CER Position on NC Charter Law Amendment (SB 337)

Download or print your PDF copy of CER Position on NC Charter Law Amendment (SB 337)

Newswire: July 9, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 27

ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT. The Education Committee of the DC City Council deliberated today about Mayor Gray’s “Increasing Access to High Quality Educational Opportunities Act of 2013.” The proposal seeks to reinstate charter authorizing for DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. In her testimony, CER founder and president Jeanne Allen said, “The real issue shouldn’t be whether the Chancellor or the district would be a great authorizer but whether the environment for chartering here needs to be more expansive. And we think the answer to that is yes. In fact, we think the authorizing in DC actually needs a little bit more competition, not less.” With nearly 45% of all public school students enrolled in charters across the nation’s capital and thousands more on waiting lists, the Council need not amend the DC School Reform Act, but designate, as the law currently permits, additional entities like universities to become authorizers. And while DC continues to hold the top seat on CER’s Charter Law Rankings, Allen continued, “the reality is that we’re starting to see a regulatory creep that’s affecting even the best people. Bureaucracy has this pernicious way of getting to even the best people in the best circumstances.”

IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT. Last night, the NC House passed a charter school bill that strips the University of North Carolina (UNC) of its chartering authority. Although UNC has not stepped up to the plate in 18 years to be a leader in chartering like its counterparts in NY, MI, IN, MO and MN have, closing the door to that option now – as the strike-out provisions in SB 337 do – sends the message that North Carolina doesn’t even want the opportunity to join these states as national reform leaders. Simply leaving the provisions currently in law that allows UNC contingent institutions to be charter school authorizers, if they so choose, allows the Tar Heel State to remain among the leaders of creating as many pathways as possible for the creation good schools. Its up to leadership in NC’s Senate to do so.

IT CREEPS, IT SEAPS, IT GLIDES AND SLIDES… News of a lawsuit filed by the BLOB in Washington State challenging the constitutionality of its charter school law comes as no surprise this week. Last November when voters made it clear they wanted to bring these innovative public schools to the Evergreen State, opponents vowed to take action. But what the opposition does not realize is that their claim that charters divert public funds to private organizations is inaccurate and will not hold up in court. While interpretations may vary, courts have consistently ruled that wherever a state legislature is tasked with the authority to establish and fund public education, it may create systems for the establishment of other public schools without violating the Constitution. Charter schools’ constitutionality has been upheld by courts in more than a dozen states, including California, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio.

While Washington’s charter school law is modest at best, allowing only 40 schools to open, it is constitutional. In addition to the newly formed Charter Commission, local school districts can apply to become authorizers. Earlier this year thirteen districts in Washington expressed interest in becoming authorizers. Seattle chose not to and Tacoma voted to delay its application. Spokane is the only district that stepped up to the plate. Spokane Superintendent Shelley Redinger said, “When I first started in Spokane, we did a parent and community survey. It came out loud and clear — before charters passed — that they wanted more options.” November’s election is proof that voters in Washington demand better. More leaders should be listening to their electorate.

REAL LEADERSHIP. At the NEA Conference last week, BLOB delegates honored Gov. Jerry Brown of California as “America’s Greatest Education Governor.” In addition to raising the amount for individual union dues next year (which they did) the NEA reps clearly need to raise their standards for who they consider as the greatest education governor. In recent years, more and more state executives have responded to the growing consensus behind parent empowerment and access to quality educational choices. Not surprisingly, in states such as Indiana, Florida and Louisiana where there is high Parent Power, teacher accountability and choice programs, there is almost always a governor interested in creating more and better opportunities for students. The NEA can increase membership fees all they want, but should really consider changing what they recognize as real leadership in education.

NC Bill to Change State Charter School Law, is “Step Backward”

CER Press Release
Washington, D.C.
July 10, 2013

Jeanne Allen, founder and president, The Center for Education Reform, who has been instrumental in the original passage – and subsequent adjustments to – charter school laws in states across the country over the past 20 years, today issued the following statement regarding North Carolina (NC) SB 337, which was approved by the NC House of Representatives last evening, and awaits final passage in the NC State Senate:

“NC SB 337 is at risk of becoming a step backward for the national charter school movement, which prides itself on creating more choices for students and parents. While the bill contains many positive provisions, it also contains unfortunate language forbidding the University of North Carolina (UNC) System from being a charter school ‘authorizer.’

