April 13, Re: Response to ACOE Staff Report Regarding FAME Renewal Charter Petition

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1 April 3, 205 President Marlon Mc Wilson and Honorable Trustees of the Alameda County Board of Education L. Karen Monroe, Superintendent Alameda County Office of Education 33 West Winton Avenue Hayward, CA Via: Re: Response to ACOE Staff Report Regarding FAME Renewal Charter Petition Dear Board President McWilson, Board Trustees, and Superintendent Monroe, On behalf of the Families for Academic Multilingual/Intercultural Education Charter ( FAME ), thank you for considering the FAME renewal charter petition. We would like to acknowledge the time and energy the County staff has put into the review process including the production of the staff report that was released on April 0, 205. That being said, we strongly disagree with the staff report s conclusions. The data and analysis that has been presented is often misleading if not downright erroneous. The tenor of the report is excessively negative and clearly downplays or discounts meaningful progress, past success, and achievable plans for the future. As such, we have prepared this response in order to provide you with as much information as possible before you vote on our charter petition on Tuesday evening. We want to be clear that FAME recognizes that its authorizer has concerns. To that end, we are prepared to negotiate a memorandum of understanding that comprehensively satisfies these concerns and that will be mutually agreeable to both parties. First, we unequivocally contend that FAME has achieved the minimum criteria established in Education Code for renewal of the charter. To be precise, FAME ranked in deciles 4 to 0, inclusive, on the API both statewide and for demographically similar schools, meeting the criteria in both Education Code Sections 47607(b)(2) and (3). As is well known and as Education Code Section 47607(b) requires that a charter school must meet at least one of the following renewal criteria prior to receiving a charter renewal: () Attained its Academic Performance Index (API) growth target in the prior year or in two of the last three years, both school wide and for all groups of pupils served by the charter school. (2) Ranked in deciles 4 to 0, inclusive, on the API in the prior year or in two of the last three years. (3) Ranked in deciles 4 to 0 inclusive, in the API for a demographically comparable school in the prior year or in two of the last three years. (4) The entity that granted the charter determines that the academic performance of the charter school is at least equal to the academic performance of the public schools that the charter school pupils would otherwise have been required to attend, as well as the academic performance of the schools in the school district in which the charter school is located, taking into account the composition of the pupil population that is served at the charter school. Page of 3

2 ACOE points out in its report, California s accountability system is in a state of transition. However, ACOE staff incorrectly asserts that CDE does not offer guidance for charter renewals. In fact, CDE has very explicitly provided direction on this issue: Assembly Bill (AB) 484 amended EC Section 52052(e)(2)(F) giving authority to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, with approval of the State Board of Education (SBE), to permit the use of proxies for the API to meet legislative and/or programmatic requirements in and (CDE website, Charter Renewal FAQs Section, In a CDE created chart on the same page, it specifically directs authorizers to use 203 school rankings or rankings for 2 of last 3 years for one of the options to achieve renewal eligibility in 204-5: Year API Growth Assessment Data School Rankings School Year No 204 Growth API; use 203 Growth API as most recent, 3-year average API (20/202/203), or alternative measures No 204 SBAC Scores for math and ELA. Use 203 school rankings or rankings for 2 of last 3 years It is more than fair to conclude that CDE prefers to continue to operate in the spirit of the original statutory language at this time and have authorizers consider what is, without a doubt, the most accurate and empirical metric we have at our disposal. ACOE is apparently aware of this guidance but has brazenly chosen to disregard it (see 2/0/5 ACOE Staff Report for Cox Academy: page 4, footnote ). However, its analysis for FAME does include the above-mentioned data, despite its contention that it is extraneous, and the chart on page 2 of the ACOE staff report clearly affirms FAME s fulfillment of the standard. FAME is confident that the Alameda County Board of Education is on solid legal ground to renew the FAME charter petition. Moreover, FAME stakeholders have come to rely on our program as an important educational option that meets the needs of students and families in our region. It is unfortunate that ACOE staff has taken a position that disregards the educational and social value of the FAME program. More alarming is the appearance that the staff report is intentionally presenting an oppositional analysis riddled with misleading statements and negative conclusions about the FAME program that are not supported by facts, evidence, or relevant data. Below we present a concise rebuttal to the Staff Report Executive Summary that keeps the information relatively manageable and covers the breadth of content. We will gladly provide more detail should any Board Members request it and will also welcome questions at the Board meeting. The chart below presents side-by-side content for ease of analysis. We also stand firmly behind the merits of the charter petition itself, which further speaks to many of the issues. Page 2 of 3

