NEWSWIRE: April 22, 2014

Vol. 16, No. 16

CHARTERS DO MORE WITH LESS. The Muskegon Heights Charter School System in Michigan posted impressive student achievement statistics in the face of great financial challenge, as is usually the case for charter schools across the country. From 2012-14, average student achievement growth in math and reading across Muskegon schools ranged anywhere from 155 percent in reading among elementary students, all the way to 243 percent in math among high school students. And it’s not just a select few students achieving at these levels, seeing as the average daily attendance rate is over 90 percent at all four schools. Imagine the impact if state laws helped rather than hindered in bolstering charter schools, and yet it’s the Muskegon operators that have to shoulder much of the burden for building costs, among other startup expenses. More must be done to equitably treat charter schools like the public, community schools they truly are.

FORMULA FOR DISASTER. Speaking of charters doing more with less, new legislation with supposedly widespread support in the Pennsylvania Legislature will negatively alter the funding formula that both traditional and charter schools rely on to best serve special education students. If enacted, this new way of allocating to districts would result in special needs charter students receiving 30-60 percent less funding than if they were in a traditional school, rather than their school of choice. In many cases, charter schools, whose missions and operations coincide seamlessly with the specific learning needs of their students, would have to close their doors. Whether it’s allowing multiple, independent authorizers to properly oversee charters or addressing structural funding inequities within charter laws, it’s absolutely essential PA lawmakers reverse course to adopt best practices that are certainly not a secret by now.

A PERFECT GRADUATION RATE!  21st Century Charter School in Gary, IN, is one of six schools in the entire state to have 100 percent of students graduate. (In fact, out of those six schools, two are charter schools!) This is no doubt a major accomplishment and a relief, as it has given another welcomed association with Gary, IN, other than a young Ron Howard singing in “The Music Man.” An exceedingly high graduation rate epitomizes the mission of 21st Century, which states, “all roads lead to – and through – college.” Using a multifaceted approach for its nearly 90 percent low-income student population, 21st Century allows students to obtain college credit, engage in blended learning and participate in extracurriculars. Provided that Indiana continues on its current course of reform, more students will have a chance to access schools like 21st Century!

SCHOOL CHOICE- THE POPULAR KID. It’s a claim that may not come as a shock to Newswire regulars, but needs to be hit home to remind lawmakers that they have public responsibility to take bold action for students in need. Two new state-based polls, one in South Carolina and one in Louisiana, reveal the overwhelming popularity of school choice programs at the state level. Louisiana parents continue to support the recently liberated Opportunity Scholarship program, and two in three South Carolina residents favor tax deductions for scholarships for students seeking a better education. What’s more, respondents in South Carolina suggested they’d be receptive to voucher-like programs even more ambitious than what is currently on the books. All of these results are consistent with CER’s nationwide survey that reveals 74 percent of Americans have a favorable view of “school choice,” meaning lawmakers not just in certain states but across the U.S. should be taking notice.

…BUT DON’T TAKE OUR WORD FOR IT. Polls aren’t the only way to gauge how satisfied and relieved parents are when they have the power to choose the best education for their child. Part of an ongoing series, a powerful video testimonial from families in Oklahoma showed how the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for special needs students has directly led to increased learning and happiness among students. All smiles, students eagerly speak about going to a school where technology in the classroom actually aids the learning process, teachers are able to attend to individualized needs and boost achievement, and it’s easier to make friends. Hearing straight from the students who require educational options to get the resources they need is powerful, and brings to light the tangible need for a portfolio of education options, and the unacceptable fact that there are still students in other states without them.

AMERICAN DREAM AT ASU.  At the Education Innovation Summit happening now in Arizona, CER is on the ground listening to its Board members Michael Moe, Jonathan Hage and Edward Fields, and other distinguished leaders as they emphasize the need to keep the vision and beacon of hope alive for the American Dream. While other countries still view America as the land of opportunity, citizens know what conditions are really like in the states and how it’s getting more difficult for those in poverty to escape poverty, and that our education system is a major player in this equation. American education needs to do better, and quickly, to help Americans not only escape poverty, but become competitive on a global level. It’s vital the U.S. education system start embracing innovation in a way that allows for multiple pathways for learning (from public, to private, to homeschool, to online and blended!) so that every student has a chance to succeed. Be sure to follow @CERKaraKerwin and @edreform on Twitter for the latest updates on the ground from the Summit!