Public Accountability for Charter Schools – Another Report!

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, recently released Public Accountability for Charter Schools: Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight.

1] The introduction states: “The semi-independent charter school model, first applied in 1991, aimed to look outside traditional school structures and develop innovative strategies that could be applied at scale across all public schools. Early charters schools took on this challenge, and many succeeded. But over the last two decades, those who envision charters as competing with and ultimately replacing traditional public schools have become some of the most dominant voices in the policy debate over the reform. Chartering has become an industry, and in many cases, rapid expansion has replaced innovation and excellence as goals. Almost 2,000 charter schools have opened in the past five years, along with a burgeoning market of management service providers, vendors, think tanks, policy shops, and advocacy organizations.”

As the birthplace of the charter school movement, Minnesota has not to this point succumbed to the voices that rapid expansion is the goal of the chartering movement, and hopefully we never will. The chartering movement in this state has never been about ultimately replacing traditional public schools. It has, and hopefully will always be, about unleashing education from the conventions that inhibit education from being innovative and providing students with the best possible education in which they can achieve their goals and aspirations.

2] The Annenberg Report is interesting in that it seems to make three assumptions: 1] that state charter school laws have not kept up with the dynamic change in chartering; 2] that traditional school districts are the authorizers of charter schools; and 3] that charter schools are for the most part operated by outside charter management organizations.

While these assumptions may be the reality in other states, none of these are the reality in Minnesota.

Our reality is that: 1] we have annually amended our charter school law to address the changing dynamics of the lived experience of chartering; 2] we have seen traditional school districts withdraw as authorizers when new accountability provisions have been put in place, and 3] all but a handful of charters in this state are operated by local folks and, not an organization from another state.

K-12 Lessons from Historically Black and Tribal Colleges

On Thursday October 9th, the Center for School Change hosted an all-day conference LEARNING & TEACHING: Lessons from HBCU’s and Tribal Colleges. The conference focused on the research and practices of historically black and tribal colleges that could be utilized by K-12 schools to make a difference in helping students of color be successful in college and their careers.

So, what were some of the practices that research and practice suggest that can make a difference in the academic performance of students of color?

  • A high level of faculty and student interaction – e.g. mentoring and other ways to connect with students,
  • Employing intrusive advising – e.g. being action oriented and not waiting for student
  • Promote student engagement based on culture – e.g. being a “Morehouse Man” [Morehouse is the only all-male historically black college in the United States - it has high expectations for its students and graduates].
  • Encourage enrollment in the next level of education- e.g. PSEO, college in the school courses

While the conference focused on lessons from HBCU’s and Tribal Colleges to help students of color – the lessons are lessons that every charter school can and should employ with every student. Every Minnesota’s charter school should and can be a place of:

  • high levels of interaction between teachers and students,
  • intrusive advising that encourages young people to raise their expectations and take charge of their own learning,
  • creating strong cultures of identity, learning,  success and civic mindedness, and
  • expecting students to take on challenges beyond their own comfort and expectation levels.

News About Charters & Charters in the News

CHARTER SCHOOL NEWS

Lakes International Language Academy, Forest Lake will be celebrating its new Headwaters Campus with a Grand Opening on Thursday night, November 13th. The new campus is located at 19850 Fenway Ave. N in Forest Lake.

Higher Ground Academy, St. Paul was host to a visit by U.S. Representative Betty McCollum, on Thursday, October 9th, as part of her periodic visits to schools in the 4th Congressional District. The 4th Congressional District encompasses Ramsey and much of Washington Counties.

