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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More time in the classroom?

This week’s announcement by former Chicago politicos Barak Obama and Arnie Duncan that American schools should add more class time to the schedule has brought a lot of attention to charter schools. KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program system of schools, has been especially singled out by the press for their long class hours and extended schedule.

KIPP has 87 campuses in 19 states across America. Chicago is home to KIPP Ascend Charter School, and it serves grades 5-8 in the Lawndale neighborhood. Students there spend around 70% more time in the classroom than their CPS counterparts and have an 80% rate of college enrollment. Don’t let that number be misleading: though there are nearly 16,000 KIPP students nationally in 2009, the 80% applies to all alumni who graduate the program, which has existed since 1994. That percentage is far and above the schools’ surrounding communities. Clearly, the system is doing something right.

Additionally, Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby’s recent study of New York charter schools brought light to a previous study in Chicago that came to the same conclusion: charter schools outperform public schools. She notes a direct correlation to a student’s time in a charter school to their academic performance, such that a student when stays in the charter system from K-12 will perform better than a student who attends, say, from 5-12.

Charter schools are truly unique entities that deserve a chance to show the American educational system what, exactly, they’re capable of doing. Though it isn’t easy to pick just one reason they succeed, the Obama/Duncan call to action is a step in the right direction. Just ask someone from KIPP.

-Jim Publicover

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ron Huberman talks to District 299

INCS today held its first District 299 meeting of the 2009-2010 school year, hosted by LEARN Charter School. And it was the hottest ticket in town. CEO of Chicago Public Schools Ron Huberman came to discuss with the charter sector CPS’ plans for improving facilities access, increasing per pupil funding, changing the ways in which the district holds charter schools accountable, and making all schools safer.

Huberman delivered a 30 minute presentation to a large crowd of nearly 100 charter school leaders, board members, and teachers, representing 24 charter school organizations across Chicago. It was a lively and interactive discussion which showed how well informed Huberman is and how thoughtful and passionate charter leaders are as well.

Mr. Huberman spent much of his time reviewing the “report card” that CPS will release in the next 4 -6 months which will provide parents reliable information about how every public school is performing. And school leaders agreed to the need for clarity and accountability while offering several refinements to the process.

Huberman reiterated his goal of collecting accurate student data, and assured schools that he did not want to catch any schools off guard with his new accountability plan.

Huberman quickly touched upon his plan to strategically address facilities access for charter schools, sharing that schools performing well may be put ahead those not doing as well. Also announced to pleasant surprise were plans to increase the general education per pupil funding for charters.

This was the most important meeting of the year to date. Continuing this important collaboration will be vital to improving our city’s schools.

-Marvin Smith

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How to measure success

The political arena surrounding education is often charged, and recent headlines, like the exit of Josh Edelman from CPS or the talk that there will be A-F report cards for all public schools in Chicago, only reinforce this notion. With all the changes and questions about how to measure charter schools’ impact, what’s going to come next? I find it helpful to look at the big picture in times like these, in order to maintain perspective.

News from New York State is certainly encouraging — a recent report by Stanford economist Carline Hoxby shows just how much can be achieved when you combine the charter school model with supportive policies and an engaged and thoughtful authorizer. The study How New York City’s Charters Affect Achievement followed students who got into a charter public school and compared the group to those who, like so many in Chicago, were on a waiting list. The results are certainly encouraging: students at charter public schools outperform students at traditional district schools in math and English, and they make greater annual academic gains. Also, just as in Chicago, charter students are more likely to graduate (by a rate of 7% here in Chicago and 28% in New York). In light of these results, charter schools and their proponents should be proud that we helped more students reach high academic standards.

Operational elements are largely credited for the study’s findings. New York’s charter schools are notable for their data-driven instruction, extended day and year, flexible curriculum, parental involvement, and merit pay for teachers. These findings show that charter schools can inspire achievement in urban areas. Like Chicago, New York has a waiting list of students who wish to attend a charter public school, but, with the recent doubling of the charter school cap in Illinois, more students will have a chance for success at a charter school here. You can visit the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools to find out more about charter schools’ operational differences.

