Chaired By: Rep. George Miller
Witnesses: Steve Barr, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Green Bot Public Schools; David Dunn, Director, Texas Charter School Association; Jim Goenner, Board Chair, National Association of Charter School Authorizers; John King, Managing Director, Excellence Preparatory Network, Uncommon Schools, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Barbara O'Brien; Kim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office Of Innovation and Improvement, Department of Education
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REP. MILLER: Good morning. A quorum being present, the committee will come to order. I'm going to go ahead and start the hearing.
Mr. McKeon is on his way, but I'm informed that we will be having votes at around 11:15, and I certainly want to make time for the panel and hopefully for some questions by the members of the committee because I think it's going to be a series of votes and it may -- well, we'll see where we are at that time, whether we ask the panel to remain or not.
Anyway, welcome. (Laughs.) Good morning.
Today our committee meets to examine how we can build on what is working at outstanding charter schools as we continue our efforts to improve educational opportunities for all Americans. This hearing will explore the factors that contribute to successful charter schools as well as the barriers those schools face.
We will also take a look at how high-performing charter schools can help inform school reform efforts. Many exceptional charter schools have already blazed a trail for others to follow.
The first charter school opened its doors in 1992, and nearly two decades later there are 4,600 charter schools in 40 states serving over 1.4 million children. Their success stories are proof that charter schools are an integral part of building a world-class American education system.
Many of these high-performing charter schools are laboratories for innovation. Some of the most promising school reform strategies in recent years have been embraced by many leading charter schools. This includes extending learning time, hiring excellent teachers, raising expectations, using data-driven research and focusing relentlessly on results and accountability.
They are proving that we can address disparities and close the achievement gap when we apply the right reforms and resources. They are proving that low-income and minority children, the exact populations that too often get left behind, are in fact able to succeed.
Take, for example, Roxbury Prep charter school in Boston, whose student body is composed almost entirely of minorities. Of the 230 students attending Roxbury Prep, nearly 70 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
I think -- I saw that in one of your testimonies. That's an RF -- what is that? That's a FRL? Somebody's shaking their head yeah. Okay. So they would be 70 percent FRLs. Okay. Never mind.
Roxbury Prep currently stands as one of the highest-performing middle schools in Massachusetts. On the 2008 state exam, students from Roxbury Prep outperformed nearly 80 percent of all middle schools statewide.
Another great example is the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP. There are more than 16,000 students enrolled in 65 KIPP charter schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Over 80 percent of the KIPP students qualify for free or reduced-price meals; 63 percent are African American; 33 percent are Hispanic. KIPP students start the fifth grade with average scores in the 41st percentile in math and the 31st percentile in language arts. By the end of the eighth grade, their scores have nearly doubled. More than 80 percent of the students who complete eighth grade at KIPP go on to college.
Or take the Harlem Children's Zone, whose mission is to do whatever it takes to help children succeed, combining charter schools with community services for children from birth to college graduation. Their successes are off the chart. The program has effectively closed the achievement gap in mathematics between black and white students in New York City, which in turn will open new doors and create new opportunities. They have also nearly closed the gap in language arts. For the sixth year in a row, 100 percent of the graduates of Harlem Children's Zone's pre-K program are found to be school-ready. In April, three female middle school students from the program won the national chess championship for their age group.
These schools, and others like them, show an emergence of different educational culture. The students who are previously thought of as unable to benefit from public education are outperforming their peers. They're going to college and they're getting the jobs of the future. They are mastering the skills needed to succeed and thrive in a 21st century global economy. These are models we can learn from to boost student achievement and improve accountability on a larger scale.
Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan are outspoken advocates of charter schools. They agree that many of the bold reforms that are fundamental to building world-class schools are already happening in charter schools.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included an unprecedented $5 billion Race to the Top Fund that gives Secretary Duncan the tools to drive innovative school -- innovative reforms in schools. Among other things, he could use these funds to ask state legislatures to allow more charter schools, while ensuring the state maintains rigorous accountability. I'm confident he'll keep charter schools in mind as he decides how to use these funds.
And that's why we're here today. We can no longer invest any more money in the status quo. Outstanding charter schools are helping millions of students learn, grow and thrive. The teachers in these schools are making strides we need every teacher in every classroom to make.
And I'd like to thank our witnesses for being here today. Your expertise will be helpful as we work to reward and replicate your impressive work in classrooms across the country.
I'd like now to recognize the senior Republican member of our committee, Congressman McKeon from California, for purpose of making an opening statement.
REP. MCKEON: Thank you, Chairman Miller, and good morning. I want to thank you for holding this important hearing and thank our witnesses for being here to shed light on a key opportunity to improve educational options for students and families.
Republicans on this committee have been strongly committed to the charter school movement for quite some time, and we're pleased to see that the cause is now bipartisan.
Charter schools are essential to turning around our nation's ailing public school system. They offer choices to parents and children, many of whom would otherwise be trapped in chronically underperforming public schools, and they've made great strides in raising achievement and tackling unique educational challenges, from urban centers to rural outposts.
But despite their many successes, charter schools are not growing as they should. They face overwhelming barriers to expansion, from arbitrary state caps to hostile state legislators. Forty states and the District of Columbia have charter schools. Of those, 26 states and the district have a cap or limit on charter school growth, be it the number of schools per state or the number of students per school. These caps are often the consequence of legislative tradeoffs, representing political deal-making designed to appease special interests who prefer the status quo rather than reasoned education policy. As a result of these caps, children across the country now languish on daunting wait lists, just waiting to enroll in the public school of their choice, simply because it happens to operate as a charter. An estimated 365,000 students are on charter school wait lists today. That's enough students to fully enroll 1,100 new average-sized charter schools.
As I'm sure our witnesses will tell us today, charter school advocates have always aspired to a rather humble goal. They simply want access to the same equal playing field as traditional public schools, to receive equal funding, equal facilities and equal treatment, so that the commitment to innovation has a real chance to succeed.
And what makes these schools so innovative? While charter schools must adhere to the same guidelines and regulations as traditional public schools, they're freed from the red tape that often diverts a school's energy and resources away from educational experience -- or, excellence. Instead of constantly jumping through procedural hoops, charter school leaders can focus on setting and reaching high academic standards for their students.
As we look to the future, our goal should not just be charter school expansion, but the expansion of charter school excellence. It's not enough to talk about the importance of charter schools. We have to take action. Paying lip service to charters while failing to enact the right policies or, worse, expanding charters while eliminating the features that make them work, would be unfair to these schools, the innovators behind them and the students that they serve.
Fortunately, these are steps we can -- there are steps that we can take to expand and replicate high-performing charter schools. Last Congress, Representative Charles Boustany introduced the Charter School Program Enhancement Act, legislation that would have increased awareness of the best practices among successful charter schools and incentivized their growth by focusing funding on states without restrictive caps. It was our hope that this legislation would have made it into the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. In fact, the renewal of the NCLB is a perfect opportunity to support high- performing charter schools.
We can promote reform at the state level through both funding and policy decisions. Under current law, chronically under-performing schools that face restructuring have the option of reopening as a charter school. I think this is an important option for local leaders. Unfortunately, that option was watered down by the majority under the NCLB discussion draft developed in 2007. Mr. Chairman, I think that would be a mistake. And given the obvious bipartisan support for charter schools that we're seeing here today, I hope we can revisit that issue when we reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the coming months.
I yield back.
REP. MILLER: Thank you very much.
I'd like now to introduce our panel. Our first witness will be Jim Shelton, who is the Department of Education's assistant deputy secretary in charge of the Office of Innovation and Improvement. Prior to becoming assistant deputy secretary, Mr. Shelton was program director for education division of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has also worked at NewSchools Venture Fund as their East Coast partner, and as head of the consulting division of Edison Schools.
