NEWSWIRE: November 10, 2015


Vol. 17, No. 34

IF NOT HERE, WHERE? That was the slogan on CICS Larry Hawkins charter school students’ shirts yesterday at a press conference called by the sScreen Shot 2015-11-10 at 1.27.45 PMchool to protest its slated closure by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The school improved from a Level 3 to a Level 2 in just one year, but in an obviously political move, CPS changed its closure rules so Hawkins landed on the list. “Just as I’m going up, why are you taking me down?” read one of the signs of a concerned student, many of whom have approached their principal promising they’ll do better and try even harder so their school can stay open. In an area where violence and crime is a major concern, it’s clear this school is a safe haven and community pride for kids where they can focus on learning without having to fear for their lives. Stay tuned…

HIL’S BIG OOPS. It’s a sad day for America when a former top diplomat uses her national media platform and political campaign to inaccurately criticize the thousands of charter school teachers and community leaders who have sacrificed so much to help improve the lives of kids. has the scoop on Hillary Clinton’s comments on charter schools.

EDLECTION WINS. Kentucky and Mississippi voters have elected Governors who have either proven themselves to be champions of real #edreform, or have run on platforms that don’t shy away from being vocal about putting students and families first. For analysis of the winners, head to Education50.

TEACHER CHOOSES CHARTER. Guess what? Despite what unions want you to think, not all teachers are against school choice. In fact, they would like choices too. Why one teacher left a North Carolina district school for a charter school here.

#TEACHSTRONG. A whole lot of interesting groups have signed on to a nine-point plan to “modernize and elevate” the teaching profession. Goals like performance pay and better PD and teacher prep are certainly worthy, and needed. But with so many cooks in the kitchen, is implementation bound to be a recipe for disaster with lackluster reforms that don’t move the needle?

CONNECTING POWERFUL INNOVATORS. iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium is happening now through tomorrow, so be sure to follow @nacol and @GettingSmart on social media, and follow the conversation with the hash tag #inacol15.

VOTE FOR CER’s PANEL. We need your help! Tomorrow is the LAST DAY to vote for CER’s panel to be part of the 2016 National Charter Schools Conference. To vote for the panel, visit the session selector and search: Apples, Oranges? Reconciling Accountability and Innovation in Charter Schools.

Hillary Clinton’s Comments on Charter Schools


Washington, D.C.
November 10, 2015

The following statement was issued by Jeanne Allen, Founder & President-Emeritus, The Center for Education Reform, concerning Hillary Clinton’s misstatements about charter schools:

When a promising presidential candidate violates the basics of truth telling, it’s time for a reset. For 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, it’s time to tell the truth about charter schools. Myths perpetrated by teachers unions and big bureaucracies seem to have trumped her reality.

On Sunday, November 8, while she campaigned in South Carolina, Secretary Clinton said that while she has supported charter schools for “many years now,” they “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.” This statement is not only inaccurate; it libels and defames a movement that has worked tirelessly to educate children who need the greatest help.

Here are the facts: The vast majority of charter schools in the United States serve children who were not succeeding in their traditional public schools. The vast majority of charter schools serve children who live in poverty, or close to poverty. The vast majority of charter schools transform the lives of the kids they serve at a fraction of the cost of traditional public schools. And the vast majority of charter schools not only have to fight to educate children, they have to fight the daily attacks from bureaucrats and special interests who place paychecks and adult jobs over the futures of disadvantaged kids.

There was a time when Mrs. Clinton spoke well of charters. In 1996, she wrote in her book It Takes A Village that she “[found] their argument persuasive,” at least— and was in favor, and would have purportedly been in favor of pro-charter policies her husband, the former President Clinton put forward, including legislation he said would put the nation “well on [Its] way to creating 3,000 charter schools by the year 2000.” More recently, Bill Clinton keynoted the National Charter Schools Conference, applauding and recognizing the innovation that came of age while he was president. He has also spoken eloquently of public charter schools as the keynote speaker at a conference planned by KIPP, one of America’s most respected networks of charter schools.

