Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Donate to Support Newtown Teacher

Kudos to DonorsChoose, CT Ed Commissioner Stefan Pryor and Randi Weingarten, among others, for setting up a way to support the teachers of Newtown. Secretary Duncan praised the effort in this press release. 764 people have already donated $66,000. To join them, go here (I just donated $100).

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Responses to Racial Discrimination in Ivy League Admissions

Lots of interesting feedback from my last post. Here’s a NYT op ed on this topic from December:

We want to fill our top universities with students of exceptional and wide-ranging talent, not just stellar test takers. But what worries me is the application of criteria like “individuality” and “uniqueness,” subjectively and unfairly, to the detriment of Asians, as happened to Jewish applicants in the past. I suspect that in too many college admissions offices, a white Intel Science Talent Search finalist who is a valedictorian and the concertmaster of her high school orchestra would stand out as exceptional, while an Asian-American with the same résumé (and socioeconomic background) would not.

The way we treat these children will influence the America we become. If our most renowned schools set implicit quotas for high-achieving Asian-Americans, we are sending a message to all students that hard work and good grades may be a fool’s errand.

One friend wrote:

Great article, thank you for passing this on. 

Several points:

1) It is very hard to be class President when racial barriers still exist, even in racially diverse high schools (Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic).  I'm originally from Texas and my high school in Houston had less than 0.5% of my graduating class that was Asian. I ran for student council and won, but because there wasn't enough African American representation the school made a series of controversially decisions, which ultimately resulted in me not being on student council. 

2) In any elected position be it Captain of a team or Editor of a newspaper, I think Asian Americans and minorities do have a harder time since they have to be that much better to stand apart (i.e. being the only Asian on a predominantly black track team). That doesn't mean that they don't want to take leadership positions, it just means that their peers are not voting them to those positions. 

3) Asian Americans in my experience are now wiser to what colleges are looking for in a well-rounded student, so are NOT just focusing on grades and test taking. I know many that were leaders of major student groups, engaged in meaningful volunteer/philanthropic work, excelled in music and other arts, and were class leaders. The only two that I can't speak on is being editors of their school newspaper and being a captain of a varsity team. I guess your statement in your email makes it seem like Asian Americans are not capable of doing those things or don't want to (which is a stereotype), I would say that they are and have been doing those things. 

4) If 40% should be the right number, but only 16.5% make it in, then there has be discrimination -- otherwise how did they come up with a random number like 16.5%? Even if the 40% were not valedictorians and captains of their football team, I'm positive that it is more than 16.5% that meet the standards that you would expect. I am also positive that the majority of the 16.5% that currently get accepted are academically high performers AND well rounded (under your general outline of what else they should be doing in their free time).

5) I think that Asian Americans do need to ramp up their leadership training as we are still underrepresented as leaders in the government, C-level suites of Fortune 500 companies, top 100 non-profits, and even in Silicon Valley. A lot of work still needs to be done.  

Last point is that I do think it’s important to have a racially diverse student body (I have benefited from different points of views and backgrounds, etc.), so I'm not advocating for a huge ramp up of Asian American acceptance rates in Ivy Leagues overnight, but I do think there is discrimination and it is something to be looked at closer. 

Another wrote:

Thank you for a thought-provoking message. I'm sure you will receive a ton of comments about this, but hopefully as one of the few Asians involved in the ed-reform movement my thoughts can make it through.

What you did below was to create a false choice. I used to run student interviewing for Stanford before starting at HBS last September, and every student I met had everything. They had perfect grades, sports achievements, leadership, community involvement, research, music, etc. It got to the point where if I were to apply today, there'd be no way in hell I could get in. However, I like to apply a "degree of difficulty" measure to how I evaluate a student. There are vastly different amounts of resources available to a student in the South Bronx vs. UES, and admissions should definitely take that into account.

Assuming we keep the proportion of blacks/hispanics the same, the issue centers around people with similar family backgrounds and resources. And here is where Asians are getting screwed. The number of highly qualified (academics + extracurriculars) is growing much faster than whites/jews, as the article states, but their enrollment figures have stayed constant. I really believe in the power of diversity and think Stuy's asian population is too high, and even Caltech's. Stanford is around 25 percent Asian, and without more data that seems to feel better than Yale's 15 percent.