And I believe our colleague Jared is going to introduce the lieutenant governor.
REP. POLIS: Thank you, Chairman Miller. And thank you so much for holding a hearing on such an important issue as charter schools, which I devoted a lot of my policy and philanthropic efforts towards.
It's my honor to introduce and welcome to our committee our lieutenant governor of Colorado, Barbara O'Brien, who we know as a passionate voice for Colorado's children and a tireless advocate of education reform, with whom I've had the pleasure to work with closely for many years.
Indeed, some might call Lieutenant Governor Barbara O'Brien the mother of charter schools in Colorado. Barbara O'Brien chairs Colorado's team for competing for the U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top funding. She also serves as co-chair of Colorado's P- 20 Education Committee, appointed by Governor Bill Ritter, to recommend changes in Colorado's preschool through post-secondary education system to position it for the 21st century.
Prior to becoming lieutenant governor, she served 16 years as president of Colorado Children's Campaign, a statewide public policy and advocacy nonprofit organization. In 1993, she led the successful effort to pass the Colorado Charter School Act signed by Governor Roy Romer.
Before I was elected to serve in Congress, I founded and was the superintendent of New America School, a charter school that helped serve 16- to 21-year-old new immigrants, to help them learn English and earn a high school diploma. I also co-founded the Academy of Urban Learning for homeless youth. After meeting and talking to the kids being left behind, I focused my efforts as an innovator on creating a new format of school to catch these kids before they headed down the wrong path. These efforts were enabled by Lieutenant Governor Barbara O'Brien's policy leadership.
All children deserve to learn, and proven models exist today. That's why I will soon introduce the All Students Achieving Through Reform -- ALL-STAR -- Act, which will focus on replicating high quality public charter schools in areas that need them the most.
I'd like to thank Lieutenant Governor O'Brien for being here today, and I look forward to her testimony.
REP. MILLER: Thank you.
Mr. Steve Barr founded Green Dot Public Schools in 1999 with a vision of transforming secondary education in California by creating a number of high-performing publicly funded charter schools. In addition to leading Green Dot, Mr. Barr is a state board of education appointee to the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools where he provides policy recommendations to the state board of education on charter school-related issues.
Mr. John King is the managing director of Excellence in Preparatory Networks of Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit charter management organization. Mr. King is a co-founder and former co- director of the curriculum and instruction of Roxbury Preparatory charter school, a nationally recognized urban college preparatory public school that closed the racial achievement gap in Massachusetts and was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the top -- one of the eight top charter schools in the country.
Mr. James Goenner has -- is going to be acknowledged by Mr. Kildee and introduced by Mr. Ehlers. Mr. Ehlers -- is he here?
REP. KILDEE: We -- we will share the honor.
REP. MILLER: Yep, there you are.
REP. KILDEE: I will just say that I'm very happy to have Mr. Goenner here today from Central Michigan University.
Most of the good things -- charter schools in Michigan owe a great deal to you. And I really appreciate all you have done, but I will defer to Dr. Ehlers for the formal introduction.
Thank you very much.
REP. EHLERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure to do that today. Michigan has long been a leader in the charter school movement from many different aspects.
But one of the major leaders has been Mr. James Goenner, working for the Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University, better known as CMU. It's the nation's largest university authorizer of charter public schools. Jim has served as executive director since February 1998 and formerly served as the founding president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.
Jim has been instrumental in establishing the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, which he chairs, and is a founding board member and chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
Under Jim's leadership, CMU has pioneered new initiatives for overseeing and supporting charter schools, leading Central Michigan University to be recognized as the gold standard of charter school authorizing. CMU currently authorizes 58 of Michigan's 230 charter public schools and serves approximately 30,000 students. As a group, students in schools chartered by CMU outperformed their host district counterparts in all six core academic subjects of Michigan state assessment. Ten schools chartered by CMU have attained the NCLB goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 in certain subjects. And in 2008, for the first time, Michigan's top performing district on the state assessment is a school chartered by CMU.
Thank you in advance for being here, Mr. Goenner, and welcome you. We look forward to your expert testimony.
REP. MILLER: Thank you.
Welcome to the committee.
David Dunn is the executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association. Most recently, Mr. Dunn was chief of staff to former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. Mr. Dunn's experience also includes service as special assistant to the president for domestic policy in the last Bush administration, the associate executive director and chief lobbyist for the Texas Association of School Boards, and 15 years in education fiscal policy analysis for the state of Texas.
Welcome to all of you to the committee.
Mr. Shelton, we're going to begin with you. When you begin to testify, a green light will go on in front of you. We're going to allow you five minutes to give us all your wisdom and expertise in the history of charter schools. And with one minute remaining, an orange light will go on. We'd like you to think about wrapping up your testimony. And then a red light will go on, and you finish in a way that you consider appropriate, to make sure you've conveyed your thoughts to us. But we obviously want to have time for questions, and we're going to be pressed a little bit today because of the floor schedule.
Welcome to the committee.
MR. SHELTON: Thank you, Chairman Miller. Good morning.
And good morning to you also, Ranking Member McKeon and other distinguished members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the topic of "Building on What Works at Charter Schools."
As you know, improving our education system is the -- one of the administration's top priorities. Our goal is to improve education at every level for each student. We believe that this must include improving the quality of traditional public schools and public charter schools, which I will discuss today. I am pleased to provide an overview of the Department of Education policies on charter schools and to highlight successful charter programs across the nation.
Expanding high-quality charter schools is a central component of this administration's strategy to improve public education, both as a strategy for intervening in struggling schools and as a platform for driving innovation ultimately. Charter schools continue to expand across the nation, bringing innovation and change to communities and helping to eliminate the achievement gap. They have inspired a new kind of entrepreneurial leadership to address some of our nation's most perplexing and historically impenetrable education problems.
Their flexible and results-focused operations have demonstrated success in some of our most challenging and compromised school districts. The best charter schools have proven, as you said, that regardless of race, native language, or socioeconomic status, children can achieve the highest levels of academic success.
As you noted also, over 4,600 schools today that serve 1.4 million students -- 60 percent of these students are minority. Fifty percent of these students fall into the category of qualifying for free and reduced lunch. In some cases, these schools are offering the only high-quality option available to the low-income students in their communities. They serve 3 percent of all public school students nationally, with some schools -- with some communities having over 20 percent of their students being served by public charter schools.
These communities have taught us under what conditions, circumstances charters can flourish, but they have also taught us that having the authority to enforce accountability often is not the same as having the courage to use it. Thus, charter school achievement in aggregate continues to be mixed, and we are starting to get -- and because of this, we are starting to get results of the research, sufficiently rigorous, to answer the most important questions about charter performance and the drivers of it.
For example, a recent Rand study of both Florida and Chicago showed the high schools there are not only outperforming the traditional public schools and the district schools around them in graduation rates but also enrollment in college. A more -- a 2009 study on charter schools in Boston has actually shown that the charter schools in Boston are outperforming traditional public schools around them. This study is particularly important because it actually debunks the myth that creaming was the -- was the reason for this outperformance. It actually has the kind of controls that we actually need to show that in fact it's the school that made the difference.
It is important to note that we are no longer talking about just one-off schools anymore. There are high quality charter networks around the country that are hitting these outstanding high achievement goals for students, many of them represented here on this panel today. But there are many in other parts of the country as well. These networks of charter schools are succeeding in closing the achievement gap. They're preparing low-income students not only to attend college but to graduate from college. And they're doing it at scale.