Our experience at The Center for Education Reform (CER) is that states with strong, multiple chartering authorities, including universities and/or their systems have usually proven to be exceptional authorizers, combining the infrastructure of existing higher education institutions (financial, legal, human resources, educational, etc.), a very high degree of public and legislative scrutiny, and a compelling interest in decreasing the exorbitant costs of remedial education while improving the pipeline for their students.

It’s no wonder then, that the states which lead the national rankings for having successful charters have independent, multiple authorizers, almost all with universities as part of their portfolio. For example:

· The State University of New York has authorized 117 schools across the state from Buffalo to Long Island. SUNY-authorized charter schools are the highest quality ones in the state, and now serve over 35,000 New York students.

· Any public university in Michigan may authorize charter schools. Eleven major universities are now responsible for authorizing the majority of the state’s nearly 350 charter schools, including one university that authorized 59 charter schools serving more than 30,000 students.

· Indiana followed Michigan’s model and authorized public universities in its state charter law, and since then Ball State University has authorized nearly half of the state’s 78 schools.

Although the UNC System has not yet stepped-up to the charter-school plate, to close the door to that option now – per the current strike-out provision in SB 337 – would send the message that North Carolina doesn’t even want the opportunity to join these states as national reform leaders. Simply leaving the provisions currently in law that allow UNC contingent institutions to be charter school authorizers, if they so choose, is far more promising for North Carolina to become a leader in creating as many pathways as possible for parents to have access to better educational opportunities for their children.”

Read more about SB 337 here.

Merit Prep’s Great Gains

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In its first year, Merit Prep, a Newark, New Jersey charter school managed by Touchstone, helped students gain 2 years of growth in reading and 1.25 years of growth in science. 90% of Merit Prep’s students are low income.

Read more about how this charter school boosted student success in Public Impact’s latest Opportunity Culture case study.

DC Vouchers: Success on All Fronts

kids in uniform

The numbers are in from the 2012-13 school year, and parents with students in the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program are overwhelmingly satisfied with schools their children attend, as well as their children’s academic progress.

It’s not hard to see why parents are happy, with 97% of DC OSP students graduating from high school and 91% enrolling at a 2-or-4 year college.

Please see here for the complete Parental Satisfaction & Program Summary for the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program 2012-2013.

For more information on school choice, check out Facts on School Choice and the Parent Power Index.

Charting New Frontiers for Charter Schools

by Jeanne Allen
Huffington Post
July 3, 2013

As leaders of the charter school movement gather in Washington, D.C. this week for their annual meeting, they do so in a decidedly mixed frame of mind. Charles Dickens’ famous words in A Tale of Two Cities — “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — could never be more appropriate for this sector of American K-12 education.

On the one hand, charter schools are booming, with a wait list of parents nearly 1 million strong. They have proven their value, with the choice they offer students and their families contributing to higher teacher quality overall and greater transparency in the school districts in which they operate, leading to better educational experiences for U.S. students, with much still to be done.

On the other hand, charter schools are to some degree a victim of their own success, and most certainly they have become captive to high expectations. Just a week ago, a group called CREDO at Stanford University released its quadrennial study on charter school performance. It was research riddled with questionable assumptions — far from charter school performance gospel — but it garnered coverage, in The New York Times, Associated Press and elsewhere.

Indeed, it seems that everyone is eager to learn as much they can about charter school performance. The good thing is that charters have moved beyond curiosities; they are full-fledged players in our national quest to turn around what so many agree had become abysmal school performance and unreliable education outcomes.

At The Center for Education Reform, we are pleased and proud to see the success of charter schools. Our own founding in Washington, D.C. 20 years ago came just a few months after charter schools were born, in Minneapolis. Back then, Minneapolis and a few other urban school districts formed the charter school frontier, occasional outposts of good intentions in a sea of mediocrity.