My second point is around your comment on the diminishing marginal benefits of intelligence, which I agree with. However, the article is referring primarily to PSAT scores, which are although correlated to intelligence, are also correlated to hard work and delayed gratification, both indicators of future success.
These are my initial reactions after reading your note and hope can lead you to think about this issue in a slightly different way. Happy to discuss further and happy new year!

Another wrote:

Well, Whitney, this asian-american gal sighs with relief at being able to say that she was president of her high school class, captain of the tennis team, AND played violin and piano (really really badly!!). As for academics, let’s just say I have multiple siblings who were valedictorians and I was, ummm, not.  

Yes, you are likely to get some nastygrams.  I will only say that if we're serious about making our country a better place, I agree that we need many more leaders of all stripes and sizes and backgrounds who possess a variety of leadership skills honed both inside and outside the classroom.  

Hope you're well out there! Press on!

Another wrote:

I found this fascinating. 

I have to say, having grown up in pretty much the demographic you are referencing, I think your analysis is overly simplistic. Universities at their core are institutions whose primary objective is academic, and consequently the primary criteria to evaluate candidates, I believe should be academic.

Also all the things you reference as markers of leadership (captain of a varsity sport etc.), these are all concepts and institutions of a Western upbringing. It’s like expecting an African American to excel at tennis, lacrosse or golf. Setting the bar in that manner stacks the deck from the start.  I would argue that universities are a platform to develop leaderships skills. Indeed that was the case for me. I was for the first time allowed to explore without my parents oversight and that led to the Peace Corps, pursuing a career outside of medicine etc.

Asian parents push their kids into math and science, and piano and Violin because they feel they will be discriminated against in other fields. Thus choosing 'objective' careers or non-team sports are the only real prospect of equitable advancement. You live and die by your efforts alone. It is common belief within Asian cultures that 'we' are completely discriminated against in the academic setting regardless of being well rounded. I certainly believe it. 

Since I applied to college the community has gotten very smart. And kids now pursue all the leaderships posts you mention, they play sports, the run the paper, they hire consultants, they go to boarding school etc. They got wise to the game. So they outperform at academics AND they have all these other factors. But none the less the quota seems set. If you come visit a place like Penn you will see first-hand the Jews are over represented by a wide margin, but this has roots in Penn's history and leadership. 

As a dad now I think about these things, and the stakes are high, given these institutions are gatekeepers for opportunity. Personally I try to stack the deck back in my favor by picking my alma mater and giving financially. I hope that will make a difference in 20 years, or if I hit it big I can write a big check when the time comes to just make sure my kid gets a fair shot.

That said the American educational system gave me and my families opportunities I could never have otherwise imagined. It has been good to be me. From a practical sense I know the crux of the issue is that you could fill these universities with completely with just Jews and Asians, and then doesn't benefit anyone, so the current system while imperfect is the best practical solution the systems has but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make it more equitable.

Thanks for the article I really enjoyed it.

Another wrote:

One thing to consider:  you and Unz may both be right.  Personally, I fully agree with you about the importance of leadership, well-roundedness, etc.  At the same time, that doesn't mean that the college admissions process isn't unfair and discriminatory against Asians (and others).  You both may be right.

I'm not complaining as my oldest just got into Princeton with both high scores and lots of leadership.  That said, watching the process over the past few years leaves me wanting to take a shower. 

A few questions to ask yourself:
·        Is being a legacy indicative of future leadership potential?  (BTW, Golden's book documented that legacies whose parents don't donate to the alma mater had a lower chance of getting in than non-legacies.  Rational economically maximizing behavior to be sure, but hardly meritocratic in any way.)
·        Why did an admissions counselor (whom I know to be very knowledgeable) advise me that it would help be admitted to avoid checking the financial aid box?  The counselor expressed strong confidence that not checking the box aids the chance of admission, even at universities that claim need for aid is not a factor in admissions.  BTW, if it isn't a factor at such universities, why don't they ask the students if they need financial aid after admission instead of on the application?
·        Do you doubt for a second that universities take well-heeled African-American students who have had all/most of the advantages of your kids or mine (at the same schools) over African-American students from underprivileged backgrounds who have overcame enormous odds and show stronger signs of future leadership -- in the interest of promoting diversity?

