U.S. Department of Education Awards $39.7 Million in Grants to Expand High Quality Charter Schools

(Oct. 8, 2014) The U.S. Department of Education announced 27 new grants today totaling $39.7 million under the Charter Schools Program (CSP) to expand high quality charter schools, and open new charter schools across the nation. These grants will support charter schools’ efforts to increase high-need students’ success, especially in underserved areas, in 12 states.

“These charter school grants will help open new charter schools and expand or replicate those with a record of success to help ensure that every student has access to high-quality educational opportunities that prepare them for college, careers and life,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

These grants are awarded by two CSP programs: one program is focused on helping high-performing charter management organizations open new charter schools, and the other program supports new charter schools located in states that do not have a state-level CSP subgrant program. This year’s competitions included a focus on charter schools that serve geographies designated under President Obama’s Promise Zones initiative, as well as promoting diversity and supporting military families.

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Magnet Schools Work to Promote Diversity, STEM Opportunity

Heldelberg school: Students at Heidelberg Elementary School, in Clarksdale, Miss., work on iPads in the classroom. (Photo courtesy of    )

Students at Heidelberg Elementary School in Clarksdale, Miss., work on iPads in the classroom. (Photo courtesy of Clarksdale Municipal School District)

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear about magnet schools?

If you had asked me before this summer, I probably wouldn’t have been able to answer the question. I knew a lot of people who attended magnet schools as kids, but that was about it.

After this summer, however, I know a great deal more about magnet schools and the role they play in American education. As an intern for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), I spent my summer researching Office of Innovation and Improvement funding to magnet schools and the impact of that money in 12 states nationwide. Magnet schools are free public schools that offer a specialized curriculum — like performing arts, International Baccalaureate (IB), or science — to students interested in a particular theme or focus.

The MSAP provides federal grants to local education agencies (LEAs) or consortia of LEAs to implement magnet school programs to achieve the primary purposes of promoting racial/ethnic diversity in schools and improving academic achievement.

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Paving a New Path: The Growth of Illinois Charter Schools Outside of Chicago

Students at 8 Points Charter Middle School in Jacksonville, Ill., are prepared to succeed in high school academically, socially, and emotionally. (Photo courtesy of 8 Points Charter Schools)

Students at 8 Points Charter Middle School in Jacksonville, Ill., are prepared to succeed in high school academically, socially, and emotionally. (Photo courtesy of 8 Points Charter Schools)

During the past three years, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) has dramatically expanded its work to educate Illinois residents about the charter school model, and to support charter school “design teams”— made up of teachers, former educators, and community organizations, for example — that seek to launch new, high-quality public schools in their respective communities. With support from the Office of Innovation and Improvement, INCS has grown its Charter Starter Consulting program to deliver consistent content and counsel to design teams while maintaining a strong focus on customized services. As a result, INCS has planted the seeds for additional charter schools to thrive, especially outside of Chicago, Illinois’ largest city, and to raise student achievement for increasing numbers of Illinois students.

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Success in Arizona: A Focus on Increasing Quality Schools in Phoenix’s Urban Core

Vista Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Vista College Prep founder Julia Meyerson (left) observes a small-group lesson to provide coaching and support for the teacher. Vista Prep is a New Schools For Phoenix pilot school that achieved impressive results in its inaugural year. (Photo courtesy of New Schools For Phoenix)

Phoenix charter school leaders Jenna Leahy and Tacey Clayton believe that something has to change for students in the nation’s sixth-largest city. The majority of the 215 public schools in the Phoenix urban core serve low-income, minority students, and of those schools, only 8 percent received an “A” — the highest academic performance label — in 2014.

After two years of leadership and school development, Jenna and Tacey are poised to help change the life paths of Phoenix students, as CASA Academy opened its doors to 149 students in kindergarten through second grade this August.

CASA and six other schools are part of a new initiative, New Schools For Phoenix, that grew out of a three-year, $1,179,855 National Leadership Activities grant from OII’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) to the Arizona Charter Schools Association in 2010.

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It’s Up to Us: A Commitment to Equitable Services

“We really don’t care if it’s public or private” stated Veronica Tate, director of the Office of Administration and Accountability at the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). “We want to make sure parents have the right and most up-to-date information to make good choices.”

In April 2014, the Office of Innovation and Improvement’s Office of Non-Public Education (ONPE) facilitated a promising practices webinar in which officials from the VDOE and Virginia Council for Private Education discussed their successful partnership to launch a state-level equitable services working group. The state takes its obligation to provide equitable services seriously, and has taken a deliberate review of the law and associated guidance. “It is up to us,” Tate emphasized, to “ensure that our students, parents and the teachers … are served.” In addition, she indicated that technical assistance provided by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) influenced the state’s efforts to help districts understand their obligation to provide equitable services under applicable federal education programs.

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Connecticut Magnets Offer High-Quality Education

Students at Metropolitan Business Academy participate in the Student Ambassador Program, which promotes positive character development and a healthy and safe school community. Photo by Coppola Photography, courtesy of New Haven Public Schools.

Students at Metropolitan Business Academy participate in the Student Ambassador Program, which promotes positive character development and a healthy and safe school community. (Photo by Coppola Photography, courtesy of New Haven Public Schools).

As this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision outlawing legal racial segregation in public schools, now is a good time to reflect on programs that promote diversity in schools. As a program officer for the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP), I’m part of a team that manages funding awarded to school districts nationwide to implement magnet programs in their schools. The MSAP has two primary goals: 1) to promote racial/ethnic diversity in schools; and 2) to improve student academic achievement.

Magnet schools offer a unique, rigorous curriculum and theme (e.g., performing arts; global and international studies; Montessori; science, technology, engineering and math), in order to “attract” a diverse set of students to attend. MSAP focuses its funds on schools that use a non-selective lottery system (rather than academic criteria) for admissions, which helps support schools that offer educational choices to a broad array of students.

Last month, when I attended the Magnet Schools of America national conference in Hartford, Conn., I had the opportunity to see some successful magnet schools in action. Connecticut has a unique school choice system that resulted from the 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill case, in which the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the racial and socioeconomic isolation of Hartford school children violates the state constitution.

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