Examining Charters. How public charter schools can work in Washington state

Examining Charters How public charter schools can work in Washington state October 2012 About Partnership for Learning Partnership for Learning, founded in 1994, believes every student deserves a quality
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Examining Charters How public charter schools can work in Washington state October 2012 About Partnership for Learning Partnership for Learning, founded in 1994, believes every student deserves a quality education. As the Washington business community s voice in education, the Partnership has focused on communicating and advocating for the success of every student. Our goal is to create a stronger public education system that prepares all students for college and the workplace. The Partnership is affiliated with the Washington Roundtable, a nonprofit, public policy organization comprised of chief executives representing major private sector employers throughout Washington. Find out more about the Partnership for Learning at Written by: Robin Lake, Betheny Gross, and Tricia Maas, Center on Reinventing Public Education Edited by: Jana Carlisle and Chris Barron, Partnership for Learning Design/illustrations by: Chris Barron, Partnership for Learning About the Center on Reinventing Public Education Through research and policy analysis, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) seeks ways to make public education more effective, especially for America s disadvantaged students. CRPE helps redesign governance, oversight, and dynamic education delivery systems to make it possible for great educators and programs to do their best work with students and to create a wide range of high-quality public school options for families. CRPE s work emphasizes evidence over posture and confronts hard truths. Our goal is to create new possibilities for the parents, educators, and public officials who strive to improve America s schools. CRPE is a self-sustaining organization affiliated with the University of Washington and is funded entirely through private philanthropic dollars, federal grants, and contracts. Learn more about CRPE at Special Thanks Partnership for Learning would like to thank CRPE Executive Director Robin Lake, Senior Research Analyst and Research Director Betheny Gross, and Research Assistant Tricia Maas for their efforts in compiling this report, which relied on data from sources including the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Washington Student Achievement Council (formerly State Higher Education Coordinating Board), the National Center for Education Statistics, College Board and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Finally, thanks to STRIVE Preparatory Schools, ASPIRE Public Schools, Uncommon Schools and Rocketship Education for providing photographs for this report Partnership for Learning, Seattle, WA. In early 2012, Partnership for Learning visited Los Angeles, Sacramento and Denver to learn more about public charter schools. We wanted to learn how and why the highest-performing public charter schools were cracking the code of serving low-income students and students of color, and if charters would fit into the current Washington education landscape. We came away from those trips convinced that public charter schools should be part of Washington s public education system, helping to educate students who are not being well-served by the traditional public school model, or for those who attend persistently low-performing schools. During the 2012 session of the Washington state Legislature, the Partnership supported a bill that would have authorized public charter schools. During the session, we encountered misinformation and misunderstanding about charter schools. Even before there was discussion about I-1240 (Washington s public charter school initiative), we launched conversations with the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) to craft a document that provided information designed to help the public to better understand public charter schools and the ways in which they can work as an option for students and families in our state. Sincerely, Jana Carlisle, Executive Director, Partnership for Learning Introduction Many U.S. charter schools have achieved unprecedented success in educating students from low-income backgrounds. In addition, with more than 20 years of national charter school experience, we now understand better than ever the policies and conditions under which charter schools perform best and what public school students have to gain from charter schools. Greater public understanding of the charter school landscape, consideration of lessons learned elsewhere, and thoughtful policymaking will help ensure that Washington selects charter schools designed to close achievement gaps and improve high school graduation rates. The Washington Public Charter School Initiative (I-1240), approved by the Washington Secretary of State for the November ballot in July 2012, will allow up to 40 public charter schools in Washington over a five-year period. Washington s public charter schools will be subject to additional oversight and more accountability than traditional public schools, including annual performance reviews to evaluate their success in improving student outcomes. In addition, public charters will be evaluated at the end of the five-year period to determine whether additional charter schools should be allowed. Legislation that would permit charter schools has been on the public ballot three times in Washington state. Yet many voters, as they consider the I-1240 in November 2012, don t fully understand what charter schools are, how they vary from state to state, and how they perform. Charter schools are public schools, but are free from many of the bureaucratic restrictions that limit traditional district schools. These public charter schools are structured so that their leaders more easily innovate and tailor instruction to meet students needs by fostering unique school missions, cultures, and teaching staffs who adopt the instructional methods they know work well for their particular students. The rationale of those who founded the public charter school movement, and those who have sustained it, is not just that those individual schools demonstrate success it s that the success drives improvements in traditional schools as well, through competition, cooperation, innovation, and emulation. We cannot say that charter schools will solve the problems of low academic achievement throughout Washington on their own. But we know this: When public charter school policies are crafted carefully and systems are designed to support the new schools, public charter schools are capable of outperforming traditional public schools in meeting the needs of struggling students. 