Yet even with these clear examples of the possibilities, we continue to fail our students by not taking action and closing the worst-performing schools. States and charter authorizers must take up their role in accountability. At the same time, though, this administration and our secretary are asking states to -- they're calling upon states to remove the arbitrary caps and unfair funding and facilities practices that have limited the replication and expansion of our nation's highest-performing charter schools and charter school networks.
This is even more important as we collectively begin our Race to the Top. There is a growing entrepreneurial spirit that is leading the charge and meeting the challenge to making lasting changes in the classroom, and we want to enable that transformation. Therefore, for 2010, the administration is requesting $268 million for the Charter Schools Program, an increase of $52 million over the 2009 level. The request would provide increased support for planning and startup of new high-quality charter schools and address some of the barriers around facilities as well. The administration -- this will be the administration's first major step toward fulfilling its commitment to double support for charter schools over the next four years.
At the two 2010 request level, the department will continue to provide grants to state education agencies. And in order to supplement the efforts of states and local developers in creating charter schools, we are requesting appropriations language that would allow the secretary to make direct grants to charter management organizations and other entities for the replication of successful charter school models.
This policy would give us some needed additional authority to direct funds to organizations that are best equipped to bring about the expansion of the most effective schools.
The administration's F.Y. 2010 budget request would also continue support for evaluation, technical assistance, and dissemination of model charter programs and charter school laws.
In closing, once again let me thank the committee for inviting me to appear today. I look forward to continuing to work with the committee on this and other important issues.
REP. MILLER: (Off mike.)
LT. GOV. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chairman Miller -- thank you, Chairman Miller, committee members and Congressman Polis for this opportunity and, Congressman Polis, especially for your leadership on education reform.
I was the president of the Colorado Children's Campaign, a statewide child advocacy organization, from 1990 to 2006. Our mission was to advocate for all Colorado kids, but particularly for children most at risk. In the early 1990s there was little hard data on vulnerable children in the public school system, but all you had to do was walk into a fourth grade class in a poor neighborhood to see the faces of kids who had already mentally checked out.
In 1991 I began searching for ways to change the trajectory to success for vulnerable students. Charter schools offered a way to stimulate innovation within public education by giving educators greater autonomy in exchange for greater accountability. After two years of research and coalition building, we succeeded in making Colorado the third state to enact such a law. This was still uncharted territory, but inaction was no longer an option in the face of failure.
Reformers began to use the autonomy of charter schools to schedule more time in school, form different educational missions from college prep to vocational education, use different instructional methods, and encourage increased engagement with parents.
In Colorado 97 percent of charters use models that are different from traditional schools, including Montessori, experiential learning and technology-based curricula. Charter schools create opportunities and open doors for kids who would otherwise be left behind. They do it by using the best of the American spirit -- entrepreneurship, innovation and hard work. They are an asset, not a threat, to our public education system.
Some districts initially viewed their own public charter schools as competition, but most districts now celebrate the educational diversity they bring.
Charter schools are incubators of innovation that can be replicated and diffused throughout our public school system. I view charter schools as education laboratories -- taking risks, trying new things, developing alternatives, and pushing the reform envelope. Districts are learning every day from successful models and can deploy them in other schools.
Since 1993 our state's charter schools have experienced both success and failure, just like any new venture, but their entrepreneurial risk-taking has clearly led to great rewards system- wide.
In Colorado, 78 percent of charters made adequate yearly progress last year, compared to 58 percent of traditional public schools; and 55 percent of charters were rated excellent or higher, compared to 43 percent of traditional public schools. Charter schools now serve 7 percent of students, more than double the national average. And I'd like to highlight one example. West Denver Preparatory Charter School has 90 percent of its students eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch, FRL. On the new Colorado Growth Model, its students scored the highest average growth percentile of any school in Denver Public Schools. To prepare for college, students attend longer school days, receive extended class time, complete homework assignments daily, have access to tutoring and are held to high standards, all on a public school budget.
So what makes these schools effective in educating at-risk students when others have failed? Here are a couple of characteristics that I've identified: They welcome accountability. They found ways to have more hours per school day and more days per school year. They welcome data. They foster a culture of achievement. They've demonstrated the importance of the leadership of a good principal. They welcome high performance standards. And they attract principals and teachers who want the challenge of overcoming great odds.
It's important to recognize that not all charter schools work out, and I do think federal policy creating incentives for closing failing charter schools and disincentives for keeping charter schools going when they're not performing would be important and in keeping with the mission.
There is a caveat. Charter schools are the research and development arm of education. While our focus should be on replicating successful models, we should always leave room for further innovation. We owe it to students to give them the best we have.
Thank you very much, and I appreciate this opportunity.
REP. MILLER: Steve, welcome to the committee.
MR. BARR: It's an honor to be here on behalf of the teachers and families we serve and those who support them. It's a great honor to come here and tell our story.
I started Green Dot Public Schools in the summer of 1999 mainly because, as some of the distinguished members from California can attest to, we used to have the best public schools in the world in California, and I was able to jump a class because of that lift.
And I'm the class of 1977. The next year we had -- after I graduated from high school, we had a tax revolt. In my adult lifetime, our schools went from the best to the worst in my adult lifetime. And what passed as debate was the left, which I'm a member of, saying, "We just need more money for a failed centralized system," and the right saying, "Scrap it," "Privatize it," or, "It's the teachers' union's fault." And there's got to be more to this debate and discussion than that, as we tackle this problem.
Green Dot Public Schools currently operates 18 small preparatory high schools in the highest need areas of Los Angeles -- highest need meaning the most overcrowded and the biggest dropout rates; one school in the South Bronx; and a partnership with the United Federation of Teachers. We go into areas where there's 60 to 70 percent dropout rates and we retain and graduate, with the same kids and the same money, over 80 percent of the kids, and 80 percent of those graduates go on to four-year colleges.
The scale of that's important because in those same neighborhoods -- maybe 4 percent of the kids in those neighborhoods will get a college degree.
And the most important part of the story is not charter. It's the vision of what those schools look like. Like KIPP and Uncommon Schools and the rest of the providers out there that are providing great R&D, our schools are small. We have high expectations for all the kids, the dollars get in the classroom, and we're accountable to the parents. I think that's a vision of public education that should be adopted across the board.
In addition to serving our families, our most important role, as the lieutenant governor mentioned, is to create R&D of what a school district can look like. And you can't do that just with a single charter school. I think our back office efficiency of getting 94 cents of the taxpayers' dollar in the classroom is important, and also recognizing the fact that this is a 100 percent unionized industry. We have a collective bargaining agreement that's partnered with not only the California Teachers Association and the NEA, but now -- as of two weeks from now when we ratify an AFT-UFT contract, a teachers' union contract that shares the same vision. Our teachers' union contract has replaced tenure with just cause. We don't count minutes and hours in a workday. We have a professional workday. We agree to pay the teachers 15 to 20 percent more through our efficiency. And -- (inaudible) -- of accountability. So seniority is not always the rule of how we lay off and dismiss people.
Now, if the teachers' unions can come this far, and the reformers can come and meet them in the middle, that should unlock this idea that these tribes can't come together to solve this problem, which is essential if we're going to really attack this problem.
It's not just enough to create a charter school in a neighborhood, though.
Two years ago we took one of the worst dropout factories in Los Angeles, Locke High School, a school that opened after the Watts riots in 1965, which was supposed to bring hope to that neighborhood, which -- what ended up happening is that high school became the place where if you got in trouble you got sent to, not only for students but also for teachers.
Locke High School would have 1,200 freshmen every year, and by the end of the senior year they would dwindle down to 250 to 300 kids. Devastation -- every year a repeat of that cycle and what that does to that neighborhood.