 

CHARTERS IN THE NEWS

Global Academy, Columbia Heights, was the site of a visit on Monday, October 13th by Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey, who was campaigning in Minnesota with Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, and Republican senate candidate Mike McFadden. (StarTribune and the Pioneer Press, 10/14/2014)

PACT Charter School, Ramsey, celebrated its 20th anniversary on September 12th with a dinner and program that attracted about 350 alumni, parent and teachers. (Anoka Union 9/26/2014)

Voyageurs Expeditionary School, Bemidji sophomore D’Andre Gordon was the subject of a feature story; Finding his voice: Sophomore D’Andre Gordon, who moved to Bemidji from Jamaica in 2013, serves on Minnesota Youth Council. (The Bemidji Pioneer – 9/20/2014)

National Alliance Issues Report – The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: 2014

Earlier this month the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published a new report entitled “The Health of the Public Charter School Movement: 2014” that unfortunately sheds little light on the health of movement, except that the charter movement is susceptible to the same disease that eventually infects all movements – bureaucratic thinking that every institution, or in this case, every state has to fit in same little square box to be of value.

How sad that the state of the chartering movement on the national level has succumbed to the very thing that chartering was supposed to free public education from – conventional thinking and ways of doing things.

The report presumes that the factors chosen are actually critical factors in determining the health of the movement, then arbitrarily sets out which of those factors should be given more weight than others, no matter local realities, and finally it uses that weighting system to compare and rank states – all of which have unique histories, circumstances, and characteristics.

While it defines the “health” of the movement in three areas – Growth, Innovation and Quality, which on the face of it are reasonable areas to measure, the actual criteria used to measure each of these areas are simplistic, narrow and grossly inadequate if the report is to be more than a political document.

GROWTH is defined in terms of numbers that indicate a preferred resultThe percentage of public schools that are charters, the percentage of students who attend charters, the percentage of students by race, ethnicity and special education, the percentage of schools by geographic distribution, the number of communities with more than 10% charter school students, the average opening rate of new schools, and the average closure rate of schools.

Examining how the report weights these numbers, it does not take much imagination to wonder if there is a political agenda or at the very least an ideal model of what a perfect charter school state world looks like. So much for just reporting the facts and recognizing that every state environment is different, and that perhaps every state has different goals regarding growth.

INNOVATION is defined in terms of 5 long-established practicesthe number of longer school days, the number of longer school years, independent study, school-to-work, and post-secondary classes.  None of these criteria are actually innovative in nature. So much for promoting and recognizing innovation in the charter school movement.

QUALITY is defined in terms of the narrowest of criteria – 1) The number of additional days of learning reading and, 2) The number of days learning math. With all the research on the critical factors for defining quality, no matter the type of organization and endeavor, it is mind-boggling that charter school quality should be reduced to whether one spends 5 or 10 more days on two subject areas. How sad for the charter school movement and how limiting for young people in public charter schools.

Final Diagnosis – The Report is suffering from a severe and acute case of anemia.

http://www.publiccharters.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/health-of-the-movement-2014.pdf

Think Tank Calls for Significant Expansion of Charters in Minnesota

The Center of the American Experiment, a Minnesota conservative think tank in its recent paper: Education – Student Achievement and Prosperity: The Indispensability of Competition and Choice in Minnesota K-12 Education calls for a significant expansion of charter schools as one of the four major recommendations for addressing student achievement in Minnesota.

Mitch Pearlstein, Founder and President of the Center writes in the paper: “It’s easy to get carried away by the very idea and possibilities of charter schools … until one sits back and thinks of the 101 very hard things it takes to get one started. Never mind subsequently running a truly excellent school.” He goes on to say: “ Even so, charter schools have been one of the most important educational reforms over the last several decades, and it’s essential for Minnesota to take greater advantage of them, as they offer real hope.”

The paper makes five (5) specific recommendations relative to charters, including eliminating the funding imbalance between traditional districts and charter schools, as well as a couple that will generate debate even in the charter school community.

However, the most important recommendation deals with the basic premise of the chartering movement.

