August 2, 2011

Montgomery County joins charter school movement

In case you missed it: Montgomery County school officials finally gave the go-ahead last week to open the first charter school in the district. The decison to allow Community Montessori Public Charter School to operate came after a long, contentious debate about allowing the school to breach a longstanding charter barrier in the county.

Calling it a "long-overdue reform," The Sun's editorial board welcomed Montgomery County to the state's charter school movement being led by Baltimore. The editorial also reiterates its position that Maryland needs to continue to strengthen its charter laws to allow more charters to flourish throughout the state. You can read the full editorial here.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Charter Schools

May 10, 2011

City parent: 'Why I don't want a charter in my backyard'

I came across a parent's blog post, that was featured on the Baltimore Brew a few days ago that I thought was worth sharing.

The Hampden resident wrote a lengthy and pretty scathing piece called "Why I don't want a charter school in my backyard, (Not Just Yet. Not so fast)" which explains why she opposed Roots and Branches School, a new city charter due to open next year, moving just a few blocks away Hampden Elementary/Middle School. Even though the parent doesn't even have a student in school yet, she took the issue all the way up to the city council.

For many charters, the approval to operate in the district can be dream, but finding a space to do so can be a nightmare. In its quest for space, Roots and Branches was considering moving into a building in the neighborhood. Jen Shaud, whom I first interviewed when she was looking to open the school, called the parent's piece "unfortunate, because we just wanted to be a part of a nice community."

Ultimately, the Hampden building didn't work out and the city school board is scheduled to approve a new facility tonight for the school.

The parent echoes a growing sentiment in the district (whether we'd like to admit it or not) when it comes to charters: she questions the motives of the movement and its representation of "choice," and expresses some mild disdain for the dynamic they bring to the district.

I'm not sharing this blog to start a back and forth or pit any school against another. However, city schools CEO Andres Alonso has repeatedly said that charters were brought into the district to empower parents, and that they'd be around as long as parents wanted them here. And, here's at least one that will take a pass.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:13 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Charter Schools

April 5, 2011

How can successful public charters bridge achievement gap?

Today we wrote a story about KIPP Ujima Academy, one of the most successful charter schools in Baltimore, stopping a practice that raised the eyebrows of some of its fellow public schools and city schools CEO Andres Alonso.

Since 2003, the school had giving an entrance placement test to rising sixth graders who sought to transfer to KIPP after completing fifth grade at other schools. If the transferring sixth graders failed the test, they'd have to repeat fifth grade at KIPP in order to enroll at the public charter school.

KIPP's position was that they did not believe the test to be a barrier to enrollment, but used it to provide a foundation for students to be successful. Still, it's a foundation that no other public charter in the city--no matter how high its performance-- had the luxury of providing.

"The kids come as is," Alonso has proclaimed, and schools have to rise to the challenge. 

KIPP Ujima, part of a national network that has drawn some criticism for high attrition rates, stopped giving the test for this coming school year, per Alonso's request. They understood the perception that the test could repel families.

But the issue isn't so black and white. There is no doubt that KIPP Ujima has provided a stand-out education to some of the city's most underserved student populations--which is why this entrance exam made for an interesting debate.

KIPP has managed to put hundreds of children--many below grade level and low-income--on an impressive and accelerated path to success through its distinct rigor and school climate. It is also among a handful of charters in the city who allow students to come in after the initial point of entry, which for KIPP is fifth grade. And many of the students who tranfer in sixth grade are at least two grade levels behind. The difference of the levels can be so vast, that students could arguably be set up for failure.

So, how do successful public charter schools bridge the gap between the students they set out on an accelerated path, and the ones who have so far to go to catch up?

Posted by Erica Green at 5:23 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Charter Schools

March 31, 2011

High attrition, public funding fuel KIPP results, study finds

High levels of attrition, selectivity and government funding have positioned Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools as academic leaders, according to a national report published Thursday, which found that the charter network’s lauded outcomes in recent years have been a result of serving a distinct population of students while receiving high amounts of public funding.

The report was published by Western Michigan University, and jointly released by Columbia University, in addition to the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education. The study looked at “What Makes KIPP Work: A study of student characteristics, attrition and school finance,” basing its conclusions on publically available federal and local data.

KIPP runs two schools in Baltimore. The Knowledge Is Power Program opened the Ujima Village Academy, a middle school, in 2002. In 2009, KIPP opened an elementary school, KIPP Harmony Academy. Both are located in Northwest Baltimore, serving very low-income populations, and are among the best schools in the city.

