National Charter Schools Conference—Delivering on the Dream

Our nation’s capitol was the site of the 2013 National Charter Schools Conference which ended just before the fireworks burst into air. For me, the highlight is always networking with charter school friends from around the nation. Besides Pitbull’s speech on Monday (see July 2), here are a few take-aways for me from the conference speakers:

  • The new strategic plan for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is about Quality, Innovation, and Equity. I like it! President and CEO Nina Rees says that chartered schools continue to disproportionately top the lists of the nation’s best high schools in Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, and the Washington Post. Even though only 5% of public school students attend chartered schools, over a quarter of the schools on these lists are currently charter schools. In the last set of the most rigorous studies, 15 of the last 16 studies on chartered schools (including the latest CREDO study) showed that charter school students outperformed their peers in traditional public schools and closed the achievement gap. At the same time charter school students still only receive 70 cents on the dollar that goes to district students.
  • Today charter schools serve over 2.3 million students in over 6,000 chartered schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia. There are over one million names on chartered school waiting lists.
  • My favorite speaker, as always, was Howard Fuller from the Institute for Transformation of Learning at Marquette University in Wisconsin. I paraphrase here: We need to leave here with a sense of urgency. Some of us have grown arrogant. Not all of us are awesome or amazing. What we need is ordinary people who deliver awesome results!
  • U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: The Secretary is concerned that success in education is the exception in our country, not the norm. Our nation is only 28th ranked in education in the world. He wants to change that. He wants to move from “educational islands of excellence” to “systems and states of excellence.” Regarding chartering, “High-performing charters show that low-income children can and do achieve at high levels. Poverty is not a destiny!” He wants to see more innovations in chartering, taken to scale. I liked Duncan’s emphasis on expanding meaningful partnerships with districts. He wants to share innovations. He wants charter and district school leaders to be less like combatants and more like partners. “The only thing that matters is if it is a great school”! He also wants to see more charter school involvement with Early Learning, similar to the model delivered by Apple Tree in Washington DC. Could that be in Minnesota’s future, now that all day kindergarten is fully funded?