the United States is in dire straits. A report from Loyola Marymount University in June found that Catholic schools continue to close even though they graduate 98% of their high school students and send almost all of them onto college.

A Better Way To Measure Public Schools
Press Democrat, CA, September 29, 2011
Talk about the law of unintended consequences: In trying to ensure that all children succeed, the federal No Child Left Behind Act ensures that virtually every school will be labeled a failure.

FROM THE STATES

CALIFORNIA

KIPP Co-Founder Mike Feinberg Joins Mayor Johnson to Discuss Parent Choice
Valley Community Newspaper, CA, September 29, 2011
Today Mayor Johnson was joined by Mike Feinberg, Co-Founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), and the Superintendent of KIPP Houston, to discuss the concept that every child can learn and the importance of parent choice.

FLORIDA

Miami-Dade Schools Debut Merit Pay in Florida
Miami Herald, FL, September 30, 2011
Miami-Dade County Public Schools recently gave thousands of teachers an extra bump in their paychecks and plans to reward the district’s top 120 teachers with bigger bonuses.

Administrators Try Hand At New Pasco Teacher Evaluation System
St. Petersburg Times, FL, September 30, 2011
Formal evaluations are expected to begin Oct. 17. And because of a new state law, they’ll carry more weight than ever in teachers’ pay and continued employment.

GEORGIA

Cobb Board Rejects Charter School’s Application For Renewal
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution , GA, September 29, 2011
A vote by the Cobb County school board Thursday evening sent 11-year-old Armani Singh out of the meeting room with tears in her eyes.

ILLINOIS

U. of C. Report Says CPS Reforms Have Failed Many Students
Chicago Tribune, IL, September 30, 2011
For the last two decades, Chicago’s public school system has been a laboratory of education reform and experimentation, but it has delivered only marginal improvement in student performance, according to a report to be released Friday by a University of Chicago consortium.

Chicago Teachers Union Wants to Meet with Aldermen
Chicago Tribune, IL, September 29, 2011
Chicago Teachers Union officials want to make their case directly to aldermen to counter the blitz Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has undertaken to institute a longer school day.

LOUISIANA

Recovery School District To Put Cheating Protections Into Place
Times Picayune, LA, September 29, 2011
The state-run Recovery School District said Thursday it will take new steps to prevent cheating on the high-stakes standardized exams Louisiana students take each year.

MARYLAND

Ulman Says School Board Strife Factored In Decision To Change Its Structure
Baltimore Sun, MD, September 29, 2011
On Tuesday morning in Hunt Valley, Howard County school board member Allen Dyer asked an administrative law judge to dismiss his fellow board members’ request to have him removed.

MASSACHUSETTS

Charter School Successes Pose Challenge To City
Dorchester Reporter, MA, September 29, 2011
As the city’s school department and teachers’ union squabble over a new contract, a report shows that charter schools are set for a significant expansion in Boston , with eight new sites possibly opening in the next two years, and the number of students who attend charters expected to increase by 55 percent over the next four years.

MICHIGAN

Charter School Takes Aim at B.C.
Battle Creek Enquirer, MI, September 30, 2011
An Augusta company with permission to open a new charter school is looking for a spot in Battle Creek Public Schools’ back yard.

Bill Would Permit The Privatizing Of Teachers
Livingston Daily, MI, September 30, 2011
A proposal to allow private contracting of teachers in Michigan public schools is part of a “power grab” aimed at weakening community-based education in favor of for-profit teaching, critics of the bill said.

MINNESOTA

Few Minnesota Kids Using the ‘No Child’ Options
Star Tribune, MN, September 29, 2011
Thousands of low-income students in underperforming schools statewide will soon receive letters saying they are eligible to transfer to different schools and receive private tutoring paid for by their school districts. If history is an indicator, however, few will take advantage of those opportunities.

NEW JERSEY

School Doors Open To Out-Of-Towners
Advertiser News, NJ, September 20, 2011
Lafayette, Ogdensburg and Vernon school districts began accepting students from outside of the school district as part of the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in September 2010.

Credits NJEA for Accepting Evaluation Program
Home News, NJ, September 29, 2011
New Jersey’s largest teachers union has decided wisely to stand down on resisting the state’s teacher evaluation pilot. Since so many New Jersey teachers belong to the New Jersey Education Association, their participation will help the pilot do its job: test different ways to measure how well a teacher educates students.

NEW YORK

New York State Blocks “Victory” Charter on Long Island
Huffington Post, NY, September 29, 2011
Maybe the politicians finally understand. Last week the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which makes recommendations to the New York State
Department of Education, decided not to support a charter school proposed by Victory Education Partners in Brentwood

OHIO

Ohio Looks To Expand School Voucher System
Zanesville Times Recorder, OH, September 30, 2011
With school districts already feeling the pinch of limited funding, they could lose almost $6,000 per student if an Ohio House bill becomes law.

OKLAHOMA

Oklahoma Considers Value-Added Teacher Evaluations
The Oklahoman, OK, September 30, 2011
Value-added teacher evaluations rate teachers as highly effective or ineffective based on whether their students grow academically as expected. It’s a controversial evaluation system that an Oklahoma commission is considering.

Tulsa-Area School Districts Under Probe In Refusal To Fund Special-Needs Scholarships
Tulsa World, OK, September 30, 2011
Tulsa-area school districts that initially refused to fund private school scholarships for special education students are being investigated at the request of the Oklahoma attorney general.

PENNSYLVANIA

Good Teachers: What The Research Says
Philadelphia Daily News, PA, September 30, 2011
CHARTER schools, vouchers, teacher evaluations – all three are hot- button issues, not only in the realm of education reform, but in the larger national debate. All three are also the subject of bills that may soon pass in Harrisburg.

