It is week 168 of our new reality and we are thinking about an inconvenient truth at the heart of education reform:
Charter schools work.
That’s the conclusion from the latest CREDO study on charter schools in the United States. And let’s be honest with ourselves: it would be a lot easier if they didn’t work.
Advocates wouldn’t have to spend so much political capital defending them year in and year out. District leaders wouldn’t have to aim higher to keep up. Democratic politicians wouldn’t have to risk upsetting teachers unions and splintering their coalition.
What’s particularly inconvenient is that charter schools work so well for the students who have historically been failed by our traditional public education system. The CREDO results are clear: not only do charter schools outperform traditional public schools in overall annual academic growth for the first time but they secured their largest and most significant gains for Black students (30 extra days of growth in reading, 29 in math), Hispanic students (30 days in reading, 21 in math) and low-income students (23 in reading, 17 in math).
Students in Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) – such as KIPP, Uncommon, Achievement First and Success Academy – did particularly well in the study. That’s unfortunate if you’re one of the purists who have decided CMOs should be hanging their heads in shame for being “big box” charter networks. Should these skeptics now acknowledge the good these CMOs do for kids? Should President Biden rethink why he was the first president ever to say “I’m not a charter school fan” even if that puts him at odds with the special interest groups that influenced that position in the first place?
Perhaps most politically challenging are the state-level results. It turns out that charter schools in blue states–where they are politically on the ropes–are securing the biggest gains for kids: Maryland (37 extra days of growth in reading and math), Massachusetts (41 days in reading and math), New York (75 days in reading, 73 in math), and Rhode Island (90 days in reading, 88 in math). That’s pretty awkward for the state legislatures trying to cap their growth.
Rhode Island was the site of 50CAN’s first great battle over charter schools. Back in 2011 we launched a campaign to secure approval for the successful Achievement First charter school network to open their first school in Rhode Island. As documented in a 50CAN case study, “the road to ‘yes’ was paved with numerous hurdles, a first-round rejection, intense debate and stiff resistance from a well-organized and determined opposition.”
Under the leadership of Founding Executive Director Maryellen Butke, “RI-CAN fought fury with facts, publishing data that showed why bringing the high-quality CMO to Rhode Island would yield positive results for the community” and mobilized “parents who braved the intimidation tactics of the vocal opposition.”
The result after nine months of intense advocacy? “In a 4-to-3 vote the Achievement First Mayoral Academy application was approved by the Board of Regents.”
The fight for Achievement First taught us that “even when the odds are long and the opposition is stiff, it’s never too late to stand up for parents who want choices and the educators fighting to open high-quality schools.” It’s a lesson we have strived to apply to each of the more than 200 advocacy campaigns we have run since. Even when it’s inconvenient.
Last week, we explored what it will take to end educational redlining and checked in on new developments in educational innovation. This week, we look at reporting from the New York Times on whether the federal ARP/ESSER money is actually reaching kids and offer you five minutes of pure inspiration from Hawaii of advocacy in action for the start of your week. Also below: with the wrap of their legislative session, a historic year for ConnCAN.
Demand emergency federal funds are spent on immediate student needs
One of the five promises we’ve made to American families is that they have a right to know –line by line and dollar by dollar–how money is being spent on their children. That should include the $190 billion of federal pandemic aid to schools but for far too long families have been kept in the dark.
It’s for this reason that ConnCAN, DelawareCAN, GeorigaCAN, JerseyCAN, TennesseeCAN and TEN Colorado have passed legislation on financial transparency of these federal funds and why GeorgiaCAN Outreach Director Steven Quinn created a dashboard on how local districts were using these funds.
It’s also why we’ve applauded the work of groups like FutureEd and CRPE, for the important role they’ve played in helping elected officials, advocates and the public understand how funding is being spent.
This emergency funding was sold as a response to closed schools and declining academic results. Yet we have been concerned from the beginning they wouldn’t actually be spent on initiatives that would address these challenges like increased instructional time, high-dosage tutoring and free summer camps.