3 Washington s Educational Challenges: We Can Do Better Look at student results, and it s obvious we need to try new approaches in addition to providing adequate and equitable funding to effectively educate our neediest children. Over the past two decades, states and districts across the country have increasingly moved away from one-size-fits-all, bureaucratic school systems and embraced new opportunities to cultivate innovation, allow increased flexibility, and create new high-performing organizations. As academic standards and global competition continue to increase, and achievement gaps continue to challenge traditional public school models, more and more local and state education agencies have reinvented their central offices, staffing policies, teacher evaluation models, and the organizational structure of schooling. Washington state has recently begun making changes in some of these areas, but it still needs to do more for its struggling students and lowest-performing schools (see sidebar to the right on recent Washington education reform steps ). It s clear why we need to do more. Not even half of fourth and eighth graders were proficient on national reading and math tests in Despite having fewer low-income families than the national average, Washington state ranks 37th in the nation in high school completion. The state s average graduation rate was 73.7 percent in roughly 20,000 students in each graduating class do not earn a diploma. 2 This four-year graduation rate reflects a 1.5-point increase over seven years half the growth rate of the nation as a whole. 3 Even more striking are the most current state graduation figures from the class of Those figures reveal that the state s graduation rate is just 56.5 percent for Native Americans, 65.4 percent for African Americans, and 64.5 percent for Hispanics. These rates stand in stark contrast to the 82.9 of Asian students and 80.0 percent of white students who graduate on time in Washington an improvement, but far from acceptable in the 21st century economy. 4 Students of color who graduate do so likely having had a limited education, as poor and majority-minority schools in the state offer relatively few enrichment programs. Washington s white 4 Recent Washington education reforms 2010 education reform bill Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 6696, passed in 2010, enacted several key reforms, including: an accountability index that recognizes successful schools and requires districts with low-performing schools to take certain actions; and the development of a new teacher-andprincipal evaluation system. Teacher-and-principal evaluation system Senate Bill 5895, passed in 2012, created a four-tiered teacher-and-principal evaluation system. The bill included requirements for quality professional development and tying educator evaluation outcomes to human resource decisions. In July 2012, the US Department of Education approved Washington for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements if the state rewrote rules requiring the use of student growth date as a significant factor in educator evaluations. Also, the state must create an Achievement Index to keep the waiver. Common Core State Standards In July 2011, Washington formally adopted the Common Core State Standards. The standards will cover English-language arts and math and have been adopted by 45 states. K-12 education funding Substitute House Bill 2776, passed in 2010, and Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2261, passed in 2009, revised the definition of basic education and adopted a new funding method for distributing funds to school districts. Full implementation must happen by In addition, the state Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v State (January 2012) that the state was not upholding its constitutional duty to adequately fund basic education. students have 4.5 times the opportunity of black and Hispanic students to take Advanced Placement science, 4 times the opportunity to take AP math, and 2.8 times the opportunity to be in in gifted and talented programs 5 (see green box, Page 6). istock photo by CE Futcher Achievement gaps have not improved in Washington during the past 20 years for black, Hispanic, Native American and low-income students. Graduation rates are strongly related to family income, and gaps in achievement by income levels start early. The numbers in Figure 1 paint a bleak picture of Washington state s math achievement, particularly for students from low-income families. As students become older, and move from elementary and middle school, the achievement gap by income level persists. By 10th grade, the passing rates for low-income students on Washington s previous high school math exam (the High School Proficiency Exam) dropped from 30.5 percent in 2007 to 24.5 percent in The state has since moved to End-of-Course (EOC) exams for high school level math. Although passing rates improved for all students on the Algebra 1 exam, the achievement gap remained significant. In spring 2012, 49.8 percent of low-income students passed the Algebra 1 exam, while 74.5 percent of middle- and high-income students met the passing standard a gap of 24.7 percent. 6 Figure 1 5 The achievement gaps by race and income level have not improved over time. For years, lowincome students have passed state math tests at a rate of about 25 percentage points lower than their better-off peers. The gap for reading has held close to 20 percentage points. 7 Of the Washington state students who are graduating and attending college, too many are not prepared. According to a recent report by the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board (now the Washington Student Achievement Council), 57 percent of Washington students enrolling in community and technical colleges in 2009 required remedial coursework of some kind. 8 The need for academic remediation is higher for students in disadvantaged minority groups. Nearly 70 percent of Hispanic students, for example, had to enroll in remedial courses after high school graduation. 9 The 2012 results from the SAT showed that just 21 percent of Hispanics who took the test in Washington met the SAT college- and career-ready benchmark the number was 22 percent for blacks and 32 percent for Native Americans, compared to 55 percent for whites and 51 percent for Asians/ Pacific Islanders. The SAT benchmark indicates the likelihood of achieving a B- or higher in the first year of college, which is a future indicator of college success and college completion. 