Posted in character, character education, charter school, education, education policy, election, leadership, Parenting, school choice, school reform, teaching

A Post Election Day Message for Teachers

Dear Team of Wonderful Teachers,

The day after an election presents some unenviable responsibilities for teachers, principals, and families. A tough job on any given day comes with particular challenges for teachers the day after a Presidential election. One of the biggest questions teachers grapple with is what to tell the students. I think the most important thing you can tell them is that you love them, that nothing has changed in terms of your love and commitment to them, and that above all, remind them you will be there for them, you will keep them safe, and you will remain a steady, loving force in their lives. For many children, school is a place of security, a safe haven, and school represents an important symbol of continuity in their lives. The continuity and care that you provide means everything to a child, sometimes, more than you even know on the surface. Remind them that America is a great nation and it was built to survive great change and the peaceful change of power during election periods, and as President Obama said last night, remind them that no matter what, “the sun will rise tomorrow”. Do lean on our Marva Collins Creed and our great Character Education program and other teachable moments today and always to continue to teach kindness, love, tolerance and respect. We are one great nation built on hopes and dreams and the idea that everyone can be successful and has the right to pursue happiness and freedom. My heart is with every single teacher today and with every single child. Through our own living examples of love and kindness, we will continue to change the world for our children and families we serve!

Peace,

Dr. Satow

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Posted in charter school, teaching

A Message For Charter School Teachers During National Charter Schools Week and Teacher Appreciation Week, 2016

In recognition of Natiteacher_badgeonal Charter Schools Week and also Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, I want to take the opportunity to share my appreciation and gratitude for our incredible Performance Academies team of teachers, and 14 years of successful work together alongside our students and families. I also want to give a shout out to all the hard working charter school teachers and charter school leaders across the US during this week of mutual celebration.

Performance Academies teachers represent 14 successful charter schools in Ohio and Michigan, working with some of these states’ neediest kids. Over 400 staff serve 5,000 students, a 20% increase over last year. Teachers in our 11 Ohio schools alone educate 3100 students who are 89% low income, 87% minority, and 23% special education students. Yet our kids consistently demonstrate academic progress and achievement due to the work of our great teachers.

Performance Academies charter schools typically outperform local districts and earn high value-added growth scores. Our students exceed statewide performance in two key demographic areas—African American students and special needs students. Importantly, our internal data show that the longer students are enrolled in Performance Academies schools, the higher their academic performance becomes.

Right here in Columbus where we are centrally located, our 8th grade scholars go on to top performing high schools such as Cristo Rey, Bishop Hartley the Graham School, Metro High School, the Charles School, St. Charles Preparatory School and the Columbus Academy and others. In Detroit, our students have been accepted to well thought of Cass Technical and Renaissance High School. Our middle school students are well prepared for success in these great high schools thanks to our dedicated teachers.

Based on our academic performance, the Broad Foundation recognized us in 2012 as being among the top charter operators in the nation. That recognition led us to the important turnaround work we are doing in Detroit, having converted three former Detroit Public Schools into successful charter schools that had been among the 15 lowest performing schools in the nation. Before our arrival, violence was high, attendance was low, and learning was nonexistent—0% proficiency in both reading and math. Yet in 3 short years, all 3 are the highest performing K-8 campuses within the 15-school Detroit recovery group on key indicators of: academics, teacher retention, truancy, fiscal, and other important measures. This critical work in Detroit in turn led to the exciting turnaround work we are now doing in Cleveland with a previously struggling charter school, and also back in Columbus.

While we have our own unique story, Performance Academies is not unique in that, like many other Ohio and Michigan charter schools, its charters serve a largely at-risk population of students, many of them desperately behind—which is one reason why it is so important for us to be celebrating the hard working teachers among us this week.

Nationally, the data are similar. Across the US, students in urban charter schools outperformed their district-run school peers by gaining 40 extra days annually in math achievement and 28 additional days in reading (CREDO, 2015). Results are shown to be even more pronounced for minority, low income students, and the results increase the longer students are enrolled in a charter school (CREDO, 2015; CREDO, 2013).

Charter school teachers are truly special. You are the most innovative, creative, and dedicated people I know. Like most teachers, you more than likely came to teaching for the joy that teaching brings, and you want to make a difference. You came to a charter school because like most of us here, you are little bit different, and a whole lot special!

