CHARTER SCHOOLS--AN UPDATE STUDY GUIDE AND CONSENSUS QUESTIONS LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF NEW JERSEY

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1 CHARTER SCHOOLS--AN UPDATE STUDY GUIDE AND CONSENSUS QUESTIONS LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF NEW JERSEY Charter Schools and Accountability in 2014 Consensus Questions 1-5 The Charter School Program Act of 1995, (N.J.S.A. 18A:36A) went into effect in January of 1996 and was amended in November of 2000 (1). It states that establishing charter schools as part of the State s program of public education can assist in promoting comprehensive school reform. Charter schools have been accountable to the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) since its passage. The decisions to grant, deny, renew and take away charters rests with the Commissioner of Education. This law acknowledges the potential for positive and constructive relationships between charter schools and district public schools, yet there are few requirements to facilitate communication. In many states, the local education agency (board of education) has the authority to authorize charters. Since this group also oversees the district public schools, there is a built-in mechanism for the two kinds of public schools to complement each other. Since New Jersey does not have this built-in mechanism, there is little structural support to promote comprehensive school reform. Accountability legislation was the basis of the openings and closings, as well as program, fiscal and organizational culture decisions. The charter school s application is granted by the Commissioner, who also sets expectations for student performance, using the curriculum and innovative practices proposed. In 1996, New Jersey opened seven charter schools; in 2010, eight new charters opened, nineteen closed, and seventy two were in operation. In the spring of 2014, eighty-seven charter schools are in operation (2). Charter schools, like all public schools, are mandated and founded on the principle of serving all students. Ideally, every child in a school district would have an equal chance to participate in a charter school education. If applications exceed the capacity of the school, students are selected by a lottery system. Baker reported on demographic disparities in financially-deprived urban districts in New Jersey, which includes more able students moving from traditional schools to charters, leaving a more challenged peer group in the traditional public schools (3) This is sometimes called creaming. Charter School Performance Framework. Currently, the basis of charter school accountability is the Charter School Performance Framework, in effect as of July 2012 (4). It is administered by the DOE for all charter schools to evaluate the organizational, fiscal, and academic program of each school. Peer schools are part of the Performance Framework assessment system; schools are compared with other schools of similar demographic characteristics. Performance Framework questions are: Is the academic program a success? Is the school financially viable? Is the school equitable and organizationally sound? 1

2 Student Achievement DOE s evaluation is focused on school program and student achievement. The overall curriculum/program performance must be in alignment with New Jersey s educational standards, the Common Core State Standards. The academic performance assessment is based on standardized tests, the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (ASK), sections Language Arts and Math. ASK is used to measure student proficiency and performance over time, as well as comparison among peer schools. In the future, the Partnership for Assessment for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) online test, aligned with the Common Core, will be used with K-12 students. Studies of New Jersey charter students indicate they perform at least as well as students in district public schools. The 2010 New Jersey Interim Report examined the scores of economically disadvantaged students in language arts and math and found charters outscored local districts statewide. (5) The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), released a report on charter school performance in New Jersey in June 2013 presenting evidence that charter schools are doing well in New Jersey, echoing the New Jersey Interim Report conclusions. The substantial proportion of high-growth and high achieving schools provide the evidence that schools can be organized to produce strong results under current conditions. Second, and perhaps more importantly, these schools are excelling with a high proportion of minority students in poverty. These schools practices may be instructive for other public schools that also serve this student group. (6) The CREDO Report has been critiqued by the Education Law Center. Their posting from August 14, 2013, concludes: Bottom line: be wary of the hype surrounding the CREDO study. Not only are there significant limits to the study s methodological approach, but its policy recommendations also are out of line with its findings. In truth, most charters are not performing any better than district schools and are not improving outcomes over time. The small gains that do exist have no appreciable impact on narrowing existing achievement gaps and raising student performance. The expense and disruption of a continuous cycle of opening and closing schools is an expensive experiment with questionable outcomes. (7) The Department of Education now releases School Performance Reports for all public schools. A snapshot of charter school academic achievement is in the appendix. In the school year 75% of charter schools performed above the 40 th percentile (the lower limit of what the report considers average performance ) when compared to peer schools. 45% of charter school s performed above the 40 th percentile when compared to schools across the state. (8) ` Innovation and Choice Innovation in curriculum and teaching practice has been a defining mark of charter schools, beginning with innovation being embedded in the Charter School Act s language charter schools offer the potential to improve pupil learning; increase for students and parents the educational choices available when selecting the learning environment which they feel may be the most appropriate; encourage the use of different and innovative learning methods (N.J.S.A.18A:36A-2) 2