3 ACOE Staff Report Executive Summary Because of the suspension of statewide testing and calculation of the Academic Performance Index, and elimination of school decile rankings, the minimum statutory threshold for charter renewal (per Cal. Ed. Code 47607(b)) could not be determined with certainty. An alternative threshold measure, comparisons to other schools and districts, was analyzed. (Even if FAME is found to have met the minimum statutory threshold, further analysis of the school s performance is required. The school comparison provides context for considering increases in pupil academic achievement, as the most important factor when considering a charter renewal petition.) FAME s academic performance is lower than the academic performance of public schools that the charter school pupils would otherwise attend, as well as that of schools where the charter school is located, school-wide and for significant subgroups. FAME did not perform as well as the Fremont schools that FAME students would otherwise attend. (Forty percent of FAME s students in site-based programs - the largest share - reside in Fremont.) FAME Response As cited above, CDE provides explicit guidance for how to determine if a charter school applying for renewal in met the minimum threshold for Education Code 47607(b)(-3). FAME unquestionably meets the criteria based on this guidance. This in and of itself is sufficient basis for approving a renewal. Moreover, ACOE s comparison model is fundamentally flawed. FAME is a single countywide benefit charter school and should be considered as a whole. ACOE chooses to disregard as much as half of FAME student data when making comparisons to other districts. Choosing to piecemeal FAME data through skewed samplings leads to faulty or misleading conclusions. For example, had independent studies numbers been appropriately included in the analysis, FAME students residing in Fremont Unified territory would be nowhere near the 40% of total FAME enrollment that ACOE asserts. In the face of these types of deliberate choices, it is difficult not to assume that ACOE is allowing bias to infiltrate the process in order to support a predetermined outcome. The determination of this finding is inconsistent with ACOE past practice and the intent of the law. The Staff report clearly demonstrates that FAME is actually outperforming most of the district schools that students would otherwise attend, including San Lorenzo Unified where one of FAME s campuses reside. It is accurate to conclude that Fremont Unified has outperformed FAME in many areas, but to suggest that FAME has not met the threshold based on the singularity of that conclusion is unfair. As an example, the ACOE has reviewed two other charter renewals in 205 and in both staff reports the Page 3 of 3

4 charter schools were outperformed by some of the comparison schools. However, in both cases ACOE determined that they had met the alternative minimum renewal eligibility threshold. This logical finding was based on the aggregate of the data. If the same principle was applied to the FAME scenario, it should also have been deemed eligible. The educational program, as implemented, is unsound. FAME did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress in 200-, 20-2, or FAME did not meet the annual measurable achievement objectives (AMAOs) for Title III (English learners) accountability in 200-, 20-2, or Failure to fully implement programs to address the needs of educationally-disadvantaged students (English learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students) resulted in lower academic achievement for these students. ACOE s conclusions here are once again misleading or incorrect. The increasingly unrealistic expectations of AYP made full attainment nearly impossible. This was the case for every school district in ACOE s comparison included in the chart on page 7 of the ACOE staff report. Also note that that FAME outperformed six out of seven of the comparison districts in terms of AYP progress. Included as Appendix A is a graph to illustrate these points. ACOE errs and overstates when it says FAME did not meet its Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAO) for Title III for the three years cited. On Oct. 2, 203, FAME delivered an extensive report on its Title III performance that included providing copies of CDE Accountability Reports for 200- and These reports indicated FAME s status in meeting 5 out of 6 of the annual AMAOs for those two years. (Reports for had not been published yet.) In 200-, FAME met all three AMAO goals. The report noted that 43 EL students in the cohort attained English Language Proficiency. In 20-2, FAME met two of the three AMAO goals and 84 students in the cohort attained English Language Proficiency. FAME s EL students did not achieve the percent proficiency goals in English Language Arts and Mathematics. In 202-3, as AYP targets increased to goals few districts would meet, FAME met Page 4 of 3