But nationally, the report found, on average about 15 percent of students drop from KIPP cohorts every year, compared to 3 percent in public schools. Moreover, between grades 6 and 8, about 30 percent of KIPP students drop off of the rolls. The attrition rates in the report, which did not compare KIPP's attrition to similar schools in the district, or in neighboring districts, showed a "tremendous drop off" said the report's lead researcher, Gary Miron.

A very high number of students who disappear from the cohorts are African-American males, the report found. However, KIPP does serve primarily African-American students.

The report also concluded that KIPP's high outcomes, when compared to public schools, could be a result of serving significantly less special education students, and English language learners—two populations that are more prone to be less competitve academically and more expensive.

Steve Mancini, spokesman for KIPP, said Wednesday that while the organization welcomes being the subject of objective and rigorous assessments, the organization “rejected the core conclusions that the report is making” about the network’s success being tied to weeding out students--particularly because it did not compare attrition rates to comparable data of other schools.  

Mancini said that KIPP received the report around noon Wednesday, about three days after national media--including the Baltimore Sun-- had received it, and didn’t have time to comb through it. But deep spot-analysis of some sections of the report showed “factual misrepresentations,” he said.

Continue reading "High attrition, public funding fuel KIPP results, study finds " »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:57 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Charter Schools

November 30, 2010

Maryland receives "D" in charter school laws

A new report released this week by the Center for Education Reform issued Maryland's charter law "D" grade, and ranked it 35th out of the 40 states and the District of Columbia whose laws were examined. The state received the lowest marks for facility funding, teacher freedom, and overall implementation. Maryland's law was among the most recent to be passed (2003), while other states passed their charter laws in the 90s, so maybe it's growing pains.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:56 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Charter Schools

July 9, 2009

Looking for a Baltimore charter school?

I was talking yesterday to Carl Stokes, one of the leaders of Bluford Drew Jemison Science Technology Engineering Mathematics Academy. They are opening a new school in Southwest Baltimore this school year and are still looking for students. While the school received its charter some time ago, the city school board didn't approve a facility for it to operate out of until early April, by the time most charter schools have already signed students up.

As a result, the school has plenty of space for new sixth-graders. They have 60 students now but would like to sign up another 40 at least. They have room for 120.

The new school, which will be operated out of Diggs Johnson Middle School near Carroll Park, will begin with sixth grade this year and add on a grade each year until it becomes a middle and high school.

Their first school on Caroline Street in East Baltimore is an all-boys academy where students dress in white shirts and ties. The school goes until 6:30 p.m., offering after-school activities and dinner.

Stokes said parents of sixth-graders who are interested can go to or call 410-276-3270.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:57 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Charter Schools

May 1, 2009

Comment of the Week

Several MATHS students posted good comments this week about why a report's conclusion that charter school students in Baltimore have more advantages does not ring true for them. I'm awarding Comment of the Week to MATHS student Jabril Morris for this poignant submission: 

I don't think that the opening statement of this article is accurate because I don't come from a prviledged home because my mother is out of work and on unemployment and we are struggling to keep the lights on in the house. I transferred from a zone school when I was in the 8th grade. All I had to do was to come to maths for an interview and take a placement test. By next school year I was in MATHS. Even though I go to a charter school I still have problems at home, sometimes my mother doesn't have enough money to pay the BGE bill so our lights would be cut off.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Comment of the Week

April 28, 2009

Sizing up Baltimore's charter schools

Here's the report on Baltimore charter schools that I write about in today's newspaper. Not surprisingly, the report found that academic performance at the city's charters varies significantly. Climate-wise, they seem to be better than regular city schools, especially at the middle school level. We've always known that charter students (except those at neighborhood conversion charters that take the place of zoned schools) have an inherent advantage because their parents are making a choice and seeking out a quality option on their behalf. Now we know how that translates: The charters have fewer special ed, over-age and free/reduced lunch students than regular schools do. As a whole, they're also more racially diverse, though there are examples of charters that are almost completely segregated and charters that are almost perfectly integrated. One finding that was a little surprising: There aren't many students coming to the charters from out of the system, though seven schools are the exception to that and draw students who wouldn't be attending city public schools otherwise.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Study, study!