But just this weekend, out of one side of her mouth she ridiculed these innovative reforms, and then out of the other, she told “News One Now” host Roland Martin that she likes the “idea of charter schools.” The National Education Association, the 3-million member teachers union whose endorsement she recently secured, also supports the “idea,” as long as charters remain part of traditional school district bureaucracies and abide union rules and regulations which stifle freedom and flexibility for teachers and parents, thus neutering the entire concept of charter schools.

I wonder whether or not Mrs. Clinton no longer believes in charter schools because as a candidate in 2008, she lost NEA backing for the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama and along with it the union’s immense PAC and activism engine.

Regardless of the reason, it is a sad day for our great nation when America’s former top diplomat— rather than championing, as an example of American exceptionalism, the thousands of charter school teachers and the community leaders who have sacrificed so much to help improve the lives of kids — uses her national media platform and political campaign to denigrate these heroes, all under the literal banner of ‘fighting for us’.

In short: Hillary Clinton is wrong and she has embarrassed herself by making these outrageous statements. As a partisan, she might want to consider that countless, courageous Democrats have helped enact charter school laws. Democrats are also represented heavily in the ranks of those who have founded charters, who started them, who run them and who teach in them day in and day out. The charter movement is more ideologically and socioeconomically diverse than the traditional public system, by choice, not by zip code.

I encourage Mrs. Clinton to visit a charter school this week, and next, and the week after that. I encourage her to meet with the parents of charter students, who view these schools as saviors for their children. I encourage her to meet with charter school leaders the next time she is South Carolina or New Hampshire and learn about their success in ensuring that their students learn, rather than allowing them to graduate lacking basic skills.

One would think Mrs. Clinton would understand the power of charter schools having allegedly been a citizen (and a Senator) of New York. Indeed evidence of success in charter schools serving the least advantaged among us can be found right down the block from her New York City campaign headquarters. These schools and the more than 6,000 others serving more than 2.8 million children nationwide have demonstrated to America that not only can poor children learn, they can outperform rich kids in tony suburbs if they are given the right tools and attention. What’s more is that charter schools have reinvigorated cities where once the advantaged fled, and which are now, like Washington, DC, economic and gentrified engines of community engagement.

Perhaps it’s our fault as advocates. Many of us may have just assumed that all influential and intellectually rigorous political leaders would read and understand the facts rather than rely on bad data or bad advice. Clearly it is time to re-inform the national education reform conversation and not take for granted, in a crucial political year, that our candidates know the real story. The recent fad of discussing the tiny sliver of charters in America with lagging performance is not even close to being the whole story of school choice in America today.

Instead, let’s talk about the work that the vast majority of charter schools — great, entrepreneurial centers of learning and innovation — do every single day. We can start that transition by encouraging candidates for America’s highest office to tell the truth.

20 years of school choice: How Arizona has evolved

by Anne Ryman
The Republic
November 1, 2015

Valley Academy’s first year was a scary time for the parents and teachers who founded one of the state’s first public charter schools.

Financial problems threatened to shutter the north Phoenix school just a few months after opening in fall 1995. A parent stepped in and arranged a loan for about $100,000. School board members scrubbed toilets. Parents cleaned classrooms. The school’s dirt parking lot turned into a river of mud when it rained.

Fast forward 20 years.

The K-8 school has nearly 800 students with a few hundred more on a waiting list and an “A” rating from the state. A sister school with another 700 students operates six miles to the south. Parents no longer have to clean the school, and the loan has long been repaid.

Best of all: Last year, Valley Academy was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

Valley Academy is a premier example of how school choice has evolved over the past two decades.

In 1994, Arizona passed sweeping legislation that allowed charter schools and made it easier for students to attend schools outside their neighborhood boundaries. The first schools opened in 1995.

