Cross-Sector Support

Newark Public Schools wants more of its graduates to finish college. KIPP charter network wants to help.

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy's graduation ceremony in June. KIPP will train guidance counselors from traditional Newark high schools in how to help students pick the right college.

A group of Newark Public Schools guidance counselors will travel to Texas next week to learn how to help high school students pick the right college. KIPP, the national charter school network, will lead the training.

The so-called “College Counseling Institute,” which will take place in San Antonio, marks the first formal partnership between the district and KIPP, which operates eight schools in Newark and 224 across the country. It signals that Newark’s new superintendent, Roger León, intends to follow through on his promise to foster collaboration between the two sectors — despite a vocal group of critics who see charter schools as siphoning students and resources from Newark’s traditional public schools.

“We are always looking to learn from innovative approaches with a track record of success,” León stated in a press release KIPP sent on Wednesday. “We have a talented, dedicated group of guidance counselors, and look forward to them receiving additional tools and training through the College Counseling Institute to help students select a college and career path that fits their needs.”

Staffers from three Newark high schools — American History, Central, and University — will attend the three-day training, alongside guidance counselors from the Miami-Dade County and New York City public school systems. Counselors from KIPP and another charter network, Aspire Public Schools, will also be at the free training, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (Chalkbeat also receives funding from Gates.)

They will learn about a KIPP program called “College Match,” which the network says it hopes to spread to other charter and traditional schools. The idea is for high school counselors to help students make smart decisions about where to apply to college, based on how likely they are to be admitted, the schools’ graduation rates, available financial aid, and other “fit” factors, such as where the college is located and what majors it offers.

After next week’s training, the participants will reconvene several times throughout the school year and receive support from KIPP college counselors, the network said. According to KIPP, after its counselors in San Antonio supported their counterparts at a local traditional high school during the 2016–17 school year, the number of students at the traditional school who were accepted into four-year colleges more than doubled.

Typically, school districts track how many students graduate high school and apply to college. But increasingly they are monitoring how well their students fare further down the line.

In Newark Public Schools, the high-school graduation rate reached a record 78 percent in 2017. This year, more than 70 percent of graduating seniors are expected to attend two- or four-year colleges, according to the district.

Yet only a fraction of Newark’s graduates will complete college.

Among students who graduated from Newark’s traditional high schools in 2011, only about 13 percent earned a college degree or certificate within six years, according to a forthcoming report from the Newark City of Learning Collaborative
and the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark. Students who graduated from one of the district’s magnet schools, which admit students based on their academic records, had a much higher six-year college completion rate of 42 percent.

Among KIPP’s Newark students, about 38 percent of those who graduated high school in 2011 had earned a college degree within six years, the report found.

KIPP officials believe that one way to improve college completion among their former students is to steer them to colleges with track records of getting first-generation college students to graduate.

“How you go about the college application process can be worth 5 to 10 points in college graduation rates,” KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth told Education Post last year.

Newark’s counselors, however, will face serious constraints as they try to replicate KIPP’s college-match program.

At KIPP’s Newark high school, Newark Collegiate Academy, there are about 75 students for every counselor. In Newark Public Schools, according to state data, there are 600 students per counselor.

Update: This story was updated to reflect that the forthcoming college-outcomes report was a joint project of the Newark City of Learning Collaborative and Rutgers University-Newark.

Nope

Tennessee sides with Memphis and Nashville boards in rejecting four new charter schools

Members of Tennessee's State Board of Education listen to recommendations on charter school appeals during their two-day meeting in Cookeville.

Pitches by four charter groups to open new schools in Memphis and Nashville fell short on Friday as Tennessee’s State Board of Education affirmed the decisions of local school boards to deny their applications.

Voting with recommendations from its staff, the State Board unanimously denied the appeals based on shortcomings in the groups’ plans for academics, operations, or finances.

Among those denied were appeals involving two out-of-state networks. California-based Aspire was seeking to open a middle school in Memphis, and ReThink Forward had hoped to launch a K-8 school in Nashville through a partnership between Florida-based Noble Education Initiative and Trevecca Nazarene University, which is in Nashville.

The other appeals were filed by Memphis-based Capstone Education Group, which already runs three local schools under the state-run Achievement School District, and Avodah International, a new Memphis group seeking to open a high school in the city’s south side.

Tennessee has sought to raise the bar for its charter sector under a recently revised state law and a new school improvement plan in compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In Memphis next spring, seven charter schools are set to close for landing in the bottom 5 percent on the state’s newest list of priority schools.

“We do care deeply about having the best schools in front of our children. … We believe charter schools can be a great option,” said Chairwoman Lillian Hartgrove after the board’s vote. “But by the same token, we have our process, and it’s a very thorough process to ensure that we’re approving charters that should be approved, and not approving charters that should not.”