Fewer Pennsylvania Schools Meet State Standards, But Students Show Improvement
Philadelphia Inquirer, PA, September 30, 2011
Fewer schools in Philadelphia and its suburbs met state standards than last school year, state data show, while students statewide showed a slight improvement.

Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson Supports Nonprofit’s Charter Effort
Patriot News, PA, September 29, 2011
Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson has thrown her support behind a Philadelphia-based nonprofit looking to bring new charter schools to the capital city.

RHODE ISLAND

Mayoral Academies Split With RI Charter School League
Providence Journal, RI, September 29, 2011
Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, a high-profile group of mayor-led charter schools, has broken ties with the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools citing “philosophical differences” and financial concerns.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Teacher Evaluation Process Reworked
Argus Leader, SD, September 29, 2011
South Dakota schools will begin using new teacher evaluations approved this week by lawmakers.A legislative committee approved the standards 4-1 Tuesday after delaying the decision in August for lack of information.

TENNESSEE

Charter School Incubator Beefs Up Staff
Nashville Post, TN, September 19, 2011
The Nashville-based incubator, which aims to launch 20 charter schools here and in Memphis by 2015, has named Justin Testerman to be its chief operating officer and Rebecca Lieberman as director of talent recruitment.

UTAH

The Problems With Merit Pay For Teachers
Daily Herald, UT, September 30, 2011
Before school districts and state legislators inaugurate “merit pay,” they need to solve issues that teachers deal with that they may not be aware of. Consider the following issues.

WISCONSIN

Voucher Debate Detracts From Helping Schools
The Northwestern, WI, September 29, 2011
After bruising fights earlier this year about collective bargaining by teachers and expanding school vouchers, it’s time for Wisconsin to refocus its attention on improving student performance in the public schools.

VIRTUAL LEARNING

Online Schools Take Tax Money But Fail Many Students
KMGH Denver, CO, September 28, 2011
Millions of tax dollars go to private corporations to run online schools, which often have poor academic performance records, a CALL7 investigation found.

Alarms Sounding On Online Classes
Coeur d’Alene Press, ID, September 30, 2011
Mr. Deide misrepresents the Idaho Education Association and public school teachers in his recent column (Sept. 19).In recent weeks, parents and teachers across the state have expressed concern over the State Board’s recommendation of two online courses for every high school student.

Idaho to Take Comment on Online Education Rules
Magic Valley Times, ID, September 29, 2011
A plan to make Idaho the first state to require students to take at least two credits online will officially go before the public for comment next week.

Mesa Schools Prepare For ‘Blended Learning’ Future
Arizona Republic, AZ, September 30, 2011
Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Michael Cowan pictures a time when the school day will no longer start in homeroom – but at home before the first bell rings.

ABC News: Fighting the Feds: 2012 Candidates Want States to Control Education

By Amy Bingham
ABC News
Sep 29, 2011

It’s back-to-school time, as President Obama reminded the nation in his annual back-to-school speech today. And during election season, no school year begins without stirring up education reform debates.

But this election is all about the economy and will likely revolve around what role the federal government should play in stimulating job growth, not how much it should spend on merit pay or standardized testing.

So when it comes to education policy debates, whether it’s the Democratic incumbent or the array of Republican challengers, all eyes – and talking points – are on two things: the federal government’s role and the overall cost.

“The meta-narrative [for Republican presidential candidates] is obviously pushing back on health care reform and on the stimulus,” said Rick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “Obama’s education agenda is being framed by the GOP, and especially the Tea Party, in light of those other elements.”

From the president’s perspective, America’s schools are crumbling and Washington needs to step in and invest $30 billion to rebuild them, a move Obama has said will both “create a better learning environment,” and, “create good jobs for local construction workers.”

But more government spending is just about the last thing on the minds of any GOP presidential candidate. Rather than pushing for further investments, White House hopefuls are touting their ability to rein in spending.

In New Jersey, where rumors abound that Gov. Chris Christie may toss his hat into the GOP race, the governor used a line-item veto to strip $500 million from education funding. Christie also helped usher in public employee pension reform which will save the state $130 billion over the next 30 years, a move that, coupled with decreases in collective bargaining rights, infuriated teachers unions.

Faced with a $15 billion budget deficit this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed off on $4 billion in cuts to education in the 2012 and 2013 budgets.  The Texas State Teachers Association estimates that as many as 49,000 teachers may be laid off as a result of the cuts and 43,000 college students will lose all or part of their financial aid.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in August that the Texas school system “has really struggled” while Rick Perry has been in the state house and that he feels “very, very badly for the children there.”

But while Texas spends less per student than almost any other state, the Lone Star state’s test scores fall within a few points of the national average in both reading and math. High school graduation rates are within 2 percentage points of the national average as well.

“The president’s secretary of education may want to do a little more homework before commenting on education in Texas,” Perry’s spokesman Mark Miner said shortly after Duncan’s comments were aired on Bloomberg.

Perhaps the biggest beef Perry has had with the Department of Education was over the administration’s Race to the Top competitive state grant program. Texas was one of four states that chose not to participate in the $4 billion program that Perry said “smacks of a federal takeover of public schools” and “could very well lead to the ‘dumbing down’ of the rigorous standards we’ve worked so hard to enact.”

Perry is not alone in his dislike of the federal program. In fact, his fellow GOP candidates, Michele Bachmann, Gary Johnson and Ron Paul, not only condemn Race to the Top but have said they would do away with the entire Department of Education.