The changes were aimed at improving student achievement and giving parents more choices. The early choices were sometimes questionable or unproven. But enough of choice schools have matured to the point where more and more families are seeking options, whether those are neighborhood district schools, charter schools or private schools. And the changes have also altered how district schools — which still educate the majority of Arizona students — approach education as well, adding innovations as the competitive landscape continues to evolve.

Consider these trends:

  • Arizona is ranked No. 3 on the “Parent Power Index” by the Center for Education Reform in Washington, D.C., based on the school choices that are available. Only Florida and Indiana are rated higher.
  • Enrollment in tuition-free charter schools has doubled in the past decade to 170,755. Charters serve 16 percent of students who attend Arizona public schools this fall, up from 9 percent a decade ago.
  • Enrollment in online programs offered by school districts and charter schools more than doubled in four years to about 76,500.
  • Scholarships funded through state tax credits make private schools more affordable for families who want a private or parochial education. These tax credits topped $121 million in fiscal 2014, up from $32 million a decade ago.
  • District schools have launched more specialty programs to keep students and attract new ones. The focuses range from science and technology to arts or Mandarin immersion.
  • A school-voucher-type program for children with special needs has been expanded since 2011 to include other categories of students, including children of active-duty military and children who live on Indian reservations.

“I don’t know of any other state that has a better system in place than we do,” said Greg Miller, president of the Arizona State Board of Education and founder of Challenge Charter School in Glendale.

Miller said Arizona doesn’t get everything right. But state leaders have set the stage for parents to select the right kind of educational opportunity for their children, he said.

The influx of choices has come with plenty of controversy.

Critics say a multitude of choices doesn’t guarantee quality at every school.

They also say choice has meant a battle for already-scarce resources.

The amount of money the state puts toward K-12 education is among the lowest of any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  Charter and district K-12 schools each receive state funds based on enrollment, forcing schools to compete for students and the dollars that go with them.

Districts that lose students, either to charters or for other reasons, receive less per-pupil money from the state the following year. That can mean having to make cuts.

Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill worries that “we’ll see fewer and fewer district public schools that are getting the funding and resources they need to educate the students who most need them.”

The road to school choice

Arizona pushed its way to the front of school choice in a big way when then-Gov. Fife Symington signed a sweeping education-reform law in 1994 that began allowing charter schools. Charter schools are independent schools that get public funding and don’t charge tuition.

The goal behind charters was to improve student achievement and provide additional academic choices. In Arizona, they can be operated by non-profit organizations or for-profit companies.

The first charters began opening in 1995.

Cuyler Reid, a high school English teacher with a preschooler, was among the first in the state to be granted a charter. She and a group of other parents and teachers founded Valley Academy to provide a back-to-basics education with a focus on reading, writing and math. The school also offered special-area subjects such as art, music and Spanish. At the time, there were only a couple of schools in the Valley offering a back-to-basics focus, she said. One was in central Phoenix, the other in Mesa.

“We were filling a niche that was really needed,” she said.

Reid recalled that before the school even opened at 15th Avenue and Rose Garden Lane,  a telephone call from a parent touched her deeply.

The parent told her, “We’re finally going to be able to buy a house because now we don’t have to pay tuition.”

Reid recalls what the conversation meant — and still means — for Arizona families.

“That’s the difference that charters make,” she said. “They give you a choice. Because not everybody fits every mold.”

The 1994 legislation also benefited parents who wanted their children  to attend district schools outside their neighborhoods. The law allowed families to go to a school outside district attendance boundaries for free —  as long as that school had space. The process is known as open enrollment. Before the law changed, districts could charge tuition to out-of-district families.

The state doesn’t track how many families participate in open enrollment. But in large districts, several hundred students can come from outside the district boundaries. The 23,612-student Scottsdale Unified School District, for instance, draws 3,842 students from other districts. Another 5,578 students who live in the Scottsdale district open enroll at schools within the district that are outside of their designated neighborhood schools.

Districts also began offering specialized academic programs to keep students and attract new ones. These are sometimes referred to as “magnet programs” or “magnet schools.”