Reporting from The New York Times last week confirmed our concerns: “While most schools have since deployed various forms of interventions and some have spent more on academic recovery than others, there are ample signs that the money has not been spent in a way that has substantially helped all of the nation’s students lagging behind.”
The Times shares the story of a district in Oregon: “Klamath County school district plans to use about 30 percent of its $16.1 million federal share on academic recovery programs and 70 percent on facilities projects. Those include buying new turf fields, replacing HVAC systems, upgrading flooring, renovating bleachers in baseball fields, constructing a gym and surfacing an elementary school parking lot.”
These stories of district spending are at odds with the language coming out of Washington, with Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona responding in October of last year to the cratering NAEP results by saying, “President Biden and congressional Democrats passed the ARP, which invested $130 billion so schools could reopen and stay open safely, as well as address the longer-term impacts of the pandemic, including learning loss.”
Unfortunately, as the Times’ piece notes, this was a problem of their own creation and that is an important lesson for the future. “Education experts who have closely monitored the relief money said the federal guidelines should have been more focused on addressing learning loss, and were skeptical that many districts’ recovery plans were robust enough.”
- The task this week is to demand that any remaining ARP funding–which must be spent by fall of 2024–be spent on immediate student needs rather than long-term facility projects.
Get inspired by the momentum in Hawaii
“As the mother of young girls, I’m well aware of the statistics around girls of color and their access to IT careers and computer science, it’s critical that we provide support to the community so that students have access in whatever field of study they have after high school,” parent Marissa Baptiste tells HawaiiKidsCAN Executive Director David Miyashiro.
To wrap up his legislative session, David interviewed parents, community members and students on what the legislative progress this year means to them.
These are 5 minutes that will make a great kick-start to your week.
“I’m a recent graduate of Pearl City High School and work-based learning has been a huge part of my education,” says student Eliana, reflecting on the passage of resolution HCR58, which expands opportunities for students to learn in the workplace. “I’ve definitely been blessed and I’m so thankful for the opportunities.”
- The task this week is to watch David’s video and reflect on the impact the student-centered bills that have passed this year–by advocates inside and outside of the 50CAN network–will have on families.
With the wrap-up of the Connecticut legislative session, ConnCAN achieved all three of their policy goals. These wins include a historic $150 million investment in education. On top of this money, there’s additional funding for two new charter schools in Norwalk and New Haven along with the largest funding increase ever for the state’s agricultural schools to give more students opportunities for a meaningful career.
The team also doubled down on previous wins by securing $14 million for a diverse teacher educator scholarship program while also giving adjunct professors the ability to teach college and career coursework at schools.
Finally, in a vote that squeaked onto the floor in the minutes before the close of session, the team saw a big win with the passage of the English Language Learners’ Bill of Rights that will improve conditions and communication between schools and families.
NewMexicoKidsCAN continues to dedicate energy to ensuring that families are aware of the differing approaches between balanced and structured literacy and the importance of the need for their students to be taught to read in a science-backed approach. Following the release of their Literacy Toolkit for parents, Executive Director Amanda Aragon appeared on the Bob Clark podcast to keep parents informed.
Garrett Ballengee writes for Education Next that passing ESAs is only the base camp and not the summit, with work for advocates to continue to do in the realm of public relations, case management and coalition building.
ExcelinEd looks at case studies of how universal ESAs are interacting with other forms of choice in states, finding that there isn’t a clear and consistent approach.
The American Federation for Children is curating a collection of school choice stories, full of interviews capturing how school choice made a meaningful difference in participants’ lives.
Axios reports on Uber rolling out Uber for Teens in select markets, a move that organizations focused on transportation like A for Arizona see as a critical building block to enable more families to take advantage of both school choice and learning outside the schoolhouse.
John Bailey writes in the 74 Million that school closures and learning loss are connected worldwide, with a new analysis finding the closures directly responsible.
Three for three! ConnCAN had something rare in the dynamic and often chaotic world of advocacy where every win is a hard fight: a perfect year. Here, Executive Director Subira Gordon, State Grassroots Manager Luis Ortiz and Policy and Research Director Hamish MacPhail were all smiles in the Capitol Gallery as they awaited passage of their final bill that squeaked in just before the close of the session.