5 one of the three AMAO goals. In addition, large numbers of students FAME students have achieved Reclassification as Fluent English Proficient (RFEP) in each year : 40 RFEP Students : 55 RFEP Students : 92 RFEP Students ACOE s contention that FAME has not implemented programs to support educationally disadvantaged students is patently false. Not only is FAME implementing programs, but performance data highlights significant increases in achievement for both EL and SED students. See Appendix B for more detail. In 203, FAME improved its overall API score by 2 points, increasing from 769 in 202 to 78 in 203. Significant subgroups of students also increased their academic performance as measured by API: English Learner students + 3 points Asian (mostly South Asian) students + 28 points Socio-economically disadvantaged students + 28 points Hispanic/Latino + 3 points Appendix C presents academic achievement data from all of FAME s numerically significant student subgroups that demonstrate FAME has substantially met the following renewal standard under EC 47607(a)(3)(A): The authority that granted the charter shall consider increases in pupil academic achievement for all groups of pupils served by the charter school as the most important factor in determining whether to grant a charter renewal. [Emphasis added] EC 47607(a)(3)(B) further clarifies with the Page 5 of 3

6 following: For purposes of this section, all groups of pupils served by the charter school means a numerically significant pupil subgroup, as defined by paragraph (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 52052, served by the charter school. Pupil academic achievement at FAME, both schoolwide and for every numerically significant pupil subgroup except Whites, as demonstrated by API scores, has increased over the term of the charter, i.e., from 200 to 203. The renewal petition contains reasonably comprehensive descriptions of most required elements (36 of 44 petition content standards met), although deficiencies were found in several sections. Elements that did not meet the standard included assessment, governance, means for achieving racial/ethnic balance and dispute resolution. The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the This iteration of the FAME charter petition is the strongest and most comprehensive version of a document that has twice been approved by ACBOE. To suggest that it is now lacking requisite content seems counterintuitive. However, FAME acknowledges that the document can always be improved upon and is prepared to address all concerns in an MOU. A specific point of contention is the claim regarding FAME s racial and ethnic balance. ACOE bases its assessment on data that is flawed. It is a shortcoming of the census ethnicity designations that the ethnic diversity of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Northern African families is not more precisely accommodated, resulting in restrictive and misleading options (as was the case for Hispanic families in prior census years). As a result FAME s White and Asian counts are inflated. This assessment does not escape ACOE staff, as they suggest at the top of page of the staff report: CDE racial/ethnic categories are broad [and] they do not tell the whole story of FAME s student demographic profile. However, they seem to forget about this important contextual information when assessing the respective element of the charter petition. The ACOE report is consistently dismissive of FAME s substantive achievement and Page 6 of 3

7 program and plans for future improvement based on the record of past performance The school is, overall, not an academic success, although there have been improvements in instructional leadership and the quality of instruction during the charter term. High rates of turnover among principals and teachers. 2. Failure to hire a Director of Education until late in the charter term (February 205). 3. Poor implementation of assessments and student data systems. 4. Non-compliance with Title III requirements for programs for English learners. progressive improvement. Instead it draws from more than a decade of history in order to anchor this foregone conclusion with negative evidence rather than providing an objective narrative of the entire FAME story. FCMAT audits and Grand Jury investigations did happen, but they led to meaningful reform and improvement for the organization. FAME has never claimed a perfect record, but rather has repeatedly overcome hardship by addressing and/or correcting problems (either actual or perceived). ACOE staff provides a litany of compliance violations later in the report, but any discerning reader can see that each matter is either a non-issue or appropriately handled in due time. Every school faces conflict and controversy. An analysis of FAME s past demonstrates resilience, growth, and dedication to achieving the mission of the school. There is every reason to conclude that these characteristics combined with FAME s substantive and progressive achievement increase the likelihood of future success and will prove to be foundational in that evolution. Despite ACOE s brief concession that there have been improvements in instructional leadership and the quality of instruction during the charter term, the report immediately assert the opposite is true, once again dismissing meaningful evidence and narrative. Again, FAME does not claim to have a perfect program, but we do have high expectations and continue to work towards realizing our mission with resolve and integrity.. Employee turnover and attrition rates can be attributed to myriad reason including student enrollment fluctuation, facilities changes, retirement and relocation, internal administrative and governance changes, and authorizer relations. In some cases, employees were not asked to return as FAME leadership endeavors to find the Page 7 of 3