The appeals were filed after school boards in Shelby and Davidson counties voted down the groups’ applications in August.

Under Tennessee law, the state board can overrule a local body if it deems the decision contrary to the best interests of students, the school district, or the community — and can even oversee the school itself if the local district still declines to work with the charter operator.

But the state board’s staff found all four appeals lacking based on their reviews and public hearings.

Memphis-based Capstone came closest to meeting all the criteria, but its glaring weakness was not identifying a neighborhood or location for its proposed school, said Tess Stovall, director of charter schools for the state board.

Capstone will heed that advice when it submits another application next year, said Executive Director Drew Sippel, whose organization was trying to place the school where it would be needed most based on the latest school closings within Shelby County Schools.

“I think our servant-hearted approach actually became an impediment to our approval as an operator. The next time, we’ll pick a neighborhood well in advance,” Sippel told Chalkbeat after the vote.

The application by ReThink Forward, a group chaired by Trevecca President Dan Boone, was the only one submitted this year to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. While partnering network NEI already operates seven schools in Indiana, Georgia, and Florida, the state’s staff graded their proposal short in all criteria.

This was the fourth year that the Nashville district has shied away from charters. Since 2015, that school board has approved only one application.

By contrast, the charter sector has grown steadily in Memphis and Shelby County since Tennessee opened the door to nonprofit charter schools beginning in 2003. In August, Shelby County’s school board approved nine more charters for next fall, including the six Compass Community Schools that will replace the soon-to-close Jubilee Catholic Schools Network. Once those open, Shelby County Schools will have 63 charters — by far the most in the state.

New mayor

Illinois charter PAC ready to spend millions in Chicago elections

PHOTO: Creative Commons

A pro-charter Illinois PAC will expand its focus from statewide politics into Chicago’s upcoming mayoral and alderman elections, with a plan to infuse millions of dollars into contested races where education is at issue.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for urban public education,” Andrew Broy, president of INCS Action, a political action committee that advocates for charter schools in Illinois, told Chalkbeat. “We expect to spend a seven-figure sum in each of these races.”

INCS Action is the political advocacy arm of the Illinois Network for Charters Schools, and in the past has advocated for lifting a cap on charters statewide and against a statewide charter moratorium.

The expansion of charter schools is a live-wire issue in Chicago, with some advocates arguing that the growth of charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, pushes out resources for neighborhood schools in low-income areas. Charter advocates, meanwhile, argue the charter school model offers a faster way to bring high-quality education to students in Chicago.

Chicago Public Schools has 121 charter schools, down 7 percent from two years ago when the teachers union negotiated a cap on charter enrollment.

The upcoming elections make up just one part of a the network’s larger legislative agenda, with three of its five legislative goals already in place, Broy said. They’ve established the state charter school commission, secured charter funding equity in Illinois, and created a 10-year renewal term for charter contracts, he said, adding, “we still need to secure state facility funding and lift the cap on charter schools nationwide.”

INCS Action has not yet named the candidates it will support, but said its criteria for endorsement include contested races featuring candidates with different positions on charter schools. “For aldermanic races, if we can impact 2,000 or 3,000 votes in a ward, that offers a lot of opportunity,” Broy said.

Aldermen can introduce city-level resolutions against charter openings or ban a charter’s expansion into their ward or, if they are supportive, offer tax-increment financing for charter school buildings or other investments.

The Chicago Teachers Union also runs a PAC, through which it has supported candidates at the state, mayoral and aldermanic levels. The union opposes charter expansion. 

Broy expects his group will support candidates by sending out mailers, canvassing and telephoning voters.

According to election finance data obtained by Illinois Sunshine, the INCS Action PAC has already contributed more than $65,000 to the campaigns of state-level candidates for congressional seats in Illinois since Sept. 11. The largest sums went to the campaigns of Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Burr Ridge, the House minority leader, and Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton.

In state-level races, INCS Action has been a heavy hitter since it started in 2013. This past spring, the organization said in a press release that 13 of the 15 primary candidates for Illinois’ state Senate and House of Representatives supported by the group won their primaries.

The next governor could play a big role in the future of charter schools in Illinois, and by extension in Chicago, but Broy says the committee has declined to endorse a candidate because of the amount of spending required to sway a candidate or the election. The committee gets more bang for its buck focusing on local races.

Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner and challenger J.B. Pritzker have staked out opposing positions on the charter debate, with Rauner a supporter of charter schools, while his opponent says he’d place a moratorium on opening new charters.

Meanwhile, Broy said his political action committee will soon begin throwing money into campaigns he believes they can win. “In some races, we see a pathway to victory with our support.”