Monthly Archives

July 2023

U.S. Rep. Foxx: Charter schools are ‘conduits of opportunity’

By News

Publication of groundbreaking research from Stanford University has prompted renewed discussion in Congress about charter schools as avenues for educational opportunity. Citing a new study from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)–revealing significant achievement gains for students attending charter schools–U.S. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx  of North Carolina noted the following on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives:

At a time when the reading and math scores of our nation’s students have plummeted, the results of this study serve as a beacon of hope for millions of American families. Simply put, charter schools serve as conduits of opportunity.

Rep. Foxx, who represents North Carolina’s 5th District, chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Watch her full remarks below:

The 2023 study is CREDO’s third national evaluation of charter schools. Take a deeper dive in CREDO’s 2023 digital report. Read more about the CREDO study here and here on the Coalition blog.

Coalition responds to Governor’s veto of H.B. 219, Charter School Omnibus

By Legislation, News

The Coalition yesterday released a response to Governor Cooper’s veto of H.B. 219, Charter School Omnibus. In his veto message, the Governor included some comments that misrepresented the facts. The statements below from the Coalition address those misrepresentations.

Gov. Cooper wrote in his veto message that House Bill 219 “allows more students to attend failing charter schools…North Carolina should continue to cap the enrollment growth of low-performing charter schools until they can show that they improve student outcomes.”

It’s true that House Bill 219 removes enrollment caps for some charter schools – but it explicitly requires caps for low-performing charter schools. It doesn’t eliminate them.

Here’s the exact bill text: “Limit enrollment caps to low-performing schools.”

The bill only removes enrollment caps for public charter schools that aren’t low-performing because there were more than 77,000 student names on waitlists for North Carolina public charter schools for the 2022-23 school year.

Gov. Cooper also wrote, “Diverting local resources to build charter schools without clear authority on who owns them risks financial loss to county taxpayers.”

But current state law says that the assets, including the building, of a closed charter school go to the local school district.

Here’s the statute (G.S. 115C-218.100(b)): “Upon dissolution of a charter school, all net assets of the charter school purchased with public funds shall be deemed the property of the local school administrative unit in which the charter school is located.”

Read the full press release or this Carolina Journal article.

Report: Charter Schools More Likely to Serve Alternative Education Students

By News

A new issue brief from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools highlights a little-known facet of the charter movement: Charter schools serve a disproportionately higher share of alternative education students, compared to other schools. While such students come from a range of backgrounds, they share a common and consistent risk factor: They face higher odds of dropping out of school than other students.

The issue brief, released in June, evaluated alternative education campuses (AECs) in 34 states in 2021-22.

Some topline findings:

  • Of the nearly 2,800 AEC campuses nationwide, 555, or 20%, are public charter schools.
  • Charter schools serve 7.2% of public school students nationwide, but enroll 42% of students in AECs.
  • In North Carolina, 11% of AEC students attend charter schools (see p. 29 in the Appendix). Overall, charter school students comprise around 9% of the state’s public school students.

Screenshot from: “Going the Extra Mile: An Overview of Charter School Alternative Education Campuses,” National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, June 9, 2023.

Key demographic factors and proficiency rates, according to the brief:

Most AEC students (95%) are enrolled in grades 9-12, 74% are students of color and 47% are Hispanic or Latino. Sixty-eight percent of charter school AEC students are economically disadvantaged. Despite the odds being stacked against many students, the average proficiency rates among charter school AEC students are slightly higher than those of their district school counterparts in both English language arts and math.

The brief also included 2020-21 graduation data from 10 states. In these states, graduation rates rose more rapidly in charter AECs (comparing four-, five-, and six-year cohort graduation rates). However, charter AEC graduation rates were slightly lower overall, compared to non-charter AECs. The brief suggests that “policies need to be broadened to include a wider range of information about student outcomes to understand the performance of schools like this.”

Read more:


Congressional lawmakers want to boost funding for Charter Schools Program

By News

Funding for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) may get a boost. Congressional lawmakers are proposing an additional $10 million for CSP, which provides grants for new charter schools as well as charter school replication and expansion across the country. Program funding has not increased in recent years.