3 The diffusion of innovation comes from the work of numerous sociologists and business leaders and has been interpreted in many ways by educators. The principal of a school in Roxbury, MA said of innovation in the charter school: At one charter school, innovation takes the shape of a longer school day; at another, it is in the teaching pedagogy or scheduling configuration. While such practices may have been developed and tried in other places across the country, the novel ways charter schools can put them together often results in a school culture and operational structure quite different from those in neighboring schools.( 9) In New Jersey, the majority of district public schools do not, at this time, receive information on charter school innovation. Charter school annual reports document variations in themes and defining attributes, choices in the use of time, class size, and the ratio of teachers to students, showing the uniqueness of each school (10). The annual reports included a section on innovative practices and programs. The reports were available to the public on the DOE website until In other states, methods are used to transmit information on innovative practice to the local sending district. In fifteen major cities in the United States, charter schools and districts have signed District-Charter School Collaboration Compacts to figure out how to share resources and responsibility to serve all students equitably (11). Newark has become the sixteenth city to enter into a limited District-Charter School Collaboration Compact. District Residents and Charter Approval Consensus Question 6 Local school board members are accountable to district residents. The local school board sets the budget for the district schools, and approves the amount allocated to programs at each building. In setting the school district budget, the consequences for local property taxes are an important consideration. Because charter schools receive a portion of the school district budget, some advocate for a greater role by either the district school board or the district residents. Current law requires a charter school application to be submitted to the local board of education or State superintendent in the case of a State-operated district, who may submit comments to the Commissioner of Education (N.J.S.A.18A:36A-4c) Groups have called for charter applications to require the approval of the school board or a referendum of district residents before a charter can be granted. Citizens have not had a role in such decisions before in New Jersey. With the 2011 law, school budgets kept within the 2% cap do not require citizen approval. As of April 2014 there are only 26 school districts which put their budget to a vote by citizens (12). Examining other state charter laws found many that require a community public hearing as part of the charter school application process. In many states, local school districts are authorized to grant charters. 3

4 Charter School Authorizers Consensus Questions 7 & 8 Charter school authorizers are the regulators of the charter industry. Authorizers evaluate charter school applications, oversee charter schools once they are up and running, and decide based on various performance measures, whether to renew or revoke the schools charters. Strong authorizing can create and support high-quality charter schools, and weak authorizing can enable poor charter schools to open or stay open. (13) New Jersey law has only one authorizer of charter schools for the entire state--the State Commissioner of Education (N.J.S.A.18A:36A-4c) The charter school authorizer(s) allowed by law to grant charters are distinct from the founder of a charter school. In New Jersey applications to establish a Charter School may be submitted by teaching staff members, parents with children attending schools of the district, an institution of higher education, a private entity located within the State in conjunction with teaching staff members and parents, and existing public schools that meet certain criteria (N.J.S.A.18A:36A-4 a & b) The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) classifies authorizers into six categories: (14) State Education Agencies (SEA) The Commissioner of Education (State Department of Education) is the only authorizer in the New Jersey law (18A:36A-4c) Higher Education Institutions (HEI) Independent Chartering Boards (ICB) which typically are a statewide commission or authority. They can generally authorize in any community in the state. Local school districts including regional districts (LEA) This type of authorizer accounts for 90% of all authorizers and 53% of all charter schools in the United States Non-Educational government entities (NEG). In Oklahoma the Cherokee Nation is an authorizer. In Indiana the Indianapolis Mayor s office is an authorizer. Not-For-Profit organizations (NFP). Minnesota has 14 not-for-profit authorizers; Ohio has 6. Included in the Appendix on page 18 is a list of the type of authorizers, number of schools authorized in the state and estimated enrollment for the 42 states and Washington DC Most states allow for multiple authorizers. The reasoning is that this provides a more robust climate for the charter school movement. In the school year, 957 agencies served as authorizers and fewer than 80 were entities other than local school districts or state education departments. Some 86% of all authorizing was done by authorizers that had fewer than five charters in their portfolios. (13) Three states (Florida, Maine, Hawaii) and Washington DC have only one authorizer--an independent chartering board. Seven states (New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Arkansas) have only the state education department/state board of education as an authorizer. Effective authorizers need the capacity both people and funding to carry out responsibilities. There is growing recognition that strong authorizing is the key to creating a successful charter 4