More generally, the basic “deal” undergirding charter schools was straightforward: Government would regulate charters less, while charters in turn, would be held more accountable for academic performance. It was a new and welcomed way of apportioning autonomy and accountability in public education. Not surprisingly, however, pressures to increase governmental intervention over the last two decades have been stronger than were earlier hopes of keeping government at bay. Given the inevitable creation across the country of bad charter schools among terrific ones, chartering institutions must have the authority to step in to protect children. But that authority must not be permitted to become a backdoor to imposing rules and regulations that have stifled innovation in district public schools.”

To read the Center’s paper on Education: http://www.americanexperiment.org/publications/minnesota-policy-blueprint/education-student-achievement-and-prosperity

COMMENTARY:
The question this recommendation raises is one that is being raised more and more often:

What has happened to the “basic deal” undergirding chartering? –  Autonomy is disappearing, rules and regulations are increasing, innovation is being stifled by bureaucratic thinking that one size must fit all, and a nationalized accountability system that has reduced achievement to the narrowest definition of what an educated person is in the United States.

 

 

News About Charters & Charters in the News

NEWS ABOUT CHARTERS

Face-to-Face Academy, St. Paul won 1st place in the High Quality Charter School “Best Practice” competition. The school’s best practice involves ‘plan to promote the Wilderness and Outdoor Program into action … with filming of student participants in a biking and canoe trip.’

Noble Academy, Minneapolis recently broke ground for a new school building in Brooklyn Park. The new building being constructed by Rochon Corp. is expected to be ready for the 2015-2016 school year.

Kaleidoscope Charter School, Otsego, recently refinanced its current school facility through bonds issued by the City of Otsego. The $17 million financing package also provides funding for a major expansion of the school campus. The school is about a mile north of the Albertville Outlet Center.

CHARTERS IN THE NEWS

Twin Cities Academy High School, St Paul was featured on the front page of the October issue of the Dayton’s Bluff District Forum. The Forum is the community newspaper for the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood on the east side of St. Paul.

Sejong Academy, St. Paul a new charter school that opened this fall was featured in a two-page article in the summer issue of the Korean Quarterly.

Great River School, Twin Cities Academy and Nova Classical Academy, St. Paul entered into a cooperative football agreement with St. Paul Academy and Mounds Park Academy this year. The co-op team is known as the Academy Spartans. (StarTribune – August 27, 2014)

 

A Call to Action – Priority, Focus & Continuous Improvement Schools

Last week we were pleased to extend congratulations to the charter schools in the top 15% (Reward Schools) and the charter schools in the next 25% of schools (Celebration Eligible Schools).

Today, we turn our attention to the charter schools that are among 5% the most-persistently low-performing Title 1 Schools (Priority Schools) and the next 10% of lowest performing schools Title 1 schools  (Focus Schools) and (Continuous Improvement Schools) that have not previously been identified as Priority or Focus Schools. Almost all of the charter schools that are on the Priority (11 charters), Focus (27 charters) Continuous Improvement (12 charters) serve significant populations of at-risk, or “graduations incentives” youth.  70% of the Priority and Focus schools are located in the cities of Minneapolis or St. Paul, while 75% of the Continuous Improvement schools are located in the suburbs or outside the Twin Cities metro area.

Our call to action is three-fold:

First, we urge that all charter schools boards take a serious look at how the school is performing on the state assessment as well as the other assessments the school uses to assess achievement and performance in relationship to the school’s mission and goals. (In early September Board Chairs and School Directors of members schools were sent Questions: Charter School Board of Directors Should Ask About – Assessments), a tool to help them undertake a look at how students are performing on assessments.

Second, we strongly encourage boards, administrators and teachers of these schools to make use of the resources that are available through the Regional Centers of Excellence to assist schools in addressing achievement and/or graduation rates.

Third, we encourage schools and authorizers to actively support the efforts of the Association and others to find and implement appropriate accountability frameworks that reflect a holistic approach to assessing student progress and performance and fulfilling the purposes of the charter school law – including ‘creating different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes, and establishing new forms of accountability for schools’.