If you could imagine -- and the reason why this is important I think is the next part of our journey in charter schools and how we become relevant in big city, urban districts -- is we've got to take on these turnaround failing schools, and I think Locke has become a model, because if you can imagine -- if you just took the basic stats that are available to the average person, and you said -- you looked at the numbers, 60,000 people have gone to Locke High School since it opened, give or take 1,000. If you got them all together in one stadium, all the people who went to Locke High School, and you got on the P.A. system and said, "Please step out of the stadium if you didn't graduate from Locke High School," 40,000 people would have to leave that stadium. So now you've got 20,000 people.
And if you can imagine a P.A. announcement, "Now, step out of that circle if you didn't go to a four-year college," all but 8,000 people would have to be out of that stadium. So you've got 8,000 people where there once were 60(,000) that got into a four-year college. And why is that important? They'll make a million dollars more over their lifetime. They may have the minimum requirements to go into teaching. And if you made the announcement to those 8,000 people, "Step out of the stadium if you didn't graduate and get your degree," -- a B.A. -- all but 2,100 people would have to leave that stadium. Now you've got just one section of that stadium. And if you made the announcement to those folks, "Please come -- please tell me if you came back to this neighborhood to start a charter school, or get involved in politics or become a teacher" -- well, none of them came back to that neighborhood.
And the reason why this is important -- there's 30 or 40 Locke High Schools in Los Angeles. There are thousands of Locke High Schools in this country. Until we fix that issue and that problem, our economy, our way of living, and our urban core will never be the same.
REP. MILLER: Thank you.
MR. KING: Thank you, Chairman Miller and members of the committee, for the opportunity to testify today.
I'm here today to talk about my experiences as an educator and to ask the committee to support initiatives to increase the number of high performing charter schools serving low-income students.
I am convinced that the autonomy of charter schools with respect to budget, staffing, curriculum and instruction, and school culture, in combination with greater accountability for performance can create the context for both innovation and excellence.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, the son of two New York City public school educators. My father, who grew up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in a family that was just a couple generations removed from slavery, served as a teacher, principal, and eventually deputy chancellor of schools in New York City.
My mother came to the Bronx as a small child and became a teacher and guidance counselor in New York City schools. They provided for me an extraordinary example of public service. However, I didn't get to know them well because both of them passed away while I was in elementary and middle school. And during those years, during an incredibly difficult period of my life, it was fantastic teachers in New York City public schools who made a huge difference for me.
Those teachers at P.S. 276 and Mark Twain Junior High School led me to believe in the power of public education to transform lives and ultimately were the reason that I became a teacher and a principal.
In 1999, I co-founded the Roxbury Preparatory charter school in Boston, the highest performing urban middle school in Massachusetts for five years running and a school that has closed the racial achievement gap on state exams. Roxbury Prep's student body is selected by random lottery. They look just like the students of the Boston public schools. Despite that fact, our students are dramatically outperforming not only other schools in Boston but students from the most affluent suburbs of Massachusetts.
And the value-added data that we have for Roxbury Prep shows that our results are not from creaming. It's from good education. Our students come to us behind grade level and they leave us outperforming their peers around the state. And we keep careful track of our alums after they leave us in eighth grade. A hundred percent of them go on to college prep high schools, and we know that 80 percent of them are still on track to graduate from college on time, in comparison with the less than 10 percent of adults in their communities who graduate from college.
How are we getting these results? Using our autonomy to have a clear and compelling mission to prepare our students to enter, succeed in, and graduate from college; having a small school community in which every adult knows every student; attracting and retaining outstanding teachers selected from among more than 80-100 candidates per opening; setting high standards for academics and character; extending our school day so that we can have double the amount of math and literacy as other schools, as well as enrichment for all of our students; and making substantial investments in teacher professional development.
However, autonomy alone does not guarantee success. Every trustee, administrator and teacher at Roxbury Prep understands that if we don't fulfill our mission to graduate our students from college that we'll be closed. And ensuring that schools use their autonomy effectively requires a strong accountability system that ties schools' continued existence to results.
Since leaving Roxbury Prep, I have become part of an organization called Uncommon Schools, which is seeking to replicate Roxbury Prep's success at scale in New York City, Newark, New Jersey, and upstate New York. Each of our schools is modeled on the best practices of a highly successful charter school founded more than 10 years ago: Boston Collegiate Charter School, North Star Academy Charter School in Newark, and Roxbury Prep.
Our students, again, look the same as the students in the districts where they're located, and yet our students are dramatically outperforming those districts. In 2007, one of our middle schools, Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School, was the number one ranked public middle school in New York City. In 2008, Excellence Boys Charter School, an all-boys elementary school, was the number one ranked public elementary school on the chancellor's progress reports. And just recently, in the 2009 state exam data, our students again closed the achievement gap. They are outperforming white students statewide, despite a 30- to 40-point achievement gap on all of those state tests.
We're proving at Uncommon Schools that this success is not only replicable but scalable. We're growing from 11 schools to what will be 33 schools by 2014, and we are building, we believe, a model for what a highly effective urban school system should look like.
In a nation where only about 50 percent of the students in large urban districts graduate from high school, and where only 9 percent of our country's lowest-income students are graduating from college, compared to 75 percent of the highest-income students, there can be little question that education is the civil rights issue of our time.
Uncommon Schools -- we know we're not going to be the whole answer. We know charter schools are not the whole answer. But we believe that charter schools can be an essential part of dramatically reforming public education and changing our country.
Thank you for your time today.
REP. MILLER: Mr. Goenner?
MR. GOENNER: Chairman Miller, committee members, thank you for allowing me to be here with you today, and a special thank you to Mr. Kildee and Dr. Ehlers for that kind introduction.
My name is Jim Goenner and I serve as the executive director for the Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University. I also wear the hat of board chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
Rather than focus on some of the political and policy arguments around charter schools, I'm here as someone in the trenches working every day to help make things happen for kids. I've been involved with charter since 1995 and in some ways, with this thing called charters, that makes me somewhere near the third generation.
As you know, our home state, Michigan, is being forced to rethink how it does business every day. It is also painfully clear that refusing to change is no longer an option. But there's one thing that brings us all together, and that's kids and education. It's universal common ground that kids and access to quality education, especially those most in need, bind us together. And to be part of this distinguished group of advocates for kids is also an honor.
You've asked today to focus on what works, and I'm here to share both what works and also what we can learn from what hasn't worked. At Central Michigan University, we were founded in 1892 to prepare teachers and school leaders. We have a rich tradition of doing that. But we, too, have been troubled by the achievement gap, like you. In 1994 our board of trustees decided to get actively involved by becoming the first university in the country to charter a school. Today we're the largest university authorizer, chartering 30 schools -- or 58 schools with 30,000 students across the state of Michigan. Two-thirds of those students are minority. Two-thirds of those students are poor. They are -- range from schools we charter in rural areas to suburban areas. The vast majority are in our urban areas where the need is the greatest.
When we talk about charter schools, we're really talking about a performance contract. This is an example. When Central Michigan University issues a charter, this is the performance contract between the university board and the charter school board. I'm responsible for making sure that that happens effectively.
The charter contract is key because in order to have the accountability that's been talked about, there has to be clear expectations. We know that's true. It's one of the things that, as the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, we're advocating across the country and before Congress through our principles and standards. And also, in Michigan we're taking those and customizing to our own state with what we call our own oversight and accountability standards.
While we're all creating new, innovative schools, they have something in common, and that is they're public schools, and they need to be accountable to the kids, and they need to be accountable to the taxpayers. We think the power of charter schools is that they're dually accountable, meaning they're accountable to a public authority but they're also accountable to the parents who can vote with their feet.