I could ask more questions and likely you could too.  There's more to educating future society leaders at elite universities than pure academic excellence.  Even so, the admissions process is rife with non-meritocratic factors by any reasonable definition and likely discriminatory against less influential groups.

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Minorities Under-represented in NYC Gifted Programs

Speaking of preferences, this NYT article highlights (exposes?) that whites are hugely over-represented in NYC’s gifted and talented programs (and black and Latinos are hugely under-represented):

There are 652 students enrolled at P.S. 163 this year, from prekindergarten through fifth grade. Roughly 63 percent of them are black and Hispanic; whites make up 27 percent; and Asians account for 6 percent.

This reflects the flavor of the neighborhood, and roughly matches the New York City school system’s overall demographics.

Yet in P.S. 163’s gifted classes, the racial dynamics of the neighborhood, the school itself and the school system are turned upside down.

Of the 205 children enrolled in the nine gifted classes, 97, or 47 percent, are white; another 31 of the students, or 15 percent, are Asian. And a combined 65 students, or 32 percent, are black and Hispanic.
In the 21 other classes that enroll the school’s remaining 447 students, only 80, or 18 percent, are white.

As with the discussion about college admissions, however, it’s easy to draw easy but incorrect conclusions. The data I would like to see is what percent of students in the gifted and talented program have the following characteristics: two parents at home; both parents with four-year college degrees; household income of $100k more. I’d bet a lot of money that these three factors are far more predictive than race…

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Finn on Discrimination in Gifted Programs

Following standard Times (and Upper West Side) ideology, reporter Al Baker chose to focus on the city’s mechanisms for screening and selecting kids for entry into its gifted programs (and high-powered high schools, etc.). The burden of his article is that New York’s education department discriminates against “children of color” via selection mechanisms that result in white (and Asian) youngsters receiving the best odds of accessing such programs and schools.

One may well yawn because this is so predictable a perspective. It’s also the wrong perspective. We might first acknowledge that many urban school systems would be thrilled—and praised—if a third of the kids in their gifted classrooms were black and Hispanic. But the more important point is that the supply of such classrooms is skimpy almost everywhere and America’s entire K–12 education enterprise does a lousy job of identifying and cultivating high-ability kids whose parents (for whatever reason) are not prepping and steering them into the available seats in such classrooms.

We’d be outraged—as would be the Times —if we learned that there weren’t enough special-ed classrooms, teachers, or programs to accommodate the population of children with disabilities. (Indeed, a big problem in the special-ed realm is over-identification of such kids.) But when it comes to high-ability students, instead of lamenting the under-identification challenge and the dearth of suitable classrooms, teachers, programs, and outreach efforts, the Times—and a lot of others—settle for playing the race card.

Shame on them.

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Union Disagreement on NYC Teacher Evaluations

What a total disgrace that NYC is about to lose out on $250-$450M because the city and the union can’t agree on a teacher evaluation system – but I’m glad that John King and Arne Duncan are holding firm. The union in NYC is apparently betting that they’ll be better off under a new mayor…

The Bloomberg administration’s failure to reach an agreement with the New York City teachers’ union on the details of a state-mandated teacher evaluation system by the Thursday deadline has cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars in state money.

…According to the State Education Department, 99 percent of the state’s nearly 700 school districts managed to negotiate new evaluation systems by the Thursday deadline, thus avoiding sanctions that could lead to a loss of state aid. New York City, by contrast, mounted a disastrous negotiation process that failed at the 11th hour, leading to the loss of $240 million in state aid and endangering more than $250 million in federal grants.

…To avoid that disastrous outcome, Mr. Bloomberg and the union will need to return to the bargaining table and get this deal done as quickly as possible. If the two sides fail to arrive at an agreement very soon, the state should continue turning up the pressure on every front, to make sure that the city complies with the law and that its schoolchildren get the credible teacher evaluation systems they clearly need.

