Strengthening the Base in Houston

By Maria Moser, Midwest Regional Director, Education, NCLR

Charter school boards have a unique responsibility as guardians of the public trust that created the charter itself. Yet many small independent charter schools do not have access to training and support for this critical work. Through Strengthening the Base, a project funded by the Walton Family Foundation and launched in 2014, NCLR has trained board members from nine participating schools that collectively serve more than 7,000 students through meetings, webinars, and on-site trainings across the country.

Last month, NCLR and AAMA, an NCLR Affiliate, hosted the Strengthening the Base spring meeting at George I. Sanchez Charter School. Board members and directors from NCLR Affiliate schools across the country gathered for NCLR’s personalized, hands-on training. Participants also had an opportunity to tour the school facility and learn about its work from Principal John De La Cruz.

We have learned a few key lessons from this work so far:

  • Charter school boards want support and connection. Our board members are passionate about their schools and the responsibility that accompanies board leadership, but they are often isolated, particularly those in smaller communities with few charter schools. Our cohort meetings provide a chance to share best practices and strategize about common challenges.

Our board members coming together to share updates.

“The presentations from other schools on best practices were excellent. It was great having an opportunity to see where other schools were in their respective development and growth.” –Participant evaluation

  • Charter school boards are busy and need dedicated time for critical reflection and planning. Charter school boards meet more often than other nonprofit boards—usually monthly. With a constantly revolving academic calendar, meetings can be overwhelmed by small details and immediate concerns. Strengthening the Base provides on-site, full-day retreats for each board to reflect on its priorities and progress. In the second year of this work, each school’s board will revise its self-evaluation and begin self-evaluations for individual board members.

“Meeting as a cohort allows us to step away from the day-to-day work and refocus on the importance of the project.” –Participant evaluation

MAAC Community Charter School’s Education Advisory Committee gathered in October to create goals for the year.

MAAC Community Charter School’s Education Advisory Committee gathered in October to create goals for the year.

  • Charter school boards need help translating education jargon into “real world” meaning. Our board members often bring a great deal of experience from their fields, including law, higher education, nonprofit management, and business, but they may be unsure of how to translate this expertise into the K–12 world, which has its own set of jargon and rules. Orientations for new members and regular updates for everyone on the changing world of K–12 policy are essential. At the Strengthening the Base meeting, NCLR’s Leticia de la Vara provided updates on national education policy issues, including reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Common Core State Standards.
  • Boards need tools. Small charter schools are often unaware of the resources available to help them work more effectively. Through webinars and meetings, Strengthening the Base has given board members the opportunity to share best practices and apply them to their work. At our March meeting, we compared several examples of leadership evaluation policies and standards, and we worked in small groups to create models of how these standards could be used in our own communities. By the end of the school year, all participant schools will have a revised leadership evaluation that reflects their unique situation while using best practices from across the country.
Two board members analyze the Education Leadership Policy Standards established by the Council of Chief State School Officers and compare them to school leadership indicators.

Two board members analyze the Education Leadership Policy Standards established by the Council of Chief State School Officers and compare them to school leadership indicators.

Strengthening the Base has given cohort schools a sense of camaraderie and a set of valuable tools and skills to improve their governance. NCLR will expand this work to the larger NCLR School Network at our Good Governance Summit on July 9–10 in Kansas City, Mo. Register for the summit today!

Unmasking the Common Core: Shedding Light on Its Educational Benefits

By Kevin Myers, Director of Academic Achievement, Youth Policy Institute Charter Schools

40x504_commoncore_72aAt the Youth Policy Institute Charter Schools (YPICS), we have been focusing on the big picture. A huge portion of our summer professional development series was spent refocusing on our school hallmarks, mission, vision, and outcomes. A clear understanding of why we are doing what we are doing is imperative to the success of an organization. Many people jump into a job, a frame of mind, or a pedagogy without fully understanding the big picture or the “why” behind it. This is certainly true for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and many people who do not understand the purpose behind these standards are raising huge concerns about them.

When I was a student trudging my way through the college track for math at my high school, I struggled on homework and tests if the assigned problems differed in any way from the examples given in class. Anything short of substituting new numbers into the algorithm demonstrated in class would send me on a downward spiral of confusion and frustration, leading me to come in early the next day to work with my teacher on my homework. At the time, I did not have any concept of instructional pedagogy. I didn’t know that my teacher was teaching to a very low depth of understanding. It was similar in my other classes. I had always enjoyed reading, but mainly I enjoyed stories for their plot and not necessarily for the deeper meanings and lessons intended to be learned by the reader. I needed support and instruction that would scaffold my learning and thinking; I needed guidance in order to think more analytically.

The instruction required by the CCSS is different than the state standards we have all grown to know and understand, and this is scary for some people. Parents who learned reading, writing, and arithmetic another way are fearful about how they will support their kids as the current generation of students learns concepts in a totally new instructional paradigm. Teachers who have been using a certain set of strategies for their entire career are worried about how to instruct their classes with this new set of standards.