Michigan's law requires charters to be granted on a competitive basis. When we -- because of our state cap we can only charter a school if we close an existing one. When we closed the last school for non-performance we had 41 groups apply for the new charter. We had many, many, many of those groups that could have done great things for kids. But again, because of the cap, we could only pick one. And I'm proud to say we picked one of the best, and it'll open this fall.
But there's more that can be done for kids, and there's more need than we have capacity to handle. Our goal is that if you come to this new school this fall, you'll walk in, you'll look around and you'll say, "Wow, this is a great school. You must be in about your third year of operation." And everybody will quietly smile and say, "Actually, we just opened," because we were so prepared to hit the ground running and that we knew our kids were going to be counting on us from day one.
Closing schools is something that is very real. We want every school we charter to be successful. But we also know that if you don't deliver academic results and good stewardship for the taxpayers, you can't continue. That tough love rhetoric sounds good; it's a challenge to carry out.
School closures impact people in real ways. They impact teachers. They impact students. They impact families. They impact pocketbooks, people that have mortgages and car payments to make. And we know that it's often embarrassing for boards and management of schools that they're the stewards of to have them closed. And they often try and go on attack and even get people like yourselves involved in that process. But it's important that we uphold the integrity of the charter idea, that we uphold the academic accountability and the fiscal stewardship.
And as Americans, we believe in due process. We believe in fairness. And having been involved in closing a dozen schools since 1995, and with some of the battle scars to show, I can tell you these are decisions not to be taken lightly.
But we have to do what's best for students, and that's, again, what brings us all together today. Even though chartering is hard work, we know that there's tremendous opportunity. We've demonstrated the achievement gap can be closed. Minority students and even homeless students in the schools we charter are now on peer -- on par with their peers statewide. We, as Congressman Ehlers said, can brag that the number one performing school in the state of Michigan is a school we charter. We're proud to have three high schools that were named among America's best on U.S. News & World Report.
And yet with all of that said and done, we're only getting started. The work is real. The work is hard. And the work must continue, because there's more to do for kids and for our future of our country and our state and our families.
REP. MILLER: Mr. Dunn?
MR. DUNN: Thank you, Chairman Miller and committee members. It's an honor be here this morning.
Both at the White House in the Domestic Policy Council and as chief of staff at the Department of Education, it was my privilege to work with Secretary Spellings -- alongside Secretary Spellings with the Congress and this committee in support of education reform.
Now I've moved closer to the front lines of public education and innovation as the executive director of the newly formed Texas Charter Schools Association. We represent more than 56,000 students in 316 public charter schools across the state.
Texas charter schools fall into three broad groups -- those schools that are focused on preparing students for college, schools that are serving students who have either dropped out or are on the verge of dropping out of the traditional public school system, and then schools created to meet unique academic, social or community needs.
As different as these schools may be, there is one thing they all have in common, and that is uniform support for President Obama's call to double the funding for the federal charter school program, or CSP. The program is critical to the startup of new public charter schools, and I encourage the committee to work with the administration so the growing demand for public charter schools can be met. Some 17,000 Texas students are currently waiting to attend a quality public charter school, and doubling the funding for this program will certainly help them achieve that goal.
Texas is one of just three states that have the ability to use the CSP funds to open new schools under an existing charter. This means charters like IDEA Public Schools, in your district, Congressman Hinojosa, can use these funds to open new campuses, but they cannot use them to expand already open and growing campuses or to align grades among campuses. The committee should consider, in our opinion, changing the law to provide states greater flexibility in the use of CSP dollars. Federal flexibility is important, but states, as you know, have the primary responsibility to improve public charters.
The Texas legislature just completed its work Monday and failed to pass key reforms that would promote growth of quality public charter schools. These reforms were scuttled in the final hours of session -- literally, the last hour -- after having broad bipartisan support in both chambers.
Our charter law is now 14 years old, and in the past 12 months Texas hit the statutory cap on the number of charters allowed. This bill would have allowed the state board of education to grant an additional 12 charters a year, enabling managed growth of high-quality charter schools.
With strong support during the Bush administration, and even stronger support now under President Obama and Secretary Duncan, it's disappointing that some state legislatures still don't understand the benefits of public charter schools and remain obstacles toward reforming public education in this country.
On Sunday of this week, Texas Representative Lon Burnam from Fort Worth said on the record, regarding our charter bill, "This is a massive charter school expansion bill. I hate charter schools. I'm going to kill the bill." He did.
As the executive director of a state organization, it's very frustrating that elected officials continue to see charter schools as competition for the traditional -- or for the public school system. We, in fact, are a part of that system, a very crucial part that reaches kids who need education to transform their lives.
The Texas legislature also failed to give the commissioner of education additional authority to close charter schools that are not meeting academic or financial standards. President Obama and Secretary Duncan have said setting artificial caps on the number of quality charter schools in a state traps thousands of students in schools that don't work. In our state, that's 17,000 kids.
Our dropout recovery charter schools are educating a population of students that have already failed in the traditional system and come to public charter schools, in many cases, years behind. The progress of these schools should be measured with care. Sometimes we are too quick to label some of these schools as underperforming.
Equitable funding for our schools and the ability to fairly access the array of state and federal funds that are available to our traditional schools is the most important challenge we face. And yet amazing work is still being done despite the financial disadvantages. Just recently, TCSA member Tom Torkelson -- again, CEO of IDEA Public Schools, serving the predominately Hispanic Rio Grande Valley -- was nominated as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. This is no small achievement. Public charter schools in Texas directly impact our country's future.
The association opened its doors less than a year ago with the goal of unifying Texas charter schools and developing a quality framework for effective public charters of all types.
Working with the University of Texas system, the Walton Family Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, TCSA member schools are building a quality framework that will both define and measure the academic and financial success of public charter schools. We are building a robust and transparent structure that our school leaders will use in real time to improve performance. Every TCSA member will go through this quality framework and must sign a quality pledge, giving the public and policy makers greater confidence.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd be happy to respond to questions.
REP. MILLER: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Lieutenant Governor O'Brien, you state in your testimony that NCLB produced additional data confirming that low-income, minority and rural students are, indeed -- were being left behind. That was the intent of that legislation, holding people responsible for each and every child in the schools. It was information that was only kept from the public. Everybody else in the system knew what was happening at that time. And charter schools, I think, to some extent have been a response to that, recognizing that it wasn't the children that perhaps were failing; it was perhaps the system.
In my 35 years in the Congress, the most difficult thing to do in education is replication of excellence or of success. Very often, what we do is we take something that was successful in School A or District A and we impose it on District W, and we don't ask any questions about whether District W has the capacity, the talent, the skills, the experience to deal with it. We just impose it upon them and then we wait to see if they have the same success that District A had. And when they don't, we say, "Well, get rid of that model. Let's try District D's model and see if we can get District Z to participate." Thirty-five years we've been doing this, and we are where we are today.
I would like to ask you and Mr. Barr and Dr. King, because the tragedy of what No Child Left Behind has demonstrated to the public in terms of where these children are is what Steve just told us about -- if you fill the stadium with the Locke school attendees. And the question is we're now in the discussions of how do we expand and replicate the successes of charter schools, but I don't think it's by the way we've tried to replicate in the past. And we had an earlier hearing a week ago, and one of the -- a charter school from Philadelphia described putting together the team and the capacity to deal with the vision or the end result that you want. And I just wondered if you might address this, because this is the topic that Mr. McKeon referred to, and Mr. Polis is working on, and the administration is discussing about how do we expand this but maintain the quality, accountability and the rest of it.
