December 29, 2011

The State of Charter Schools: What We Know and What We Do Not

As pressure mounts to reform the nation’s public schools, some parents are opting instead to send their children to charter schools, which often promise higher test scores and a better education, and those charter schools that don’t live up to performance expectations – an estimated 15 percent over the last two decades – permanently close their doors, a new report from The Center for Education Reform has found.

The organization, amidst the continued debate over the effectiveness of charter schools, last week issued its in-depth analysis The State of Charter Schools What We Know—and What We Do Not—About Performance and Accountability, partly in response to both opponents and supporters who claim that charter schools do not face consequences for poor performance.

That, says The President of The Center for Education Reform, Jeanne Allen, is a fallacy. Since 1992, an estimated 6,700 charter schools have opened and in the ensuing two decades approximately 1,036 of those charter schools have been closed.

“All too often, supporters and opponents of charter schools claim that bad charter schools don’t close,” says Allen. “The truth is charter schools that don’t measure up are closing at a rate of 15 percent. Regrettably, the same can’t be said for traditional public schools.”

But, underperformance is only one of five main reasons for charter school shut downs, the report found. Other common reasons for closing a charter school include: financial problems, facilities, mismanagement, and district challenges.

Financial problems, in fact, are the top reason for the closing of charter schools in the United States, accounting for nearly 42 percent of all charter school closures. For a charter school to be successful, it must first have enough students enrolled, which provides the school with public funding.

Charter schools, unlike public schools, receive considerably less funding – 68 percent less – to spend on running its facilities and to pay operating costs. That often puts charters at a distinct financial disadvantage and leads to a high closure rate.  (Written by Beth Williams in Teacher Certification Degrees)

December 28, 2011

Creating a Corps of Change Agents: What explains the success of Teach For America?

By Monica Higgins, Wendy Robison, Jennie Weiner and Frederick Hess
Education Next

Question: What do former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, KIPP Academy cofounders Mike Feinberg and David Levin, and Colorado state senator (and author of that state’s nationally noted teacher-quality legislation) Mike Johnston have in common? Answer: They’re all alumni of Teach For America.

While much of the debate around Teach For America (TFA) in recent years has focused on the effectiveness of its nontraditional recruits in the classroom, the real story is the degree to which TFA has succeeded in producing dynamic, impassioned, and entrepreneurial education leaders. From its inception as Wendy Kopp’s senior thesis project at Princeton more than two decades ago, TFA has sought to bring more teaching talent to some of the nation’s most disadvantaged communities and create a corps of change agents like Rhee, Feinberg, Levin, and Johnston. How well has TFA fared on that second score? Here, in a new line of research, we seek to answer that question.

Since its founding in 1989, TFA has placed more than 24,000 high-achieving college graduates in some of America’s neediest schools. This has produced an alumni network populated by impassioned former educators. TFA aims, proclaims the web site, to turn these alumni into “lifelong leaders for fundamental change, regardless of their professional sector.” Its efforts include keeping close connections with alumni and providing a variety of opportunities to volunteer at schools, join education-oriented political campaigns, advocate, and connect with a wide-reaching education network.  (Read the complete article in Education Next)

SABIS proposes new charter school for navy base in North Chicago

Three educational firms are competing for the right to run the first public charter school at Great Lakes Naval Station, state officials announced Tuesday.

If approved early next year, the charter school would be part of North Chicago Unit District 187 and overseen by the Illinois State Board of Education. It would be the second small, public charter school in Lake County.

Mary Fergus, a state board of education spokeswoman, said the Great Lakes charter school is targeted for a 2012-13 academic year opening. There are no other suburban charter school proposals at this time, she added.

Although all children in kindergarten through eighth grade from the North Chicago district would be eligible to attend the charter school, officials may set aside a fixed number of slots exclusively for military families. State law would have to be changed to allow that, Fergus said.

State Superintendent of Schools Christopher Koch said all children within District 187’s boundaries in the North Chicago area would have a chance to benefit from an additional educational opportunity.

“We know change will take time,” Koch said in a statement, “and we will be working closely with this (District 187) and any potential charter for several years to ensure it stays on the right track.”

As proposed, the charter school at Great Lakes would serve up to 500 students. The curriculum might be focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Concept Schools, SABIS Educational Systems Inc. and LEARN Charter School Network are seeking to run the venture. SABIS is a for-profit business, while Concept Schools and LEARN are listed as nonprofit.