10 During the school year, only 439 students in Washington took the Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exam, which is itself a serious problem. Even more concerning was that only 12 of these students were Hispanic American, only four were African- American, and only 99 were female. Any solution must include a clear focus on strategies that better encourage and support minority populations and young women to pursue careers in science and engineering. -- National Talent Strategy: Ideas for Ensuring U.S. Competitiveness and Economic Growth, Microsoft, September 2012 Although there are many examples of outstanding and innovative traditional public schools in Washington state, there is need for more high-quality options for our struggling students. The stagnant education results in Washington have prompted many to advocate for the introduction of public charter schools as one of several ways to better serve struggling students who learn in different ways, need a more personalized environment, aren t making gains in traditional district schools, or simply want more or different options. Figure Photo courtesty of Rocketship Education, Tom Upton Like many high-performing schools, Rocketship Education, a California-based charter management organization, uses strategies like an extended school day and year, emphasis on college-going expectations, and extensive use of data to bring students closer to their goal. Charter Schools Defined: Flexibility, Variety and Accountability To understand how public charter schools can help students, it s important to understand first what they are and how they came to be. Charter schools vary widely that s the point but they come from a common place of origin: the conviction that schools need freedom to innovate and adapt to most effectively meet their students needs. educators, business and civic leaders, advocates for market-based solutions, families with little access to quality public schools, groups of parents and teachers who support alternative education, and civil rights activists. Given its wide appeal, state charter school legislation has spread widely since its debut in Although the earliest charter school law passed in Minnesota, a mostly liberal, Democratic state, U.S. public charter schools have enjoyed bipartisan support at the federal level. Presidents from both parties, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, have supported the idea of public charter schools. State and local coalitions formed to pass charter school laws have usually included a broad set of stakeholders, including progressive Washington is one of just nine states that have not yet approved charter schools. However, the Washington state Legislature has seriously considered different public charter school proposals in most years since 1995, and there have been two citizen initiatives (1996 and 2000) and one referendum to repeal a charter law passed by the legislature (2004), all of which went to public vote in Washington state. These three attempts at 7 establishing charter school policy have been the only direct referenda on charter schools in U.S. history. 11 The public charter school movement both within and outside of Washington state began as a contentious and frequently misunderstood phenomenon in education policy. Particularly in the early days of charter schooling, advocates and opponents alike often misrepresented the essence and effects of charter schools. Now, more than two decades later, those following charter school policy have a better understanding of the policy s successes, failures, and possibilities, and public charter schools are viewed by parents and policy makers as important options in the public school system. 12 The basic bargain: Flexibility for accountability Charter schools in the United States are public schools that are given increased operational freedom to find new solutions. In exchange for that flexibility, public charter schools operate under a performance agreement (the charter) with an oversight agency. The agencies that may act as a charter authorizers are particular to state law, but in most states authorizers can be a state department of education, local school board, or other agency, such as a public university. In two states, Ohio and Minnesota, nonprofit organizations are eligible to authorize and oversee charter schools. States such as Colorado and Massachusetts created statewide charter offices similar to the statewide commission proposed in I-1240 to build expertise in performance oversight and to ensure that charter applicants would be reviewed based on merit, not politics. Such statewide authorizers have proven to be some of the most rigorous in the country. 13 Those interested in starting a charter school submit a proposal to an authorizer. The authorizing agency then examines the quality of the proposed academic program, leadership, and financial feasibility plan. 14 If the authorizer approves the application, the public charter school must first enter into a contract with the authorizer, then it is approved to operate, usually for a three- to five-year period. The Innovation Leaders: Rocketship Education Photo courtesy of Rocketship Education Rocketship Education has a mission of eliminating the achievement gap and preparing all of its students to attend college. All three Rocketship schools for which test scores are available were ranked in the top 10 schools serving low-income students in Santa Clara County, California. Like many other high-performing schools, Rocketship uses strategies like an extended school day and year, emphasis on college-going expectations, and extensive use of data to bring students closer to their goal. However, unlike many high-performing charter schools, Rocketship combines traditional face-to-face instruction with virtual learning. A typical school day at Rocketship includes six hours of classroom time and two hours in an individualized online learning lab. This model, frequently called blended learning, allows students to learn basic facts on the computer at their own pace. Teachers can then use classroom time to focus on critical thinking and other skills. This model also saves money, which allows Rocketship schools to pay teachers higher salaries and to pay for other school-based resources. Rocketship now operates seven schools in the San Jose area and has plans to expand to Milwaukee and other cities. 8 authorizer oversees compliance with state laws and performance. If the school performs well, the authorizer can approve the school s continued operation. The design and operation of public charter schools differ substantially across states some are very restrictive in terms of charter authorizing, operations, and accountability, and others are more permissive. Most charter schools, however, enjoy freedom from bureaucratic constraints such as union contract provisions and district mandates about o
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