LT. GOV. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We have so much more data now than we had 35 years ago or even 15 years ago that I think higher-quality decision-making is possible. That's a new factor that we have to work with.
And I think what we're seeing with a lot of charter schools is that they take a year to open up, so they get a principal in place, they get training, they select a team of teachers that understand the mission of the school. They get training as a team. A lot of these charter schools have figured out how to have more planning during the day, and by being flexible with the teachers' schedules -- and they, you know, bought -- they buy into it because that's why they're at that school -- they're able to have more time on task for the kids, but the teachers have more time to think and plan and collaborate, because they're flexible with how they cover time.
So I think that we're at a place where we know a whole lot more. We now have seen how we replicate successful schools. We have networks that are expanding. Right in Denver we have one really good charter school that's going to turn into five in the next four or five years.
So I just think we know a whole lot more now than we knew before, and we can be smarter about how we replicate and expand. And kids are responding. They're studying harder. They're doing homework. I really think that replication and expansion -- but based on really good data -- is the formula for going forward.
REP. MILLER: Steve, you went through an extended period of trying to assemble the team at Locke. What's your sense about replication?
MR. BARR: Well, the good news is we know it works. I mean, that's the good news. And then how do you create political will and actually move this through?
I mean, we know small schools work. We know that high expectations work. We know that dollars following reform works. We know that you can involve parents. This is at least our experience.
And so the -- the real question is how do you -- if you want to replicate that, you've got to create the political will and leadership. I mean, the first thing you guys could do, if you're asking for recommendations on how to scale a Green Dot, is -- you know, and I don't know if there's going to be any takers on this, but make private schools illegal and it'll scale real fast. If all of the richest people and affluent people, and the most politically connected people in this country had to send their kids to Locke High School, you know, you would hire McKinsey, and they would go and find out who does it really well, and you'd say, "OK, that's our model. Let's scale it real fast." It would happen, you know, in a blink of an eye. So that's the good news.
What's missing is leadership.
I mean, you know, I think the Green Dot model is -- and I think you see even pieces of it in the committee here -- is immediately when we talk about public education we all resort to our tribes. There's the charter school tribe; there's the union tribe; there's the status quo school district tribe; there's the -- and everybody kind of points fingers at each other.
You know, the point of it is whether or not in every community in this country -- I think Michelle Obama said it best during the campaign one night falling asleep watching C-SPAN. She said that every neighborhood in this country, whether it be in the urban core or the suburbs -- they -- every parent knows there's that one school in their neighborhood that's "the" school. It's the school that parents in the middle of the night go and wait in line for. They get in a lottery. They try to borrow somebody's address to send their kid to that school.
The question is, why don't all schools look like that school? You know, is it some unique group of people, or is it that school? And so really, the question is how do we get to scale? I mean, at Locke High School we enacted a part of No Child Left Behind. The majority of the tenured teachers in a failed school did the impossible. They were so fed up with the lack of support from the school district and their teachers' union that they, knowing they weren't going to be asked back, liberated the school out of total frustration. And what that told me is that teachers share the same frustration as parents, because in a failed centralized system those are the two tribes that are affected most by that failure. If they can figure out a way to find a model that fits both their needs, we can move this fast. And that includes parents and teachers.
REP. MILLER: I want to give Mr. King an opportunity just to respond quickly. I'm borrowing my colleagues' time up here. That's the polite way of saying it.
MR. KING: Sure. I think the two biggest constraints on replication are facilities and people. Facilities is in some ways easier to deal with. In New York City the mayor and the chancellor have committed to give high-performing schools space in district buildings, and so that has removed facilities largely as an obstacle.
People is much more challenging. I think that the real underlying challenge is that the programs that train teachers and principals aren't accountable for the performance of their graduates.
And so we are trying in New York City, in partnership with KIPP and Achievement First -- two other charter management organizations -- to build a new teacher ed program at Hunter College where not only will we train teachers in the practices that are working in our schools, both for our own schools and for the district, but then we'll also require them to demonstrate results in the classroom before they earn a degree or certification.
REP. MILLER: Thank you.
REP. EHLERS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First of all, Mr. Goenner, as you know, Michigan has had caps for a number of years, and the issue of caps is often debated. I wonder if you can tell me just how that's affecting things in Michigan. Secretary Duncan was recently in Michigan discussing the caps issue, in which he explained that caps will make it more difficult for the state to receive stimulus funds. So can you discuss that -- what the impact is and what you see as a solution?
MR. GOENNER: Yes. Michigan's law has a cap on the number of schools that state universities collectively can charter of 150. We have eight state universities that have chartered schools. We've been at this cap for nearly a decade. And what it's done is it's stymied the ability to create new hope and opportunity for kids. It's also had an impact which has helped us tighten up on quality for schools that weren't performing.
The reality is this question really connects very close to Chairman Miller's question, because the question we're all looking at across the country is how do we get more great schools for kids. And that means we need growth, and it also means we need quality.
We believe that authorizers play a critical role that is at the epicenter of that question, because we're the quality control front on chartering new schools, and once they're operating we're the quality control on their operations, along with parents, who can vote with their feet.
So when you put this all together, that's where we think it's a very powerful thing to not only create more choices for kids by eliminating the caps, like President Obama and Secretary Duncan are advocating, but also to make sure that they're good choices for kids and families.
REP. EHLERS: And what -- do you see anything in the works to change the cap in Michigan? And why hasn't it been changed?
MR. GOENNER: Yeah. Quite frankly, I think the -- this committee's work and the leadership of Chairman Miller and all of you goes a long way, along with President Obama's advocacy, and Secretary Duncan with his advocacy in the Race for the Top, because the reality is what's good for kids. And the cap debates often get into political debates rather than what's good for kids. And so with this growing consensus around what's good for kids and charters as a strategy to help make that happen, we think that there's more and more coalescing around the idea and away from the politics. We think that will help immensely.
REP. EHLERS: Thank you.
Mr. Shelton, a question for you. Can you detail for the committee the role that the administration sees charter schools playing in this overall nation's public school system? What has Secretary Duncan been talking about in the past few weeks? I notice he gave a speech at the press -- the National Press Club on this structure -- on this issue. What are your plans? How do you expect to deal with issues like the caps in the states or other particular problems that are hindering the formation of charter schools?
And the final specific question: Is the administration helping to maintain or develop a charter school system in the -- in the city of Washington, in our nation's capital?
MR. SHELTON: So, as I said during my testimony, there are two major prongs that charters play in the overall strategy. One is, as the secretary's talked a lot about, we're going to be focusing on addressing the chronically failing schools and persistent failures.
One of the core strategies for being able to do that is our charter schools. And what we found is in the worst-performing schools through many of our best and failed efforts that actually replacement or -- replacement in some form or fashion is actually the best remedy. Charters provide not only a mechanism for replacement but provide the kind of autonomy and flexibility that are needed to actually address the student populations and get the kind of flexibility and resources to actually turn around those situations. So that's the first prong. And that's why it's become so important in the context of the secretary's speeches in the country around the Race to the Top. As you know, in the stimulus package one of the primary levers that is focused on is this notion of intervening in failing schools.
The burden of proof on states that actually are not allowing for charter growth, that are not providing a level playing field, is on them, that they have a very significant other mechanism for actually providing the kind of reform that charters can provide.
The second point is that, as the lieutenant governor said so very clearly, charters play a very important point in -- role in actually driving the front of R&D and innovation in the education sector. What they have provided is an opportunity for us to see and to make very clear that actually you can achieve in the environments where people have said that it's the environment, the conditions, it's the student population, it's the parents -- that in fact, these very same students and the very same conditions can achieve at the highest levels, and they're doing it in very unique ways.