At the last GOP debate, Bachmann said that if elected, she would “go over to the federal Department of Education, I’d turn off the lights, I’d lock the door and I’d send all the money back to the states and localities.”

If Christie decides to jump in the race, he would be the only GOP contender that supports Race to the Top. Under Christie’s direction, New Jersey fiercely competed for the federal funds, but because of an application error lost out on a potential $400 million grant.

Christie is one of the only candidates who has praised any part of the Obama administration’s education policies. In April, Christie said Duncan has been “a great ally” in education reform and that he and the secretary have “a lot in common … in the education reform agenda.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has tried to distance himself from the Obama administration’s education policies. At a recent debate in Florida, he challenged accusations from Perry that he had flip-flopped on his support for Race to the Top, saying, “I don’t support any particular program that’s he’s describing.”

While Romney has not called for closing down the Department of Education, he stressed that “we need to get the federal government out of education.”

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney pushed to double the number of spots available at charter schools and vetoed a bill that would have put a moratorium on expanding the school choice program.

Jeanne Allen, the president of the Center for Education Reform, said Romney and Christie are similar in their stances on education in that they each take about half of their education policy from Obama’s book and about half from former president George W. Bush’s.

“The distinction is that neither would likely have an appetite for the kinds of jobs bill and money approach that makes Obama unique right now,” Allen said.

Under a Romney or Christie administration, there would be “a balance,” she said, between the federal role and the state role.

“It would be less heavy handed than we are seeing now under Obama,” Allen said.

Daily Headlines for September 29, 2011

Fighting the Feds: 2012 Candidates Want States to Control Education
ABC News, September 29, 2011
So when it comes to education policy debates, whether it’s the Democratic incumbent or the array of Republican challengers, all eyes – and talking points – are on two things: the federal government’s role and the overall cost.

Obama Tells Students: Discover New Passions
Washington Post, DC, September 28, 2011
For an incumbent president facing a tough reelection campaign, no public appearance is completely free of political content. But President Obama’s annual back-to-school speech to the nation’s students, delivered Wednesday at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Northwest Washington , was about as close as it gets.

No Child Waivers Make Sense For Now
Philadelphia Inquirer, PA, September 29, 2011
Members of Congress railing against the Obama administration’s decision to grant waivers from the sweeping No Child Left Behind education law have little ground to stand on.

Coming Together to Dismantle Education Reform
TIME, September 29, 2011
A new consensus is emerging in education politics. But can the center hold? And would reformers even want it to? Bipartisanship is supposed to be a good thing — except for when Republicans and Democrats come together to try to paper over our education problems.

Teachers Union Launches Ad Campaign Supporting Obama Jobs Bill
The Hill, DC, September 28, 2011
The National Education Association (NEA) launched a multistate television ad campaign Wednesday in support of President Obama’s American Jobs Act.

Romney’s Race From the Top
American Spectator, September 29, 2011
The GOP field would rather ignore education altogether, even to the point of dismissing sensible, conservative ideas that could get better bang for taxpayers’ buck. This was particularly clear when Texas Gov. Rick Perry took aim at Romney for praising President Barack Obama’s school reform agenda.

FROM THE STATES

CALIFORNIA

Whitman Returns to Her Valley Roots
Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2011
The announcement of Ms. Whitman’s new job eclipsed another development: She and her husband, neurosurgeon Griffith Harsh IV, are donating at least $2.5 million to Summit Public Schools, a charter-school organization in Redwood City that is planning to create a “college-ready corridor” with 10 new local high schools over the next decade.

Rocky Point School, Gateway District Feud To
Record Searchlight, CA, September 28, 2011
A dispute that had a charter school talking litigation and its parent district broaching revocation may be nearing a close, officials from both organizations said Wednesday.

$12.6-Million Grant Will Open 13 New L.A. Charter Schools
Los Angeles Times, CA, September 28, 2011
Two California-based charter school organizations have been awarded $12.6 million in federal grants to start 13 new campuses in Los Angeles, federal education officials announced Wednesday.

FLORIDA

From Minnesota to Miami: The History of Florida Charter Schools
State Impact NPR, September 28, 2011
Charter schools are an idea dreamed up by an obscure education professor in the 1970s which have grown into a primary alternative to traditional public schools.

Milburn Academy Grabs Attention of NAACP
Bradenton Herald, FL, September 29, 2011
Richard Milburn Academy, an alternative charter school catering to 17- to 22-year-olds, continues to garner attention since Manatee County School Superintendent Tim McGonegal recommended the school be closed.

Volusia County School Board Approves Expansion of Daytona Beach Charter High School
Daytona Beach News-Journal, FL, September 29, 2011
A plan to expand a Daytona Beach charter high school to serve students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades passed its first review by the Volusia County School Board.

GEORGIA

Fulton School System Pushes To Submit Charter System Petition By End Of The Year
Revue & News , GA, September 28, 2011
Faced with a December deadline to submit a petition to the state, leaders of the Fulton County School System are finalizing the process, which could lead to Fulton becoming Georgia ‘s largest charter school system.

ILLINOIS

Hard To Duck Plague of Bad Schools
Chicago Sun Times, IL, September 28, 2011
Hallelujah!” “Thank you, Jesus!” some shouted as the balls were plucked and winners were announced that summer night. Such was the admissions process for Southland College Preparatory, a new charter school in the south suburbs then scheduled to open in fall 2010.

INDIANA

Planning Under Way For 2 Area Charters
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, IN, September 29, 2011
The Fort Wayne Urban League and a central Indiana charter school operator have filed initial paperwork seeking the OK to open new charter schools in Fort Wayne.

