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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Leigh McGuigan joins CPS

It was announced last week that Leigh McGuigan left her position in Cleveland's Office of New and Innovative Schools to take a position as special assistant under CPS CEO Ron Huberman. What does this mean for Chicago?

We know that McGuigan has done extensive work in Cleveland based around evaluation and metrics. She designed a "value-added" score that was adopted as part of Ohio's school report cards. By taking the students' academic starting point into consideration, her new metric could take some of the pressure off CPS’ reliance on standardized state tests to show that students are learning. Chicago has been considering such a metric, but educators, and the charter sector in particular, still need to weigh in on the outcomes they’re expected to live up to.

As part of Cleveland's academic infrastructure, McGuigan did a lot of work with assessment and evaluation as well as helping schools first develop, then reach, explicit goals. Knowing all this, it won't surprise anyone to hear that McGuigan’s publishing history focuses on teacher efficacy and standardized testing.

What does it mean for the charter sector’s hard and costly choices around facilities planning, the ugly battles over school closings, miscommunication about charters, or the uneven tug of war for resources between pensions and pencils? We’ll have to wait and see

One of the advantages of a school system that includes charter schools is the ability for charters to employ different, innovative techniques in the classroom and feed those practices into the larger system. There’s a lot happening in CPS these days, to put it bluntly, and there’s still a lot left to do. Welcome to the big game, Ms. McGuigan.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Burnham 2.0 Plan

The Burnham Group recently released a report entitled Burnham 2.0, which focuses on specific categories of educational reform in Illinois. This report has the near-term goal of strengthening the Illinois Race to the Top application.

Burnham 2.0 calls for student outcomes to be the basis upon which all Illinois schools are judged. Notable is the urging for school growth to become a metric for determining school success. The Burnham Group fully recognizes the need to boost the performance of weak schools and states that school success needs to be defined more fully, that the State Board of Education should improve a teacher assessment program as well as evaluation of instruction, and that operational and instructional be the basis of decisions regarding our state’s educational system.

The 22 page report was signed by several names in the educational arena, including Ron Huberman, State Representative Roger Eddy, Miguel Delvalle and myself.

The release of this report is cause for celebration. While we all come from greatly varied political backgrounds and leanings, our belief in educational reform and our passion for giving Illinois students the best possible future brought us together for this cause. We all believe education needs to have the student at its center.

-Sylvia Ewing

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Race to the Top

Race to the Top is, in short, a $4.35 billion dollar fund that’s part of the Federal Stimulus package, which is itself designed to bring unprecedented levels of federal funding to certain states to improve student achievement and close achievement gaps. Through Race to the Top, Illinois has a historic and potentially groundbreaking opportunity to use this one-time federal money to implement high impact reforms.

INCS stands ready to work with the state to help get a winning application for Illinois and bring much needed funds to our state. To that end, we’ve identified four key areas that the Department of Education should look at when it comes to charter public schools. Illinois has done well in some of these areas, and in others, there is room for Illinois to improve upon for a winning application.

1. Authorizing

Illinois has, in statute, the basics for authorizing and outlines the role of school districts as authorizers. We currently have a task force, commissioned by the general assembly, which will review the need for and capacity of creating a new and independent charter school authorizer for the state. Illinois has only one active authorizer at the moment – the Chicago Public Schools. We do not have consistent authorizing practices across the state as the majority of the districts are not serving as authorizers of charters and therefore not creating the in-house expertise on charter school authorizing essential to the creation and oversight of charter schools.

To improve Illinois’ Race to the Top application as it relates to charter public schools, a state-wide approach to authorizing that will share the best practice in the creation, oversight and re-authorizing or closing of charter schools would put Illinois at the top of the class when it comes to charter school authorizing. We hope the recommendations put forth by the task force at the end of this year and any subsequent action taken by the General Assembly will accomplish that end.

2. Caps

Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan have commented publicly about the need to lift charter school caps. INCS is proud that Illinois was the first state, under the leadership Sen. Lightford, Senator Steans and Representative Mitchell to heed that call and double the number of charters available in Illinois. We certainly think Illinois should tout that achievement in its Race to the Top application.

3. Funding Equity

According to the Race to the Top application draft, the D.O.E will be looking at the extent to which the State's charter schools receive equitable funding compared to traditional public schools, and a commensurate share of local, State, and Federal program and revenue sources.

The reality is that we just do not have this information. There is a general perception by our charter operators that charters receive less funding than traditional schools. We need access to the data from all districts that authorize charter schools to truly know. More importantly, the onus is on Illinois to prove in its application that charters are funded fairly.

This leads to my final point. Often, the funding equation does not factor in one of the biggest expenses charter schools face – facilities funding.

4. Facilities Access

The D.O.E. will examine the extent to which the state provides charter schools with equitable access to facilities by providing them with facilities funding, assistance with facilities acquisition, access to public facilities, the ability to share in bonds and mill levies, and/or other supports

This past legislative session, $173 million was allocated to school districts and charter schools for facilities. Part of that funding went to the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) to build new charter school facilities that would help alleviate overcrowding. There were also other dollars set for charter school facilities in Rockford and other charter schools, including ASPIRA, this past year. This facilities funding allocation will help some with the Illinois application, but it does not go far enough.

Even though we’ve had this one-time allotment of funds for charter facilities, they are just that — a one-time allotment. Prior to this session there have not been state funds allocated for charter public school buildings. Currently, a vacuum exists in the charter law to address the facilities needs of charter public schools. That issue left unresolved would dock points from the Illinois Race to the Top application.

With respect to charter schools, Illinois does not have all of the winning pieces in place to secure top marks on the charter section of Race to the Top. It is the hope that with improvement of these four key issues , Illinois will not only have a stronger application, but stronger supports for charter schools that have already shown to be quality public schools.

-Carlos Perez

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Enrolling Your Child in a Charter Public School

Over the summer, INCS receives many phone calls from parents searching for charter school information and who are interested in enrolling their children in a charter school for the fall. Fall is the best time to start looking into charter schools for the next school year, particularly for families that have children that will be entering high school in a year. Many charter schools hold open houses and info sessions during the fall for students to come and explore what their school has to offer. You can take a look at INCS’ 2008 Charter School Profiles for contact information to each charter school to arrange a visit yourself, or to simply contact the school for more information. Be on the lookout for our new 2009 Charter School Profiles which are currently being updated!

More and more parents are taking a second look at what charter public schools have to offer and are excited by what they see. Thanks to these and many other charter advocates that are spreading the word on charter public schools, the charter public school community in Illinois has grown tremendously in the past few years! The strength in the charter school community can be measured by our success this year in increasing the charter school cap in Illinois from 60 to 120. Our voice can only get stronger with your continued support and involvement in the charter public school movement. Keep spreading your charter school stories to other families so they, too, can learn about the difference charter schools have been making in Illinois and how they can also be a part of the Illinois charter school movement through INCS!

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