CCSS_boys_303x197But a lot of this discomfort is fear of the unknown. Many people are attacking the CCSS without reading them or fully understanding that the underlying purpose of these standards is better comprehension. We don’t just want our kids to be able to “do problems” or to simply read a text; we want our kids to push to deeper levels of analysis and understanding that will help them succeed in college and in their careers. And that is what is at the heart of Common Core State Standards.

At Youth Policy Institute Charter Schools in Los Angeles, we have fully embraced the Common Core standards. We see them as a set of requirements that will guide our teachers to do what they do best: teach! We feel that teaching the Common Core is not new and different—it’s just quality instruction. Our goal has always been college readiness for all of our students. At YPICS, we ask our kids to CRACLL: to be College Ready, Active Citizens, and Lifelong Learners. The depth of understanding required by the Common Core allows our teachers to continue to develop lessons that will help our kids to not only CRACLL, but to also be ready for college and for their careers.

As a nation of students returns to school, teachers need to be ready to implement the Common Core State Standards. Instead of facing this new endeavor with fear and apprehension, I would encourage our country’s teachers to dive in and give the CCSS their all. Teachers want success for their kids, and quality implementation of the Common Core State Standards will help our kids to get there.

A Mother’s View on College- and Career-Ready Standards

By Leticia de la Vara, Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation, NCLR

(Cross-posed from Mom’s Rising)

ACAdiabetesblog_pic1When my daughter was born 12 years ago, I was a young, scared mom. I wasn’t sure about much in terms of mothering, but I knew one thing: my daughter would own her future and deserved the best from me in order to get there. As mothers, we are always trying to do what’s best for our children. We worry not only about their health and safety, but also about their education, especially when it concerns meeting educational benchmarks appropriate for their age. Studies have conclusively determined that parental involvement in education has a positive impact on the short- and long-term success of young students. Still, many of us have felt limited in what we can do to shape or reinforce what our children are learning in school. We have often felt more like observers than actual participants, but new school standards are helping to change that.

Across the country the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are being implemented in public and charter schools. This new approach sets standards for what kids should know by certain grades regardless of their income level or ZIP code. The CCSS will also allow school districts to identify ways to develop curricula to meet the needs of their students while benchmarking them to national and international standards to ensure our children’s success. Additionally, it gives parents the opportunity to get more involved in preparing their children for the future.

GraduationIn 44 states, educators and parents alike have shown overwhelming support for the Common Core. Our teachers need flexibility in the classroom that gives them more time to emphasize a deeper analysis of subjects rather than focusing on quick memorization, something which the CCSS aims to do. It is raising the bar for our children and reawakening in them a love of learning that connects what they are absorbing in the classroom to the evolving world around them.

In the Latino community specifically, these standards will allow our students—and us as parents—to ensure that our children are challenged in the classroom and able to compete with peers in their state, across the country, and around the world once they graduate. In my state, Arizona, Latinos represent 47 percent of the population under 19; their success is closely tied to the success of the state’s economy. Yet a gap in educational attainment exists between Latinos and their White counterparts throughout the country. Some of this disparity is due to economic factors and language proficiency.

Our children will inherit an increasingly competitive job market that requires them to be sharp critical thinkers, quick problem solvers, and effective communicators. That is why NCLR supports the Common Core State Standards as a national imperative. It is crucial that we do all we can to prepare the emerging generation for their future jobs and make America’s economy more robust and competitive as a result. The Common Core State Standards will help close the existing educational gap by raising the bar and ensuring that all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status, have an equal chance to succeed—giving them the best opportunity to own their futures. That’s all a mother could want.

Weekly Washington Outlook – April 7, 2014

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:


The House:

The House will meet Monday afternoon to consider the Budget and Accounting Transparency Act of 2014 (H.R. 1872).  This bill would change the way the Congressional Budget Office scores legislation.  The House will also take up three bills under suspension of the rules:

On Tuesday and the balance of the week, the House will vote on the Baseline Reform Act of 2013 (H.R. 1871) and H. Con. Res. 96, Congressman Ryan’s FY2015 budget.  The former would require the Congressional Budget Office to use “fair value” as the basis for its cost estimates for programs that make direct loans or provide loan guarantees.  The measure also would require the income and expenses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to be treated as “on budget,” meaning that budget authority and outlays would be counted when determining the government’s spending and deficits.

The Senate:

The Senate will vote on passage Monday evening for a bill that would extend lapsed unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed.  Later in the week, the Senate will take-up S. 2199, a bill sponsored by Sen. Mikulski (D-Md.) that would impose tougher standards on employers defending themselves against accusations of wage discrimination based on gender.  The bill would require employers to pay punitive damages and would also establish a grant program to train women in negotiating skills.  Several judicial nominations are likely to be considered throughout the week as well.