Yet charter school teachers are on the front lines of closing the achievement gap. Charter school teachers are expected to engage every child, provide differentiated instruction, track student data, close sometimes 2 & 3 year learning and behavioral learning gaps for students in a single academic year, remain “on call” for parents in an ever connected world of email and technology, and you must stay ahead of the next set of moving targets in testing, accountability, and standards year after year.

On some days, it may feel like your joy of teaching is imperiled. When we have the Washington Post perpetuating myths just this year that charters “turn away the most difficult students”, when we hear reports unfairly critical of charter schools, when the larger field of education feels like a pressure pot of compliance, tick boxes and check points, and oh if you’re a special education teacher, you know the crush of paperwork and meetings while providing quality service delivery to your kids…I know sometimes you have wondered am I really making a difference? Or, perhaps you’ve wondered, is it all worth it?

But the truth is, you are making a difference. You and the children and the parents we serve are the heart of this movement, the reason we are all here. You drive the mission of charter schooling forward.

As a former middle school math teacher, principal and superintendent. I know changing the lives of the neediest children is the most important work we can be called to do. That for the thousands of children we serve between all of us, we are making a difference, we are providing something better, a quality choice for an education to help families break free from the shackles of miseducation and low standards, something parents and families desperately want. Parents want something better for their children than a failing neighborhood school. You are freeing families every single day who might otherwise be trapped by a zip code. Together we are increasing achievement, yes, but we are doing so much more than that.

Our children need us. We are the ones who have shown up for this work (while simultaneously embracing the ultimate in academic accountability-possible school closure if we fail). No one else has showed up for this work on these terms. Our kids are counting on us to help them succeed.

I find my inspiration in all of you this week, and in our children always. I especially want to thank our incredible, professional teachers and school leaders at Performance Academies who are making a difference in one of our 14 schools. Thank you charter school teachers and thank you for all you do for America’s 2.9 million public charter school children…and growing stronger.

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Dr. Myrrha Satow (aka The SchoolMarm) is Founder and President of Performance Academies Schools of Ohio and Michigan. She holds a Superintendent license, and is a former middle school teacher, principal and Superintendent. Her background is in educational policy, special education and school psychology. She wrote her dissertation in 2000 on “Why parents of students with disabilities choose charter schools.” She and her husband, Clint, are the parents of 9 beautiful children and 4 grandchildren.
Posted in charter school, eduation reform, education, education policy, education reform, policy, school choice, school reform

Chipping Away at Charter School Myths, One Canard at a Time…

As the Founder of Performance Academies representing 13 successful charter schools in Ohio and Michigan, we work with some these states’ academically neediest students.  Our 10 Ohio schools educate 2600 students alone who are 89% low income, 87% minority, and 23% special education. Yet our students consistently demonstrate academic progress and achievement. Six of our Ohio schools received an A or B in value added growth on the new state report card. Our Toledo school was a top performer on the 3rd grade OAA in the Toledo area, and nearly all of our schools had few or no students retained in 3rd grade under the new Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Sixty-nine of our Columbus area middle school students were accepted into top performing high schools last year, including Cristo Rey, the Graham School, Metro High School, the Charles School, and the prestigious Columbus Academy.  Significantly, our internal data shows that the longer students are enrolled in our schools, the higher their academic performance becomes.

In Michigan, we are seeing similar positive results. Three years ago the State of Michigan created a recovery school district, the Education Achievement Authority, which assumed control of the 15 lowest performing public schools in Michigan—all, not surprisingly, in Detroit. Performance Academies submitted and won a RFP to convert three of these campuses to charter schools. Proficiency rates at these campuses were at 0% in reading and math. Violence was high, attendance was low, and learning was nonexistent. Yet in two short years we have been moving these campuses out of failing status, pulling one out of priority status in the first year in the nation’s worst zip code for crime and violence, and all 3 are among the 3 highest performing K-8 campuses within the 15-school group.

While Performance Academies has its own unique story, Performance Academies is not unique in that, like many other Ohio and Michigan charter schools, the charters serve an urban and largely at-risk population of students.

One of the biggest and oldest canards about charter schools is that they “cream the best students.” I saw this statement repeated just last week in the Huffington Post. They said, “With few exceptions, charters cherry-pick their students, admitting only those students who do well on tests,” This was written by Frank Breslin, a retired New Jersey school teacher with a regular column there. The truth couldn’t be any more different.