5 sector (14) National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) index score for essential practices for every authorizer is more highly correlated with the size of the authorizer s portfolio than with agency type (14) With a local public school board (LEA) as an authorizer one should expect a closer alignment of needs as identified by the district board and greater opportunity for sharing of innovative practices. The district board, however, must have the capacity to oversee district schools and carry out the oversight responsibilities of a charter school authorizer. New Jersey has 590 operating local school districts. (15). Nationally local school districts often act as authorizers to add innovative programs to the district and often they employ the charter staff. In other states many of the local school board authorized charter schools are conversions of a school in the district into a charter school. (13) Authorizers have a number of sources of funding, but 60% report an oversight fee deducted from the charter school per pupil revenue as part of their funding. The next major source is the operating budget of parent organization such as a local school board or non-profit. (14) In New Jersey the cost of authorizing charter schools is borne by the Department of Education s budget. Full-time Virtual Charter Schools Consensus Questions 9-11 Technology and how it is used in the classroom continually evolves. From calculators and overhead projectors, to computers and tablets, some teachers use the technology to teach, some to remediate, others to accelerate programs. Virtual learning is in use in traditional and charter public schools, with home schooled students and special populations. The extent of its use, over the last years has increased dramatically. In New Jersey some school districts contract with online learning providers and 43 high schools are members of the Virtual High School Global Consortium. Since 2002 the Monmouth Ocean Educational Service Commission (ESC) using the name New Jersey Virtual School has offered tuition-based supplemental courses to students in grades In the school year it served 5,485 course enrollments.(16) BLENDED/HYBRID VIRTUAL SCHOOLS Blended or hybrid virtual schools are the next step in virtual education. Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace. (17) Models have various ratios of online learning to teacher presentation and individualized teacher help. New Jersey has two blended (hybrid) virtual charter schools which opened in the fall of Merit Prep Charter School in Newark run by Touchstone Education and Newark Prep Charter School run by K12. Merit Prep opened with 84 sixth graders with a charter for grades 6-7 and 240 students. Newark Prep, with a charter for grades 9-12, opened with 150 students in grade nine and is expanding one grade each year. In a Spring, 2014 decision, the State Appellate 5

6 Court unanimously ruled against the NJ Education Association s challenge that the blended learning approach needed legislative approval. The court stated, If online teaching methods are prohibited because they are not expressly mentioned, then it follows that all novel teaching methods not prescribed by the Act are prohibited. (18) FULL-TIME VIRTUAL SCHOOLS Virtual full-time K-12 schools deliver all curriculum and instruction via the internet and electronic communication. Students are usually at home and teachers in a remote location. Often everyone participates at different times. Full-time virtual schools do not refer to supplementing and expanding courses available in traditional bricks and mortar schools. New Jersey has no full-time virtual K-12 public schools. Two applicants were approved for a planning year (NJ Virtual Charter School and NJ Virtual Academy Charter School), but the Commission of Education rejected those applications in June Miron identified 311 full-time virtual schools operating in the academic year enrolling nearly 200,000 students. It is the fastest growing form of school choice and most are organized as charter schools. Education Management Organizations (EMO) play an important role in the development and expansion of full-time virtual schools, with for-profit EMOs educating 66.7% of the enrollment in Similar issues of disparity exist in full-time virtual schools as in charter schools with respect to race, ethnicity, free and reduced price lunch, and special education. The main outlier is English Language Learners who represent only 0.1% of full time virtual school students compared to the national average of 9.6% (19) FUNDING States have yet to develop a systematic basis for funding virtual schools. In a bricks and mortar school, teacher salaries and benefits on average represent 55% of budget; facilities and maintenance 18%. Costs vary widely for virtual and brick-and-mortar schools. Oversight of borderless enrollment zones adds another complication to developing a funding mechanism once a per pupil amount is determined. The national average for full-time virtual charter schools is $6,500 per pupil. In Pennsylvania, the average is $10,145. Virtual schools in Minnesota receive the same per pupil allocation that district public schools receive. In Florida, Texas and Maine full-time virtual schools are allocated funds based on the number of students completing courses. (19) A 2012 Thomas B. Fordham foundation report titled The Costs of Online Learning estimates that cost related to staffing and school operations will require fewer resources while costs are more heavily weighted toward content (often proprietary property), technology and infrastructure. The authors estimate annual per pupil for full-time virtual schools between $5,100 - $7,700 and the average annual per pupil cost of blended virtual schools range from $7,600 - $10,200 compared to estimated $10,000 average per pupil cost for all traditional schools in the U.S. (20) PROS AND CONS OF FULL-TIME VIRTUAL CHARTER SCHOOLS Supporters note that the digital revolution is transforming society at a rapid pace and this is the world that children are growing up in and comfortable in. And we take these children from the future and plop them in an education model from the 18 th century. It is a model in which all children sit in rooms for the same amount of time, learning at the same speed, learning the same way. The world outside the classroom is headed in a completely opposite direction. (21) They maintain that 21 st century skills are learned in full-time virtual schools which are needed as students move to college and work. Teachers who have taught at full-time virtual schools feel that because of the one-on-focus many students are more comfortable asking for help than in a 6

