Reimagining Education & Reinvigorating the Charter School Movement
July 11, 2019

Keri Rodrigues, founder and mom-in-chief of Network member Massachusetts Parents United, addresses the crowd at the 2019 National Charter Schools Conference. Photo credit: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools


At the 2019 National Charter Schools Conference, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Nina Rees emphasized the importance of advocacy in support of charter schools:

“The world needs to hear the voices of our students, our families, and our teachers.”

More than 5,000 charter school leaders, educators, policymakers, and advocates gathered in Las Vegas earlier this month to celebrate charter schools’ innovation, learn from success around the country, and look ahead to future opportunities. During what Rees calls a critical time in the charter movement’s history, she encouraged leaders to pursue three key things to continue advancing the cause:

  1. Grow the pool of high-quality charter schools by being more open to newcomers.
  2. Expand into new regions.
  3. Awaken the political power of the movement.

Read more from Rees here or watch her opening address.

Dozens of PIE Network members shared their expertise with conference attendees during a variety of sessions. Below, just some of the many Network members in attendance weigh in with their highlights.

“More than anything, attendees voiced a fierce urgency to fight back.”

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said the conference offered what attendees have come to expect at the largest annual gathering of charter advocates: informative sessions, inspiring speakers, and valuable networking with colleagues from across the nation. 

“This year, though, it had something more,” Aldis said. “In a number of discussions, there was a recognition of a growing threat to the movement posed by anti-charter political rhetoric. More than anything, attendees voiced a fierce urgency to fight back against false and misleading characterizations with many noting that a failure to do so could result in the ultimate decline of charter schools.”

“Public charter schools and supporters are right where they should be. Relevant.”

“Undoubtedly, one can argue that given the current highly-energized political environment, public charter schools and supporters have been targets in many of our forty-three states that house them,” said Darrell Allison, national director of state teams and political advocacy at the American Federation for Children. “However, I came away from this conference both emboldened and encouraged: public charter schools and supporters are right where they should be. Relevant.”

“This public school model is no longer considered an experiment or out there on the fringe. For the millions of families across our nation, these public schools are essential and vitally important to their children and their communities and we should not only be proud of that fact but remain steadfast as well.”

“As the charter movement matures and the political rancor increases, it is important for education advocates to return to first principles.”

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network for Charter Schools, reflected on the current state of the charter movement, urging stakeholders to remember that “giving educators flexibility to innovate in exchange for a promise of measurable student performance increases is the very heart of the charter bargain.” 

“This bargain has benefited millions of students over the past twenty years and sent a generation of first generation students to college,” Broy said. “If there is a silver lining in the local political opposition to charter schools, it is that the veil has been lifted. Charter opponents used to cloak their language in the rhetoric of funding or inclusiveness. Now they are discussing merit-blind moratoria, pushing laws to re-regulate all schools, and punishing existing schools.”

“Those of us who continue to believe that independent, accountable public school governance is the best pathway to create high-performing schools for low income students need to redouble our efforts to engage in the fight.”

“Our team left the conference energized and inspired.”

Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, said she was inspired by much of this year’s conference content. 

“The Center assisted the National Alliance to develop and promote a strand of sessions related to educating students with disabilities in charter schools, and the level of interest in those sessions was amazing,” Rhim said. “Teachers, school leaders, authorizers, and policymakers packed the rooms, eager to discuss policies and practices that focused on ensuring equity for ALL students, including those with disabilities.”

“The theme of equity for all was a thread that I noticed in each of the sessions I attended. Our team left the conference energized and inspired.”

If you couldn’t attend #NCSC19 in person, make sure to check out additional highlights and the following Network member resources that were featured:

  • Meeting the Potential of a Virtual Education highlights lessons learned for other online operators and policymakers who are eager to make virtual school success the rule, rather than the exception (Bluum)
  • Charter School Deserts analyzes the presence of areas across the country with high poverty and no charter elementary schools (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)

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Christina Dobratz

Christina is PIE Network's Manager, Communications & Policy  

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