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Levin and Daly on Teacher Evaluations

KIPP’s David Levin and NLNS’s Tim Daly on what good teacher evaluations look like:

Faced with a Jan. 17 deadline, New York City may soon have a new teacher evaluation system to help identify those educators who are excelling and those who need extra support. This focus on teacher performance and accountability is essential.

But evaluation alone doesn’t make teachers better. It is what school leaders do with that information to provide educators with better training that will make the difference. We must concentrate our efforts in this area now. If not, we risk having an evaluation system that prioritizes accountability but leaves teachers without the support they need to grow and improve.

Teaching is not a single body of knowledge. There are fundamentals that every teacher needs to master: how to build relationships with students and families, how to manage a classroom, how to organize time and lessons, how to set clear academic expectations. But that simply isn’t enough.

Too often, once teachers have a solid grasp of basic classroom practice, investment in their development stops — because they are seen, prematurely, as holding a complete skill set. Research tends to show that many teachers improve in their early years but then plateau. Top-performing teachers receive less and less development even as they crave more.

Today, districts and principals invest heavily in training but teachers routinely report finding these efforts generic and disconnected from their classroom experiences. Moreover, there is little evidence that much of today’s training improves teaching quality or raises student achievement.
That’s why an increasing number of organizations, including the two we lead, are focusing on the continuing education of our teachers.

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Educators for Excellence Teacher on NYC Teacher Evaluations

Another article about the terrible, virtually nonexistent teacher evaluation system in NYC by a teacher who’s a member of Educators for Excellence:

After working as a public school teacher for five years in Colorado, I moved to New York City because of its reputation for being on the cutting edge of innovation in all things. Little did I know that when it came to teacher preparation and support, I’d be taking a big step backward.

Today, five years after my move, our schools still haven’t caught up to forward-looking states like Colorado — and parents and students are left to wonder why there is often such a disparity in teacher quality from classroom to classroom.

…Better evaluation is hardly a novel concept. In Denver, which is a fraction of the size of New York, we successfully implemented a teacher evaluation and compensation system known as ProComp when I was working there. Under ProComp, teachers are evaluated by multiple measures, including student growth data, the amount of professional development they participate in and thoughtful, meaningful classroom observations.

In turn, highly effective teachers in Denver can receive financial bonuses and leadership opportunities — things that signal to educators that performance matters. Studies have shown a positive impact on student achievement, and Denver is now evolving the system to meet new needs and challenges.
My experience in New York has been quite different. In my first job here, working with students who were considered some of the most disabled in the city, I received tenure without so much as ever having the principal observe me teach. The feedback I received was limited to a checklist that included things like the quality of my bulletin boards.

Never did I get useful feedback on my classroom management; never did I get quality advice on how to better differentiate my instruction to reach more students, and never did I receive insights from coaches or mentors on what had or hadn’t worked for them.

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California Whistleblower Case Shows Union Protection of Teachers

In reality, the teacher unions’ resistance to evaluations has a lot to do with protecting ALL teachers, no matter how lousy they are at teaching – or much, much worse, as this story shows:

A recent spate of school-based sex-abuse cases shows what can happen when teachers and administrators neglect their most basic responsibility—protecting those in their charge. The shocking crimes and ensuing cover-up at Penn State rocked the country and made national headlines. The case of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt horrified Los Angeles parents, especially as details emerged that the adults in charge suspected the first-grade teacher was up to no good for nearly two decades and did nothing. When an adult in a position of school authority does act responsibly, taking precautions to protect the children in her care, one might expect appreciation, even celebration. For principal Eileen Blagden, though, things didn’t work out that way.

…How can someone like Kevin Kirby remain eligible to teach while a devoted and courageous educator like Eileen Blagden sees her career destroyed? To ask the question is to answer it. Until authorities in charge of our public schools put morality above self-interest, children will remain at risk from irresponsible and sometimes even dangerous teachers. And as Blagden’s case shows, children aren’t the only victims.

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Zeiger Celebrates Low StudentFirst Ranking

Speaking of insane stories from CA…

Where Failure Is a Virtue

California educator calls 'F' grade a 'badge of honor.'

