Opinion: Charter Public Schools Matter, Especially for Kids

Via TimesOfSanDiego.com// by Erica Valente

My three children made me a mom. Trying to get them a good education in Los Angeles public schools made me an advocate. And today, I’m an impassioned one.

The recent decision by the Los Angeles Unified School District to place a moratorium on the number of charter schools that can open here is going to shut the doors of opportunity on tens of thousands of kids just like mine – for no good reason.

When I was looking for a middle school for my daughter, Ashley, a decade ago, I wasn’t looking at school “type” but rather at its quality, its safety, and its culture.

KIPP Scholar Academy in South Los Angeles was the school that best met our needs. I liked its approach to college preparation and the support network provided by leadership. This choice has created a bright path for my daughter from L.A. to Boston, where she’s studying now.

In the aftermath of the Los Angeles Unified School District teachers’ strike, the Board of Education voted to endorse a pause on new charter schools in order to end the walkout.

The teachers who went on strike raised very valid concerns about the state of our education system, from underpaid teachers to overcrowding in classrooms to inequitable school funding.

Ironically, it is this very disinvestment in our public schools over the past few decades that has led many families like mine to seek alternatives. And now the same local and state officials who deprived the educational system are the ones saying families shouldn’t have any other public school options to consider.

I am in awe of every Los Angeles Unified teacher and respect their decision to strike and stand up for what they believe in. Like them, I’m passionate about improving the quality of education for students across this city.

However, it saddens me that this vote paints charter schools as part of the problem in Los Angeles, and not part of the solution.

Charter schools exist to give choice to families who haven’t always had access to good schools. This moratorium will limit families from having the same opportunities that mine did—to choose the school that will give their children the best possible shot at success.

Erica Valente
Erica Valente

The Board of Education actions threaten the future of thousands of young people. There are 16,000 low-income students on waitlists for charter schools in Los Angeles and I fear this number will only grow as we await the results of a fiscal impact report.

Charter schools are public schools, serving 100,000 students and families in Los Angeles. My family’s story is just one of many.

At KIPP Scholar, my daughter grew leaps and bounds in academics and character development. She learned to play instruments, and her school counselors helped her to apply for summer programs that she never would have heard about otherwise.

Before she graduated from KIPP Scholar after the 8th grade, the school helped Ashley apply for a scholarship to attend Phillips Academy Andover, a boarding school in Boston, where she has thrived for the past three years.

She’s looking forward to picking out her dream college with the help of her KIPP Through College counselors, and is a source of daily inspiration for her younger brother and sister in Los Angeles, who also attend KIPP LA schools.

While charter schools may not be the solution for all students, there is no denying that in Los Angeles charter schools are providing a much-needed option in countless communities.

study found that students in charter schools gain about 50 more days of learning in reading and 79 more days of learning in math than their peers in district schools. These differences are even greater for Hispanic students like my children who gained 58 more days in reading and 115 in math.

And students who attend KIPP schools are also far more likely to attend and complete college. KIPP students, who are predominantly low-income and students of color, are three times more likely to graduate from college compared to low-income students nationally.

There are lessons here the larger public school system can learn from, if we could just stop pitting school against school and parent against parent.

All children have a right to a good education, no matter what neighborhood they live in or how much money their parents make. We must move beyond the debate about charter schools and focus on what all parents want: more great schools to help our children thrive and lead choice-filled lives.

Erica Valente is a parent of two students who attend charter schools in Los Angeles and a daughter who attends boarding school in Boston. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

 

Millennials Are More Likely to Support School Choice

via The47Million.org // by Kate Stringer

Millennials may loathe diamonds and scorn grocery shopping, but there’s at least one thing they seem to like: school choice.

According to recent polls, adults who were born between 1981 and 1996 tend to think favorably about charter schools, vouchers, and other types of education options for parents and students. That could be because millennials were raised in an era saturated with choices, from ride-sharing apps to online shopping retailers to music streaming services.

That was the theory posed by a panel discussion Wednesday at South by Southwest Education called “Millennials Matter: Ed Reformers Need to Hear Us.” The panel was presented by the nonprofit advocacy group EdChoice and moderated by The 74 Senior Editor Emmeline Zhao, and it included panelists Mendell Grinter of the Campaign for School Equity, Lalla Morris of Families Empowered, and Evy Valencia Jackson of EVJ Consulting.