It's been said in some circles, "Oh, the charter schools aren't actually that innovative.
" Well, the reality is that if you actually are taking the same inputs and you're actually producing a very different kind of outcome, then you're actually doing something very different, and we need to figure out exactly what that is.
So they're going to play a role not only in actually demonstrating it, but what we have to do is get a very clear R&D agenda around it, so we not only know that they work but how much they work, in what context, and what drivers are there, that gets to this point around Chairman Miller about how you then replicate.
REP. MILLER: Mr. Kildee.
REP. KILDEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Goenner, in the early days of charter schools in Michigan -- I served first in the state legislature, then here -- there were situations where we had uncertified teachers, not uncommonly in some substandard buildings right in Genesee County where I live. What has been done to change that situation? And has that situation been radically changed, where -- the standards for certification and safe buildings? And what is the role of Central Michigan as the chartering agency? And what is the role of the state of Michigan as the funding agency in making sure that certification and safety for the children are maintained?
MR. GOENNER: Terrific question. First, charter schools in Michigan are public schools, and so they have to give the state (meet ?) tests, they have to have certified teachers, they have to have highly qualified teachers under the federal law, they cannot discriminate in their admissions, they have open enrollment, they serve special needs children, they cannot teach religion in violation of the establishment clause. So all those things that we think about as public schools are required of charter public schools as well.
There were challenges in the early years. We aggressively addressed them. And one of the ways we did it across the state is we created the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers. And the universities and the other authorizers got together and said, "We're going to establish common standards." And one of those keys is these charter contracts. Each contract between the authorizing body and the school gets filed with the state of Michigan, and so the state has its check on it.
More importantly, at Central Michigan University, we actually go out on site and we look to see if the teachers are certified, if they've had their criminal records checks, and what Michigan requires is an unprofessional disclosure.
We also make sure that the kids are learning in the classroom, and so we've gotten very involved into growth modeling to see that -- how the kids come in on day one and how they leave at the end of the year, and that growth over time.
So those are really critical -- that the authorizer plays an active role. We don't run schools, but we need to ensure that they're accountable, most importantly for the academic results and for the taxpayers. We work with the state of Michigan. As public schools, the charters are subject to the general supervision and leadership of the state board of education. But we as the authorizer issue the contract that makes them a public school and allows them to get state school aid.
So there's what we call a continuum of accountability from the authorizing level of the state Department of Education to the federal law. And we think that we've got a pretty good formula of working together to make sure that at the end of the day kids are being served well.
REP. KILDEE: Does the National Association of Charter School Authorities (sic) have any concern about any charter schools in Michigan on the cusp of meeting or not meeting the standards?
MR. GOENNER: When you look at charter schools, they're not a monolith, so each school's different, and while we can brag about the ones that are at the top of the charts, we do have some that are not performing to standard. And those are typically placed on a one-year probationary contract, which is essentially saying, "Get it turned around or you're going to be out of business, and we're going to give somebody else the opportunity to take that."
We also try and provide some intervention and some support at different levels, whether it's board management, programming. But the key is, these schools are held accountable.
REP. KILDEE: Have you ever withdrawn a charter from a school that was not performing?
MR. GOENNER: Yes, we have, and I have the battle scars to prove it. I ended up on "Nightline." And to be honest, that is one of the most difficult things in my position or any other authorizer's position, is closing a school.
And, Congressman, I had a little girl, probably six years old, with tears in her eyes, saying, "Mr. Goenner, why are you taking my school away?" And trying to look her and her parents -- and say, "Well, it's because these adults didn't do what they were supposed to," is very challenging.
So it breaks our heart, but yes, we have closed schools, because fundamentally that's the -- it upholds the integrity of the idea that schools that work will continue; schools that don't will be sanctioned. And closure is the last resort.
One of the things that we are developing is what we call surgical tools, so that rather than dropping the bomb of closing a school, we can go in if there's an adult that's not doing things right, that the school can address that, get the bad actor out of there and continue on.
So there's a lot to be learned in this area, and it's one of the reasons -- as President Obama and Secretary Duncan are talking about turning around schools that aren't performing, there's a lot to be learned from the charter sector because we have some success doing that.
REP. KILDEE: Thank you very much, Mr. Goenner.
REP. MILLER: Ms. Biggert?
REP. BIGGERT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Following up on that, Mr. Goenner, could you -- do you have any anecdotal thoughts on the -- if you were -- on the adoption of stronger quality controls within the CSP to allow, you know, greater accountability and transparency in the system?
MR. GOENNER: Absolutely. I think there's four fundamental things that you could do. This is something that, as the chair of the National Association of Authorizers, we've been advocating through our principles and standards. But it's also what I'd say is the Central Michigan University model.
First is you've got to have a performance contract. That needs to be an absolute essential. It lays out expectations.
Number two is academic results. That has to be a requirement. That's what we're in this for, is kids. How is that going to be measured?
Three is fiscal. The taxpayers, the stewardship -- so annual financial audit must be required.
And four is ongoing monitoring. It can't be, "Here's your charter. We'll see you in five years." There needs to be a continuous communication between the authorizing body and the school that's measuring progress and saying, "Yes, you're on the right track," or, "No, you're not. We've got to get this turned around."
And so we think that the contract, the academics, the fiscal and that ongoing monitoring communication are essential.
REP. BIGGERT: Thank you. Thank you very much.
And then, Mr. Barr, I have two grandchildren that are in a charter school in California, in Pacific Palisades, and they're -- this is a elementary school, and they're very concerned about the fact that then they're going to go to the regular school because they've had such positive outcome.
But one of the problems -- and obviously in California they're under real budget constraints, and there's been a lot of budget cutting within the schools, and that's happened to -- their loss of teachers as well as other schools. And my daughter happens to be the president of the booster club there, so a lot of that has fallen on them, really, to -- you know, to make up the shortfalls as much as possible. And they have big fund- raisers that really -- to do that.
Is there -- how is the funding there for the charter schools versus -- they get public school money, but is there a shortfall versus, you know, the regular public schools?
MR. BARR: Well, the shortfall is usually in facilities. The schools that your grandchildren go to are -- were conversion schools where they got the property in the Palisades.
The funding in California is really a reflection of people's lost confidence in the public education system. You know, I had a school board member on my staff, and he was passing a parcel tax, and my wife and I had just bought a house -- age 45, I finally bought a house. And I'm a liberal Democrat, so I don't think I'm taxed enough. (Laughter.) So the board member came to me. I said, "So explain to me where's this parcel tax and what is it about?"
"Well, everybody who owns a home pays 100 bucks and it goes to support public education."
I go, "That's great, but where does the money go?"
"It goes -- it goes into the general fund of LAUSD." I said, "Wait a second. You guys are drunken pirates. You guys spend almost $1 billion and can't open a high school."
Now, if I knew the money went like charter school funding is in California, in blocks to the school in my neighborhood, that got into teacher pay and development for teachers, into the middle and high school in my neighborhood, and you can take 20 percent off the top for equity issues -- 100 bucks? I'd give you 500 bucks. I'd give you 1,000 bucks. I'd pay 5,000 bucks if I knew the money was spent well in the public school system, and I could send my kids to that system.
That's really the -- the R&D lesson of charters is you at least know those dollars are getting to the school site, not going to a school district where they carve out half of their vigorish and then send the rest down.
REP. BIGGERT: Thank you.
Then, Mr. Dunn, in Illinois we've had a shortfall of the students that are waiting for -- to be included in the charter schools, and Illinois just last week passed a -- Illinois lawmakers passed a bill. Finally they've done something that will allow more charter schools to be built. And some of them are reserved for enrolling high school dropouts and various other matters.