7 classroom with peers. (22) The ability to customize instruction and monitor student progress with on-line assessments integrated with the curricula throughout the year are positive results of full-time virtual education (23). Proponents often cite the savings in per pupil cost, but research does not support that claim at this time. Those who believe that full-time virtual schools are not a positive option for educating K-12 note the importance of a building with a teacher in a classroom. Students can feel isolated in their home based studies; meeting friends and developing relationships are an important part of going to school.(24) Without being present with students in real time, a teacher can t sense if a child is upset or bored and can t intervene in a meaningful way.(25). Although no comprehensive analysis of student achievement is available, studies done show full-time virtual charter schools lag public charter schools and district public schools using Adequate Yearly Progress measures.(26) Stanford University s Center for Research on Education outcomes (CREDO) recently released a report detailing student performance in Pennsylvania charter schools, including cyber charters. The report gathered academic progress data over four years and the analysis included more than 70,000 students in 116 charter schools across the state. The research is clear. All eight of the online schools analyzed in the study performed significantly worse than brick-and-mortar charter schools. Students in the online schools also performed worse than students in traditional public schools in both reading and math. (27) Mitchel and Hubbard report on the high turnover/dropout rate in enrollment in full time virtual schools as well as raising questions about the authenticity of student work. In the fall of 2008 the largest online program in Colorado accounted for 10,500 students. Just a year later, 5,600 had left the school. By October of 2010 only one quarter of the original students remained. (28) Education Management Organizations Consensus Questions Education Management Organizations (EMOs) emerged in the early 1990s. EMOs are for-profit and nonprofit organizations that manage schools with their responsibilities spelled out in a contract with the board of trustees (board of education) of the school. They predate charter schools, originally operated under a contract from a Board of Education of a district school. They expanded into charter schools and into virtual schools. EMOs are responsible for teaching, curriculum, issues related to hiring and paying teachers. When operating charter schools they often help secure a facility and assist with application and other start-up requirements. When using an EMO the charter school board of trustees shifts from a provider to a contract monitor.(29) EMOs are in contrast to traditional vendors that are contracted to provide specific services (professional development, payroll, food services, or transportation) used by district public schools, charter schools, and private schools.. Charter school growth nationally plateaued around , but got a significant boost from EMOs. People enthusiastic about starting a school found they lacked the expertise and resources to keep a school operating. Someone else doing the management made sense for those starting charter schools.(30) A study of profiles of EMOs identifies 99 for-profit EMOs and 197 nonprofit EMOs operating in the United States. This is a change from early in the development of EMOs when 7

8 the for-profit organizations predominated. The study further classifies the organizations as large if they manage 10 or more schools, medium if they manage 4-9 schools and small if they manage less than 4 schools. (see appendix). In , 35% of all public charter schools in the U.S. were operated by EMOs and they accounted for almost 42% of all students enrolled in charter schools. (31) Two nonprofit EMOs contract with New Jersey charter schools. The KIPP Foundation, a large EMO managing 102 schools in 21 states ( ), manages the Team Charter Schools in Newark. Uncommon Schools, another large EMO managing 16 schools in 3 states, manages the North Star Academy Charter Schools in Newark.(31) For-profit EMOs manage the two blended (hybrid) virtual charter schools opened in New Jersey in the fall of Merit Prep Charter School in Newark is run by Touchstone Education and Newark Prep Charter School is run by K12. The renaissance schools as part of the Urban Hope Act in Camden have given preliminary approval to KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Mastery network to open schools.(32) Critics of the use of education management organizations cite the loss of control by the board of trustees (charter school) or the board of education (a district school) and the privatization of public education. Contracting with an EMO removes control of staffing authority and financial resources. They argue that the diversion of public resources to business firms and the profit motive will lead the EMO to operate a school at lowest possible cost at the expense of educational experience. Critics maintain that in the goal of reducing costs, students who are most expensive to educate will be turned away and concentrated in district schools with fewer resources. (29) Supporters cite the economies of scale in purchases and administrative costs and access to capital for research. Since each EMO seeks to create a distinctive brand, the curriculum and instructional approach are hallmarks of successful EMOs. They must meet promised outcomes to satisfy the customer (school board) and their investors.(29) With respect to charter schools they provide the expertise in operating and managing a school that a board of trustees may not have. Often the EMOs also provide start up assistance and help with securing facilities. Produced by LWVNJ: Charter Schools: An Update Study 2014 by the League of Women Voters of New Jersey 8