LOUISIANA

Coalition Opposes Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Picks For State Education Board
Times Picayune, LA, September 28, 2011
A coalition of state groups pushing to throw a road block in front of Louisiana ‘s current approach to public school reform released a partial list of endorsements for state board of education races Wednesday.

MARYLAND

Howard’s School Choice
Baltimore Sun, MD, September 28, 2011
One of the great ironies of education reform in Maryland is that for all the standardization and testing directed at the classroom, the one place where there’s no clear-cut formula for success is how school boards should be selected. Some boards are elected by voters (with candidates running at-large or by district), some are appointed (or appointed and then affirmed by vote) while others are hybrids of the two.

MASSACHUSETTS

Contract Bid Issue Clouds State’s Role On Charter School
Gloucester Times, MA, September 28, 2011
The letter sent by Inspector General Gregory Sullivan to the state’s education commissioner regarding the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School’s no-bid contracts doesn’t really raise new questions regarding the school.

MICHIGAN

Save Scarce Funding For Classrooms
The Detroit News, MI, September 29, 2011
Around 40 districts in Michigan — 7 percent of districts — pay some teachers to work at least half of their time on union matters, according to a report earlier this year from Michigan Capitol Confidential, an arm of the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy. That’s a significant number, and many more districts allow teachers some free time, known as release time, to conduct union business.

Covington Starts Work with Detroit School Visits
The Detroit News, MI, September 29, 2011
The man hired to operate a statewide system for failing schools visited Detroit schools for the first time Wednesday and came away with a few observations — both good and bad.

Senate Panel Backs Lifting Cap On Michigan Charter Schools
Detroit Free Press, MI, September 28, 2011
A bill that would lift the cap on opening charter schools in Michigan – allowing for an unlimited number of charters to open – was approved this afternoon by the Senate Education Committee.

Readers Ask Whether Public Money Should Go To For-Profit Charter School Management Companies
Grand Rapids Press, MI, September 28, 2011
Lifting Michigan’s cap on charter schools is expected to be discussed today at a state Senate Education Committee, as lawmakers consider a sweeping package of school reforms backed by Republicans.

MISSOURI

Charter Schools Need Serious Reforms, Report Finds
St. Louis Beacon, MO, September 28, 2011
More than 10 years after the first charter school opened in St. Louis, too many charters have fallen short of their promise and need more financial help, stricter oversight and stronger incentives to improve student achievement, a report released this week by FOCUS St. Louis concludes.

Charter Schools Should Do Right, or Close Down
St. Louis American, MO, September 29, 2011
I am supportive of children receiving a quality education, no matter where they go to school – district, charter, private, virtual or home-school.

Lawmakers Tackle Unaccredited School Exodus
Missouri New Horizon, MO, September 29, 2011
With several thousand more Missouri public school students about to join the ranks of those attending unaccredited districts, a legislative committee hopes to make sure those students get the best education possible without overwhelming nearby accredited school districts with a sudden surge in enrollment.

NEW JERSEY

N.J. Senator Challenges State Department Of Education To Reveal Those Who Voluntarily Select New Charter Schools
Star-Ledger, NJ, September 18, 2011
Citing possible conflicts of interest on the part of volunteer reviewers who helped select new charter schools, a New Jersey state senator filed a legal challenge to force the state Department of Education to turn over the reviewers’ names.

NEW YORK

Charter School Accused Of Scrimping On Student Supplies And Support Under State Investigation
New York Daily News, NY, September 29, 2011
A controversial Bedford-Stuyvesant charter school that parents charge is shortchanging students on supplies and services is being audited by the state controller’s office.

Mount Vernon Lawsuit Against Amani Charter School Goes To Albany On Friday
The Journal News, NY, September 29, 2011
The Mount Vernon Board of Education will take its legal battle against the city’s first charter school to Albany on Friday, amid an intensifying money dispute.

NORTH CAROLINA

Teacher Effectiveness Focus Is Good Move
Charlotte Observer, NC, September 29, 2011
With this understatement Tuesday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Rhonda Lennon summed up the fiasco that CMS’s pay-for-performance plan had become: “We got off on the wrong foot.”

PENNSYLVANIA

Pocono Mountain Charter School Celebrates Ruling By Appeals Board
Pocono Record, PA, September 29, 2011
The Tobyhanna charter school held a building-wide celebration Wednesday about the news the state will allow it to stay open. The event was a rousing, clapping, screaming event that busted through the politics and legalities of the long-standing fight that broke it down into one simple message — the school staying open.

Foundation Applies for Charter in CUSD
Delaware County Daily Times, PA, September 29, 2011
A private foundation that partnered with the Chester Upland School District to form an integrated arts elementary school has decided to pull from the partnership and apply for a charter school within the district.

RHODE ISLAND

Conn. Charter School Impresses Chafee
Providence Journal, RI, September 28, 2011
Governor Chafee on Tuesday praised an experimental school in Connecticut for helping poor urban students score as well on tests as their peers in more affluent suburbs.

TENNESSEE

Teacher Evaluations Questioned As Time-Consuming
Commercial Appeal, TN, September 29, 2011
Legislators across the state say the new process for teacher evaluations — starting this year — happened too fast and needs to slow down before teachers and principals rise up in revolt.

WASHINGTON

Core Academic Standards Bring Promise of Consistent Student Preparation
Seattle Times, WA, September 28, 2011
A coherent educational system with the opportunity of education truly equalized is the promise of a set of core academic standards adopted by about 40 states so far, including Washington.