Kids enroll in charter schools more often than not because they have had a bad experience elsewhere. They’ve been bullied, ignored, or unsuccessful for some other reason. Think about it . . . why would a family leave a school if they were happy with it and were successful behaviorally and academically? They wouldn’t. They don’t. It’s the bad experiences and the unhappiness that drive families to charters.  In most cases, this unhappiness is reflected in low student performance data.

Yet at a charter school, these students thrive. They thrive because our charters offer a safe, secure learning environment where students get their needs met, where parents matter, where parents have real opportunities to be involved, where principals and teachers respond and communicate and listen to their concerns, where staff know their children, and most importantly, where student needs are put first, not the needs of the grown ups.

And so, who is responsible for turning around the academic lives of these students? Our teachers. They know this, and, like charters more broadly, charter school teachers are on the front lines of closing student achievement gaps—reaching out to these previously academically or behaviorally unsuccessful students and giving them a fresh start in learning. Given the strong connection between K-12 learning and future life expectations, it is not too much say that our teachers give these students, who’ve not been successful elsewhere, a fresh start at life.

That is something to celebrate!

Posted in charter school, education, education policy, education reform, policy, school choice, school reform

Next Steps for Ohio’s Charter Schools: Preserving the Future for Kids and Families

In 2001, when the Ohio charter school movement was still in its infancy, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, along with 17 other education organizations covering teachers, principals, superintendents, elected school boards, treasurers, and custodians filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of our schools—threatening the very existence of the program. For three years, we battled this juggernaut all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, ultimately vindicating the program. Charter schools were preserved as an important educational option for Ohio’s students and families, allowing kids to attend a quality, tuition free school where they were otherwise trapped in a failing school because of their zip code.

While the State of Ohio did its part in defending the Department of Education, Ohio’s charter schools themselves stepped up and did what was necessary to protect their interests.  My husband, Clint, and I led the effort to rally our young movement in our own defense—both in the courts and in the public. Clint, then director of the Ohio Community School Center, coordinated the legal defense project and was its fiscal agent. I, then the Executive Director of the Education Resource Center in Dayton, helped rally the Southern Ohio area charter schools to the cause and helped fundraise. With long-time charter school attorney Amy Borman, Constellation Schools president Rick Lukich, and others, Clint and I directed the legal effort, brilliantly led by Jones Day partner and Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools (OAPCS) Chairman, Chad Readler.

Back in 2001, Ohio had 96 charter schools with barely 25,000 students enrolled. Yet we were able to raise $650,000 in project support from several charter operators. Constellation, White Hat, Horizon, Summit Academies and independent schools alike supported the effort. Together with other fundraising efforts, the project accumulated over $1 million dollars.

While much of this fund paid the costs related to the legal battle, some was used to support PR efforts that included:

  1. Relevant research highlighting performance and funding issues
  2. Brochures and pamphlets supporting the program
  3. Radio spots and direct mail pieces
  4. Grassroots support for then State Rep. Jon Husted’s charter improvement bill, HB 364
  5. Coordination of legislative testimony, statehouse events, and public rallies

Ultimately, the case was won.  HB 364 passed (barely).  In Ohio, we still operate under the rules established by that landmark bill. And since then, for more than a decade, many of us have attended many more school choice and charter school rallies, legislative hearings, and more. Many have battled in newspapers and most have worked hard to keep staff, families, and the students we serve informed of the real truths about charter schooling. One might argue on some levels that the existential threats to our program have been kept at bay. But they have not. Those threats have not been kept at bay, not at all.

In fact, the opponents of charter schools have not given up. Today, charter opponents have been working harder than ever to cripple the program through other means—and they are succeeding. While we have, at best, been dabbling at a 1970’s PR campaign, our opponents have rolled out a 21st century campaign against charter schools, heavily funded, well organized, and with a strong purpose—to end charter schooling in Ohio.

