United We Stand

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United We Stand

Charter School Educators Offer Competing Perspectives On Educating For Citizenship

by Alan Gottlieb, Foreword by Terry Ryan 

“Good citizenship is when effective citizens do simple but powerful things on a daily basis that keeps our country strong and free.” – Benjamin Franklin

As a Boise-based education nonprofit committed to improving opportunities for Idaho’s families and young people Bluum cares deeply about what is taught in our schools, and how it is taught. There is great debate and much written recently on education and what our children should be taught about American history, American government and what it means to be a responsible citizen in 21st century America. This conversation, like much else in American society, is hotly debated and polarizing. See the New York Times’ 1619 Project and the 1776 Report, created by the President’s Advisory Commission, for evidence of the divide.

To better understand the opportunities and challenges of teaching history and civics in our politically charged times, and to highlight schools that are doing the work well, we commissioned veteran education journalist Alan Gottlieb to profile four charter school networks actively engaged in the battle to educate and develop American citizens. These schools have different approaches, and they offer a diversity of viewpoints. But, through this we hope there is in fact a better understanding of truth that emerges.

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The Communities of Excellence Project

Charter School Facility Refinancing Guide & Toolkit

Prepared by the Charter School Facilities Center

In 2018, a consortium of partners came together around Idaho’s Communities of Excellence federal Charter School Program (CSP) grant to lead and accelerate the expansion of high-quality charter schools across the state. Bluum serves as project lead for the consortium and is joined in this work by the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, the Idaho State Board of Education, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and Building Hope.

As part of our shared commitment under the Communities of Excellence grant to provide “high quality technical assistance” and “share best practices” to CSP subgrantee schools, Bluum issued an RFP for a “first-class charter schools facilities refinancing guide.” The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (National Alliance) Charter School Facility Center was awarded the competitive contract for the refinancing guide.

This peer-reviewed guide and toolkit, authored by Elise Balboni, will be a valuable asset for not only charter schools in Idaho, but other schools across the country that are in the process of financing or refinancing their charter school facilities. It is our sincere hope this guide will help schools maximize every dollar spent on facilities so they can spend more in the classroom with their students.


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Idaho's Communities of Excellence Charter School Grant

Cohort 1 Baseline Evaluation 2020

Prepared by the Idaho Policy Institute

In 2018, a consortium of leaders in education (Idaho Public Charter School Commission, Idaho State Board of Education and three non-profits, Bluum, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation and Building Hope) came together to apply for a competitive Charter Schools Program (CSP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education (see Appendix A) to launch, replicate and expand charter schools across the state. As a result, the Idaho’s Communities of Excellence (COE) consortium was awarded a $17.1 million CSP grant. This award was increased to $22.5 million in 2019. Over the grant’s five years, Idaho’s COE program will administer the majority of grant funding (90%) and technical assistance to 20 Idaho public charter schools.

This report serves as the baseline report for the first cohort of CSP subgrantees and uses data from the 2018/19 school year. The first cohort consists of five charter schools (see Table 1). One of the objectives of the COE project is to ensure educationally disadvantaged and rural students are represented in the subgrantee schools. Table 1 includes demographic data for subgrantee schools, all Idaho schools and all charter schools in Idaho to act as a baseline for measuring future progress toward this goal.

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Idaho's Education Earnings Gap

Research & Recommendations by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute

“Education pays.” This well-worn adage certainly applies to Idaho. According to Professor Winters in this new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the mean earnings differential between an Idahoan with just a high school diploma and one with a bachelor’s degree is about $32,000 a year. This disparity is even greater for residents of the Boise metro area,where workers holding just a high school diploma earn $37,780 less per year on average than college graduates.

This report provides a series of recommendations for improving alignment between K-12 education and employment. The effort to make the high school diploma more valuable to employers is critical for our high school students who won’t “go on” to post-secondary education. Professor Winters and the Fordham Institute have done a nice job of highlighting the challenge. Importantly, they have also provided concrete proposals and policies being utilized in other states to better connect high school work to well-paying employment.

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Charter School Performance in Idaho 2019

Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), studied Idaho state charter students’ performance over three years, beginning with the 2014-2015 school year and ending with the 2016-2017 school year. The report found that on average, students in Idaho charter schools experience similar learning gains in math and stronger learning gains in reading compared to their traditional public school student (TPS) peer. Perhaps the greatest benefit is for students in rural charters. Those children outperform their traditional public school peers by 30 days of learning in reading and 59 days in math.

