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Schools of Choice: No One is Stuck

Often we hear about children being “stuck” in poorly performing, unsafe, traditional public schools. Last week, The Center for Education Reform (CER) staff got a taste of something different during two charter school visits. “Stuck” is never a word that you would use to describe a student in a charter school. In fact, charter school parents and students are willingly, excitedly, and proudly engaged and active in the school community, and are there because they choose to be, not because they were arbitrarily assigned based on their zip code.

BerkeleyBreanCharterVisitCER toured two schools in the nation’s capital last week – Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, and Achievement Prep Public Charter School. Both schools are located across the Anacostia River in Southeast D.C., a section of the city with high levels of poverty. But these schools are making a difference; they are changing their community and are engines of opportunity. The parents know it and the kids know it, and one reporter even came all the way from Rochester, New York to see what his city can learn from these schools in D.C. “across the river”.

Parents at both schools spoke about the value of having a choice in where their children go to school. One Achievement Prep parent, Deborah, said, “We didn’t have to go uptown to get the education that our son is getting. We would not have gone to a district school if not for Achievement Prep. If not for Achievement Prep, we would have to make ends meet to pay for a private school. We have had a rich experience because our son has gone to charter schools.”

Another Achievement Prep mom lovingly told CER staff that her third-grade daughter already has goals

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Rising to the Challenge

Founded in 1999, Rise Academy in Lubbock, Texas has achieved a high level of success. For six years in a row, the school has been an “Exemplary School” in the eyes of the Texas Education Agency.

But this success hasn’t been obstacle-free.

The school “does more with less” to provide traditionally underserved populations of pre-K through 8th grade students a superior education. According to a 2014 University of Arkansas study, traditional district schools in Texas would have received $1 billion less in funding if they were funded at the same level as their public charter school peers.

Rise Academy Photo NCSW2015Unfortunately, funding equity for these alternative public schools is not just a problem in Texas, but nationwide. On average, charter schools receive 36% less in revenue per student than traditional public schools according to the Survey of America’s Charter Schools. And, to add insult to injury, unlike other public schools, most do not receive facility funds.

However, Rise Academy and charter schools across the nation are providing parents innovative and transformative options despite the numerous challenges they face. But as waitlists for charter schools continue to grow, so must charter schools to meet demand. Equitable funding and autonomy for schools would allow schools of choice to increase and accelerate the pace of reform efforts across the country.



Engaging the Next Generation of Leaders

This is blog #2 in a weeklong series of blogs featuring charter schools during Charter Schools Week 2015. Sign the pledge to show your support for public charter schools!

Sometimes adults are scared that the next generation won’t have the knowledge to lead our country through the various issues that it faces.

Parents of Challenge Charter School students don’t have to worry about that.

The Arizona Department of Education has recognized Challenge Charter School in Glendale as a School of Excellence in Civic Engagement.

The state’s first official Core Knowledge School has put the pedal to the metal when it comes to preparing students for participation in society by integrating civic education across different disciplines and grade levels. Kindergartners learned about Abraham Lincoln on Presidents’ Day, 4th graders made flags and learned about the American Revolution, and some students even worked together to raise money for tsunami relief.

Challenge Charter lincolnChallenge Charter red cross

On Constitution Day (September 17), 6th graders prepared and gave speeches about what civic engagement and the School of Excellence award means to them. In true democratic fashion, the student body voted to decide which student would attend the Department of Education’s award ceremony to represent Challenge Charter School.

“This award means so much to me and my school,” says one student. “Our mascot is the eagle, which is not only our mascot but our nation’s symbol. The eagle symbolizes power, strength, and freedom. That freedom allows us to have the kind of school that we have today.”

And it is exactly those freedoms that we celebrate during Charter Schools Week, and must continue to ensure are protected so that charter schools

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National Charter Schools Week 2015

National Charter Schools Week is May 3-9!

To celebrate National Charter Schools Week 2015, The Center for Education Reform is shining a spotlight on positive outcomes our nation’s charter schools are achieving for our children.

Each day we’ll be posting a blog highlighting a charter school – check back here daily for a new story from another school!:
Blog #1: An “Academic Dynasty”
Blog #2: Engaging the Next Generation of Leaders
Blog #3: Rising to the Challenge
Blog #4: Schools of Choice: No One is Stuck
Blog #5: Are We Doing Enough to Affect Change in Education?