Nina Rees, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, released a statement about the proposed funding increase, which is in the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee’s FY 24 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Bill. She noted:

All students and families deserve access to a high-quality public education. We thank the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee members for recognizing the value and educational opportunity public charter schools provide to families across the nation with an increase of $10 million to the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) and by providing important new flexibility for state program operators. The program, which has been flat funded for four years, expands opportunities for students.

Read the bill text here.

“Gap-busting” N.C. Charter Organizations Recognized in Landmark National Report

By News

Several North Carolina charter management organizations (CMOs) have earned recognition as “gap-busting” schools in a landmark national study comparing charter and traditional public school performance. Coalition members Roger Bacon Academy (RBA), National Heritage Academies, and KIPP Eastern North Carolina were among CMOs nationwide commended for their success in closing achievement gaps. The report was released by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). Congratulations to these CMOs!

Criteria for inclusion as a “gap-buster” were rigorous, requiring high performance for schools overall as well as for subgroups of disadvantaged students. However, numerous charters are making the grade, as CREDO notes (p. 69):

We found hundreds of schools that satisfy dual criteria: (1) the average achievement of the school exceeds the state average, and (2) their disadvantaged students (Black, Hispanic, in-poverty, ELL) have growth as strong or stronger than their non- disadvantaged peers in the same school.

Significant achievement gains for charters, with CMOs leading performance

Overall, the CREDO study revealed significant achievement gains for students attending public charter schools. Researchers reported learning outcomes in terms of days of learning–gained or lost, across the academic year. Compared to traditional public schools, charter schools advanced the learning of their students by an average of 16 days in reading and 6 days in math.

Charter schools were particularly effective in producing learning gains for disadvantaged students, CREDO found. However, charters run by CMOs produced even bigger gains than stand-alone charter schools–27 days in reading and 23 days in math.

Policy implications from the report

The success of gap-busting schools has big and exciting implications for education, as CREDO’s researchers write (p. 151):

The real surprise of the study is the number of charter schools that have achieved educational equity for their students: we call them “gap-busting” schools. Ensuring equivalent yearly growth across student groups has two critical consequences. First, ensuring minority and poverty students learn on par with or better than their White peers interrupts or reduces the achievement gap. It happens regularly in a large swath of charter schools. More critically, there is strong evidence that these gap-busting schools can be scaled. Added to the traditional district schools that achieve similar results, this is the life-transforming education that so many students need. Second, these schools deliver hundreds of independent proof points that learning gaps between student groups are not structural or inevitable; better results are possible.

Find detailed information about CMOs in the report appendix, which begins on page 122. Specific information can be found for KIPP ENC (p. 129), National Heritage Academies (p. 130), and Roger Bacon Academy (p.132).

Middle School NAEP Scores Reveal Historic Declines

By News

New test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the “nation’s report card,” show historic and worrying declines for middle schoolers. Compared to 2020, students’ average scores dipped 4 points in reading and 9 points in math. Declines are even larger when evaluated against student performance 10 years ago: Reading scores have fallen 7 points; math scores, 14 points.

The findings are part of NAEP’s long-term trend assessment for 13-year-olds, and are based on exams administered to a representative sample of students in both public and private schools. Middle schoolers took the reading and math tests in Fall 2022.

Achievement gaps widen based on gender, race

NAEP findings also show that gender and racial achievement gaps have widened since 2020. In math, for instance, girls’ scores dropped 11 points while boys’ scores fell 7 points. Black students’ scores dropped 13 points and White students’ scores fell 6 points; the Black-White achievement gap now spans a 42-point difference.

Reading for fun is down, as is enrollment in middle school algebra

In addition, according to new NAEP findings, reading for fun is at historic lows. On the 2022 assessment, just 14% of students said they read for fun almost daily. This percentage represents the lowest ebb ever since NAEP began administering the long-term assessments. Compared to avid readers, more than twice as many students–31%–said they “never or hardly ever” read for fun. This is unfortunate for numerous reasons, but also for achievement: Frequent pleasure reading is linked with higher NAEP scores; conversely, infrequent readers are overrepresented in the lowest performance percentiles.