Some charter schools, to be frank, were born out of desperation. Parents in certain cities were so frustrated with school performance that working in concert with us at the Center they led a revolution against the status quo. These grassroots efforts eventually pushed political leaders to aggressively launch charter schools, or at least to stand aside to allow them to be created.

We attribute part of our success to “Parent Power,” which means giving parents Access to quality educational Options and providing them with good Information to make smart decisions about their children’s education. Our Parent Power Index measures the ability in each state of a parent to exercise choices — no matter what their income or child’s level of academic achievement – engage with their local school and board, and have a voice in the systems that surround their child. The Parent Power Index is our vision for the next generation of “Parent Power.”

Of course, now that charter schools are turning 21-years-old, it’s only logical that they are maturing into young adulthood. In areas where charter schools are well-known and high-performing, an annual waiting list has become common, each year longer than the last. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than two-thirds of charters — 67 percent — across the nation reported having children on their waitlist, with an average waiting list of 214 students. A record 29 charter schools reported waitlists of 2,000 students or more for the 2012-13 school year.

As the Alliance reasoned last week, families who are faced with traditional public schools unable to meet their needs seek better options for their children by applying to public charter schools. And in urban communities that have few, if any, high-quality public school options, the demand for charters can be significantly higher than there are seats available. As a result, families often apply to multiple charter schools hoping to increase their odds.

But just as some 21-year-olds are late bloomers in their development, charter schools have been slow to blossom in certain communities in the U.S. The reasons for this are as varied as the communities they have yet to reach or where they have a very limited foothold. These are the new frontiers for charter schools and, in some ways they are the most exciting places for the charter school movement. That’s because they are beginning to write a new charter school narrative.

Until recently, the charter school story had been fairly straightforward. In poor-performing school districts with charter school options, parents were voting with their feet and sending — or at least attempting to send — their children to charter schools in their communities. This was a rational parent reaction to the decision before them. Since traditional public schools were not working to serve the needs of students, those responsible for the development of those students were logically looking to pursue options that will work.

Some communities, however, have been resistant to charter schools, period. This has been due, in many cases, to the power of entrenched political interests, who see charter schools as a threat to the status quo. When the status quo is viewed as an unqualified success, as many communities promote their school systems to be, then it is naturally difficult to change the course of school district policies to permit charter schools to be part of the education equation.

When a school district achieves a strong reputation, spurring parents who care deeply about their child’s education to move there, then the die becomes cast, seemingly forever. The imagery helps you see where the phrase “riding on a reputation” comes from.

Today’s generation of parents though, is far too savvy and discerning to allow any school district — or any individual school — to ride on a reputation. These parents were for the most part moving through the K-12 system as students themselves at the same time that the “Nation at Risk” report was issued, a seminal moment in the education reform movement. These parents experienced firsthand as children, therefore, what seemed to be the inevitable decline of American education.

Unlike their own parents, however, who seemed resigned to the decline of schools around them, or viewed school choice only through the prism of moving to a new school district, the current generation of parents is impatient and demanding for better school performance right in their backyard. These parents are pushing for better schools no matter where they live, in urban school districts traditionally perceived as weak or in suburban school districts traditionally perceived as strong. Even parents in rural areas are catalyzing change, and embracing online learning (sometimes through virtual charter schools) as an acceptable alternative.

This is the new charter school frontier: a geographically and demographically diverse group of parents, united in their commitment to better schools everywhere. There is no holding these parents down; they are on the march and will not be turning back. They are both inspired and inspiring, and that’s why we at The Center for Education Reform are working to ensure that the path to success is as straight and true as this new generation of “Parent Power” deserves.

Newswire: July 2, 2013

Vol. 15, No. 26
Special Charter Conference Edition

While the NEA is having its annual conference in Atlanta, charter school leaders, teachers, and advocates (and even a few celebrities!) are coming together discussing how to keep the ball rolling on these innovative schools that have already helped move America forward.

From the social media airwaves, we can tell that the same old drones about needing more money are a main focal point of the union’s conference. There’s talk of storming castles, reclaiming professions and public education. Someone forgot to tell the NEA that charter schools are public schools. And, as Pitbull noted in the opening session, “Charter schools are here to stay.” (Yes, he may or may not have said “Dale” after that quote).