One reason American public education is so lousy is because so many in the schools establishment refuse to admit there's a problem. Take Richard Zeiger, chief deputy superintendent for California, who says a negative critique of the Golden State's policies is a "badge of honor."

On Monday, the reform group StudentsFirst—founded by former Washington, D.C. schools superintendent Michelle Rhee—released its new grades for state education policies. California was one of 11 to get an "F" grade, ranking 41st among the 50 states.

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Catholic Schools Closing due to Persistant Deficits

It is an absolute tragedy that good Catholic schools are closing – often while far worse public schools, which cost two to four TIMES as much per student, continue miseducating students year after year, decade after decade…

But now, Holy Cross is one of 28 elementary schools being considered for closing this year by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. The proposed shutdowns are the latest in a wave that has swept away Catholic elementary schools in the Northeast and Midwest in recent decades.

In the New York Archdiocese, which extends from Staten Island north almost to Albany, fewer than 75,000 students now attend 245 Catholic elementary and high schools, down from 212,000 students in 414 schools in the early 1960s.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, closed 26 elementary schools in 2011, but he has said that he hopes this latest round of closings will be the last of such broad scope.
The archdiocese is in the process of regionalizing elementary school management and financing, and is hoping that new revenue sources, including an archdiocesan tax levied on each parish to support all schools in its local region, will help reduce the persistent operational deficits that it says are forcing the closings.

Over the last few months, committees of clergy and lay people have examined the finances of individual schools and determined that some of those running substantial annual budget deficits would have to close, regardless of their academic performance, said Timothy McNiff, the archdiocesan superintendent of schools. Schools filled with students from poor or immigrant families, like Holy Cross, are being hit the hardest, because they often have the most limited financial resources.

“This is the most unfortunate thing about what we have to do,” Dr. McNiff said. “We are closing schools that are not failing academically, that are not failing in terms of helping the child with their faith journey and that provide safe harbors for kids.”
However, he said, “if we do not do this, it is a death by a thousand cuts — the deficits will consume us.”

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Catholic Schools in Need of Money and Personnel Overhaul

A NYT op ed about the crisis among Catholic schools:

CATHOLIC parochial education is in crisis. More than a third of parochial schools in the United States closed between 1965 and 1990, and enrollment fell by more than half. After stabilizing in the 1990s, enrollment has plunged despite strong demand from students and families.

Closings of elementary and middle schools have become a yearly ritual in the Northeast and Midwest, home to two-thirds of the nation’s Catholic schools. Last year, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia closed one-fifth of its elementary schools. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, is expected to decide soon whether to shut 26 elementary schools and one high school, less than three years after the latest closings. Catholic high schools have held on, but their long-term future is in question.

This isn’t for want of students. Almost 30 percent of Catholic schools have waiting lists, even after sharp tuition increases over the past decade. The American Catholic population has grown by 45 percent since 1965. Hispanics, who are often underserved by public schools, account for about 45 percent of American Catholics and an even higher proportion of Catholic children, but many cannot afford rising fees.

…After finances, personnel is the biggest challenge.

…Without an overhaul of money and personnel, the future of Catholic education is grim. Since 1990, the church has closed almost 1,500 parishes. Most were small, but just as big-city parochial schools are being closed, thriving urban parishes may be next on the chopping block.
“The school is more necessary than the church,” said John J. Hughes, the first archbishop of New York. Unless the Vatican and the American bishops heed those words, the decline in parochial education may forewarn the fate of the church itself.

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National School Choice Week

Speaking of Catholic schools, National School Choice Week starts on Friday:

National School Choice Week 2013 will be the largest celebration of education reform in history, and we couldn’t be more excited! You’re encouraged to get involved by hosting your own free special event during The Week (January 25 to February 2).

National School Choice Week isn’t just about organizations and groups. It’s about you! And any school-choice-themed activity can be an event. You can…

-- Talk about school choice at your workplace during a “brown bag lunch” roundtable, and hand out National School Choice Week’s yellow scarves.
-- Host a school choice potluck dinner, pizza party, a coffee house meetup, or happy hour and invite your friends and family; wear your National School Choice Week scarves to stand out!
-- Screen an education reform-related movie.
-- Host a press conference, a special meeting, or a conference call with school choice supporters in your area.