For the movement to grow and meet the demand of parents in need of education alternatives, it’s essential to showcase the hard work charter school leaders and educators are doing day in and day out. Help celebrate #CharterSchoolsWeek by signing and sharing the pledge to support public charter schools!

twitterClick here to share the Charter Schools Week Pledge on Twitter now!

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Fast Facts on Charter Schools Today (for more information on Charter Schools, visit the Charter School Facts & FAQs page)

  • Demand for charter schools remains strong, with over 1 million students on charter school wait lists around the nation.
  • Independent charter authorizers play an essential role in the health of the charter school movement. An authorizer other than a local school board has granted over 60 percent of charters across the country.
  • Charters serve a more disadvantaged student population compared to traditional public schools, including more low-income and minority students. Sixty-one percent of charter schools serve a student population where over 60 percent qualify for the federal

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Charter schools must play bigger role in U.S. education

by Kara Kerwin
Macon Telegraph
May 4, 2015

Today in the U.S. there are approximately 3 million students being served by nearly 7,000 charter schools across 43 states and the District of Columbia. We’ve come a long way since the first charter school opened its doors in Minnesota back in 1991, but I ask myself as we celebrate National Charter Schools Week, have we come far enough?

Across the country students are stuck on charter school wait lists — with most schools reporting wait lists of nearly 300 students each — and demand continues to outstrip supply, suggesting that charter schools could grow significantly faster to serve more students if the policy environments were more supportive.

For 19 years, The Center for Education Reform has evaluated state charter school laws to address these fundamental issues with a thorough review of what the words of laws actually mean in practice, not just on paper. Interpretation and implementation vary depending on how the regulations are written, and frankly, who’s in charge.

Charter school growth does continue at a steady, nearly linear pace nationally, especially in states with charter laws graded “A” or “B,” but an even more accelerated pace would allow charter schools to play a more central role in addressing the demands and needs of our nation’s students. Even the top five charter school laws in the nation — The District of Columbia, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and Arizona — while earning “As,” are still 10 or more points away from a perfect score.

Public charter schools are an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to giving parents power over their children’s education and the freedom to choose the best environment for their children’s unique individual learning needs. Parents deserve access to a portfolio of excellent education options — from public charter schools, to

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An Academic Dynasty

This is blog #1 in a weeklong series of blogs featuring charter schools during Charter Schools Week 2015. Sign the pledge to show your support for public charter schools!

When people hear the word “decathlon,” images of the Olympics and athletic prowess irunningn track and field come to mind.

For the parents, students, and teachers at Granada Hills Charter School, intellectual expertise and academic success are instead what shine through

In 2011, 2012, and 2013, Granada Hills Charter High School won the national title at the National Academic Decathlon Championships. The school persevered and repeated the win this year – prompting CBS News to call it an “academic dynasty”.

GranadaHills awardOn paper, some might be surprised that the school has reached such great heights. The school serves thousands of students that participate in the free and reduced lunch program, serves other traditionally underserved student populations, and is located in the challenging Los Angeles area.

But the school has always been a leader, and a pioneer in the education reform movement. When it was founded 12 years ago, teachers put in hard work to convert the 4,500 student traditional Los Angeles public school into a charter school. Today, Granada Hills is multicultural, multifaceted, and multitalented. How does it do it all?

Board member and co-founder Sonja Eddings Brown says the success of the school is supported by its diversity, by ensuring money stays closest to the kids, and by treating educators like true professionals.

Everyone is looking for a good school, and wants to know how to build one, says Brown. She says that children everywhere would have a greater chance to be academic superstars if more

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Charter school bill excludes online education

By Rebecca Lessner
For MarylandReporter.com
April 30, 2015

An amended charter school bill will slam the door on Maryland’s chance to follow the 29 other states across America in embarking onto the newly charted plains of cyber-schooling, according to charter school advocates.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan made charter schools a priority last session with his Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015, which would have made it easier for charter schools to start in Maryland. But the General Assembly made major changes to the bill before passage, including a new, little-known prohibition on 100% online charter schools. It now awaits the governor’s signature.

Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford said “happy is too cheery a word,” to describe his feelings towards the bill as passed, but did not say if the governor would consider a veto.

“We are a little disappointed. We haven’t made a final decision of whether we will go forward with it,” said Rutherford at Hogan’s 100 Days press event.

“If we sign it, going forward, we will be back next year with another charter school bill. I am quite sure of that,” he said.

Online public charter schools open up a middle-ground between public, private and homeschooling. But there are concerns about the quality of education and track record in other states for the evolving programs.

Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, said current charter school law does not specify if learning should take place online or in the classroom.