The Phoenix Union High School District opened Bioscience High School in downtown Phoenix in 2007 where students choose either an engineering or biomedical pathway while still in high school.

The four-year school accepts 350 students, who school officials said come mostly from the 220-square-mile Phoenix Union district.

Sara Calderon, a 16-year-old junior, was planning to go to her neighborhood school, Alhambra High. Then a science teacher at her middle school suggested she check out Bioscience High.

She applied and got in.

She’s glad she did. She said the idea of school choice is becoming more well known. But many students still may not realize they have choices when it comes to school, she said.

“It’s really great because originally that was my mindset. I was like ‘Oh, it’s my home school. Of course I’m going to the closest one.’ And then I realized, no, I don’t (have to) actually. It’s in my hands.”

Calderon’s parents drive her about eight miles to school each day and pick her up. Or they drop her off at a Phoenix light-rail station and she takes the train. After high school, she wants to go to college and major in biomedical engineering.

If the school’s history is any indication, she has an excellent chance of going on to college. Last year, 85 percent of the school’s 2013-14 graduates enrolled in college immediately after graduation. Bioscience High is A-rated and ranked No. 13 in the state for sending students to college, according to a study by the Arizona Board of Regents.


Read the rest of the article here.

NEWSWIRE: November 3, 2015

Vol. 17, No. 43

VOICES OF EDREFORM. Can you hear them? Thousands are advocating for school choice and accountability daily and CER’s You Tube channel has access to many of the leaders who have made edreform happen nationwide. When you need a quick pick me up or want to convince another to come along, have this link at the ready!

VOTE FOR #EDREFORM. Voting today (or soon?) Your special analysis of gubernatorial candidates can be found by clicking on your state at Education50. For determining where all other candidates stand, use this handy guide.

ONLINE STUDY INCOMPLETE. A report that attempts to answer long-held questions about online charter schools and student outcomes unfortunately missed the mark. Don’t miss this must-read from our friends at Getting Smart, who did a stellar job pointing out why this CREDO study would get an “I” for incomplete on its report card. Learn more here and at WSJ Opinion Journal.

NAEP-TASTIC. While it was revealed last week that U.S. students’ scores on the Nation’s Report Card still are not good (66 percent of our nation’s 8th graders can’t read!), there was a shining light as Foundation for Excellence in Education Senior Advisor Matthew Ladner discovered when doing a deeper dive on the scores. Ladner found that Arizona charter schools absolutely rocked the NAEP.

GOOD NEWS IN WINDY CITY. After the charter school moratorium was thwarted in early October, the Chicago Board of Education has unanimously approved two new charter schools to open. Read more here.

KASICH SIGNS CHARTER BILL. While Ohio still has a ways to go in improving its C-rated law, the hard work of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools and their allies should be applauded, as Governor Kasich signed important charter school legislation this week that will uphold accountability and ensure greater transparency.

TEACHER-POWERED. On November 6th & 7th, groups of educators from around the country will gather in Minneapolis, Minnesota to share how they design and run their own schools at the Teacher-Powered Schools National Conference. Join them!

VOTE INNOVATION #NCSC16 PANEL. Do you worry about the fate of innovation in charter schools? If so, go to and vote for Apples, Oranges? Reconciling Accountability and Innovation in Charter Schools, featuring CER Founder & Senior Fellow Jeanne Allen, AEI Resident Fellow Gerard Robinson, Democracy Prep CEO Katie Duffy, and K12 Inc. Senior Vice President Mary Gifford.

Chicago to get new charter schools

After the charter school moratorium was thwarted in early October, the Chicago Board of Education has unanimously approved two new charter schools to open.

Here’s part of the scoop from Sarah Schulte at ABC 7 Chicago:

The Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved plans Wednesday to open two more charter schools in the city.

Supporters say there is a need and demand for quality choices, while opponents say there is no proof that charters do better than a neighborhood schools.