White House:

On Monday, the president will travel to Prince George’s County, Md. to host an event announcing the winners of a competition he launched last fall to bring together educators and employers to redesign the high school experience to give students access to real-world career skills and college-level courses.  On Tuesday, President Obama will host an event at the White House, joined by Lilly Ledbetter, to announce two new executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women.  On Wednesday, the president and the First Lady will travel to Houston to attend Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee events.  The president is also expected to visit Ft. Hood, Texas.  On Thursday, President Obama and the First Lady will travel to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas.  The president will deliver remarks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act.  On Friday, Mr. Obama will travel to New York to deliver remarks at the National Action Network’s 16th Annual Convention.

Also this week and beyond:

Emergency Unemployment Compensation – This week, the Senate is expected to pass a five-month retroactive extension (through May) of unemployment benefits that expired at the end of December.  The measure had previously stalled over disagreements about how to pay for the extension.  A bipartisan group of Senators reached an agreement several weeks ago to offset the cost through “pension smoothing.”  This maneuver would give companies more time to make payments to their pension funds, meaning their short-term taxable income would increase because they could claim fewer deductions. Other offsets include extending customs user fees through 2024 and allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat-rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.  While Speaker Boehner has previously said that he would bring an unemployment insurance extension to the floor if it was offset, he recently expressed concerns with the feasibility of a retroactive extension.  Majority Leader Eric Cantor did not include this in his legislative agenda memo to members.

Paycheck FairnessTo commemorate Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, the Senate and the Administration will focus on pay equity issues.  Following passage of the unemployment extension, the Senate will turn to the Paycheck Fairness Act.  The bill would direct the Department of Labor to work with employers to eliminate pay disparities, largely through allowing employees to discuss compensation openly.  It would also set up a grant program to provide negotiating training to women.  In tandem with Senate consideration of the Paycheck Fairness Act, the president will sign an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation.  The Executive Order does not compel workers to discuss pay nor require employers to publish or otherwise disseminate pay data – but does provide a critical tool to encourage pay transparency, so workers have a potential way of discovering violations of equal pay laws and able to seek appropriate remedies.  The president will also sign a Presidential Memorandum instructing the Secretary of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the Department of Labor summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by sex and race.  The Department of Labor will use the data to encourage voluntary compliance with equal pay laws and allowing more targeted enforcement by focusing efforts where there are discrepancies, reducing burdens on other employers.

ImmigrationThe discharge petition of H.R. 15 is up to 191 signatories (all Democrats).  Elsewhere, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week outlined administrative actions the Obama Administration should take to suspend, delay, or dispense with the deportations of immigrants who would qualify for legal status under the Senate-passed immigration overhaul bill.

Budget/Appropriations – The House this week will vote on Congressman Ryan’s FY2015 budget, released and marked-up last week. While the budget adheres to the spending limits established in the Bipartisan Budget Agreement, the substance of this budget is nearly identical to years past and will not be taken up the Senate. Much like the president’s budget request, this bill is primarily a messaging document to establish priorities and principles. In addition to the Ryan Budget, the House will consider two bills that would change the way the Congressional Budget Office makes budgetary projections.  Elsewhere, administration officials are continuing this week to appear before House and Senate committees of jurisdiction.  Before House Appropriations Subcommittees, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen will appear Tuesday; OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker on Wednesday; and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on Thursday.  Senate Appropriations Subcommittees will also hear from Secretary Pritzker this week, along with Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

HealthHealth and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will appear Thursday before the Senate Finance Committee to speak to the President’s FY2015 budget request.  In the House, the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee will hold a hearing Tuesday on the ACA’s employer mandate and reporting requirements.

Housing Finance ReformThe Senate Banking Committee has scheduled a mark-up of the Johnson-Crapo housing finance overhaul bill for April 29.

EducationHouse Education and Workforce Committee Chairman Kline (R-Minn.) will hold a hearing Tuesday morning on the recently introduced Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act (H.R. 10).  The bipartisan bill from the Chairman and Ranking Member of the committee would reauthorize charter programs.  From the Administration, President Obama on Monday will hold an event in Maryland to announce the winners of a competition to reshape high schools to better prepare students for college and career as part of the Youth CareerConnect program.  Vice President Biden will also speak on Monday on similar issues announcing the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium.  The Consortium is designed to help students earn credit for apprenticeships that will transfer to community colleges.

Minimum Wage – A procedural vote to advance a minimum wage hike has been postponed again and is now expected in the Senate closer to the end of April or early May.

Tax ReformLast week, the Senate Finance Committee marked-up an “extenders” bill to revive nearly all of the tax credits that expired at the end of last year retroactively.  The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing this week to examine making permanent certain business tax credits.  This is the first of several hearings planned in the House on extenders.  Elsewhere, the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday will hold a hearing on unenrolled tax preparers, those who lack professional certification, and is expected to show the need for greater oversight.

Learning from Leaders: The Common Core & Latino-serving Charter Schools

The Common Core State Standards movement is well into the implementation phase and we want to make sure you’re ready for all that entails. Join us for our next “Learning from Leaders” webinar series for a talk Latino-serving charter schools can implement CCSS sucessfully. Click on the image to register or go here.

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