VIRTUAL LEARNING

Online Courses Aim To Keep Students On Track To Graduate
Maryland Independent, MD, September 28, 2011
Jasmine Jones, a senior at Great Mills High School, says now that she didn’t do so well the second half of her junior year, mainly because she stopped going to school regularly.

Georgia Cyber Academy Means School Anytime and Anywhere
WXIA-TV, GA, September 18, 2011
Ten-year-old Isabella Kessinger of Alpharetta is in Washington, D.C. , this week and visiting all the historic sites: Lincoln Monument , the King Memorial, the FDR Memorial and more. She’s also spending at least five hours a day in school.

Students, Money Go To East TN Virtual School
The Tennessean, TN, September 28, 2011
The Dickson County School System has lost several students and tax dollars to Union County – a tiny county of less than 18,000 people in East Tennessee.

Axner, State Task Force To Study Online Learning
The Week Dublin, OH, September 29, 2011
Dublin City Schools Superintendent David Axner is one of 20 school leaders in Ohio to be drafted for the Ohio Digital Learning Task Force.

Pennsylvania Legislative Services: Charter Schools Urge Legislature to Pass Education Reform Bills

By Matt Hess
Pennsylvania Legislative Services
September 28, 2011

The Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools held a press conference this afternoon to urge lawmakers to vote for education reform bills that they said would provide additional accountability and transparency measures to charter schools.

Lawrence Jones, President of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said the reform measures are “long overdue” and emphasized “we are here to talk about choice in education, to support high quality, but more specifically to support children.”

Jenny Bradmon, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Families for Public Cyber Schools, said the legislation would bring “extra layers of accountability for our schools” and urged lawmakers “to treat our charter school students the same as you treat any other students.”

Secretary of the Department of Education Ron Tomalis said the governor is in support of the reforms and spoke in favor of charter schools. “We are no longer in a time of experimentation. We are in a time that this is part of the foundation of choices, part of the foundation of public education,” he stated. “We need to act quickly to provide more opportunities for students across Pennsylvania. We are looking for a bill that will strengthen reauthorization. A single, statewide authorizer that can provide the oversight and quality assurance is an important part. We also need additional transparency and accountability.”

Sen. Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin), Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, spoke in favor of the reform measures and called on the legislature to act.

“I’m tired of rallies, the time for rallies is over,” he stated. “It’s the time for action. It’s time for leadership. The time for rallies is gone. The time for action is here. We need choice in education and we need it as soon as possible.”

Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), Minority Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, emphasized that financial transparency and academic accountability is crucial to the success of education choice in

Pennsylvania. “Don’t walk away from critics, don’t hide anything,” he stated. “Come forward to make your case because you can compete with any school in this commonwealth with academic accountability.”

Rep. Tony Payton (D-Philadelphia) said there are tens of thousands waiting to get into charter schools and encouraged passage of the bills. “The time for action is now,” he stated. “The new language includes the strongest accountability measures we’ve seen in some time and that’s something we should all embrace. We should also embrace choice. Many parents have already chosen but many have been locked out by school districts. Allowing for a statewide authorizer is something that is necessary.”

“This is not a party issue and we are working in a bipartisan basis because it is about our children and our future,” Rep. Thomas Killion (R-Delaware) stated. “Let’s get ‘er done.”

Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) took issue with critics of charter schools. “We are in the middle of the ring, we got up off the floor, we cleaned ourselves off and you required us to get in better shape so offered a bill that will become law,” he stated. “The time of rallies, the time of arguments, the time of bleeding is over. The time for getting it on is here.

Stop hiding in the corners. Stop trying to scare legislators. Stop talking about what reformers look like: we’re black, white, urban, rural suburban.

All of us are on it because guess what is most important to us: Pennsylvania’s children.” He added “those in special interests expecting a paycheck: I’m sorry to step on your toes because we are getting ready to step on your back.”

Los Angeles Times: $12.6-million grant will open 13 new L.A. charter schools

September 28, 2011
Los Angeles Times

Two California-based charter school organizations have been awarded $12.6 million in federal grants to start 13 new campuses in Los Angeles, federal education officials announced Wednesday.

Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which received $3.1 million, will open 10 new campuses in Los Angeles County, adding to 20 existing middle and high schools.

The organization, headed by Judy Burton, a former senior administrator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, focuses on smaller campuses, longer school days and years, rigorous instruction and high expectations.

“This is absolutely great news,” Burton said. “Given all the financial cuts in California now, it makes a huge difference to know we have startup funds for the new schools.”

KIPP, which stands for Knowledge Is Power Program, will open three new middle school campuses in South and East Los Angeles beginning with fifth-grade classes next year.

The charter organization received a total $9.4 million in grants and will also open 15 other schools in Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Chicago; Washington; Gaston, N.C.; Houston; Jacksonville, Fla.; Memphis, Tenn.; Newark, N.J.; New York; and San Antonio.

KIPP, which also emphasizes high expectations, more time in school and effective school leadership, operates 109 schools in 20 states and the District of Columbia, enrolling more than 32,000 students.

KIPP and Alliance have been highly praised for raising academic achievement among their students, who are overwhelmingly low-income Latinos and African Americans.

Burton said one of the biggest reasons for success has been more instructional time.

Alliance school days are an hour longer than those in traditional schools, and while the school year is 190 days at a time, many school districts have cut back to 175 days to reduce costs.

In addition, Alliance students attend a 20-day summer session.

“We believe that, particularly at the secondary level, the students can learn — they just need more time to learn,” Burton said.

Marcia Aaron, executive director of KIPP LA, said high expectations, giving principals power over budgets and hiring, and focusing on results are key to her students’ success.

“We believe all can and will learn given the right environment,” she said.