April 17, 2009

Bluford Drew Jemison principal removed

The board governing the Bluford Drew Jemison charter school removed its principal, Kevin Parson, over the spring break. He has been reassigned to the central office. Not surprisingly, school officials declined to comment, since this is a personnel matter. Bluford has an atypical structure in that the principal reports to a "head of school," Kirk Gaddy. He is running the all-boys school on his own through the end of the academic year. Carl Stokes, the director of operations, said the board will launch a national search for a replacement.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:45 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools

March 27, 2009

New York KIPP schools fight over unionizing

There's an interesting battle playing out at the KIPP schools in New York City. At Brooklyn's KIPP AMP school (AMP is short for "always mentally prepared"), teachers want to unionize and KIPP is resisting. Teachers at two other KIPP schools that are already unionized want out, and the union's leaders are angry.

Unionizing is a tricky subject for KIPP's national network of 66 schools, which require their teachers to work long hours and be available for students in their spare time. That commitment has led to high turnover in some cases, but also is a factor in the schools' success in getting poor, minority children to college.

Meanwhile, KIPP founders Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin have been named the winners of this year's Charles Bronfman Prize, which awards humanitarian work of people under age 50. They will use part of their $100,000 award to set up a KIPP-inspired school serving Jewish and Arab children in Israel.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Charter Schools

January 13, 2009

Bad week for the mayor, good week for charter schools

Despite the lousy week she's having and despite the city's budget woes, Mayor Dixon brought good news to nine charter schools today (and, yes, this was planned before her indictment). She is committing $700,000 for building repairs at charters located in city or school system facilities. Here's a list of who's getting what:

Continue reading "Bad week for the mayor, good week for charter schools" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:48 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools

November 25, 2008

Report: Don't forget about magnet schools

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA released a study today recommending that, with all the buzz about charter schools, the nation's public school systems shouldn't forget about magnet schools, which tend to be more diverse than charters.

The country's 2,683 magnet schools have improved both the quality and the equity in public schools over the past 40 years, the report says, but they have been left out of the discussion on how to reform schools. Magnet schools enroll 2 million students, twice as many as charter schools.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Charter Schools, Study, study!

September 17, 2008

Can KIPP's success be replicated?

We've talked before on this blog about the reasons for the success of the 60-plus schools in the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, which runs Baltimore's highest-performing middle school. Now, the research group SRI International is releasing a three-year study of KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, analyzing why their students outperform their peers in other public schools. The study, commissioned by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, cites four factors: 1) a culture of high expectations; 2) more time in school and more support for struggling students; 3) a focus on tracking student progress and careful instructional planning; 4) a philosophy of continuous improvement, where school leaders and teachers often revise their strategies.

We've seen all these things before at KIPP Ujima Village in Baltimore. To me, the more interesting question that the study poses is not what causes KIPP to be successful, but whether its success can be replicated on a large scale. And its answer to that is maybe not: It's a lot harder when the students and parents aren't choosing to be at the charter school, making a commitment to do the work. It's a lot harder when teachers aren't choosing to work many extra hours and be available for their students around the clock.

It's not that KIPP students are coming in more able, as is often alleged. In fact, the report found that the Bay Area KIPP schools tend to attract lower-performing students than the traditional public schools in their areas. Perhaps these students and their parents feel desperate that the traditional public schools aren't working for them. In any case, they're choosing to be at KIPP.

The report concludes that KIPP's experiences "don't directly map onto those of other schools and districts," but they demonstrate a lesson relevant to everyone: "High expectations and hard work pay off. There are no shortcuts."

The study's findings are similar to those of another report released in by Johns Hopkins researchers about KIPP Ujima Village last year. An article we wrote about the report at the time said KIPP was transforming the lives of its students, but "translating the methods and successes of KIPP to other middle schools in the city probably would be challenging and costly."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Study, study!

August 25, 2008

Imagine Discovery to open tomorrow

Imagine Discovery, Baltimore County's first public charter school, will open tomorrow, Aug. 26.  Word is the fire marshal came for the final inspection this morning, and the school is now good to go.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Charter Schools

August 22, 2008

Imagine Discovery won't be open Monday

Just got word that Baltimore County's first charter school will be closed for the first day of classes - Monday, Aug. 25. 

The reason?  Pat Crain, the regional director for Imagine Schools, tells me that the school just needs a final inspection from the fire marshal to get its occupancy permit.  The fire marshal couldn't get out there today - which is why they won't be opening Monday.  But they're hoping the inspection will take place on Monday, Crain said, so the students can start Tuesday. 

