Category Archives: Charter Schools

“Not All Children Learn and Develop in the Same Way”: Q&A with Asia J. Norton of Newark

This post is part of a series of interviews conducted for our Eight Cities project. Read all related posts here.

When education policymakers, legislators, and lawmakers operate in isolation, they can seem distant or removed from the communities they serve. So what happens when a policymaker is also a teacher and a parent?

In advance of the summer 2020 relaunch of our Eight Cities project, we spoke with Asia J. Norton, a third-generation Newark teacher and parent who serves on the Newark Board of Education.

As a young student, Asia’s struggles with literacy led her mother to switch Asia into a different school. In this conversation, she talks about ensuring that every Newark parent has the opportunity to choose a school that is the right fit for their child.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you become so deeply involved in education at multiple levels?

I was born into education. Both my grandmother and mother were teachers in Newark. But as a child, I wasn’t served well by my local public school. By the time I reached fifth grade, I barely knew how to read. My mother, being a parent and an educator, recognized that I needed something different. She pulled me out of my public school, used the social security money she received from my father’s death, and enrolled me in a private school.  That experience prompted me to observe the differences between my school and the school where my mother taught — it felt like two different education systems.

I knew policy was driving a lot of the inequities I saw, so after college I [got] involved in education policy. But I knew that if I truly wanted to make an impact on education policy, I needed to be in the classroom and have the practitioner perspective.

Being a teacher is definitely different than talking about teaching. Although my grandmother and mother were teachers, I wasn’t a teacher until I was in front of kindergarten students teaching them how to read. And because of my struggles as a student, I developed a passion for literacy education. As a teacher I continued to see the differences in school quality in my community. I saw how getting the right seat can make an enormous difference. Continue reading

How Recent Federal Coronavirus Legislation Impacts Charter Schools

It’s now been about a month since U.S. public schools began closing in response to the novel coronavirus. During that time charter school leaders have scrambled to put in place distance learning, get kids fed, support staff in learning to work virtually, communicate with parents, and navigate numerous other unanticipated challenges. Leaders juggling so many competing demands hardly have time to pay attention to what’s coming out of Washington. But federal coronavirus response legislation passed in March has numerous implications for charters, along with other public schools and education nonprofits. 

Banner from new resource: "WHAT CHARTER SCHOOLS NEED TO KNOW<br /> Federal COVID-19 Response Legislation and Charter Schools"

That’s why Bellwether teamed up with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools on a new resource to help charter school leaders and support organizations understand how recent federal legislation might affect their schools and students. This resource looks at five areas in which the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) affect public charter schools, including: 

  • New paid sick and family leave requirements that affect charter schools as employers
  • Financial assistance for small- and mid-sized businesses and nonprofits that charter schools may be eligible to access 
  • Provisions that support elementary and secondary schools and state education systems in preventing, preparing for, and responding to effects of the novel coronavirus
  • Non-education funding streams and flexibilities that charter schools and other public schools or education nonprofits may be able to use to cover costs associated with responding the novel coronavirus or better serve children, families, and communities during this public health emergency
  • Provisions related to student loans and the Corporation for National and Community Service that may affect some charter school employees

The “paycheck protection program” loans available to small businesses (including nonprofits and sole proprietorships) through the CARES Act have drawn considerable attention, but most analyses do not address the unique considerations that charter schools must take into account in considering whether or not to pursue these programs. Further, numerous other CARES Act programs and provisions that have gotten less attention can be used to support coronavirus-related costs incurred by education organizations or meet needs of children, families, and communities they serve. For example:  Continue reading

Five Themes, Plus Video, From Bellwether’s Webinar on #COVIDandSchools

Yesterday we hosted a robust webinar conversation about what’s been happening on the ground in American schools and what school leaders need to think about as they meet the remarkable challenges posed by COVID-19.

Bellwether’s Andy Rotherham shared the virtual stage with four pivotal sector leaders — Dan Domenech, American Association of School Administrators; Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy Charter Schools; Nina Rees, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools*; and Sonja Santelises, Baltimore City Public Schools — each of whom candidly talked about the challenges they’ve faced as school founders, district leaders, and organizational heads. While the conversation sometimes traced a grim reality, there were also shared stories of hopefulness, innovation, and success.

If you missed the webinar, a complete video recording with captions is available here and below: 

Here are five key themes that came up in the conversation (quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity):

Students’ humanity comes first.

Continue reading

Media: “Question for the Democratic Presidential Hopefuls — Why Are Government-Funded Nonprofits Fine for Pre-K but Not for K-12?” in The 74

Why do Bernie Sanders and some of his primary rivals think it’s good for government to fund community-based, nonprofit organizations to educate two-year-olds but suddenly an enormous problem when children turn five and start kindergarten?

Read my op-ed in The 74. 

Democratic Candidates are Missing a Chance to Lead on Charter Schools

When asked about charter schools at last week’s Democratic debate in South Carolina, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg hedged, saying he was “not sure they’re appropriate every place.” Other primary candidates dodged the question altogether, pivoting quickly to talking points on teacher pay, school funding, and quality child care. Why are Democratic candidates so reticent to engage on the question of charter schooling? Charter schools are a contentious issue within the Democratic Party to be sure, but by avoiding the issue, candidates are missing an opportunity to demonstrate the kind of leadership the Democratic Party needs. 

Looking at polling data, it’s clear that candidates who stake out positions flatly in favor of or against charter schools are bound to alienate a core Democratic constituency. Democratic candidates don’t want to upset teachers or their unions, which are powerful Democratic interest groups that often oppose charter schools. Polling among teachers supports candidates’ concerns: EdChoice’s 2019 Schooling in America Survey poll found that a majority (55%) of public school teachers support charter schools; however, their margin of support was lower than any other subgroup detailed in the poll results. The 2019 Education Next Poll found that 42% of teachers supported charter schools overall, but only 28% of union-member public school teachers, compared to 50% of non-union public school teachers. And in “Voices from the Classroom 2020,” Educators for Excellence found only 35% support for charter schools among public school teachers. In turn, multiple candidates have endorsed policies that would seriously restrict the growth of the charter sector, including eliminating the federal Charter School Program, banning for-profit charter schools, and supporting proposals to make school districts the only entities that can authorize charter schools.

No candidate has gone so far as to oppose charter schools altogether, however, likely because charter school support is particularly strong within African American and Hispanic/Latinx communities, which are disproportionately served by poorly performing schools, often in segregated neighborhoods, making school choice a powerful issue. Both the EdChoice and Education Next polls found majority support for charter schools among these groups. In fact, just days before the South Carolina primary, where black voters make up the majority of Democratic primary voters, both Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden met with the Powerful Parent Network, a group that supports school choice and garnered attention last November for confronting Warren at a campaign event in Atlanta.

How Democrats navigate the issue also depends on constituencies in various states. Today, Super Tuesday, candidates must court votes from states where public opinion on charter schools varies widely. Across the thirteen states with primaries taking place tonight, we found relevant 2019-20 polling data on charter schools in four of them. Support ranges from just 44% in Tennessee to as high as 76% in North Carolina.

Continue reading