A human element I feel is linked to school success is leadership. In another look at the big picture, The Principal Story by Chicago Filmmakers’ Todd Lending and David Mrazek aired on PBS stations last week. It shows just how important having the right person in this tough job is. For example, charter schools give leaders the authority and autonomy they need at the school level to make decisions that matter. The charter model lends a more strength to the crucial task of school leadership. You can visit The Wallace Foundation for clips of the documentary and educational resources that go along with the film.

While the road is rocky at times, charter public schools are headed in the right direction. We are helping students reach their full potential, and that can only be counted as a success.

Sylvia Ewing
INCS Interim Executive Director

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Charter schools spend more time in the classroom

Information in a recent column by CRAIN’S Chicago Business Greg Hinz should be repeated far and wide. In the 2009-2010 school year, which is already underway, Chicago Public School (CPS) students will be in school a total of 40 weeks, and out of those 40 weeks, CPS students will only receive a mere 19 full weeks (Monday through Friday) of teaching. Spending more than half of the school year outside the classroom is no way to grow the next generation of Chicagoans! In my opinion, it is an offensive contradiction to say that we care about education and then accept systems that allow so little time on task.

As Hinz highlighted, in a 2006 National Council on Teacher Quality study, CPS ranked last out of 26 big-city districts, with our school day three-quarters of an hour shorter than the national norm and the school year six days shorter. In addition, out of 868 Illinois districts Chicago is third from last in instructional days. This is not tolerable and there has to be a better way. Teachers want to educate students and those student need to depend on both the teachers and the system to cultivate their minds. The current CPS status quo does not give our children this opportunity and I know we can do better.

A solution to this problem is charter public schools. Right now, there are charter public schools in Chicago like West Side’s Alain Locke Charter Academy that offer year-round education. Year-round school may not be for everyone, but we owe it to our students to give them options and a chance for success. Charter public schools are not perfect but they offer freedom to create schools that meet the needs of students, families and communities. Charters spend an average of 45 more minutes of instruction a day than traditional CPS schools. Thanks to new legislation that raises the cap on charter schools in Illinois, we have an opportunity to have more charter schools and grow upon this unique educational freedom.

CPS CEO Ron Huberman says he is committed to a quality education for all students and I believe that he but he can’t reach this goal alone. Everyone who cares about education should take a close look at what we are offering our youth, including the amount of time committed to our children, and support making choices that put students needs first.

As self-governing entities, charter schools have the autonomy to make quick, effective changes to meet students’ specific needs, which helps improve student achievement, and offer a safe place to learn. We are good partners in education reform and the facts show that reform is sorely needed.

Sylvia Ewing,
INCS Interim Executive Director

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Charter Family Picnic picture teaser

We had an amazing time at our 4th annual Charter Family Picnic at Garfield Park. Expect more to come later, but I couldn't wait to show you a few pictures from the event, by our fantastic photographer Anna Bonick.

Pictures and a recap of the day are coming shortly!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Charter School News

Reinsdorf-funded charter school opens near United Center Sun-Times

Longtime dream of Bulls chairman Reinsdorf comes true as charter school facility opens near United Center

If you missed the clips last week, a Young Women’s Leadership Charter School student, Kassandra Davis, was profiled in 8 Teen Dreams by Chicago Magazine.

A friendly neighbor Chicago Flame Online
De la Cruz officially closed shop in June. As it would happen, in July, one month later, the United Neighborhoods Organization (UNO) announced its flagship school, Octavia Paz, a CPS Charter school, needed a new, temporarily permanent home. After receiving nearly 100 million dollars in federal stimulus money, UNO had then decided it was time to make much-needed repairs to the Octavio Paz facilities.

Emerge Peoria: An open letter to Sharon Crews
I was just looking at your comments today about the Math and Science Academy and I just cringed because I believe the charter school has promise. You clearly care about the community, the schools and the children.

More yoga classes are geared toward specific groups Daily Herald
In Chicago, there's even a yogic elementary school, the Namaste Charter School, which takes a holistic approach to education. "Yoga isn't about being on the ...