“It’s a really important option, brick and mortar, one size fits all, doesn’t work for all children,” said. “Maryland eliminating the potential for that innovation to flourish here would really be a step backwards.”

Cyber Schools

Virtual charter schooling is a relatively new concept, but it is a contributing factor in why neighboring states surpass Maryland in a charter school education report card compiled by

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Despite minority student success, charter school segregation narrative continues

by Yaël Ossowski
April 28, 2015

At the recent Education Writers Association national seminar in Chicago, a small breakout session asked the following question: Is school choice a tool for opportunity and equity, or further segregation?

Following the latest negative spin on charter schools around the country, it seems most education journalists decidedly choose the latter.

“If you’re an education writer and aren’t covering segregation in schools, I’d ask you why,” said Nikole Hannah-Jones, winner of the EWA award for best education reporting, in her acceptance speech.

Her comments echo the controversial study released by Duke University researchers in conjunction with the National Bureau of Economic Research earlier this month, which claims charter schools in North Carolina are further segregating public schools and leaving minority students behind.

The Washington Post says this is proof white parents are using charter schools to “secede” from the traditional public system. But the figures show otherwise.

According to Watchdog.org reporter Moriah Costa’s report on Washington, D.C. schools, charter schools in the nation’s capital have 78 percent black students, a full 10 percent ahead of normal public schools.

And it’s not just in Washington, D.C.

The Center for Education Reform’s 2014 Charter School Survey finds charter schools serve more low-income students, more black and Hispanic students.

“Charter students are somewhat more likely to qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch due to being low-income (63 percent of charter students versus 48 percent of public school students), to being African-American (28 percent of charter students versus 16 percent of public school students) or to being Hispanic (28 percent of charter students versus 23 percent of public school students),” says the study.

Even applied locally, charter schools provide more academic results to a more diverse student body.

A March 2015 study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, an institute hosted at Stanford University, examined 41

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National charter schools advocate wants Hogan to veto charter bill

by Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post
April 27, 2015

A national charter advocacy organization wants Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) to veto a bill passed by the General Assembly that would change how charter schools operate in the state.

The bill originally was pushed by charter advocates because it would have given charter operators greater authority and was a way to increase the number of such schools in the state. But it was significantly watered down as it made its way through the legislature.

Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform, sent a letter to Hogan last week asking him not to sign the bill.

“The Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015, no longer reflects the bold change your original proposal envisioned and will do nothing to improve the state’s already ‘F’ graded charter school law,” Kerwin wrote. “In fact, some of the provisions are a step backwards.”

There was no immediate comment from Hogan.

The governor’s original bill made sweeping changes to the state’s charter law, giving schools the ability to hire and fire teachers, doing away with a requirement that charters fall under state collective bargaining rules and giving charters more say over who can attend.

The amended bill does not change hiring rules, but it does provide some leeway on enrollment. It also offers some flexibility regarding certain state educational requirements for high-performing charter schools that have been in existence for at least five years, are in good financial shape and have a student achievement record that exceeds the local school system’s. Those charters would be exempt from specific requirements about scheduling, curriculum, and professional development.

Kerwin said the bill would prohibit online charter schools, which are operating in 29 states across the country. She said it also gives the state Board of Education less power.

“If this is signed into law, Maryland

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Maryland Students Deserve a Break

by Jeanne Allen

When governors win historic elections, one expects legislators to not only respect such a mandate but to try to work collaborate on changes that help those for whom adults should work the hardest, and that’s our kids. Such expectations for Maryland, however, seem sadly out of reach right now. This week, the Maryland Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee took up Governor Larry Hogan’s very modest proposal to amend the state’s charter school law, in order to increase quality educational opportunities for students who currently have no options other than their assigned school, which may not fit their needs. Yet rather than even debate the need for more and better choices, this allegedly thoughtful body ignored his proposals altogether and actually took action to make Maryland’s education law less accountable to parents and taxpayers! They did so by removing the advisory role of the State Board of Education and by taking any authority away from charter school principals to choose their own staff!

This was news to many legislators with whom advocates spoke this week. Indeed even the Governor’s own staff seems to believe that they have made progress. That’s because there has been little time given to actually understanding how charter school laws are supposed to work and a lot of time given to listening to mythology and misinformation about this very successful education reform that has helped 42 other states and The District of Columbia transform schooling for all types of children, particularly the poor and disadvantaged among us.

The reality is that a charter school law that permits school districts to dictate the terms under when and how a new public school is formed and control all of its hiring, curriculum decisions and funding is not a charter school law at all. It’s simply

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