Here are a few quick highlights from the 2013 National Charter Schools Conference:

“Charter schools are energizing education in America,” says Pitbull. They respect teachers and give them freedom. To all the teachers in the room – “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

“People need to understand how important it is for all of our kids to get a world class education,” says Michael Lomax of UNCF. “It’s not just low-income kids that aren’t doing well.” He goes on to say that charter schools just need to keep “doing what they are doing” — weed out the bad ones; demand will build.

Howard Fuller energizing the crowd as always, urging the charter school movement not to become the bureaucracy it has been trying to get away from.

Joel Klein emphasizes poverty is not destiny, and education is the solution. “We will not fix poverty until we fix education.” His advice to politicians is courage, which means putting kids first and special interests last.

CER’s EdReform University – the nation’s first and only initiative to inform, educate, and activate those who don’t know much about the history of the edreform movement – was a hit at the charter conference thanks to fantastic edreform pioneer panelists such as: former Ohio state Representative Sally Perz, standards and charter policy expert Theodore Rebarber, former Florida state Representative Ralph Arza, California charter leader Mary Bixby, and CER’s own Kara Kerwin and Founder & President Jeanne Allen.

EdReform U contains hundreds of seminal documents from the founding of the charter school movement, so those unable to attend the EdReform U panel at the conference can enroll online as well as check out some of the highlights below!

Ralph Arza tells listeners to imagine scenes from “Saving Private Ryan” when you think of what pioneers of edreform have done, and calls upon reformers to arm themselves with data.

“I know charter school teachers and officials put kids first,” says Mary Bixby, who wants to see charter school policy that allows charter schools to be innovative, autonomous, and market-driven.

Sally Perz agrees when she was told “Ain’t nothing gonna happen in public education until we get some competition,” which is why she traveled far and wide to see how charter schools were working in other states so Ohio could model its law based on what works. She was told to “bring choice to education in Ohio, but don’t make any trouble.”

“Most policy people aren’t visiting schools in other states these days!” says CER President and Founder Jeanne Allen who recalls how she used to run into edreform pioneers in states that weren’t their home state all the time. She speculates that compromise, lack of diligence, and impatience are all reasons why this isn’t happening anymore. She also strongly encourages people to look at data on charter school closures which are not a new issue for the movement.

“Accountability needs to be primarily parent driven (outrageous situations aside),” Theodore Rebarber says, also noting how charter schools have opened doors for parent power. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but the value of looking back at history is that it helps us think about how we can move forward.” And to that we say Amen!

This study of charter school scores is flawed

by Jeanne Allen
Letter to the Editor
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
July 2, 2013

It’s disheartening to read the June 26 headline “Study: Pa. in Bottom Three for Charter School Scores,” especially when the study is so flawed. The study, from a group called Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO, is anything but charter school performance gospel.

The reality is we cannot make conclusions about Pennsylvania charter schools or charters anywhere else without randomized control trials — the gold standard for research — that use actual student-by-student data over time.

The CREDO report, which produced some unfavorable figures for Pennsylvania charters, fails to use such methods. The report instead employs statistical gymnastics to make spurious comparisons of charter student achievement across state lines while altering data to ensure all students “start” at the same level.

Highly criticized by leading researchers and economists for failing the test of good research, CREDO results don’t accurately convey results of charter and traditional public schools. State-by-state and community-by-community analyses are the only real measures that offer validity for parents and policymakers.

We believe all schools, including charter schools, must be held accountable. The path to accountability must start with strong charter school laws, multiple and independent charter school authorizers, in addition to the highest academic and operational standards.

Charter students improve less at math

by Hailey Heinz
Albuquerque Journal
July 1, 2013

The math scores of New Mexico charter school students improved significantly less than the scores of their traditional school counterparts, according to a new national study that tracked average year-over-year gains from 2007 to 2011.

The study found no difference in the reading gains of charter vs. traditional public school students.

The findings were released Tuesday by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, commonly called CREDO.

