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Jacques: Slow down on charter school reform

by Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News
October 24, 2014

Michigan charter schools are feeling a little picked on lately.

Since July, these public schools which educate about 10 percent of the state’s students have received nearly 100 percent of the criticism coming from Democratic lawmakers and other education leaders.

In recent months, Democrats have introduced three pieces of legislation that ultimately seek to limit charter schools and single them out for additional accountability and transparency when all public schools could benefit from more scrutiny.

And earlier this summer, state Superintendent Mike Flanagan put 11 of the state’s 40 charter authorizers on notice, jeopardizing their ability to charter any future schools.

The common thread behind all this action against charter schools stems from a detailed series of media reports that came out in June.

Lawmakers and other leaders quick to jump on the anti-charter bandwagon should take a breather considering a report released Monday that analyzes the reporting and finds it falls short.

The Media Bullpen, the independent news branch of Washington, D.C.-based Center for Education Reform, took a close look at data and came to very different conclusions about the health of Michigan’s charter school community. The center works to promote school accountability and choice around the country.

“Michigan spends $13 billion of taxpayers’ dollars on K-12 public education, yet not a single traditional public school has been closed by the Michigan Department of Education or a Michigan school district for academic reasons,” Kara Kerwin, Center for Education Reform president, said in a statement. “Michigan’s charter school closure rate is 22 percent, while the national charter school closure rate is 15 percent. The fact that Michigan has one of the highest charter school closure rates in the nation shows that authorizers in the state take accountability and the public’s trust to educate students to their fullest potential

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What NAEP Results Tell Us About Parent Power

The release of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Math and Reading scores yesterday showed little to no progress for students in 4th and 8th grade. When diving into the online resources, some subgroups did have gains, while others fared worse. Hispanic students in both grades made two point gains since 2011. Eighth-grade Asian/Pacific Islander students and American Indian/Alaska Native students made four point gains. African-American students had the lowest percentage of students achieving proficiency in math, not even reaching 20 percent. Since 2007, 8th grade reading scores have only increased by five points. To save you the time of digging through all of the tables, charts and maps, we’ve summarized these key Math and Reading findings.

When examining student progress for both grade levels in math and reading since 2011, we see that the Top Ten States on the Parent Power Index posted achievement gains, remained higher than the national average, or are on par with their 2011 scores. So what does this mean for parents and policymakers?

Let’s look at the District of Columbia as a case study. While DC had overall scores lower than the national average, students saw the largest improvements because meaningful reforms in the nation’s capital are helping all schools improve.

The correlation between the positive ripple effect of charter schools and overall achievement was most pronounced in the District of Columbia, where DC fourth graders improved seven points in math and five points in reading. Eighth graders similarly improved, showing five and six point gains in math and reading, respectively.

These scores are also confirmation that the improvements seen in the DC-CAS scores in both public traditional and charter schools were no fluke, and these gains are here to stay as long as District

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Spotting the Real Reformers

Wherever there are elections, there will most assuredly be candidates paying lip service to their own interpretations of “education reform.” Naturally, many politicians favor the abstract concepts of “building better schools,” “accountability,” and an old favorite, “doing what’s best for our kids.”

However, do these lofty statements on education make these candidates, reformers? What does it actually take for a candidate to be taken seriously by voters as someone who can effect meaningful change when it comes to the educational systems of their future constituents?

Luckily, there are a few surefire ways for spotting the real reformers, as opposed to those whose words have never and probably won’t translate into action.

To name a few, a reformer candidate properly defines educational terms when using them, advocates for independent, multiple charter school authorizers and displays a healthy skepticism about the usefulness of teachers’ unions.

When speaking of school choice, the reformer reinforces the need for Parent Power, and quality educational options rather than ambiguous concerns over the effectiveness of choice and parent empowerment.

If all of this and more come through, then you just might have a real reformer on your hands!

Conversely, if a candidate uses evasive language that doesn’t apply reforms to how they might work for their constituents, then it’s likely nothing would get done under that administration. That veneer of support comes crashing down when the candidate lists a set of reforms such as introducing choice and charter schools, but insists their communities are doing just fine without them.

