~ from The Center For Education Reform

The year 2000. That’s when National Charter Schools Week started (though some suggest it was 1999). The first Congressional resolution was introduced in the House by Democratic Representative Tim Roemer of Indiana and by Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. The resolution acknowledged and commended “the charter school movement for its contribution to improving our Nation’s public school system [and] Expresses the sense of Congress that: (1) a National Charter Schools Week should be established; and (2) the President should issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to conduct appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities to demonstrate support for charter schools in communities throughout the Nation.”

And indeed President Clinton did so. He also called for and went on to sign a bi-partisan bill to help expand charters. That program has expanded over time and under bi-partisan leadership in Washington, DC and the states.

WHAT CHARTERS UNDER COVID SHOW US TODAY. Today, while there is much more to the charter movement which CER helped to start than a simple week, it’s fitting that during this time of COVID we should celebrate the one and only public school reform in history to give teachers freedom, parents choice, and kids the opportunity out of an education determined by zip code.

So much more to learn and to say about charter schools but here are a few takeaways to share with your friends and families:

Successful. Study after study that compares like students finds that charters outperform their public school counterparts. Where there are more charter students, the contrast is even more stark. Florida, Arizona and California yield as much as an 8-10 percentage point difference in reading and math. Even on the nation’s challenging report card where it’s clear all of our kids are not doing well, charters outperform traditional public schools.

Diverse. Forget the trash you hear once in a while from opponents (duh) and from some alleged proponents (sigh) but according to the newest CER data soon to be published, the nation’s charters are diverse and overrepresent at-risk and minority children.

Accountable. Year after year and throughout the months they are in operation, charters have to account to not only parents, but state boards, authorizers, legislatures and numerous other agencies to which they file reports and demonstrate transparency.

INNOVATIONS THAT MADE CHARTERS WORK ARE ILLUSTRATIVE FOR ALL SCHOOLS DURING COVID.  We learned this week for example, on CER’s latest Virtual Action Series Event that Valor Preparatory Academy in Arizona integrates a hybrid learning model into their curriculum that is designed with an eye on students’ growing— and now widespread need — for coursework that reflects who they are: digital natives. Middle and High School students at Valor were able to continue their education without a beat in the wake of school and state closures following news of the COVID-19 pandemic, as they had already adopted digital curriculum solutions from StrongMind (look for StongMind President Mary Gifford in CER’s ACTION Webinar Series) in their learning model. StrongMind also supports virtual and digital learning for 225,000 other students at various schools across the country.

YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS. Last week we learned from Friendship Public Charter Schools that having been prepared with technology from day one allowed their transition to remote learning to happen smoothly and that all but a few students amidst their majority low income population are online and working!

Dozens of other charter schools and networks were able to turn on a dime to educate students, because the very concept of performance based accountability they are built on drives them to respond quickly to any situations they encounter.

ACROSS DC…Hat tip to blogger Mark Lerner about the fact that DC charters are reaching and teaching all but a few of the 47,000 students they serve in the Nation’s Capitol. “There are 1,334 students in the charter sector that schools have not made contact with since school buildings closed due to the pandemic…Of those, 119 students are special education (8.9%); and 363 of the unreachable students are adult education students.” The overall percentage of those who have not been able to be engaged with is 3.1 percent. For special education students the proportion is 1.9 percent.

DON’T FORGET THAT JUST LAST MONTH… Basis Charter School in Chandler, AZ was named the seventh best public school in the entire country by U.S. News and World Report.  In Detroit the Motor City’s charter schools nabbed 9 of the top 10 spots for open-enrollment public schools. Top honors went to Universal Academy. And deep in the heart of Texas, International Leadership of Texas charter school teachers transitioned all courses to an online platform in just the first week of the shutdown and purchased technology — including Chromebooks — to enable 19,500 students to log into virtual classrooms. Once again, charters shine — dare we say like the sun? — in providing quality education to all students, regardless of race or family economic circumstances.

A SHOUT OUT FOR DISTRICT INNOVATORS IN… WV Besides some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in America, the Mountaineer State also obviously has some of the most adaptable education leaders. Regardless of where the COVID-19 crisis stands this fall, Jefferson County students will have a choice of how they attend school. Superintendent Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson announced that students will have the option of full virtual learning. “It is important that the families of Jefferson County know that we have the technology and infrastructure to continue educating their children remotely if that’s what serves their families best,” Dr. Gibson said. “If that’s what served their families best”…If only the education unions’ leadership had the same attitude!

AND MARYLAND… Maybe the common sense virus has drifted into Maryland from West Virginia. A new report by State Superintendent Karen Salmon on future schooling suggests the possibilities of one day a week in school and the rest online, one week on and one week off, having some grades at home, some grades at school and evening classes. There will be some flexibility to choose among these options for school districts. As the news report notes, the state plan “is not one size fits all.” What a concept!

THE VIRTUAL BACKPACK SOLUTION.  Unless we act now to ensure that “every child in America has access to the education they need the education curve created by COVID-19 will be irreversible,” writes Jeanne Allen in this week’s Forbes.  We have two choices. We can wait until each district and school in America figures this out — which doesn’t seem likely — or we can give every parent the opportunity to avail themselves of education remotely, regardless of their current school assignment. We must make the student our only unit of learning and give every student a “virtual backpack” that includes a device, a hotspot, basic supplies, a meal and a ticket that gains them access anywhere to any school that has room — public, private or charter.”