According to a 2017 GenForward survey, nearly three-quarters of millennials across ethnicities support school vouchers — public money that pays for students to attend private school — for low-income children, and about two-thirds support this option for all students. African Americans are the most likely group to support charter schools — which are independently run and publicly funded — with 65 percent in favor. Whites were the least likely, with 55 percent supporting charters. Another poll, from the American Federation for Children, found that 75 percent of millennials support choice, compared with 64 percent of baby boomers. But not everyone is a fan of school choice: Support often depends on how a question is phrased. For example, when a 2016 Education Next poll tried to test support for vouchers, it found that 45 percent of respondents were in favor when the question was framed around giving people choice, but only 29 percent were in favor when it was framed around using public money to fund the program.

While the internet is full of memes that love to hate on how millennials are changing the world (avocado toast > mortgages), the conversation becomes more serious when looking at the effect of this demographic on the labor market and government. Zhao noted that these young adults represent the largest segment of the U.S. labor force, with 56 million workers. While millennials made up only 1 percent of the members of the House of Representatives in 2017, that number jumped to 6 percent this year.

The panelists argued that without widely available school options, choice is afforded only to those with resources to select which neighborhood they want to live in or the private school they want to send their children to.

“If you are financially constrained, there are lots of choices people make every day that you never have the opportunity to make,” Morris said.

She recalled how her family sent her to several different schools in Texas before she ended up at a middle school where she had access to rigorous academic courses — something not available to many other students of color in her neighborhood. This set her up to attend a prestigious magnet high school in Houston, where she was also one of the few students of color on the Advanced Placement track. This made Morris realize how the choices her parents were able to make set her up for success in ways that many of her black peers without these resources were not.

The U.S. has nearly 7,000 charter schools, enrolling 3.2 million students in 43 states and Washington, D.C. About 500,000 students take advantage of private school choice options such as vouchers or tax-credit scholarships, which exist in 26 states. These numbers are still small compared with the total number of K-12 students in public and private schools: 56 million.

The freedom afforded to charter schools gives opportunities for innovation and allows students to focus on topics outside the scope of traditional schools. Panelists praised the creativity of school leaders who they’ve seen start schools framed around everything from farming to fine arts to financial literacy.

“The purpose of education is to create an informed and engaged citizenry that can live independently, live a dignified life, and also be engaged in our community,” Morris said.

Although nationwide, charter schools have produced mixed results for students, Grinter said parents consider many factors in addition to academics and graduation rates when selecting a school. “What defines a good school for a lot of parents is its safety,” he said.

Some members on the panel pointed out that while charters and vouchers remain controversial, some government-funded programs — such as Pell Grants — that provide students money and choice in education do not receive that kind of criticism.

An audience member pointed out that many millennials also support teacher unions, which often butt heads with school choice advocates. A GenForward survey from 2018 found that three-quarters of millennials say strengthening teacher unions would improve education.

Grinter said that more work could be done to reach out to teachers and have conversations about where their views intersected or differed.

“It’s just talking to them, like, ‘Hey, you have a kid, you want to exercise choice, why is that not OK?’” he said.

But Valencia Jackson disagreed.

“Some of these folks are just not interested in a conversation and haven’t been interested in a while, and that’s OK,” she said. “I think we have to be willing to move on and build new supporters elsewhere that want to be focused on kids.”

Though many leaders in the education reform world are older than millennials, Valencia Jackson encouraged the audience to collaborate across generations so that her peers could also have a voice in the conversations around school choice. “Call me, beep me!” Valencia Jackson said. “Anyone?”

A few people in the room got the joke. You would have too, if you were a millennial.

 

Noblesville Students of the Month – February

A pair of 8th grade students, Riley Kim and Dylan Gendron were selected as Options Students of the Month for February at the Noblesville campus.

Still new to Options, Riley enrolled in January 2019 and her hobbies include soccer and art, with a strong passion for painting and drawing.

Riley’s favorite thing about Options is English Specialist Kimberly Massaud because of how much she helps her students and her ability to make English, and other subjects, exciting to anyone in her class.

Naturally, Riley’s favorite class is art because of her love for the subject.

Her biggest improvement since starting classes at Options can be seen in her grades, and she says the teachers have played a major role in that change because of their approach to the materials. For Riley, it helps that the teachers don’t expect the students to memorize the material, but instead focus on the material being learned.

Now in his second academic year at Options, Dylan likes to spend his free time playing video games, hanging out with friends and playing sports.

His passion for sports has led to Physical Education being his favorite subject because he is able to be active.

