Archive for the 'charter schools' Category

14th 2017
Union Wins Bragging Rights

Posted under Betsy DeVos & Blaine Amendments & Campaigns & charter schools & Donald Trump & dougco & Douglas County & douglas county school district & Education Politics & Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools & Union & Vouchers

The Douglas County School Board election results were disappointing: The union backed, anti-reform slate of candidates won with the help of a last minute, 300,000-dollar push by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Douglas County’s unique district funded school-voucher program will likely, but not certainly, end. Pam Benigno, the director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, elaborated on the results of the election in The Denver Post, stating that:

“No doubt they [the union backed slate] will end the [Choice Scholarship] program and no longer defend it through the court system. No doubt the union’s prize for winning the election will be a collective bargaining agreement and national bragging rights that they killed the nation’s first local school board voucher program.”

While strong union involvement was an important factor in the election, the union backed candidates were also able to capitalize on the current political environment. The Trump/DeVos hysteria, when paired with the recent criticism of charter schools by groups such as the ACLU and NAACP, has created political turmoil that has masked the success of school choice programs across the county. These forces have created uncertainty about the legitimacy of charter schools, and reintroduced the stale “elitist” argument into the school choice debate.

The claims of these groups are notoriously ungrounded lashes at school choice. The ACLU’s “unequal access” claim, in which it stated that hundreds of charter schools in California were practicing discriminatory admissions policies, proved to be over-exaggerated fluff. Dozens of schools were promptly removed from the list, which was ultimately deleted after receiving criticism for its imprecise research. AFT has made its own outlandish claims in preceding years, calling school choice programs “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.”

I’m not sure why grown-ups expect to always be right, and will defend their positions past objectivity into the realm of name calling and dishonesty. How does that benefit anyone?

However, that’s the discourse that school choice critics have adopted. They want parents and students to believe that somehow choice is an attempt at bigotry and elitism. And what better way to tie that tone to school choice supporters than affiliating them with Trump and Devos?

The teachers union clearly wanted to fabricate an election in which anyone who was not on their side was identified as pro-Trump/DeVos. During the Denver School Board race, the teachers union sent mailers which attempted to link pro-reformers with Trump an DeVos, and in Douglas County funded the creation of a website which depicted the pro-reformers as swamp monsters, playing on Trump’s “drain the swamp” statements.

I think, being a five year old, that I would have done the same had I managed one of the anti-reformers campaigns. Drawing mean pictures of your enemies is the highest form of rhetoric; simply draw devil horns on the teachers you don’t like in your yearbook and watch your classmates rally to your inspiring statement.

As everyone knows, agreeing with our president or secretary of education is wrong, and school choice is inherently elitist–despite the results of prominent studies which prove the contrary.

Right or wrong, the union’s mailers and DeVos propaganda proved effective. The Denver School Board, which was previously composed of all reformers, will now face dissonance with the addition of two anti-reform, union backed members.

The Aurora School District has also elected an anti-reform slate, though it has recently experienced the positive effects of school choice. Just this year–after warmly ameliorating its charter school applications process, inviting new charter schools to join the district, and turning over one of its low-performing schools to charter school management–the Aurora school district was removed from the state’s watch list.

Discrimination is obviously neither the goal or the result of school choice–it’s simply a fictitious crutch for its combatants to lean on. Although the results of the election were unfavorable, there are still many incredible events across the nation that are spurring the positive momentum of the school choice movement.




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1st 2017
Florida Charter Schools do More with Less

Posted under Academic Achievement & Accountability & charter schools & Educational Choice & Grades and Standards & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

Boy, would I like to visit Florida. Walt Disney World, Legoland, and a flourishing assortment of innovative charter schools–what’s there that a five-year old wouldn’t love?

OK, to be honest I’m more excited by the theme parks than the schools, but the growth and success of Florida’s charter schools is like Splash Mountain to my policy nerd friends over at the Independence Institute.

One of the most recent testaments to the success of charter schools in Florida is the Florida Department of Education’s (FLDOE) Student Achievements in Florida’s Charter Schools report.

FLDOE’s report uses 4.2 million test scores from the 2015-2016 school year to compare charter school students to traditional public-school students “in terms of grade level achievement, learning gains, and achievement gap.”

In 84% of the comparisons, students in charter schools had higher grade level performances, and in 85% of comparisons the average learning gains for charter school students were higher.

Florida’s charter schools are thriving; it’s no wonder their enrollment has almost tripled in the last ten years.

And no, the results of this report were not fueled by charter schools filled with preppy white suburban kids. The number of charter school minority students in this study exceeded those in traditional public schools by 6.8%.

In fact, the learning gaps between charter school African-American students and charter school white students, in contrast to the learning gaps between TPS African-American students and TPS white students, were lower for 81.8% of comparisons. Furthermore, the learning gaps between charter school Hispanic students and charter school white students were lower for 100% of comparisons–that’s right, all of them.

Despite receiving notoriously less funding than traditional public schools in past years, Florida’s charter schools have made exceptional strides. According to FLDOE’s research, they have predominantly surpassed traditional public schools. Once again, charter schools in the sunshine state have done more with less.


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19th 2017
Stanford Study Reveals the Success of New York City’s Charter Schools

Posted under charter schools & Educational Choice & Public Charter Schools & School Choice

The leaves are changing color, school is in full swing, and the air has finally cooled off. Fall is officially here in Colorado! While many kids are debating whether to be a dinosaur or superhero for Halloween, many parents have become caught up in the debate about charter schools. There has been a lot of uproar around charter schools lately, which can make the issue hard to understand from an objective standpoint. Luckily, a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) has shed some empirical light on the issue.