The awards were among nine grants totaling $25 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Education. All told, the new schools will serve nearly 45,000 students in 124 new and three expanded charter schools over the next five years.

Charter schools are publicly financed and independently operated; most are nonunion.

“Several high-quality charter schools across the country are making an amazing difference in our children’s lives, especially when charters in inner-city communities are performing as well, if not better, than their counterparts in much wealthier schools,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.

Columbus Dispatch: Bill to expand school vouchers draws flak

Districts consider House proposal a threat; backers cite need

By  Catherine Candisky
The Columbus Dispatch
Wednesday September 28, 2011 7:42 AM

Public schools are stepping up efforts to derail previously obscure legislation that could divert millions of dollars from taxpayer-funded schools to private and parochial ones.

The Worthington Board of Education this week became the first local district to formally oppose House Bill 136, which would offer low- and middle-class parents tax-funded vouchers to pay private-school tuition, regardless of how well their public schools are doing.

Currently, vouchers are available only to parents of students attending low-performing schools. Family income is irrelevant.

The bill would award scholarships ranging from $2,313 to $4,626 to families with household incomes up to $95,000 a year on a sliding scale. The total amount of the voucher would be deducted from the state aid to the local school district.

The potential loss for local districts is staggering because the legislation also would make vouchers available to qualifying families of the nearly 200,000 students currently enrolled in private schools. Under the bill, private-school students would be phased into the program over four years, starting with those in kindergarten.

Board President Marc Schare said the scholarship would exceed the roughly $1,300 the district gets in per-pupil state aid each year, so Worthington schools would lose as much as $3,300 in tax dollars and have to make that up with money generated from local levies.

“The issue is the diversion of local property-tax dollars to a cause other than what it was intended to do,” said Schare, who calls himself a school-choice proponent. “It would be as if the legislature took dollars from a local library levy and used those dollars to fund gift certificates for Barnes & Noble. They might do a better job for some people, but that isn’t why the money was generated in the first place.”

Public-school advocates are turning up the heat on lawmakers after a House committee controlled by majority Republicans recommended passage of the bill along a mostly party-line vote.

“The bill needs to be killed. It’s bad for public education. This is privatization, not school choice,” said Damon Asbury, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association.

The organization alerted local boards this week, urging them to call their representatives and pass resolutions opposing the bill. It’s unclear how many families would qualify for a voucher. But it could be significant considering that more than 40 percent of Ohio’s 1.8 million public-school students are eligible for the federal lunch program.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said he will be meeting with superintendents and thinks the bill will need to be reworked to secure enough votes to pass the House.

Some, he said, think the income requirements should be lowered and others oppose a provision that allows unused voucher money to go into an account that parents can use for other educational expenses. For instance, if a parent doesn’t need the full voucher for elementary-school tuition, they can save it and apply it toward high-school tuition, which tends to be more expensive, or even tuition at an Ohio college or university — public or private.

“I think the system should be based on need, not geography,” Huffman said. “I’m trying to fill a gap for people who don’t have a real option for a brick-and-mortar school and equalize the inequities in the current program.”

Chad L. Aldis, executive director of School Choice Ohio, said, “This bill puts the focus on the needs of the individual students.”

Ohio, he said, is the only state awarding vouchers based on school performance. Other states provide them based on income.

Carolyn Jerkowitz, of the Catholic Conference of Ohio, said her board supports efforts to provide financial assistance to parents wanting to send their children to Catholic and other private schools. That said, there might not be room for everyone who wants to come.

“We don’t open schools that quickly. There are schools with room in them, but not necessarily room in every class,” she said.

Daily Headlines for September 28, 2011

Promoting Jobs Bill In Denver, Obama Highlights $60 Billion For Schools
Washington Post, DC, September 28, 2011
As he has barnstormed the country to promote the American Jobs Act, President Obama has made the case that spending money now will pay off later for the United States ’ global productivity and competitiveness. And one of the biggest investments he is proposing comes in education.

The President’s Plan For The Economy And Education
Denver Post, CO, September 28, 2011
Imagine Steve Jobs trying to design the next generation of tablet computers using mainframe hardware from the Eisenhower administration. Or American automakers trying to out-engineer foreign competitors on an assembly line with equipment from the 1960s.

Don’t Let Learning Fall Victim To Politics
Minneapolis Star Tribune, MN, September 27, 2011
During last week’s GOP presidential debate, several candidates drew applause by calling for the elimination of the federal Department of Education.

FROM THE STATES

CALIFORNIA

Horizon Opens New Charter Program in Roseville
Rossville Press Tribune, CA, September 28, 2011
In a seventh-grade science class, student Joel Reedy demonstrates how magicians use light refraction for optical illusions by dipping a test tube filled with oil into a beaker of oil.

State Should OK Smarter Ways To Judge Schools
Sacramento Bee, CA, September 28, 2011
Any family looking to move into a neighborhood with good schools knows the magic “800″ number.

FLORIDA

School District Could Add 2 Charter Schools
Tallahassee Democrat, FL, September 28, 2011
Leon County could be looking at the addition of two charter schools opening as early as next summer.

Seminole Nixes 3 Proposed Charter Schools
Orlando Sentinel, FL, September 27, 2011
Plans for three new charter schools in Seminole County were rejected Tuesday by the School Board, which agreed the proposed charters were poorly planned and not needed.

More Orange County Teachers Will Get Low Ratings Under New Evaluation Plan
Orlando Sentinel, FL, September 27, 2011
A new evaluation system mandated by state law and negotiated with the teachers union will result in a slight increase in the number of Orange County teachers who will get “unsatisfactory” ratings this school year.