However, the report also reveals that charter schools in Idaho do little to close achievement gaps among various student subgroups. It is important to note that charters also do not increase these achievement gaps. This is true for Hispanic students, who fall behind their white peers by equal measures in both traditional district schools and public charters.

Charter students in poverty have a 30-day deficit in reading and a 47-day deficit in math, while their district peers have a deficit of 47 days in both reading and math. These same trends hold for English learners and students in special education. Also Bad is that 17 percent of charter schools have results that are significantly worse than those of their district peers in reading and 20 percent are under-performing in math.

CREDO also reveals that online charter school students in Idaho on average gain less over a year than do students who attend brick-and-mortar charter schools. Online charter students are behind by 47 days of learning in reading and 77 days in math.

Bluum sees these results as the baseline for our work implementing Idaho’s Communities of Excellence $17 million federal Charter School Program grant. In that grant, we promised to “increase the number of quality charter school seats by 8,200 students, especially for our most educationally disadvantaged and rural students, through start-up, replication and expansion.” In practice, this means that in five years’ time, we expect to see positive performance impacts among charters for some of our most disadvantaged students.

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Fairness in Facilities

Why Idaho Public Charter Schools Need More Facilities Funding

To document the financial challenges facing Idaho public charter schools, and to help us find ways to improve how charters finance facilities in the Gem State, we engaged the research team at Bellwether Education Partners. In 2016, Bellwether issued Building Excellence: How Helping Charters Access Facilities Can Improve Opportunity for Idaho Kids. In that report, the crack research team at Bellwether surveyed 26 of the state’s brick and mortar charter school leaders (which represented about 65 percent of the charters in Idaho), and fully half of the respondents “agreed or strongly agreed that they had to make ‘substantial compromises to what we wanted’ when securing a facility for their school.”

Fast forward to 2018, and charter schools are still making compromises and struggling to finance facilities. But how, exactly, do public charter school construction projects compare to district construction projects? What decisions and trade-offs do charter leaders make? How can policymakers equalize access to facilities funding for all public schools?

In their new report, Fairness in Facilities: Why Idaho Public Charter Schools Need More Facilities Funding, Bellwether sheds light on these questions.

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Shackled Education Pioneers

Idaho's Public Charter Schools at 20

As Idaho marks 20 years since the first charter schools opened in the Gem State in 1998 it is worth looking back at how the public charter movement started here. That’s the primary purpose of this report. But, as one revisits the history of Idaho’s public charter school program it is helpful to note how the effort has strayed from its original intent of allowing significant space for education innovation.

When launched back in 1998 the legislative intent of the state’s charter school program was “to serve as learning laboratories with hope that successes could potentially be applied throughout the larger public education system.”1 But, like in other states, the political compromises required to pass the original charter law minimized the actual space for innovation. Worse, Idaho’s charter law has been modified almost annually and many of these changes have reduced even further the ability of public charters to really operate much differently from traditional public schools.

After 20 years of effort, it is time to revisit the big ideas behind charter schools in Idaho. How can we return to the charter idea of accountability for performance in exchange for true operational flexibilities and the right to be different in uses of money, time, technology and non-certified staffing? Idaho’s system of education needs this engine of reform, and the state’s families and children want it.

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Quality By Design

Bluum 2017 Annual Report

We care deeply about helping create and support high-quality schools across Idaho. It doesn’t matter to us whether they’re private, charter public, or district innovation. We are committed to what we call the ‘20 in 10’ strategy; creating 20,000 new high-performing Idaho school seats in 10 years (2024).This is why we seek out, vet, and support innovative leaders and high-performing school models; ‘20 in 10’ schools are quality by design. Quality is our focus, because quality is what counts. In other words, Bluum is governance-neutral. We support promising models with technical assistance, grant funding, talent recruitment and development, help securing a facility – anything it takes to provide more Idaho children with a world-class education.

This report is a way to provide public accountability for what we are doing, to document the lessons learned, and to highlight and share some of the issues and concerns that we, in partnership with the schools, seek to address in coming months and years.