Officials from District 187, the state education department, the Navy and Lake County Regional Office of Education are part of a team that’ll review the proposals and recommend one that should be investigated further.

That process will be followed by a Feb. 2 public hearing. District 187’s board then must make a final decision by March 2.

Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake was the first of its kind in Lake County and has offered an environmentally focused curriculum since 1999. It is within the boundaries of Gurnee-based Woodland Elementary District 50 and Fremont Elementary District 79 in the Mundelein area.

In 2007, Prairie Crossing officials started trying to attract Great Lakes families by providing information about the school, its lottery process for enrollment and other facets of the operation.

At the time, officials said they were encouraging new base arrivals to live within the Woodland or Fremont boundaries so their children would be eligible to attend Prairie Crossing at no extra charge.

Out-of-district tuition is charged to parents who don’t live within the Fremont and Woodland boundaries, but want their children at Prairie Crossing if openings exist. State education officials said the same would apply to the proposed charter school at Great Lakes.  (Read the article in the Daily Herald)

States Hit Turbulence in School Overhauls

The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on states to make good on their commitments under its Race to the Top competition, after all 12 winners either scaled down plans or pushed back timelines to overhaul their public-education systems.

The U.S. Department of Education warned last week that Hawaii, which won $75 million in Race to the Top funding, is so far off track that the state could lose its money if it doesn't start making good on its pledges. It was the first state to receive such a stern warning, though federal officials have threatened in the past year to withhold smaller amounts from Rhode Island and Delaware.

Change of Plans

States haven't delivered on all their Race to the Top promises. Among the modifications:

Hawaii: Pushed back by one year plans to link teacher evaluations to student test-score gains
Delaware: Scaled back and delayed plans to hire "data coaches" who would help teachers understand student assessments
Maryland: Postponed by a year rollout of new teacher-evaluation system
Georgia: Scaled-back plans to help transition kindergarten students to first grade in low-achieving schools

"If things don't change, Hawaii is going to end up in a tough spot," U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said during a press call Thursday. Hawaii education officials say they are making progress but acknowledge they have hit stumbling blocks to following through with the state's promises.

Race to the Top, President Barack Obama's signature education initiative, offered $4.3 billion to states that promised to transform their education systems. Competition for the grants prompted dozens of states to change laws governing teacher evaluations, adopt new academic standards, alter their approach to fixing low-performing schools and support the growth of charter schools, which are public schools run by nongovernment groups.  (Read the complete article in the Wall Street Journal)

December 19, 2011

Deck stacked against SABIS?

By Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass

(Boston Herald, December 19, 2011) 
February will be decision time for another round of Massachusetts charter school applications. In 2012, the focus will be on “Gateway Cities” — middle-sized cities outside the Boston area.

As part of a successful bid to win federal grants, state leaders last year doubled the number of charter seats in low-performing school districts. But the additional seats are only available to “proven providers” that already operate successful charter schools. No entity fits the bill better than SABIS, an educational management company operating schools in Springfield and Holyoke.

In Springfield, 30 percent more SABIS International Charter School students scored advanced or proficient on 2011 English MCAS tests than did students in the surrounding district. The difference was 31 percent in math. SABIS International has been recognized by Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report as one of the nation’s best high schools.

Another SABIS school, the Holyoke Community Charter School, outscored all that city’s district schools in English and math for grades five through eight.

Given this track record, you’d think the state would welcome pending applications for SABIS-managed schools in the Gateway Cities of Springfield and Lowell. But Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville’s views about charter schools remain ambivalent at best, and he appears to nurse a particular grudge against SABIS.

(Read the complete OpEd in the Boston Herald

Charles Chieppo is a senior fellow and Jamie Gass directs the Center for School Reform at Pioneer Institute.

December 15, 2011

Michigan eliminates charter school caps

The legislature passed SB 618 last night. The bill phases out the charter school cap over the next three years, going to 300 as soon as the law takes effect, 500 at the end of 2012, and eliminated at the end of 2014. The bill will allow great schools the ability to replicate easier by removing the single site requirement. More importantly for you, SB 618 gives charter schools that currently are required to pay property tax a partial exemption from that tax and allows schools to give priority enrollment to the children of charter school teachers. The bill will now be presented to the Governor for his signature.