For Dylan, his favorite thing about Options is Health & Physical Education Specialist Dan Cousineau because he teaches his favorite subject.

With help from his teachers, Dylan has improved greatly in Math and English and enjoys those subjects more now than he ever did in the past. He is grateful for how each teacher approaches the course material in order to ensure that everything is retained.

Still a few years away from graduating high school, Riley & Dylan are still working to determine what they want to pursue after their days in the classroom are done.

Carmel Students of the Month – February

For the month of February, Zoe Daniels and Seth Anderson were selected as the Students of the Month for the Carmel campus of Options.

Zoe Daniels, an 11th grade student, has been enrolled at Options since August 2017. In her free time, Zoe enjoys food, spending time with her cat, shopping, traveling and watching movies.

Her favorite things about Options are the people and the teachers, because they help create a very welcoming atmosphere. Her favorite subject is Integrated Chemistry and Physics because it is a balanced mix of challenging, but fun. The case studies are one of her favorite aspects of the course material.

Since enrolling at Options, Zoe has seen herself improve in how she interacts with friends, classmates and teachers. She has also become more comfortable in being an advocate for herself.

When it comes to describing what Options teachers provide, Zoe appreciates the level of respect that teachers have for all Options students. They don’t just teach the classes, but also put time towards building relationships with each student.

After high school, Zoe plans on attending college and aspires to be an advertising executive and own a Starbucks franchise. She is currently thinking about attending college in Las Vegas.

A 10th grader, Seth Anderson has been an Options student since August 2018. With a passion for music, Seth enjoys playing guitar and drums in his spare time.

His favorite part of Options is the administration and teachers because of how much they care about the students. Current Events is his favorite school subject because of how it involves healthy debating about real-world issues.

For Seth, the area that has seen the most improvement since he enrolled at Options are his grades.

The difference that Seth sees in Options teachers is that they are willing to assist students instead of immediately giving them a poor grade on an assignment.

He is currently still deciding on plans after high school.

 

 

Jocelynn Wagy featured in March issue of Noblesville Magazine

A sophomore at Options-Noblesville, Jocelynn Wagy was featured in the “Student Spotlight” piece for the March issue of Noblesville Magazine.

The full article can be read at the link below:

Options has announced the 2019 Open House schedule, which includes six different dates from March until June.

Applications are also being accepted for those looking to enroll for the 2018-19 & 2019-20 school years.

2019 Open House dates announced

In order to continue our efforts of serving as many students as possible within the state of Indiana, Options Charter Schools will be hosting six Open Houses during this spring and early summer.

Each Open House will run from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. and attendees will be able to tour the respective campus and speak with Options Principals, teachers and other team members.

Full Schedule:
Tuesday, March 12 (Carmel)
Tuesday, March 19 (Noblesville)
Tuesday, April 16 (Carmel)
Tuesday, April 23 (Noblesville)
Tuesday, June 4 (Carmel)
Thursday, June 6 (Noblesville)

The addresses for each campus can be found here.

Unable to attend an Open House? Visit OptionsSchools.org to schedule a private campus tour and you’ll also have a chance to have any questions answered by an Options team member.

Applications are now being accepted for both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.

Once again, Indiana leads the way in state charter school laws

via TheJournal.com // by Dian Schaffhauser

An advocate for public charter schools has released its annual ranking of state school laws. Its big finding: Those states with new or overhauled laws regulating public charters are “bypassing” states that were previously ranked higher in multiple areas, including accountability, flexibility and funding equity.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said the latest round of school laws affecting charters are coming closer to what it considers a “gold standard,” its own “model public charter school law,” which the organization published in 2016.

The Alliance’s index examines 21 categories of what it calls “essential components of strong public charter school law.” These include whether the state puts caps on the number of charters it will allow, who may authorize the schools, how those authorizers and the schools are funded, how enrollment lottery procedures are handled, what special education responsibilities are, whether collective bargaining is required or exempted and how exempt the schools are from other state or district laws regulating public education. Each of the 21 areas is given a weighting between one and four points, and each state’s law on charters is rated. The total score determines where in the ranking a state appears.

Indiana showed up first on the list, as it has for the previous three years as well. As a report on the findings noted, “Indiana’s law does not cap charter school growth, includes multiple authorizers and provides a fair amount of autonomy and accountability.” At the same time, there’s still work “to be done” in Indiana, particularly in filling the funding gap that the Alliance said the state has created between charter school students and their counterparts in district public schools. Another area that needs attention, the report pointed out, was in “strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.”

