Secretary DeVos Speaks, Success Academy Receives Broad Prize at National Charter School Conference

This past week over 4,200 advocates, teachers, policymakers, administrators, consultants, and board members attended the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ (NAPCS) 2017 National Charter School Conference in Washington DC.

The conference boasted over 135 sessions, which were broken into five different strands—governance, policy, leadership, operations, and instruction. Some of the “featured” topics included social-emotional learning, innovation in K-12, in-house teacher prep, the role of charter authorizers, and how ESSA will impact charter schools, to name a few.

Importantly, Tony Simmons, Executive Director for Minnesota’s High School for Recording Arts, and a board member at Education Evolving, was a co-presenter for a session on “Mission-Driven Metrics for Reengaging Opportunity Youth.”

Chartering and the Trump Administration: A Delicate Relationship Between the Two

One unavoidable topic of the conference was the Trump administration and charter schools. In the opening, all-group session, NAPCS President and CEO, Nina Rees, encouraged attendees to embrace the Trump administration’s support of charter schools. She noted that even though President Bush and President Obama had some controversial education policies (NCLB and Race to the Top), charter advocates still got behind their support of charter schools.

While Rees did not explicitly speak to the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts at the conference, NAPCS released a statement in May on the topic. In the statement, they indicated their support for his expansion of charter schools, but also expressed concern with his proposed cuts: “The proposed $54 billion in overall cuts to nondefense discretionary spending—over $9 billion coming from the Department of Education alone—would have long-lasting, far-reaching negative consequences for children, families, communities, and our country as a whole.”

Secretary DeVos Reinforces Choice and Calls for More Innovation

USDE Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke at the conference, despite the controversies surrounding her stances on school choice and school vouchers. In an email to the conference attendees, NAPCS explained that since the launch of the conference in 2000, “Secretaries of Education from both the Bush and Obama Administration have addressed our attendees,” and so in the spirit of “bipartisan tradition” Secretary DeVos would give an address.

In her speech, Secretary DeVos reinforced the Trump Administration’s support for school choice and allowing families to choose the school that best fits the needs of their child, “I suggest we focus less on what word comes before ‘school’ – whether it be traditional, charter, virtual, magnet, home, parochial, private or any approach yet to be developed – and focus instead on the individuals they are intended to serve.”

Additionally, Secretary DeVos’ called for conference attendees to “re-engage and recommit to the entrepreneurial spirit” of the original charter school leaders. She cautioned against “playing it safe” and indicated that somewhere over the past twenty-five years, the innovation and creativity that charters were originally intended to have has been lost. She asserted that, “Embracing more change, more choices and more innovation will improve education opportunities and outcomes for all students.”

Success Academies Receives Broad Prize

The prestigious Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools, which recognizes charter management organizations (CMO) that have “demonstrated the best outcomes, particularly for low-income students and students of color” was awarded at the conference to New York’s Success Academy. The high-performing, high-profile, and sometimes controversial CMO will receive $250,000 that must be used for college-readiness efforts.

While accepting the award, Success Academy founder and CEO, Eva Moskowitz, said, “I wanted to show what was possible for children if we were only willing to rethink, reinvent, and reimagine schooling.” She went on to announce that, later this week, Success will launch a digital platform where they can share their curriculum, training, school design, and other materials with charter schools around the country.

Colorado’s DSST Public Charters and Texas’ Harmony Public Schools were the two other Broad Prize finalists.

The 2018 National Charter Schools Conference will be held from June 17-20 in Austin, Texas.

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