The study aims to control for demographic differences between charter and traditional school students. Specifically, researchers assigned each charter student a “virtual twin” student in a nearby traditional school, who is meant to be similar in every way except the choice to attend a charter. The “twin” is similar in ways like initial test scores, ethnicity and whether the student is low-income.

The progress of each charter student is then compared to the progress of his or her “twin.”

Researchers found New Mexico students’ reading progress was unaffected by charter schools. But in math, they found traditional school students gained the equivalent of 29 more days of learning than their charter school peers. According to the report, the days of learning are estimates based on statistical findings.

The report also examined the initial test scores of students who transfer to charter schools. Nationwide, the report found charter students had starting test scores below their statewide averages. But in New Mexico, the average charter school student starts with above-average test scores.

Nationally, the study found good news for charters, especially when compared to CREDO’s last study, released in 2009. That study found charter school students nationally underperformed traditional public school students. The latest study found charters nationally had improved to match traditional schools in math scores, and surpassed them in reading.

Bruce Hegwer, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools, said New Mexico charters have also seen growth since the 2009 report. Specifically, the 2009 report showed New Mexico charters underperforming in both math and reading.

Hegwer, who had just received the 104-page report Tuesday, said it will probably give charters some good feedback.

“My initial thoughts are that I think there’s some valuable information in the report, and I think it kind of gives us some things to take a look at,” Hegwer said.

Hegwer also pointed out that some groups have disputed the report’s methodology and data collection practices. For example, the Washington D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, or CER, released a statement saying the report has “multiple shortcomings.”

“No matter how well-intentioned, the CREDO research is not charter school performance gospel,” said CER President Jeanne Allen. “Similar to its failed 2009 effort, this CREDO study is based on stacking mounds of state education department data into an analytical process that is decidedly lacking in rigor.”

Education Reform University Launches with Hundreds of Seminal Documents from Founding of Charter School Movement

Initiative of Center for Education Reform Coincides with Annual Charter School Conference

CER Press Release
Washington, DC
July 1, 2013

As thousands of school leaders, educators, civic and policy representatives descend on Washington for this week’s annual charter school conference, The Center for Education Reform today released hundreds of documents relating to the movement’s founding. From meeting notes and minutes to legislative strategy papers and even e-mail communications with various education players over the years, the first and only repository of such history is now available at Education Reform University, a new initiative of the Center.

“The need for a real history lesson has been made clear time and time again in our work,” said Center President Jeanne Allen. “In fact, we’ve come to realize that the single largest impediment to lasting, substantive, structural educational improvement is the lack of common knowledge of what has come before. Making this library available to all begins to address this issue.”

Allen added: “As the old adage goes, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. We believe education cannot succeed for every child until everyone involved truly understands how policies that exist today actually happened and leverages such knowledge to accelerate the pace of reform. Progress has been made to be sure, but not nearly enough.”

According to the Center, while 4th and 8th grade scores on the nation’s report card are up, student proficiency in the US among all SES groups remains unacceptably low. Turnaround efforts are often stymied in the face of iron clad teacher union contracts. Even modest performance pay measures pale in comparison to the real notion of merit pay first piloted in the 1990s. And while charter schools are making great progress in solving some problems, the Center estimates the nation could fill another 5,000 charter schools with students on waiting lists, and laments that far too many state laws are compromised by political bargains often made by supporters.

“Our work with legislatures nationwide reinforces the need for a comprehensive understanding of the history of education efforts that have tried and failed, and those that have the staying power to effect student achievement,” said the Center’s Executive Vice President Kara Kerwin. “That’s why Education Reform University is an exciting development for the entire education community, and why the launch of this library is so timely.”

In addition to the new library that will place new publications and media “on the shelf” daily, Education Reform University this fall will begin to provide online courses delivered by experts. In addition, new programs in conventional institutions of higher education will be available to students on a public policy or education track.

Tomorrow at 2:15pm, the Center’s leadership will provide a glimpse of what Education Reform University will teach through a panel featuring former lawmakers from Florida and Ohio, at the National Charter Schools Conference, Room 209 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC. More information is available here.