My friend Connan Houser– who is a research associate at the Independence Institute–wrote an op-ed titled “The undeniable efficacy of charter schools” which was published in The Hill. Connan’s piece goes into greater detail about CREDO’s findings, but I’ll give you the most important points in this post.

In early October, CREDO released a study which followed over 97,000 charter school students in New York City over the course of four years. The study found that charter schools had exceptionally positive results on students’ learning outcomes, especially for subgroups which traditionally underperform in education.

The most impressive subgroup in the study was charter school students in poverty, who outperformed non-poverty traditional public-school students. Charter school students in poverty tested at a level equivalent to receiving 55 days of extra learning in math, and at an equal reading level as “their more affluent peers.”

I could go on citing more statistics which display the impact of charter schools in New York City, but fortunately CREDO broke their findings down into a table that even a five-year-old could understand.


Table 8: Summary of Statistically Significant Findings for New York City Charter School Students

  Reading Math
New York City Charter Students Positive Positive
Charters in 2012-2013 Similar Positive
Charters in 2013-2014 Positive Positive
Charters in 2014-2015 Similar Positive
Charters in 2015-2016 Positive Positive
Elementary School Charter Students Positive Positive
Middle School Charter Students Similar Positive
High School Charter School Students Similar Similar
Multi-Level School Charter Students Positive Positive
First Year Enrolled in Charter School Negative Positive
Second Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Third Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Fourth Year Enrolled in Charter School Positive Positive
Black Charter School Students Positive Positive
Hispanic Charter School Students Positive Positive
Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
Black Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
Hispanic Charter School Students in Poverty Positive Positive
English Language Learner Charter School Students Similar Positive
Special Education Charter School Students Positive Positive
Charter CMO Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Similar Positive
Charter CMO Elementary Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Elementary Schools Positive Positive
Charter CMO Middle Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Middle Schools Similar Similar
Charter CMO High Schools Similar Positive
Charter Non-CMO High Schools Similar Similar
Charter CMO Multi-level Schools Positive Positive
Charter Non-CMO Multi-level Schools Similar Similar

Fig 1. Summary of Statistically Significant Findings for New York City Charter School Students, 2012-2016.  Graph from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, Chater School Performance in New York City, (Stanford University: CREDO 2017), 53. Online.


CREDO’s study concluded that students in “New York City charter schools experienced more learning gains in a year, on average, than their [traditional public-school] counterparts.” It also found that, for minority students, attending charter schools “indicated a significant academic advantage.”

It is time to consider what CREDO calls “evidence about charter schools’ impact on student outcomes,” rather than the unintelligible anti-charter school commotion. When deciding upon the futures of children like myself, adults need to hold unbiased and transparent research, such as CREDO’s, in the highest regard. Only then can we truly discern what educational models are working, and find ways to implement them into the broader educational system.


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12th 2017
Opening a charter school is difficult – but worth it

Posted under charter schools & Educational Choice & Independence Institute & Public Charter Schools & Publications & Ross Izard

My friends at the Independence Institute published a new paper in July telling the stories of three groups of parents and visionaries seeking better educational options for children in their communities by starting charter schools.

Often, I don’t know why adults do what they do.  Sometimes they seem so stressed and anxious.  Sometimes they aren’t nice to each other.  Sometimes they seem so desperate and hopeless.

Other times they seem deeply satisfied, happy, or even elated.  They seem to be this way when they accomplish something that they believe to be extremely valuable—something for which they were driven to work hard.  It’s hard for me to relate because my largest accomplishment in any given day is getting my shirt on right-side-out.

One thing that adults seem to value is doing right by their children, and a big part of that is ensuring that they receive a quality education.  In some cases, that requires lots of hard work.

In The Challenges of Opening a Charter School: Three Colorado Case Studies, Ross Izard portrays the countless hours of hard work that go into navigating the many legal, logistical and bureaucratic barriers to opening a charter school.  Some of these barriers are common to all potential charter schools, but each school also faces its own unique challenges.  Izard contrasts the challenges faced by the parents trying to open a STEM-focused school in an affluent community with those faced by a visionary seeking to open a charter high school to serve teens in a poverty-stricken neighborhood who are pregnant or already parents, and still others faced by parents simply trying to expand school choice in an average suburban area with a classical charter school.

So, what does it really take to open a charter school?  First, there must be a shared vision among the parents and advocates seeking to open a charter school for what a “better” education means.  Next comes translating that vision into a hundreds-of-pages-long charter application, followed by navigating the politics and bureaucracy surrounding the application process.  Charter schools must be authorized by either a school district or the state chartering authority.  Many applications are rejected on either merit or politics.  Though charter schools can request waivers from many state laws, giving them more freedom to be autonomous, they are still public schools and must meet state academic standards and administer state assessments.  Sounds both easy and fun, right?


One of the most difficult challenges is funding.  Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools often must provide their own facilities, forcing them to spend resources out of their operating budgets.  There are federal and state grant programs that help charters get started, though they fall short of covering the full cost.  This leaves less money to pay their teachers, meaning they must work to find quality educators willing to work for less than they could earn in a traditional public school.

Why is it, then, that so many of these schools end up succeeding despite these disadvantages?  It’s simple: persistence, patience, and the relentless desire of parents and other visionaries determined to provide a high-quality education for Colorado’s children.

I don’t always know why adults do what they do, but this paper helps me to understand what they’re up against in the fight to create the best educational opportunities for their children.

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