Moreover, middle school students’ enrollment in more rigorous coursework has declined since 2012.  Just 24% of students queried for the 2022 assessment said they were taking algebra, compared to 34% in 2012.

Learning declines that go beyond pandemic losses

Researchers have expressed substantial concern about what the scores represent. Nat Malkus, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote:

… It is clear from the data that these declines are not just lockdown-induced learning losses. Scores dropped substantially between the pre- and post-pandemic LTT [long-term trend] assessments, so it’s clear the pandemic had an effect. However, these declines were already apparent after the 2011–12 high point in both subjects. That suggests the green shoots of academic recovery from the pandemic, which are indeed not yet evident in these results, may not be enough to turn a longer term slide in achievement.

Read more from Nat Malkus here.

Response to Governor’s veto of H.B. 618, Charter Schools Review Board

By News

The Coalition on Monday released a response to Governor Cooper’s veto of H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board. We are sharing our response in full below. Access a pdf version of the press release here.

Gov. Cooper Wrong to Denounce Charter School Supervisors

Raleigh, NC – On Friday afternoon, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill to streamline the approval process for public charter schools by creating a new Charter Schools Review Board.

In his veto message, Gov. Cooper used unnecessarily charged language to attack public charter school supervisors, calling the new board a “commission of political friends and extremists.”

We’re a bipartisan organization that has praised, endorsed, and otherwise supported both Democrats and Republicans. But when a policymaker, even the Governor, makes such a wrongheaded public statement, we feel compelled to respond.

The new board created by House Bill 618 would be appointed in the same exact manner as the body it partly replaces, the Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB).

CSAB is not comprised of hacks and “extremists,” as Gov. Cooper would have people believe. Taken together, CSAB’s eleven members have 295 years of combined education experience, including in managing and overseeing public charter schools.

CSAB’s chair, Bruce Friend, has been an education professional for 30 years. One member is a professor at N.C. State University with a doctorate in financial economics. Another operates one of the longest-serving charter schools in the state and has a doctorate in education. The list goes on.

It appears that Gov. Cooper’s basis for attacking the new Charter Schools Review Board is the fact that the legislature would appoint a majority of its members.

Even though Gov. Cooper appoints a majority to the State Board of Education, we have not, nor would we ever, call that body a “commission of political friends and extremists.”

The Board of Education’s chair is an engineer by training. Its vice chair is a partner at a law firm. Despite those backgrounds, we consider both to be qualified and capable members, not mere “political friends” to the Governor.

And despite past controversies involving the State Board of Education, we do not consider its members to be “extremists.”

Gov. Cooper’s statement about public charter school supervisors was off the mark. Public charter schools offer North Carolina children innovative curricula. They complement, rather than compete with, district schools.

Those who oversee public charter schools approach their work with rigor and good faith. They deserve to be treated as the professionals they are.


Meet Alex Quigley, the newest member of the Charter Schools Advisory Board

By News

At its July meeting, the State Board of Education voted to approve Alex Quigley’s appointment to the Charter Schools Advisory Board (CSAB). An eight-year veteran of CSAB until 2021, Alex is also the executive director of Durham Charter School, a Teach for America alumnus, and the father of four children.

 Kristen Blair, the Coalition’s communications director, spoke with Alex as he prepares to return to CSAB. We share the full interview below, featuring Alex’s views on school transformation, the state’s charter movement, and legislation converting CSAB into a Charter School Review Board. 

You began your career in education as a teacher. Could you share more about those formative years and how your path led you to public charter schools?