8 best fit for our program and standards (a characteristic of an organization focused on achievement). FAME is excited about a new phase of stability beginning over the last two years and looks to see our turnover rate dwindle significantly and rapidly. 2. While FAME is proud and enthusiastic to have hired a Director of Education to administer and shape our program through the next term, we have not been without experienced educational leadership in the past. FAME was guided by two former superintendents during the previous term: Brenda Miller and Barbara Wagner. It is misleading to suggest that we have ignored this role and its impact. 3. FAME has diligently implemented all State and federal assessments required by statute, as well as internal assessments, and utilizes DataDirector to disaggregate and analyze collected student achievement information. Our staff has successfully transitioned to a data-driven approach to instruction and we are proud of what has been accomplished during the hiatus of many accountability systems this year and last. FAME s internal benchmarks have changed as we strive to find the best model to reflect the CCSS and our program needs, but this is the case for every school in the State of California. Had FAME disregarded assessment and data in lieu of State assessments, this would have been of great concern. Our continued focus on data should be applauded. 4. All compliance issues have been dutifully remedied upon reporting. The organization is not effectively led and managed. This section of the ACOE staff report asserts offensive opinions that are not substantiated and are inherently subjective. Page 8 of 3

9 . Board members do not have needed knowledge and experience. As a result, they do not exercise strong oversight of management and hold the organization accountable for student performance. 2. The CEO has insufficient experience and has made numerous management errors, including improper removal of sitting board members, opening an unauthorized independent study service center, failing to implement the Title I plan, and failing to timely apply for nonclassroom funding. 3. Board failed to evaluate the performance of the Board Chair/Interim CEO (nearly 3 years) and appointed him as CEO with no process or stakeholder engagement.. The FAME Board of Trustees is a diverse and capable group. They have experience in governance, education, non-profits, finance, and legal compliance. They are supported by legal counsel (that provides Brown Act and Conflict of Interest training), a charter back office corporation, and a capable and dedicated administration. They have been trained by the nation s leading charter school governance expert and are well aware of their fiduciary duty and take the charge very seriously. They have passed Board policy for accountability and oversight purposes that aid in executing their duties. 2. The FAME CEO brings over 45 years of experience to FAME in nonprofit board management, corporate management, entrepreneurial start-up and turn-around management, commercial real estate development, venture capital funding, technology system development and product management.. He is also a SCORE Counselor for entrepreneurs in East Bay counties (Alameda, Contra Costa & Solano). During Mr. Malik s service to FAME, he has maintained fiscal stability during periods of significant State deferrals while he led the introduction of technology systems to support data-driven education decisions; the delivery of curricula aligned to California's new Common Core State Standards; and implementation of California's new Smarter Balanced (computer-based) testing system at FAME. Malik has developed a Leadership Team of internal staff and external consultants who collaborate to enhance every aspect of FAME's educational and operational programs. He has supported the growth of FAME's Arabic/English dual immersion program for elementary students, Page 9 of 3

10 promoted extensive professional development for FAME teachers and other staff, and is fostering the development of PTA at each site and for FAME's Independent Study program. 3. ACOE does not accurately describe the sequence of events nor does it give the FAME Board rightful credit for exercising due diligence. Mr. Malik was acting CEO (only in lieu of a replacement for the former CEO) and Board chair until 203. There are no obligations to evaluate a Board chair. When he was subsequently hired as the CEO, appropriate action was taken in open session of a FAME Board meeting, providing for stakeholder input and transparency of process. This hiring was a defacto endorsement of his leadership during a trying transition period for FAME. The school has not been operated prudently, especially with regard to cash management. It has not met all regulatory requirements, including the terms of the charter and MOU. There is evidence of violations of the charter, MOU, and federal grant requirements.. The school has had to sell receivables to maintain positive cash and projects a continued need to do so, despite the end of state deferrals. 2. Financial reports and payments have not been submitted to ACOE on time. 3. Requirements for federal Title I, Title III and erate programs were violated. FAME takes exception to these allegations. In all instances of non-compliance, FAME has worked responsibly and professionally to cure or clarify. It is unfortunate that the ACOE has positioned itself in such an antagonistic manner, rather than providing collegial support and good will. FAME hopes to reestablish a productive and positive working relationship with its authorizer and will work to that end.. Selling receivables is a standard form of managing cash flow and one of the few techniques available to charter schools to manage the cash flow vagaries of the State during recent years. The alternative for FAME would have been to incur debt and pay high interest on that debt. FAME chose to sell receivables instead, which allowed FAME to book the exact cost of the financing and to receive the cash when it was needed for operations, not when the State chose to send it. FAME has Page 0 of 3