“This is a historic day for parents and public education in Michigan,” said Dan Quisenberry, President of MAPSA. “The Legislature has paved the way for true school choice in our state and helped to begin to level the playing field on facilities by exempting more charter schools from paying property tax that goes to fund the very schools that are paying it.” (Source: MAPSA)

Holyoke Community Charter School students making a stand against Bullies!

Students and staff of Holyoke Community Charter School, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, participated in an anti-bullying conference in Boston (at Northeastern University) called Stand Up 2011. Below is a news article highlighting Holyoke Community's students in a news clip featured on WGGB- 40 News along with the links to the videos.

(BOSTON, Mass.) (WGGB)– More than 4-thousand students from across Massachusetts came together as one today to say “no” to bullying.

They delivered their message at Northeastern University in Boston. It is believed to be the largest anti-bullying event ever in the country.

The event was organized by a coalition of national and community based organizations.  Among the Western Massachusetts schools participating was the Holyoke Community Charter School.

It was a learning experience they’ll bring back to their school.  The young students we spoke with say it’s important that they all came together as students to stand together against the bullying problem.

Following the suicide deaths of Carl Walker Hoover of Springfield and Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, the Massachusetts legislature passed an anti-bullying law that requires teachers and other schoool staff to report bullying to the principal.

And many feel that new law and the ongoing dialog is making a difference.  The one day conference lasted four hours.

It empowered the students to go back to their schools with renewed energy to promote positive social change and stand up against bullying.

Check out the interview with Angel Coriano (Student Life Coordinator at Holyoke Community Charter School)

Karyann Cruz (Deputy Outreach Dept.), Alix Lopez (Deputy Activities Dept.) , Donavil Salce (Deputy Discipline Dept.), and Carlos Joquin (Deputy Sports Dept.) are among the HCCS students interviewed by Ray Hershel:

December 12, 2011

SABIS International defeated Simsbury High School on the "As Schools Match Wits" TV show

The SABIS International CharterSchool academic team defeated Simsbury High School of Connecticut in the As Schools Match Wits competition by a score of 135-125 in a close match on Saturday, December 10, 2011.

As Schools Match Wits is a high school quiz show that airs on PBS station WGBY in Springfield on Saturdays at 7pm and is produced in association with Westfield State University.  The show has been on air since 1961.  "Area high school students sharpen their wits on WGBY.  Produced at the studios of Westfield State University and broadcast on WGBY, the show delivers all of the fun of the classic high school quiz-show and introduces a new generation of high-school students to one of the few public competitions that stresses knowledge over physical ability."  All episodes of Wits will be available ON DEMAND to Comcast and Time Warner digital cable subscribers in Massachusetts.

Members of the SABIS Team include: Brandon Santiago (2012), Danielle Lessard (2012), Ryan Kuehl (2013),  Hannah Sullivan (2013) Candice Steele (alternate) (2012).  The faculty advisor is Amanda Provost, Head of the English Department.

December 8, 2011

Gates Initiative Generates District-Charter Compact in Chicago

Education Week reports that charter schools in Chicago would get easier access to facilities and a likely increase in per-pupil funding under a proposed district-charter compact that would also make charters subject to some of the same testing and accountability standards as traditional schools. The draft agreement between CPS and its charters was handed out at a Tuesday conference for participants in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation initiative called “District-Charter Collaboration Compacts.” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at Tuesday’s announcement that he hopes high-performing charter operators from around the country will “look at this as an opportunity to set up shop.” Chicago has historically had trouble bringing in some nationally-known operators because of its relatively low per-pupil funding.  Source: Education Week

December 7, 2011

Number of charter school students soars to 2 million as states pass laws encouraging expansion

By Associated Press
MIAMI — The number of students attending charter schools has soared to more than 2 million as states pass laws lifting caps and encouraging their expansion, according to figures released Wednesday.

The growth represents the largest increase in enrollment over a single year since charter schools were founded nearly two decades ago. In all, more than 500 new charter schools were opened in the 2011-12 school year. And about 200,000 more students are enrolled now than a year before, an increase of 13 percent nationwide.

“This 2 million student mark is quite significant,” said Ursula Wright, interim CEO of the nonprofit National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which released the study. “It demonstrates increased demand by families who want to see more high quality education options for their children.”

Wright and others attribute the boom in large part to the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition, which rewarded states for taking on ambitious education changes that included expanding charter schools. In order to qualify, many states changed laws to encourage the growth. Sixteen states have lifted caps on the number of them and student enrollment over the last three years, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.  Read the complete article in the Washington Post.