At the bottom of the list is Maryland, which requires only district authorizers to charter new schools and offers “insufficient accountability and inequitable funding” for charters.

Georgia made the biggest leap in this year’s rankings, moving up 11 spots from No. 27 to No. 16. The rise was credited to new regulations that address state policies on special education, funding and full-time virtual charter schools. Georgia’s charter school law doesn’t cap school growth for charters; lets multiple authorizers charter school applicants; and has “made notable strides” to provide “more equitable funding” to charter schools.

New York experienced the largest drop in the rankings, due to an existing cap on the creation of new charter schools, which leaves “precious little room for growth.”

In many cases, states with new or overhauled laws are bypassing those states that were previously ranked higher, not because the existing leaders have weakened their regs, the Alliance suggested, but because charter school laws “are getting better across the board.”

“As the report shows, many states are improving the quality of their charter school laws,” said National Alliance President and CEO, Nina Rees, in a statement. “At the same time, we recognize that until every state has a high-quality law — and every student who wants to attend a charter school is able to — our work is not done.”

The complete report is openly available on the Alliance’s website.

 

Options to relocate Carmel campus to Westfield

via The Current in Westfield // by Anna Skinner

By fall of 2021, Options Charter School plans to serve more students by moving its current Carmel campus, 530 West Carmel Dr., to the northwest quadrant of Ind. 32 and Gunther Boulevard in Westfield.

Options is an alternative school for students who don’t perform as well in a traditional school setting. Many of Options’ students require a smaller setting due to high anxiety or a social-emotional issue.

Gustin

Options recently joined the Hamilton Boone Madison Special Services Cooperative and began developing partnerships with traditional public schools in the area.

“We started having conversations with Noblesville, Sheridan, Hamilton Heights and, a little later, Westfield, on how we can better partner with them because they’re losing students who aren’t thriving in their environments,” Options President and CEO Mike Gustin said. “So, how can we help identify those students and, for some of those students, we would be a good fit.”

Public school districts will transfer students who would be better suited for Options, and several districts actually provide transportation for those students to either the Noblesville or Carmel Options campuses.

“They bus students who would have attended Sheridan schools to Options Noblesville,” Options COO Michelle Walden said. “They realize it’s a benefit to the family to make sure they get to school.”

Walden

“For that reason, our board decided because of the strong partnership with Sheridan and Westfield, our board decided to move (the Carmel campus) a little further north (to Westfield),” Gustin said.

The move will not only provide a campus closer to those students residing in Sheridan and Westfield, but it also will help accomplish the goal of switching leases to mortgages.

The land and construction of Options Westfield will cost approximately $3 to $3.5 million. The square footage be approximately 15,000 square feet versus 13,000 square feet at Options Carmel. Another benefit is the new Westfield campus will be a one-story building.

Options Westfield plans to offer grades sixth, seventh and eighth at the Westfield campus.

“Currently, our middle school has a waiting list at Noblesville, and we prefer not to have a waiting list because we feel students on a waiting list means students not being served,” Walden said.

The move could happen as early as fall 2020.

Noblesville Student of the Month – January

Hello, my name is Miles and I am a sophomore at Options Charter School in Noblesville. I enjoy playing video games and sleeping in my free time.

One of the best things about Options is the level of freedom students have because it allows us to work at our own pace so we can understand everything being taught in classes.

The freedom has really helped me grow and mature in a lot of ways because it has made me improve my time management. It feels like a college environment because I have had to learn how to be more responsible.

I am more productive in school now than I was before I came to Options because it is a very productive environment and I feel like I am constantly improving. Math is now my favorite subject because I am understanding everything better than I ever have before due to how supportive everyone is.

At Options, the teachers take their time to make sure everyone understands what is being taught and they are more supportive than any teachers I had in the past. The teachers are also extremely supportive as they make sure they first get to know who students are as individuals, so they learn how to get the most out of everyone.

 

For more information about Options, click here. Applications are now being accepted for both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.

Carmel Student of the Month – January

Hello, my name is Daniel and I am a freshman at Options Charter School in Carmel. I enjoy playing video games and am very knowledgeable with computers.

My favorite thing about Options is the smaller class sizes. In my previous school, the classes were much larger making it harder for the teachers to give each student the individual attention they need.

At Options, the teachers understand and acknowledge that not all students learn the same way and they are able to take the time to explain the work to each of us to ensure we understand it.

 

For more information about Options, click here. Applications are now being accepted for both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.