County sets up H1N1 flu preparations The State Journal-Register
Three-year-old Piper Chase follows the instructions for washing her hands on Friday, September 11, 2009 in her pre-k classroom at Ball Charter School. ...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ready to Serve Chicago's Future

I had the opportunity to appear on a panel for WTTW’s Chicago Tonight on Wednesday, September 8, 2009. I was joined by Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, and Lorraine Forte, editor-in-chief of Catalyst Chicago. We discussed back-to-school issues and the current state of Chicago education.

As a panelist, I shared some unique qualities that charter public schools encompass, how they serve as frontiers for education innovation. While addressing topics such as government education funding, dropout rates, violence and testing scores, I highlighted Youth Connection Charter Schools (YCCS). YCCS is an excellent example of how charter schools address and improve these current educational issues. This Chicago charter public school has worked hard to increase student attendance and dropout recovery. The panel experience also gave me the platform to clear the air of certain charter school assumptions such as selective student enrollment.

The most important message of the evening was to remember that the name of the school is not important, but the process and value of education we are instilling in our children. Charter public schools are a part of the public school system and there is a state of urgency to come together and find the best solution for our future Chicagoans. For that reason, I found the conversation very beneficial for all parties.

Last night’s experience was educational and productive. In order to ensure a stronger tomorrow for our children, we need to concentrate on the current problems and take action to improve. Chicago Tonight’s panel gave me the podium to demonstrate how charter public schools are a great avenue for this change and how they can harmonize with the public school system. Working together to help our future should be all of our priorities and I know Chicago is up for the challenge.

Sylvia Ewing,
INCS Interim Executive DIrector

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Charter Family Picnic next week - September 12th!

2009 Charter Family Picnic
Saturday, September 12
Garfield Park
12:00 - 4:00 PM

Join INCS and the rest of the charter school community for a FREE day of fun, music, good food, and great raffle prizes!

If you haven't already, please RSVP with Mireya Vaca at (312) 235-0798 x17 or at

*Please note the change in location - this year's picnic will be held in Garfield Park, near the intersection of Central Park Ave and Schrader Street (just south of Lake Street)!*

There will be limited FREE parking available at the Garfield Park parking lot and on the street. Garfield Park is easily accessible via public transportation. If traveling by train, walk south from the "Conservatory-Central Park" Green line stop to reach the picnic area. If traveling by car, take the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and exit at Independence Blvd. (Exit 26A). Turn right (east) onto Washington Blvd and then turn left (north) onto Central Park Ave.

For a map to Garfield Park, click here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Charter School News

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Robin Steans: Race to the Top money a carrot for state educators State Journal-Register

How would you like to play a lottery where you get to control the odds? That’s what the U.S. Department of Education is offering, by setting aside more than $4 billion in a Race to the Top fund to be given to only a handful of states — if they’re willing and able to take steps that dramatically improve their public schools.

Galapagos' lesson plans for 1st day, year ready Rockford Register Star

All that communication is more than what's typically done at Galapagos' Chicago campus because charter schools are new to Rockford and don't already have ...

One week to go: Galapagos Charter School prepares for big open WREX-TV

Galapagos has run a Chicago charter school for five years. "Inevitably on the first day of any school or even any organization, there's going to be some ...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Charter School News

September 1, 2009

State task force will study proposal for new group to authorize charter schools Catalyst
'The Illinois State Board of Education is assembling a task force to study plans for a new, independent authorizer of charter schools—a controversial idea that supporters say would lead to higher-quality charters and help Illinois capture some of the nearly $5 billion in competitive federal stimulus grants....

A Blow To Transparent School Reform In Chicago Progress Illinois
After being blindsided by the changes, Soto is vowing to override Quinn's amendments. Talking to Black, the Chicago lawmaker expressed her ongoing ...

What Are The Best Methods For School Improvement? National Journal Online
The Obama administration has an ambitious goal of turning around the nation's 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years. To achieve this, the strategies adopted must be ones that can be applied on a large scale. One response from Greg Richmond, President & CEO, National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

The Education Bubble Gapers Block
As Ramsin pointed out, charter operators, like UNO have used the new charter school "market" to gain influence and bring in huge sums of cash. ...

Old Sears power plant in Chicago turned into charter high school Tribune
Not so much on the school, but lots on the architecture and history of the building.. “Inside, Farr Associates followed the broad outlines of the Tate Modern, making the three-story turbine room a dramatic great hall and turning the boiler …”

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