Alex Quigley: I started out through Teach for America, teaching second grade in rural Mississippi. I worked in one of the lowest-performing schools in Mississippi, with a student population that was 100 percent African American and 100 percent low-income. Working in one of the poorest areas of the country was a transformative experience. I met so many amazing kids and parents who cared deeply about their child’s education but did not have the opportunity for an excellent education. That’s Teach for America’s mission: All students will have the opportunity to obtain an excellent education. I drank the Kool-Aid on that! Being in the Delta created in me the real conviction that all kids can achieve at the highest levels, and that all parents want the best for their kids.

I worked in one school with terrible leadership and another school with amazing leadership. Both had the same demographics, so I saw the impact a principal could have. I realized that was what I hoped to do long-term, instead of becoming a lawyer like my mom wanted. I’m really glad I’m not a lawyer!

After our first child was born, my wife and I moved to North Carolina to be closer to family. Teach for America asked me to run this region. I wanted to be a principal or an assistant principal, but it was hard to find a job in a traditional public school, coming from out of state. At Teach for America, I worked with school leaders and superintendents to put corps members in their schools, and I built a relationship with a charter school leader. A couple of years later, he called me as he was transitioning out and said he wanted a Teach for America alum to run Maureen Joy Charter School. I said, ‘I think I might have someone for you,’ meaning myself! The board took a chance on me.

I was inspired by charter schools, given my work in a high performing organization with clear metrics, goals, and accountability. At Teach for America, you’re responsible for getting it done; you produce results and there isn’t a lot of red tape. So, I was attracted to charter schools because I felt like I would have an opportunity to be creative and not be beholden to a school district. And Maureen Joy served a student population that was similar to students I had worked with before.

Alex Quigley is the executive director of Durham Charter School and the newest member of the Charter Schools Advisory Board. Photo credit: Alex Quigley.

Tell us more about your work with disadvantaged students and your current role leading Durham Charter, a Title I school. How have those experiences affected your ideas about what works in education?  

Alex: My ideas about what works have been most impacted by studying and replicating best practices at charter schools, primarily around the Northeast. Urban charter schools have been the most successful education reform in the last 20-plus years. The data back this up. People can say such practices are not scalable—and obviously, there are a lot of criticisms of charter schools, like they’re creaming the kids—but all of the studies run counter to those beliefs. So, I spent a lot of time visiting high performing charters, particularly in the Northeast but also in California. A number of Teach for America alumni are part of these charter schools, so I have a rich network of people I can reach out to and learn from.

Replicating those practices—along with everything that has come out of Uncommon Schools and Relay School of Education—has been absolutely instrumental. I also studied schools here in North Carolina, like Henderson CollegiateKIPP Gaston, and Sugar Creek Charter School, to figure out how to replicate their best practices.

The number one thing that school leaders can do is go to schools that are working and replicate what they’re doing. Unfortunately, I don’t think that happens very much in public education.

Why do you think that is?

Alex: One reason is an inattention to results. There are a lot of feelings in education. I don’t mean that in a bad way. A lot of it is about how people feel about schools, and a lack of attention to what a school is accomplishing in terms of outcomes and school culture.

In addition, visiting schools isn’t a traditionally accepted mode of professional development. Most professional development—conferences or training—isn’t delivered well. Good professional development can be valuable, but most of it is a waste of time. We should be in schools learning from both high performing traditional [schools] and charters. I have looked at the data spreadsheet and identified a number of traditional public schools I’d like to visit because I know they are doing amazing things for kids. To me, it’s quite simple: Let’s identify the top 10 percent of all high growth schools last year—schools that, like mine, actually performed better than before the pandemic in both growth and proficiency—and do an intensive analysis. We should have people from DPI (the Department of Public Instruction) coordinating visits for school leaders that want to learn from what’s happening on those campuses. We should invite researchers from our state’s universities to do extensive data analysis and help us codify the practices further that drove results. The solutions exist because it’s being done.

That’s one reason I’m a huge believer in charter schools.  All of the decision-making, innovation, and planning is concentrated in one school, unless it’s a network. But even those networks grew out of a school. It’s hard to make change when it isn’t at the school level. Charter schools allow the flexibility for individual schools to make change. There’s risk associated with that, of course: A bad leader can taint a charter school more than a district. But any initiative in the state is only as good as the principals on the ground. They’re the ones who decide what gets done and what doesn’t.