9 Local League Number in attendance Date Contact/ /phone CONSENSUS QUESTIONS CONSENSUS DUE NOVEMBER 15, 2014 Question 1. Should charter school applications include a section on the expected relationship between the charter and the other district public schools? Consensus Question 2. Should charter school students take the same standardized tests as the district public schools? A. Yes. Charter school students should take the same standardized tests as district public schools. B. Yes and charter schools should use additional measures to provide information relevant to goals unique to the charter school. C. No. Charter schools are unique and their students do not need to take the same standardized tests as district public schools. D. No Consensus Question 3. Should the charter school demographics be similar to those of the district as a whole? Select all that represent the consensus of your League. A. B. C. D. Yes the charter school demographics should be as close as possible to the district as a whole. No The charter school demographics may be different from those of the district as long as the charter school s application provides an acceptable rationale for limiting enrollment to particular students. No. The charter school demographics may be different from those of the district, because enrollment is based on family choice, No consensus 9

10 Question 4. For charter renewal, should charter schools be held to the same student achievement standards as district public schools? A. B. C. D. E. Yes, since charter schools are public schools, they should do as well as the traditional public schools in the district. Yes, though comparisons need to be adjusted for the demographics of the charter school compared to the district public schools. No. Charter schools are expected to develop methods and materials that will be more effective than those in traditional public schools, so they should be held to a higher standard. No. Charter schools provide choices to district families, and families will act in their best interests. No consensus Question 5. Should charter schools be required to communicate their innovative programs and practices to district public schools? Consensus Question 6. What role should the local electorate have in approving and renewing of district charters? A. B. C. D. E. Their role should be advisory, and through the local board of education. The district BOE can submit comments to the Commissioner. Their role should be advisory and through a public hearing submitted as part of the charter school application process The local board of education should vote on charter applications and renewals. Board support would be necessary for the Commissioner to grant applications or renewals Charter approval and renewal must get a majority of votes in a district referendum. No consensus 10

11 QUESTION 7: Should New Jersey law allow for more than one authorizer of public charter schools? consensus QUESTION 8: If the answer to Question 7 is Yes, indicate which categories of authorizer should be allowed by law (check all that apply) A. B. C. D. E. F. State Department of Education Higher Education Institution Independent Chartering Board Local school district Non-Educational government entity Not-For-Profit Question 9: Should NJ allow full-time virtual charter schools consensus (Please answer Questions 10 and 11, even if you responded No or No consensus to Question 9). Question 10: If New Jersey were to allow full-time virtual charter schools, which population should be served? Check all that apply. Elementary school students Middle school students High school students Special populations Home schooled students Question 11: Is the current NJ funding formula for charter schools appropriate for full-time virtual charter schools? consensus Question 12: - Should LWVNJ withdraw its implied support of for-profit/nonprofit Educational Management Organizations to operate charter schools while closely monitoring them? consensus 11

12 Current position: We support close monitoring of for-profit corporations involvement in charter schools. Non-profit is not mentioned, however at the time the consensus was taken for-profit educational management organizations predominated. Monitoring would be the responsibility of the board of trustees and ultimately the authorizer (NJ Commissioner of Education) Question 13: Should an Educational Management Organization be allowed to submit an application to establish a charter school? Consensus Question 14: Which of the following governance standards should be enacted by law or regulation for EMO operated schools? Governance standards Open and full disclosure of contract and how EMO uses tax dollars EMO representative cannot serve as member of Board of Trustees EMO cannot select, approve, or compensate Board of Trustees Payments from Authorizer go to accounts controlled by Board of Trustees not the EMO Contract with EMO should require a format that would allow evaluation of costs related to 1- teaching staff; 2-administrative costs 3- curriculum/technology platform 4-facility rental 5- bonuses/emo overhead All materials & equipment purchased with public funds belong to the school not the EMO. The exception is proprietary technology & content particularly associated with virtual charter schools Disclosure existing/potential conflicts of interest between board of trustees and EMO Provisions to terminate contract Disclosure agreements regarding facilities Very Important Somewhat important Not important PLEASE ADD ADDITIONAL PAGES FOR COMMENTS ON YOUR LOCAL LEAGUE S RESPONSE TO ANY QUESTION RETURN TO: LWVNJ 204 West State Street Trenton, NJ CONSENSUS DUE NOVEMBER 15,

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