For more event tips, click here.

All you have to do is post your event online here. There is no cost to plan or host an event. By posting your event, you can still keep certain details private and you aren’t required to invite the public.

After you post your event, you should consider branding your events with National School Choice Week’s signature materials (including scarves, rally signs, balloons, and posters). Check it out here.

Thank you in advance. Together, we can shine a positive spotlight on the need to empower parents to select the best educational environments for their children – from great traditional public schools to magnet schools, public charter schools, private schools, online learning and homeschooling.

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Wall Street Jobs Deferred for Teach for America

An nice article about TFA:

Four years after the financial crisis, Wall Street hiring has remained weak, and many college graduates have searched for jobs and even careers in other fields. In the last several years, hundreds of such would-be finance professionals and management consultants have taken their high-powered ambitions and spreadsheet modeling skills to the classroom.

Teach for America, the 22-year-old nonprofit organization that recruits high-achieving college graduates to teach in some of the nation’s poorest schools for two years, in particular has garnered renewed interest among the business-oriented set. Teach for America says that its 2012 class contained about 400 recent graduates with a major in business or economics. Of those with professional experience, about 175 worked in finance.

Those participants include Zachary Dearing, 23, a recent graduate of M.I.T. Two summers ago, he was an intern at McKinsey & Company, and the year before, Goldman Sachs.
Yet, he was one of 21 teachers in this year’s class who had deferred job offers from a Wall Street bank, a management consulting firm or another corporate partner to join Teach for America.

“If somebody had told me I was going to be a high school math teacher in Dallas, Texas, when I entered college, I’d be like, ‘No, there’s no chance of that being true,’ ” said Mr. Dearing, who has deferred an offer from McKinsey. The teaching skills easily translate to office environments, he said. “I’m effectively the leader, every day, for 46 minutes, in front of seven different groups,” Mr. Dearing said.

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Third Parent Trigger Effort Underway in California

 Great to see another parent trigger effort underway in CA:  

The third chapter of California’s Parent Trigger saga is about to unfold, and officials are expecting the process to be much easier this time around.

This morning a group of parents whose children attend 24th Street Elementary will present the Los Angeles Unified School District board with a petition to allow them to take control of the failing school and secure wholesale changes.

This comes about a week after the school board in Adelanto, California ended a long fight by voting to allow the parents of students at Desert Trails Elementary to convert the school into an independent charter school.

That was the first successful Parent Trigger effort in the nation.

It also follows a failed effort in the Compton district, where parents of students at McKinley Elementary failed in their attempt to take over the school.

Both the Adelanto and Compton efforts were marred by harsh resistance from local school boards and teachers unions that didn’t want to cede control of the schools, despite their inability to operate them in a productive manner.

A spokesman for Parent Revolution, an organization that helps promote Parent Trigger efforts, said the 24th Street Elementary conversion should be much smoother. Significant support already exists among Los Angeles administrators and school board members to allow the parents to make the changes they deem necessary, he said.

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Number of Charter Schools Passes 6,000

There are now more than 6,000 charter schools (though I’m more concerned about the quality than the quantity):

Public Charter Schools Reach New Milestone: 
Record 6,000 Schools Are Serving 2.3 Million Students

Washington, D.C. – The number of public charter schools operating in the United States has surpassed 6,000 for the first time in the 20-year effort to provide innovative alternatives to traditional public schools, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools announced today. These new figures are based on estimates from the 2012-13 school year. The 6,000 public charter schools are now educating more than 2.3 million students – also a record number – in the current school year.

The public charter school movement had a net gain of 381 schools for the 2012-13 school year. Charter schools are enrolling 275,000 more students this year than in 2011-12 – the largest single-year increase since the movement’s inception.

“The growth of the public charter sector continues because parents are demanding quality options for their children,” said Nina Rees, the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “Charter leaders are opening schools to respond to parents and to provide more students with a quality education that meets their needs.”

Continue Reading...

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