The school, Imagine Discovery, is located in renovated office space in a building in the Woodlawn area. Crain said completion of the gymnasium kept them from getting the inspection done earlier.

Parents will be notified to verify opening day - and we'll also keep you posted here.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Charter Schools

May 6, 2008

Where every week is charter schools week

This is National Charter Schools Week (as well as National Teacher Appreciation Week). Charter advocates are going to meet with politicians, and think tanks are releasing studies about the effectiveness of these independently run public schools of choice.

While it may be a good time to spread awareness in most of Maryland, it seems like every week is charter school week in Baltimore. (I don't know that we could say the same about teacher appreciation.) Technically, the city has about 25 charter schools, more than the rest of the state combined. There are also several "charter-like" schools, which operate independently but are not technically charters. And now, the principles of charters are spreading to the whole city. Dr. Alonso has said he wants to see every city school have a community governing board and an outside partnership, just as charter schools do. The cornerstone of his reform this year is allowing principals to craft their own budgets, just as charter principals do. The city's charter school leaders are helping to train principals at regular city schools in how to handle their new responsibilities.

Increasingly, the lines between charter and non-charter are blurring in Baltimore. The city's six new middle/high schools are not technically charter schools. Except for Baltimore Freedom Academy, which is a charter high school already but may not be considered a charter in its new middle school wing. The new school that's caused all the fuss in Canton will be run by the Friendship Public Charter School company, but it is not a charter (a point that required a correction in The Sun last week).

The differences lie in how funding is distributed, in the contract with the outside organization running the school, and in whether or not the system is required to provide the school with a facility. (Charters are often on their own to find a building.) But to parents and students who see their school choices growing, there is no difference. And to the city's charter advocates, that's a big victory.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools

March 7, 2008

What would you do for $125,000?

This article from today's New York Times features a charter school in New York City that will pay teachers $125,000 a year, testing the theory that having a great teacher in every classroom is more important than anything else, and that truly competitive salaries will attract great teachers. Making the structure even more radical: The school's principal will start out earning just $90,000. For the school to afford the salaries, classes will have 30 kids apiece, teachers will work longer days and have responsibilities outside the classroom, and there will be fewer social supports.

Want to apply? The Web site for the school, called The Equity Project Charter, is here.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:58 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Charter Schools, Teaching

October 3, 2007

Charter school conference

Ever wanted to start your own charter school? The 5th Annual Maryland Charter School Conference will give you the goods.

Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon; Joni Berman, president of the Maryland Charter School Network; and Kate Sullivan, founder of the Chesapeake Public Charter School, are just a few of the guests scheduled to appear at the conference.

Information sessions include: teacher exchanges about best practices; special education done right in charter schools; financing charter school facilities; and accountability.

The conference is free and will be held on Oct. 19 at Sojourner-Douglass College.

Did I mention that a complimentary continental breakfast and lunch will be provided?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 6:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Charter Schools

September 14, 2007

Charter School Conference

I thought I would pass along this information about the fifth annual Maryland Charter School Conference. It will be held on Oct. 19 at Sojourner-Douglass College.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:47 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Charter Schools

August 24, 2007

Maryland charter schools on the rise

Our neighbor to the south reports that nine new charter schools are opening in Maryland this year, a sign of their increasing popularity.

Yet charter doesn't necessarily mean better, the Post reports: some schools have lagging test scores, and several have failed to meet adequate yearly progress - a requirement of No Child Left Behind - this past school year.

From the article:

"Maryland charter school officials and advocates say the charters are fiscally healthy, provide school choice and help students learn, even if that learning isn't reflected in federal progress assessments. Critics say the schools don't always live up to the high expectations they set and drain money from traditional public schools."

What's your take on the charter-school movement here? If you are a charter-school parent, what led you to opt out of public schools?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Charter Schools

June 21, 2007

Anne Arundel charter school closes...

The Sun reported today that the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, Harbor Academy, which had 120 fifth- and sixth-graders inside Sojourner-Douglass College in Edgewater, notified parents last night that it was closing. 
 Are you a parent at the school? If so, can you share your thoughts on the recent announcement?
 For the remainder of the education world, do you think that charter schools work? Do you think that charter schools are necessary? Can you share some examples of successful charter schools in the state of Maryland or surrounding areas?
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 3:32 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Charter Schools
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