In 2022, Durham Charter was recognized as an ESEA School of Distinction after years as a low-performing school. What are some strategies you employed to alter the growth and performance trajectory of this school and other charter schools in which you have worked?

Alex: There are so many different pieces to it. Power to hire and fire, which is lacking—even though it’s harder to fire people now because you’re worried you can’t replace them. As a school leader, being able to make decisions about staffing is huge. It’s everything. Power to move money where it needs to go to drive academics. Power to select curriculum that will drive student achievement.

Curriculum, budget, HR/staffing: Those are the three most important things. And then you have the ability to set expectations and operations to support academics. Pivot everything in the school toward academic growth.

Shifting to charter school oversight: You’ve been appointed to CSAB again. As you prepare to reprise your role, what do you hope to accomplish for the state’s charter movement?   

Alex: Education was always important—and innovation in education has been a priority—but coming on the heels of the pandemic, that’s truer now than before. Results and outcomes for kids in America are tragic. Kids from low-income backgrounds suffered the most from the pandemic. We have to do better for them. For me, charter schools have always been a lever to move, to help low-income kids achieve higher outcomes. I’ll continue to have that be top of mind for me.

The other piece is that we have to be highly disciplined about who gets through the charter school pipeline and the selection process. I’ve always said authorization is the number one tool in terms of accountability. If we lower the bar for authorization and complain when a school isn’t good, that’s a problem. If we have a high bar for entry, we will have fewer issues for schools. It’s a lot harder to close a school than it is to not move one forward. I’ve always been an advocate for rigor in the selection process, and also because it’s a huge investment of taxpayer dollars. So, I advocate for a high bar for authorization, a high bar for renewal, and an aggressive approach to closing low performing schools that cannot over time get better.

Charter schools trade accountability for autonomy. The deal that we’re giving charter school boards and leaders is, ‘We give you autonomy. Don’t mess it up. If you do, you don’t get another chance.’

How would you characterize the opportunities ahead for North Carolina’s charter schools?

Alex: The opportunity is to continuously improve the charter sector in the state and close gaps between high performing schools and lower performing schools. Part of the process of that is closing schools that cannot make the leap. We need to ensure we have rigorous authorization processes so that only the best schools get to open.

We should work collectively with public schools and the State Board of Education to move the needle for kids in the state. There is still a disturbing lack of collaboration between charters and traditional public schools. This isn’t at the DPI level. We have a great Superintendent and I think the State Board has been excited about quality charter schools that are getting things done for kids. There is a lot of opportunity for us to learn from each other in the future and I would hope that plays out. I remain optimistic about that, and I always have been.

What do you see as key or ongoing challenges for charters?

Alex: There are a number of issues. There remains a perception problem for charter schools. People purposely lump charters together as a monolith and use broad strokes to paint the movement. It isn’t possible because charter schools in North Carolina are really diverse in how they are structured, who they serve, and how they serve those students. It’s convenient and effective for detractors to oversimplify. That’s an issue, and it’s going to continue to be a challenge.

I’m also worried about the scope of work of the Office of Charter Schools. They have too much work and not enough staff, especially with the ACCESS grant sunsetting. The additional staff for the grant is going away. That staff works very hard, but it’s difficult for them to meet all the needs as the large number of charter schools has ballooned. More and more, schools need support, training, and accountability. It’s difficult for the Office of Charter Schools to execute on all of these three priorities effectively. I believe Ashley Baquero has done a superb job taking over from David Machado—also a great leader—but the job continues to get increasingly complex. They simply need more staff.

Additionally, newly approved schools need longer to get open. We’re seeing lots of charters struggle to open and then request a delay, which then increases the number of students they need to recruit when they do open. Let’s give them an option to select a two-year planning period.