Dueling protests in front of CPS headquarters occurred Wednesday, as high school students protested budget cuts while teachers voiced their usual objections to new charter schools.

“Why open new school when you can’t fund schools you already have?” said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey.

Teachers and CPS students were matched with as many charter school supporters.

The charter school controversy came to a head with the school board considering a proposal to open two new schools. Earlier in the week, CPS announced it would reject several proposals and would only recommend a school by the Kipp operator and a new Southwest Side Noble Network High School.

“We need to give parents the ability to send their children to high quality public schools,” said Pam Whitman, a parent. “Noble and Kitt proposals make that reality.”

Dozens of Noble and Kitt charter parents told the board how charter schools have improved their children’s education, especially in low income areas.

“Parents in these communities are asking for these schools and parents show up for them, the rest of this is just politics,” said Jelani McEwen, a charter school supporter.

And politics is exactly what many charter opponents say is behind charter expansion.

Read the rest of the article here.

Nearly all Chicago aldermen (42 out of 50) had signed a resolution seeking a moratorium on new charter schools in the Windy City and across the state. The Illinois Network of Charter Schools said it best when speaking out against the moratorium, writing the proposed moratorium is misguided and fails to acknowledge the reality that “60,000 Chicago parents have chosen to send their children to charter schools, and thousands of students continue to languish on charter school waitlists.”

On October 28, 2015, hundreds of parents rallied in the rain outside of CPS headquarters to ensure their voices were heard of the need for more options for their children.

Evaluating Online Charter Schools

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Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal
November 2, 2015

Jeanne Allen, founder and Senior Fellow of The Center for Education Reform (CER), sits down with Mary Kissel on Opinion Journal Live to discuss a controversial new study of online charter schools. Click here or below to watch.

For more about the online charter school study, see CER’s statement here.

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New scores add fuel to student-testing debate

by Pauline Liu
Times Herald-Record
November 1, 2015

The fallout is continuing over the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Scores for the tests nicknamed “the Nation’s Report Card” were released last week.

They showed a slight dip in performance since the tests in math and reading were last given to a sampling of fourth- and eighth-graders a couple of years ago.

Less than half of the students tested were able to read or solve math problems at acceptable performance levels.

Is this cause for alarm? Some groups think so.

“Not only are these troublesome statistics on their own, but what’s worse is that the U.S. continues to lag behind other countries, putting our nation’s well-being and economic security at risk,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform.

Read the rest of the article here.

School choices essential

Letter to the Editor
The Tennessean
October 31, 2015

RE: “Charter school fiscal impact in Nashville: It’s real,” by Will Pinkston, Sept. 13.

It’s no surprise a Metro Board of Public Education member is writing that the district needs more money.

The big education bureaucracy has been arguing this for years. But over the years, districts across the nation have increased spending, yet have little to show when it comes to improved student outcomes, as less than 40 percent of our nation’s kids can read and do math at grade level, according to the Nation’s Report Card.

Charter schools are more efficient by nature because money follows the child to the education that best fits his needs.

The average cost return-on-investment advantage for charters is an almost 3 percent higher return per dollar invested if a student spends one year in a public charter school and a 19 percent higher return per dollar invested if a student spends half of his or her K-12 education (6.5 years) in a charter school.

It’s important parents have a variety of excellent options that include traditional public schools and public charter schools, in addition to a variety of others, including online and blended learning, private, home school, and innovative education options we have yet to discover.

Denying parents opportunities because it affects business as usual, which isn’t producing the best results for our kids, puts Tennessee and our nation’s future — our children — in danger.

Kara Kerwin, president, The Center for Education Reform, Washington, DC, 20036

Less Than Half of U.S. Students Proficient According to Nation’s Report Card

October 28, 2015

Thirty-four and 33 percent of U.S. eighth grade students are able to read and do math at grade level or better, an alarming statistic revealed today on the results of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Eighth grade reading and math scores are both down two percentage points from the 2013 report.