11 maintained operations in the black throughout the multi-year period of State deferrals. This is a demonstration of VERY PRUDENT cash management. Local governments, including school districts, routinely smooth their cash flows by issuing Tax Revenue Anticipation Notes (TRANs) but charter schools do not have access to this financing vehicle. Investors are willing to take TRANs because of the constitutional guarantee that the state will eventually make good on its payments to schools. Charter schools do not have access to TRANs because the state does not guarantee payment of charter loans or other debt in the event of default. TRANs, like factored receivables, are sold at a discount of face value. That discount is lower for a government because the interest on TRANs is generally tax free to investors, another benefit not available to charter school receivable sellers. While projections suggest that deferrals will cease, this has not happened yet. Examination of the FAME budget will reveal that our need for selling receivables ends at the same time as outstanding deferrals. 2. The FAME CFO maintains the financials and reports with fidelity. Repeated attempts by FAME to communicate with ACOE staff regarding needed changes to timelines and protocol in a collegial attempt to streamline process and avoid duplicative work effort have been unsuccessful. For example in June 202, FAME provided ACOE staff with 00%, 24/7 access (login & password) to FAME s financial information which is maintained online via CharterVision. Neither ACOE s Business Services nor Charter School Page of 3

12 Office staff ever attempted to access this information and in September 204, ACOE staff asked to be removed from the service. ACOE recently accused FAME of missing authorizer oversight payments for two quarters when, in fact, both payments had been made. ACOE s financial management system had lost the record of these checks, totaling $32, of misplaced revenue. Upon receiving ACOE s allegation, FAME immediately provided evidence that both payments had been timely made and cashed by ACOE. This is evidence of poor financial management practices by ACOE. It would seem imprudent to point fingers in light of this. 3. FAME chose to not accept Title I funding and therefore is not held accountable for the requirements. All other compliance issues have been dutifully remedied upon reporting. The governing board has failed to hold management accountable for academic and financial performance. Therefore, the circumstances leading to the abuses documented in the FCMAT extraordinary audit still exist. The FAME Governing Board reviews academic and financial performance (one or both) at nearly every meeting. The Board has approved a professional development plan to increase teacher and principal effectiveness. It monitors the organization s budget carefully and has real-time access to the financials through an online portal. In some cases, a lack of principal and teacher effectiveness has led to accountability in the form of principal and teacher turnover (a trait that ACOE also criticizes us for). The FCMAT table in 200 stated that all matters were resolved. In conclusion, we respectfully request your approval of the FAME charter renewal petition for another five-year term. In doing so, the Alameda County Board of Education will be continuing to support the intent of the Charter Schools Act of 992 to improve pupil learning; create new professional opportunities for teachers; and provide parents and Page 2 of 3

13 pupils with expanded choices in education. FAME looks forward to our next term as well as a return to a collaborative and supportive relationship with our authorizer, as has been the case in years past. We also welcome further discussion regarding possible conditions on approval leading to the negotiation of a memorandum of understanding. Please let us know if we can provide additional information or answer questions. Sincerely, Naeem Malik Chief Executive Officer, FAME Attachments Appendix A: Quantity of 0 Common AYP Criteria Met Appendix B: English Learner & Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Students Academic Growth, Appendix C: Schoolwide & Significant Subgroup API Score Increases over the Term of the Charter Page 3 of 3

14 APPENDIX A Quantity of 0 Common AYP Criteria Met

15 APPENDIX B English Learners & Socio-Economically Disadvantaged Students Academic Growth from 200 to 203 FAME EL & SED API Academic Growth over Charter Term Socio-Economically Disadvantaged English Learners

16 APPENDIX B (continued) FAME EL & SED % Proficient in ELA Academic Growth over Charter Term 3 yr AVG English Learners Socio-Economically Disadvantaged FAME EL & SED % Proficient in Math Academic Growth over Charter Term 3 yr AVG English Learners Socio-Economically Disadvantaged

17 APPENDIX C Schoolwide & Significant Subgroup API Scores Increases over the Term of the Charter

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