Let’s review the current Ohio charter landscape:

  • First, charter school opponents have created a new and grossly misleading website devoted to highlighting charter schools’ supposed performance failures and supposed excessive funding. They are spending thousands to push this website tool into parents’ Facebook pages, to other social media connections and more. The inaccuracies on this site are deplorable. We checked our 10 Ohio schools on their site, and I can tell you nearly every one of our school’s data are grossly inaccurate. Charter schools must define themselves. We must tell our own story.
  • Second, legislative reforms are underway behind closed doors to “revamp” Ohio’s charter school law.  Major “reforms” will indeed happen this spring.  While we might all agree that the law could stand some improvement, and though we have a few friends on the working group, gone are the days of Sally Perz or Jon Husted. Gone are the days of having powerful charter school champions in the Statehouse, and many who used to be friends of choice and charters and are now more interested in reforming the program instead of supporting it. Charters, for better and worse, have been lumped into the accountability and reform movement while at the same time much of the intent and heart of parent initiated school choice is being threatened. We must define ourselves. We must tell our story.
  • Third, the press now in Ohio falls into two camps:  1) those openly hostile to charter schools who simultaneously release carefully orchestrated charter school propaganda on the same day and, 2) those who are eager to pounce on the latest self-proclaimed “scandal.”  Media understanding of, and sympathy to, charter schools is at an all time low. We must define ourselves. We must tell our story.
  • Fourth, charter opponents are quietly working to have charter school operators, board members, teachers and principals declared “public officers,” subject to open records, audits, and ethics laws. A case dealing with this issue for charter school operators currently sits before the Ohio Supreme Court.  Several efforts have been made to fix this issue legislatively, though without success. We must define ourselves. We must tell our story.
  • Fifth, Ohio’s new accountability system is creating new challenges for charter schools (and traditional public schools alike). No longer do reporters or legislators look at passage rates or index scores. Instead, they focus on the D’s and F’s in  a single subgroup or another. This misleads the public and fuels inaccurate claims that the charter program is either failing or in need of reform.  In our case, 6 of our schools received an A or a B in the value added category. No one published that story or frankly any other of our charter schools’ success stories. These report cards are emboldening enemies and turning supporters into reformers. With new tests on the horizon, I am fearful of what the media spin on those results will be. We must define ourselves. We must tell our story.
  • And lastly, after years of working to overcome the image, Ohio is once again viewed as the “Wild West” of the national charter school movement, in need of reform, in need of more closures, and in need of more oversight. Closing bad charter schools should happen, but it won’t stop the opponents, and it won’t make failing traditional public schools suddenly accountable for their academic disasters. Failing districts will sally forth with few or no consequences. Truly, every academically “lackluster” charter school could be closed tomorrow and the opponents will continuously and relentlessly pursue a soft underbelly and surely seek something new to attack. We must define ourselves.  We must tell our story.

These examples highlight three important aspects of our current situation.  First, these are all things that are happening to us right now. Second, the response from the charter school community in Ohio has been uncoordinated and inadequate.  And third, if we do nothing things are going to get much, much, worse. This needs to change.

So here’s what Ohio charter schools need to preserve the program for tomorrow’s families:

1. We need an organized response to those who seek to stamp out the movement.

2. We need to give those supporters that we have real time data they can use in their efforts.

3. We need positive press releases, social media campaigns, meetings with editorial boards, and more. If the program is to have reform, we need as many seats at the table as possible.

4. We need research that provides true apples-to-apple comparisons between charter schools and demographically similar district schools.

5. We need to promote our successes while having a strong, consistent response to negative news stories—both real and fabricated.

The best way we can do that right now is to support the efforts of this organization under the leadership of its new CEO and President, Dr. Darlene Chambers.  Many of you know, Clint and I began an initiative last year to create a viable PR campaign. Some of you attended initial meetings and shared your thoughts and helped us vet PR firms. But, the proper place for this really is with OAPCS. As such, with a new leader at the helm, OAPCS is taking immediate steps to address the public relations crisis in Ohio.  I cannot stress enough how important it is for all of us to support this effort. I know that we each engage in our own advertising efforts as we recruit students. Those efforts, however, do not help us in the press, nor in the Statehouse, nor in the Governor’s Office.

Once again, we need to step up as a community to share our success stories, promote our data, and have a voice in our own destiny. We need to tell our story.  If some of us continue to fly under the radar, if this is our PR strategy, if this is our plan, we will fail. Charters have nothing to gain by flying under the radar. As for me, I’m not afraid. It’s funny, once you’ve been knocked around a little bit, it’s quite empowering. I hope you’ll agree.