Milburn Academy Shutdown Would Be Third in Florida
Bradenton Herald, FL, September 28, 2011
Bradenton’s Richard Milburn Academy may be closing sooner than expected, making it at least the third Milburn school to be shut down in Florida .

GEORGIA

School Board To Decide Fate Of Charter Schools At Meeting
Marietta Daily Journal, GA, September 28, 2011
The Cobb County School Board is expected to decide the fates of four charter schools at its Thursday night meeting.

LOUISIANA

Louisiana Charter School Monitoring Plan Ready For Review
Times Picayune, LA, September 27, 2011
The Louisiana Department of Education will lay out a plan for keeping a closer eye on independent charter schools today that includes restructuring the department’s charter office, an increase in funding and more clearly defined roles for the different state officials involved in the job.

MASSACHUSETTS

On Charter Time
Boston Globe, MA, September 27, 2011
THE STORYLINE from the latest MCAS results is disappointing: Overall, our schools are only making slow progress narrowing the gap between low-income and middle-class kids.

Mass. Will Seek ‘No Child’ Waiver
Boston Globe, MA, September 27, 2011
Massachusetts is joining a growing number of states in seeking a waiver from an unpopular provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that has cast hundreds of schools in a harsh light, a top state education official announced yesterday.

State IG Again Eyes Charter No-Bid Spending
Gloucester Times, MA, September 27, 2011
The Gloucester Community Arts Charter School is drawing fire for its bidding and purchasing practices — again.

MICHIGAN

Anti-Teacher Union Bills Will Hurt Schools
Detroit News, MI, September 28, 2011
Right now, Republican politicians are more intent on attacking teachers and other school employees than doing anything that is proven to help students or create jobs.

Professor: Change Name Of Charter Schools To ‘Corporate’ Or ‘Franchise’ Schools Because They Are Not What Was Intended
Grand Rapid Press, MI, September 17, 2011
Charter schools have strayed so far from their original intent that they should be renamed “corporate” or “franchise” schools instead, a Western Michigan University professor told a state Senate Committee.

Bing Reignites Philanthropist’s Interest In Schools
The Detroit News, MI, September 28, 2011
Bob Thompson wanted to transform public education in Detroit in 2002, so the millionaire philanthropist offered the city $200 million to build 15 charter high schools.

MISSOURI

KC Charter School Gets Perfect Score on State Performance
Fox 4KC, MO, September 27, 2011
A charter school in the KCMSD has been awarded accreditation with distinction for meeting every state standard for performance.
The University Academy is a K-12 urban charter school. It opened its doors to 18 new students after the Kansas City School District lost its accreditation.

NEW JERSEY

Rural Schools in N.J. Sue for Funding
Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2011
Sixteen rural school districts have sued New Jersey, saying Gov. Chris Christie illegally cut their state funding.

NORTH CAROLINA

Officials Eye Tech School For Virgo Charter
Star News, NC, September 27, 2011
A possible charter school at the former Virgo Middle School site downtown got a name and some bones Tuesday night.

OHIO

Bill To Expand School Vouchers Draws Flak
Columbus Dispatch, OH, September 28, 2011
Public schools are stepping up efforts to derail previously obscure legislation that could divert millions of dollars from taxpayer-funded schools to private and parochial ones.

Bill Would Block Students From Poor-Performing Charter Schools
Daily Record, OH, September 28, 2011
School officials from northeast Ohio urged lawmakers Tuesday to change state law to block parents from enrolling their children in poor-performing charter schools.

First Combined Charter/Public School In Ohio
WKYC, OH, September 27, 2011
It’s the start of school and you see something unusual at Garrett Morgan School of Science as kids enter the building. Garrett Morgan High School students and elementary charter school students go in through metal detectors and xray machines together.

PENNSYLVANIA

Pocono Mountain Charter School Wins Appeal, Will Stay Open
Pocono Record, PA, September 28, 2011
The Pocono Mountain Charter School will remain open. The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Charter Appeals Board Tuesday rejected an effort by the Pocono Mountain School District to revoke the school’s charter.

Official Defends Ads For Deer Lakes Public Schools
Valley News Tribune, PA, September 28, 2011
Superintendent Dean Casello doesn’t see a problem with school districts using tax money to pay for advertisements promoting public education.

TENNESSEE

Shelby County Charter School Organizers Seek Millions In Funds
Commercial Appeal, TN, September 28, 2011
Shelby County Schools has received nearly three times the number of charter school applications this year as in previous years combined.

Board Asks State To Reconsider New Teacher Eval Regs
The Daily News Journal, TN, September 28, 2011
City Schools administrators are spending too much time evaluating veteran teachers, time which could be better used helping newer teachers become more effective in the classroom, Director Linda Gilbert said.

WISCONSIN

Unified Committee To Work On Retaining Possible Voucher Students
Journal Times, WI, September 27, 2011
Unified is creating a Choice Committee to promote and expand student options in the district in order to keep students enrolled.

VIRTUAL LEARNING

New Audit of Online Schools Gains Traction at Colorado Capitol
Denver Post, CO, September 18, 2011
For the second time in less than a decade, Colorado’s rapidly growing online schools may face the scrutiny of state auditors.

Blended Model Best Way For Kids To Learn
Idaho Press Tribune, ID, September 28, 2011
In recent weeks, parents and teachers across the state have expressed concern over the State Board’s recommendation of two online courses for every high school student.