Results on the 2015 report card for U.S. fourth graders are 36 proficient or better in reading and 40 percent proficient or better in math. Reading went up one percentage point from 2013 data, while math is down two percentage points.

Looking at state level data, a majority of states have seen no significant changes in scores for fourth and eighth grade reading and math since 2013.

“Not only are these troublesome statistics on their own, but what’s worse is that the U.S. continues to lag behind other countries, putting our nation’s well-being and economic security at risk,” said Kara Kerwin, president of The Center for Education Reform.

“As our nation approaches a major presidential election and gubernatorial elections in 2016, we must keep education reform at the fore of the debate and challenge ourselves and our leaders to do what’s best for each and every single one of our nation’s students,” Kerwin continued.

“Out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, just six states earn scores above 80 percent when it comes to giving parents fundamental power, transparency and data regarding making the best decisions for their children’s educational outcomes according to the Parent Power Index. While NAEP gives us a snapshot sense of achievement, it is not the best barometer for knowing what works in helping each individual learn and achieve his or her own personal success. We need better data that allows us to know what gets results for the learner so that we can hold states and schools accountable,” Kerwin stated.

CER Responds to Online Charter School Report

October 27, 2015

An area of education generally, and school choice specifically, that has suffered from a lack of clarity in the K-12 policy space has been online learning. It seems that this can be traced to a common “we don’t really understand how that works” mentality. Unfortunately, this includes many vital stakeholders necessary to the creation of strong school choices for America’s students, including policymakers, authorizers, and school boards. When coupled with the politically contentious issue of charter schools — the school model through which a good number of full-time online learning programs have been established — one sees camps of education reformers dig in on one side or the other when it comes to supporting the ability of online schools to achieve student growth and success.

A new report released today by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) attempts to answer long-held questions and introduce a more substantial discussion of online charter schools into the great education debate. To some degree, they accomplish this through the sheer amount of information and data they present (with additional online learning statistics and survey results contributed by Mathematica and the Center for Reinventing Public Education). However, it should be noted that the report does attempt to make sweeping conclusions and generalities about online charter schools, even though the sample size is just 158 schools across 17 States and Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, their findings echo much of what is already known and identify obstacles to success that developers and providers of full-time online learning have shared publicly as they continue to innovate.

While we appreciate the desire to learn more about how online charter schools are impacting student outcomes, we have concerns with CREDO’s Online Charter School Study.

• Many parents choose online options for their children based on exceptional circumstances and situations, ranging from safety and bullying concerns, to academic issues, to social and emotional issues, medical reasons, and more. For some families, an online school is the only public option available aside from the assigned traditional public school that is not working for their child.

• Data indicates that a majority of students who enroll in online schools do so after the beginning of the school year. This is an important factor this study left out, as the length of time a student is enrolled in a school impacts performance and the ability of the school to improve a student’s academic outcomes.

• Another concern is the (continued) use of a contested methodology throughout the report. The “virtual twin” methodology used, over which CER and other researchers have voiced concerns before, fails to take into account factors such as reasons for enrolling or mobility, dangerously assuming online charter school students face similar circumstances to traditional public school students, when the reality is they are very different.

Online charter schools provide a much-needed option within a larger portfolio of public school programs that offer students the opportunity to identify a learning environment that is right for them. All schools should be held accountable for outcomes, regardless of how or where education is delivered and learning assessed. And in fact, all charter schools are by their very nature held accountable for results in exchange for some operational freedoms, while this is not true of traditional programs. Accountability is achieved through clear policy expectations, professional authorization and unbiased oversight, intentional and research-based practice, and an unrelenting focus on providing students with schools that fit their unique needs.

Policies must also be in place that allow parents choices so that when traditional schools aren’t meeting students’ needs, they can seek out an education option that will meet their child’s unique set of circumstances. Online charter schools are an important part of that equation, and fill a unique void in education in the United States. We must not forget that while all schools must be held accountable for student outcomes, students’ learning needs are unique and varied and require similarly varied modalities to support their success.