Finally, with the ACCESS grant going away, charters not connected to a CMO (charter management organization) or EMO (education management organization) will have an increasingly difficult time opening effectively. Schools need funding to start up. We need to figure out a way to get them an infusion of capital as soon as they earn approval. Once the state gives them the green light, we should do everything possible to get them to open successfully. A big part of that is about money. It’s nearly impossible to open without start-up funds if you don’t have a CMO or EMO supporting your launch. Even if the state were able to give schools a low-interest loan rather than a grant that schools would pay back over a 10-year period, it would be better than nothing.

H.B. 618, Charter School Review Board, has passed the House and Senate. That bill converts CSAB into a Charter School Review Board, with sole authority to grant charter approvals and renewals. Could you share your perspective on work ahead for the Review Board? [Note: On Friday afternoon, July 7, the Governor vetoed H.B. 618.]

Alex: I would hope that if we are a Charter School Review Board, we have power to close schools and we do that. We also need to be rigorous in who we give opportunities to have a charter. As a State Board of Education appointee, I see that part of my role is to understand the positions of the State Board and represent those as best I can, while also advocating strongly for the charter sector, as I always have.

What would you like Coalition members and other charter operators to know about you and your approach to leadership? Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to share? 

Alex: I am a deep believer in school choice, and I have exercised it for my own kids. Charter schools provide school choice in a manner that can respond to communities—and demand for choices in a manner that the state retains some measure of regulation. They also provide it easily to parents who would otherwise never be able to afford a house zoned for a high performing school, private school tuition, or even homeschooling. People love to talk about equity in education. How can it ever be equitable if only middle and upper income parents have school choice? I believe school choice is the only way to liberate parents from a system made up of increasingly politicized school boards and bureaucratic school districts that make decisions from a distance about the future of their children.

On a personal level, I have four children, each of whom has had a unique educational pathway. Across our kids, they have collectively attended a traditional public school, a private school, a charter school—and all of them have been homeschooled at some time. Clearly, I have leveraged the power of school choice to meet my children’s needs. I want all parents, regardless of their race, income, native language, or immigration status to have the same power.

New survey highlights job satisfaction of charter teachers

By News

A new survey from The Harris Poll and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reveals important insights about the views and motivations of teachers today. The Alliance commissioned the survey to examine trends in light of current teacher shortages and to assess teachers’ views of public education. Of particular note: Charter school teachers seem more satisfied with their jobs and working conditions than district teachers, and they have maintained this sense of fulfillment over a long arc of time and despite challenging circumstances in recent years.

“Listen to Your Teacher” poll assessed views of over 1,200 teachers

Pollsters queried 1,211 public district and public charter school teachers between May 10 and May 30, 2023. Results are only available in a sneak peek memo, with full findings coming in August. However, here are some of the top takeaways on teachers’ perspectives:

  • Most teachers, 97%, don’t believe the public really understands the rigors of their jobs.
  • Almost 40% have considered leaving teaching–either in the past or by the end of the year.
  • Teachers view student behavior/discipline and pay as their top challenges.
  • Nearly 8 in 10, or 79%, of all teachers say public school choice is important for families and teachers.

See an overall infographic from the Alliance below:

Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “Listen to Your Teacher” (Sneak Peek Memo), June 20, 2023.

Charter school teachers report higher satisfaction and fulfillment

However, something different is going on with charter schools, according to the Alliance. Charter school teachers report more satisfaction and fulfillment than district teachers. For instance, according to the poll:

  • 97% of charter school teachers are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 83% of district teachers.
  • 79% of charter school teachers say they are as motivated–or more motivated–to teach than when they first started, compared to just 34% of district teachers.
  • 90% of charter school teachers feel valued by their school’s administration, compared to 68% of district teachers.

See the infographic from the Alliance below regarding charter teachers:

Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “Listen to Your Teacher” (Sneak Peek Memo), June 20, 2023.

In a press release, Debbie Veney, the senior vice president of marketing and communications at the Alliance, said this about the charter findings:

It looks like there is something interesting happening in charter schools and it’s helping to create conditions for happier teachers who can keep their motivation high, even in tough times. These findings suggest there might be practices in charter schools that could be replicated to better support teachers in other kinds of schools.