Parents' Guide to Idaho's School and Learning Choices

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Parents' Guide

To School & Learning Options in Idaho

We’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to visit many schools across the Gem State – public district, public magnet, public charter, alternative, private, parochial and online. No matter the school type or the location, one common theme we’ve found in every school is parents who want the very bets opportunities for their children.

We’ve created this Parents’ Guide to empower parents! We want to provide a resource that defines your options and offers ideas for how best to take advantage of these for your child(ren). We believe that providing information about Idaho’ many – and growing – learning options can help parents make better choices for their families.

Guia De Padres, Para las Opciones de Escuela y Aprendizaje en Idaho

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Guía de Padres

Para las Opciones de Escuela y Aprendizaje en Idaho

Hemos tenido la oporunidad extraordinaria de visitar muchas escuelas por todo el Estado Gem – distrito público, magnetico público, chárter público, alternativa, privada, parroquial y por internet (online). No obstante el tipo de escuela o el sitio, un tema común pue encontramos en cada escuela son los padres que quieren las mejores oporunidades para sus hijos.

Hemos creado este Guía de Padres para ¡empoderar a los padres! Queremos proveer un recurso que define sus opciones y les ofrece ideas de cómo mejor tomar venaja de éstas para su(s) hijo(s). Creemos que al proveer información de las muchas – y cada vez mayor – opciones de aprendizaje en Idaho puede ayudarles a los padres elegir mejor para sus familias

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Building Excellence

How Helping Charters Access Facilities Can Improve Opportunity for Idaho Kids

Finding appropriate instructional space is a perennial challenge for schools of choice which – unlike public district schools – do not have access to public bond markets or public tax levies. Affordable facilities are a serious inhibitor to the growth of the state’s charter public schools, especially start-up charter schools that might bring different programs and learning opportunities to Idaho’s children and families.

This is especially frustrating for three reasons. First, Idaho’s brick-and-mortar charter schools work. On 2015-16 state achievement tests five of the state’s top 15 public schools are charters, while the top three schools in mathematics were all charters. Second, there are more than 6,000 Idaho Children on charter school waitlists. Third, the National Center for Education Statistics projects that Idaho will add upwards of 22, 000 new pre-k-12 students by fall 2022.  Charter public schools can help add new high-quality seats for the state’s growing number of new students.

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Hispanic Parents Speak Out

Reflections from a series of focus groups with Hispanic parents in Idaho conducted for Bluum

Hispanic students are among Idaho’s fastest growing demographic groups, making up 17.7% of enrolled public K-12w students today. Even more, enrollment of Hispanic school-age children is projected to grow another 11.7% by 2019. This demographic shift makes it imperative that Idaho;s schools learn to fully engage theses students and their families in high-quality educational opportunities, especially if we are to ensure that theses students are able to contribute to the future of Idaho’s social and economic development. Idaho’s Hispanic families offer valuable insights that can benefit the work of schools throughout the state, whether they be private parochial, or public.

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Treasure in the Valley

Demographic Changes and New School Opportunities in Ada and Canyon Counties

Idaho’s families and student demographics are changing. Not only is the state’s total population growing (Idaho is the 10th fastest growing state), but Gem State families are increasingly urban, non-white and lower income. This was the big takeaway from the 2013 ECONorthwest report Shifting Sands: Idaho’s Changing Student Demographics and What it Means for Idaho. That report confirmed what many of us who work in communities like Boise, Meridian, Twin Falls, Idaho Falls or Coeur d’ Alene see daily as we pass new home construction sites, hunt for apartments, sit in traffic and watch new school buildings pop up like wild flowers.

Additional Publications

A quality authorizer can serve as a change agent, a market maker, and a force for quality in public education. Quality authorizing can serve as a quality control check for the charter schools sector and provide lawmakers with the confidence that someone is watching the store and ensuring excellence.

Idaho’s public schools receive revenue from state, local, and federal sources. This brief focuses on the allocation of state funds for public education, which comprise the largest source of funds for Idaho’s public schools at over 60 percent.

The purpose of this study is to better understand future opportunities for charter schools to meet the changing educational needs of students throughout the Gem State. While the report is intended to support strategic planning for the future growth of Idaho’s charter sector,
much of the information contained herein is relevant to broader purposes.