The Notebook: Big test score gains at Renaissance charters

by Benjamin Herold

ASPIRA Mastery Charter Schools Education Week Promise Academies Universal Companies INN feed Young Scholars Charter Schools low-performing schools WHYY/NewsWorks Renaissance Schools

For the Notebook’s October print edition on school turnarounds, we took a comprehensive look at the city’s initial group of seven Renaissance charter schools. This article looks at test score gains at the schools. You can also read more about the extent to which the schools remained neighborhood schools.

Philadelphia’s new “Renaissance” turnaround operators are reporting big gains on the 2011 PSSA exams at the seven long-struggling public schools they converted to charters last year.

All the converted schools saw improvements in both reading and math scores. Six of the seven saw double-digit gains in math.
At Stetson Middle School, for example, 55 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in math last year, up 22 points from 2010. Stetson also saw an 8-point jump in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading, from 25 percent to 33 percent.

“We’re elated,” said Alfredo Calderon, the executive director of ASPIRA of Pennsylvania, which now manages the school.

In 2010, then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman launched her Renaissance Schools initiative, aimed at quickly turning around some of the city’s toughest elementary and middle schools. Seven schools were handed over to four outside managers for conversion to charters, and six more were slated for internal turnaround as District-run Promise Academies.

This year, six more schools, including three neighborhood high schools, have been converted to Renaissance charters. Three more schools were designated Promise Academies.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is expected to release official PSSA results for all schools in the state later this week. But ASPIRA and fellow Renaissance operators Mastery Charter Schools, Scholar Academies, and Universal Companies each provided preliminary PSSA results to the Notebook in advance of the official announcement.

There could be slight fluctuations in the final numbers, but the overall picture at the Renaissance charters is clearly encouraging, said Thomas Darden, the District’s deputy chief for strategic programs.

“Turning around neighborhood schools that have been chronically underperforming ranks as one of the toughest challenges in public education, and the District is very pleased to see these gains in academic performance,” said Darden.

Tyhesha Ross, the parent of a second grader at Mastery-Harrity in West Philadelphia, said the change from 2010 and 2011 was remarkable.

Before Mastery took over, ““the system was broken,” said Ross, speaking when Mastery released their PSSA results earlier in the summer.
“Teachers were overwhelmed, and students were not given the help they needed,” she explained.
But in the 2010-2011 school year, she said, things were different.

“It was a positive change. I got five text [messages] a week from his teacher, telling me something positive about my son,” said Ross.

From 2010 to 2011, the percentage of Harrity students scoring proficient or advanced in math jumped 17 points, from 38 to 55 percent. There was a 10-point jump in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading, from 27 to 37 percent.

Mastery CEO Scott Gordon cited high expectations for students and intensive supports for teachers as the keys to achieving the quick turnaround.

“The big picture for taxpayers and parents is that failing schools can go from low-achieving, violent places to places that parents choose to send their children to in one year,” said Gordon.

Despite concerns from many that the Renaissance charter operators would seek dramatic results by pushing out the hardest-to-serve students, a comprehensive Notebook review of District student enrollment and retention data showed that the schools drew hundreds of local families back while holding on to most of the school’s prior students.

At Harrity, for example, Mastery added 167 neighborhood students to the school’s rolls while losing about two dozen fewer than typical in years past.

“All the evidence points to the fact that these are the same kids,” said Gordon.
At Stetson, ASPIRA achieved its big PSSA gains while adding 68 new neighborhood students and retaining until June 95.6 percent of those enrolled as of October.

Stetson’s principal, Renato Lajara, also led the school for its last two years under District management, when it struggled mightily with low achievement and high levels of violence.

Lajara stressed that the school’s dramatic transformation wasn’t the result of any single program or strategy. Instead, he attributed the change to better, more supportive management.

“The difference is the District gives you a budget and says, ‘Perform,’” said Lajara. “ASPIRA is the opposite. They ask you what your vision is, and then they apply the budget according to the vision.”

The result, he said, has been smaller class sizes, more support staff, an in-school disciplinary academy to handle disruptive students, and a quicker response to the problems that inevitably arise.

Some of the extra supports at the Renaissance charters are made possible by private funds raised by the managers on top of the per-pupil allotment paid them by the District.

“We don’t do the cookie-cutter approach,” said ASPIRA’s Calderon. “We say, ‘OK, let’s set up the ideal school environment, and let’s figure out how to pay for it.’ We go get the money.”

Mastery employs a similar strategy, investing roughly $1 million extra into each of its turnaround elementary schools in their first year. Most of the money is raised from foundations and private donors.

But Gordon said that money represents a one-time investment to initiate the turnaround process. After the first year, he said, the Renaissance charters would be able to function on the same budgets as traditional District schools.

“We can turn around schools, and it can be done at scale,” he said.

Not all of the initial Renaissance charters experienced sharp gains in their first year.

Universal-Bluford, for example, saw a modest 2-point gain in math and a 4-point gain in reading.

Nevertheless, said Janis Butler, Universal’s executive vice president of education, the organization was excited about the progress they made in year one.

“One of the main goals is to make sure you stop the hemorrhaging,” said Butler. “I caution against big spikes. I want to make sure what we do is lasting and there is a steady increase so that we know it’s real.”

District officials have announced a ninth straight year of districtwide gains and said that 110 of 267 schools met their federally mandated Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets in 2010-11. They have also touted significant gains at their internal turnaround schools, the Promise Academies.

But a comparison of the District’s turnaround schools to those turned over to private management will have to wait until the school-by-school results are announced later this week.

All of the 2011 PSSA results for both District and charter schools have been subject to a forensic analysis looking for statistical irregularities that could be a sign of possible cheating. PDE officials have offered no firm timeline for when that analysis or any of its findings will be released.