The other telltale sign of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is using educational terms without actually defining them. Of course no one is “for” an achievement gap, but does the candidate you’re considering define that gap in real terms and prescribe how to close it? This candidate will also make excuses for failing

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Charters that fail must pay the price

by Camilla P. Benbow
The Tennessean
January 3, 2013

When the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Board voted in mid-November to close Smithson-Craighead Middle School at the end of the current academic year, the decision angered parents and generated pleas for patience. This despite the fact that the charter school had been warned over several years that it needed to improve its performance or risk closure.

The most recent TCAP scores showed that only 7.6 percent of Smithson-Craighead students were proficient in math and only 17.6 percent in reading. These abysmal scores were far below those of other Nashville charter and public schools.

Nationally, the data on charter school closings have been mixed. One report from the Center for Education Reform indicated that 15 percent of the 6,700 charters opened over the past 20 years have closed. However, less than a fifth of these closed because of poor academic performance. Most were closed because of financial problems or mismanagement.

And charter school closures are down, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). The association observed a three-year decline in the percentage of charters closed at the time of charter renewal with 6.2 percent being closed in 2010-2011. However, the association cautioned that there could be several reasons for the decline, including improvement in school quality.

Critics who believe that charters are too slow to close might bear in mind another study, by Peabody alumnus David A. Stuit for the Fordham Foundation, that showed that poorly performing charters are much more likely to be closed than poorly performing public schools.

Signs also suggest that more charters may be closed in the years to come. In the fall, NACSA launched its One Million Lives campaign to strengthen charter school standards. It plans to work with authorizers, policymakers, legislators and charter school operators to close failing charter

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Feds Work to Regulate Charter Schools

Much is and has been happening behind close doors in Washington, DC in the name of ensuring charter school accountability. While accountability for traditional public schools is discussed in terms of school improvement grants and turn around models, proposals for charter school accountability are much more highly regulated, taking a movement born to welcome entrepreneurial enterprise and demonstrate performance-based accountability, and turning it into a new “system” that requires a heavy hand from federal policymakers.

According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), an influential, left-leaning voice in Washington, “Future federal charter school investments should focus on quality. The Charter School Program can help drive state quality-control measures by targeting grants to states with robust authorizing practices, smart charter school caps, and those that demonstrate the capacity to effectively monitor charter schools and close poor-performing ones.”  Most charter advocates believe this is what state laws already do – or should do — and that it’s not the feds’ job to regulate quality, particularly when they have little access to real-time, accurate data on outcomes, demographics and the individual goals of individual charter schools.

But Democrats and Republicans alike do not seem to understand the power that a new federal law has on the market.  Under the proposed 2011 “Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act” (HR 2218), as summarized by CAP, states’ efforts “to support quality authorizing practices must be considered in the awarding of state grants, including activities intended to improve how authorizing practices are funded, but the proposal does not prioritize state grants based on the quality of state authorizing efforts.” The question remains– Who decides what quality authorizing is? You can bet Washington won’t leave that to the states!

Then there is the All-Star Act (HR 1525), introduced by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Erik Paulsen

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Fantasy Press Conference (Shameful Redux)

microphones(In light of the impending stimulus package making the rounds on Capitol Hill, the following is a riff on remarks made by President Barack Obama following a meeting with his education economic team. The original can be read in its entirety on the official White House blog.)

One point I want to make is that all of us are going to have responsibilities to get this economy education moving again. And when I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers Congress had given themselves the education system $20 billion $100 billion worth of bonuses in new spendingthe same amount of bonuses as they gave themselves in 2004 effectively doubling federal funding of education — at a time when most of these institutions were are teetering on collapse and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them, and when taxpayers find themselves in the difficult position that if they don’t provide help that where they don’t have any other choices for educating their children, the entire system could come down on top of our heads if the next generation – indeed, this generation – can’t compete in a global economy — that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful.

And part of what we’re going to need is for folks on Wall Street in the education BLOB who are asking for help to show some restraint accountability and show some discipline transparency and

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