But what has Texas done to ameliorate the problem of not having enough charter schools for those that want them?
MR. DUNN: Yeah. Thank you, Ms. Biggert. As I mentioned in my testimony, unfortunately the Texas legislature failed to pass a bill just this past legislative session that would have allowed the state Board of Education to do -- to expand charter schools and schools with charters in a managed way -- 12 additional charters a year. But --
REP. BIGGERT: So what's the next step that -- can they just bring it up again, or how are you going to --
MR. DUNN: Well, we have a biannual legislative session in Texas, which certainly has its advantages from our perspective, but it does mean that you've got to wait two years to come back and try again.
What schools have been able to do, however -- we have 215 charters in Texas operating 460 campuses, so going to the -- Chairman Miller's question on replication, in Texas we have found ways, creative ways, to replicate campuses.
Each year, the state board of education also considers amendments to the charters and can allow successful charters like KIPP Academy or IDEA Public Schools to replicate. So there are other ways around it. We're certainly going to be exploring with the Texas Education Agency additional administrative avenues that we may have. But as of now, they do not have the authority to grant any more charters.
REP. MILLER: Mr. Andrews?
REP. ANDREWS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for having the hearing.
And thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your presentations this morning. They're really very thorough and engaging. We appreciate your contribution.
I think it's fair to say there's a consensus on the committee that we want to use the vehicle of No Child Left Behind to enhance the growth and quality of charter schools throughout the country. I think that's a fair assessment. And I was interested in what the panelists think are the most effective ways we could do that. Some obvious options would be to increase the money that's available under the incentive program, the regular program, the financing for capital.
But you know, I think the balance that we want to strike is that we do want the decision as to how many charters and what they should look like to be made by states and localities. But we certainly want to provide incentive and support for those states and localities -- would make the decision to pursue the charter option at a high degree of quality.
So what suggestions do the panelists have for us as to how we might implement that? And any of you that would like to jump in would be welcome to.
MR. BARR: Well, you know, currently on the old legislation, my interpretation is that the state superintendent of public instruction in California -- the responsibility falls upon him or her if a failed district continues to fail and doesn't come up with a reform plan. Well, we have 90 failed school districts in the state of California, and Los Angeles Unified is the biggest. And so what I'd like to see is -- you know, when I push the superintendent on this issue, "Oh, well, there's no capacity." But really, it's -- you can always see past that in the politics that plays out in California.
There should be an alternative person who can be where the buck stops to just the superintendent. Either grant a governor, a mayor, legislature -- somebody else should be able to step in so it's not just one person who says, "Enough is enough with the bait-and-switch reform, and let's really dig down," because it's killing our state.
REP. ANDREWS: So you would suggest that we vest an official other than the chief state school officer with the authority to determine what to do with a district that's chronically failed AYP? That's what you'd like us to do?
MR. BARR: I would say keep the state superintendent --
REP. ANDREWS: Yeah.
MR. BARR: -- but also create alternatives, because what happens --
REP. ANDREWS: But if there's -- which of the alternatives gets the final say?
MR. BARR: Well, if a state superintendent won't fix the problem, a governor -- another alternative to just the state superintendent should be able to step in --
REP. ANDREWS: Yeah.
MR. BARR: -- and have the authority in a continually failing school district to do something about it.
REP. ANDREWS: OK.
LT. GOV. O'BRIEN: Mr. Andrews, I think that's a very important question, and I think one of the limitations on charter schools you've heard is facilities, and Congress has been very helpful in addressing facilities.
Another limitation is the number of really strong principals that are moving through the system. And help creating principal academies, principal leadership development -- there are a variety of ways right now that every district is reinventing the wheel. But finding out best practices and making it possible, state by state, to start increasing the flow of strong principals into the school districts is going to help a lot open up the schools because we need to work on the schools of education for teachers. There's very little for principals, and we've learned from charter schools that very strong leadership is absolutely essential.
REP. ANDREWS: So you'd like to see us subsidize and/or create learning institutions where strong principals could be --
LT. GOV. O'BRIEN: Or seed money to get something going --
REP. ANDREWS: Right.
LT. GOV. O'BRIEN: -- and then let the state with the districts take it on long term for themselves.
REP. ANDREWS: I appreciate that suggestion.
MR. KING: Just a couple things on the facilities point. You know, there are -- in a lot of cities around the country, there are under-capacity district buildings, whole floors, numbers of classrooms that are empty. So creating incentives that would incentivize districts to give that space to high-performing charter schools -- so have it linked to performance, but allow that space to be used by charters. I think that would be incredibly helpful.
There's also state and federal money that's supporting school construction that charters don't always have access to, so making sure that there are incentives in place to give, again, high-performing charters access to those funds.
REP. ANDREWS: I know that this committee's bill that the chairman introduced does address that problem. It passed the floor a few weeks ago. Okay.
MR. GOENNER: Yes. I think first, recognize all charter school laws aren't the same, so while 40 states and the district have laws, some of them produce high-quality charters; some don't. Some hardly produce any charters.
Number two, multiple authorizers is critical, so that schools and groups that want to start have different places they can go, some based on match, some based on quality, but that there is more than one, because there is not one best system. And so having a group of authorizers that are committed -- they have the will and the capacity, we call it -- is essential -- that they want the schools.
REP. ANDREWS: Do you think that's something that we should require under federal law or incentivize? I see my time is up. If you could just briefly answer.
MR. GOENNER: I think you can incentivize it, absolutely.
REP. ANDREWS: Okay. All right.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank the ladies and gentlemen of the panel.
REP. MILLER: Thank you.
REP. ROE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you all for being here. You've -- I've finally become encouraged after months of being discouraged about how the public school system is going in this country. I think one of -- the major crisis in America is education, not health care, because --
REP. MILLER: That's why they put you on this committee, to get your encouragement. (Laughter.)
ROE: That's right. (Laughs.)
If you get a good job, as Mr. Barr pointed out, you're going to make enough money to buy your health care. And so I think education is where the real challenge is in this nation going forward.
And listening to all of you all, I heard a common theme. And, Dr. King, I'll just sort of paraphrase you a little bit, that it looks to me like what you're all agreed on was a longer school day, more time in school, smaller schools -- and I'm not sure how big the classrooms are. In Tennessee, the average classroom size is 20. And what I also heard was -- I read in your testimony, Dr. King -- was you selected one teacher out of 80 to 100 that applied, so you got quality teachers, no question about it.
And I also heard Mr. Barr -- it was 15 (percent) or 20 percent more money is paid to the teachers there, which you all have selected -- good educators. And all of us know it's difficult. It's like a beautiful painting. What's a good teacher? We all know what they are, but it's hard to describe what they are.
And then I heard accountability both from the students, and from the educators and the teachers. And it actually -- a building has not been your hindrance. A big, beautiful building doesn't educate anybody. Teachers do, and parents do.
And then what I also heard -- a common theme was a will to do better, to be better.
And I think, Mr. Barr -- I look at Detroit school system where I heard the secretary say the other day that 75 percent of those students dropped out. I mean, that is a city that's going to fail, that cannot succeed with that, and we cannot -- failure is not acceptable.
We cannot fail, because we're failing our future if we do. And I thank you all for what you're trying to do.
What sizes are the charter schools? When you mention -- as we say "smaller," what does that mean?
MR. KING: For us, it's about 200 to 350 students in each school, and class size -- the average is somewhere between 25 and 30.
MR. BARR: Yeah. The emphasis on class size is not as important as the size of the school, because I have some -- all of our schools are around 500 kids. And some schools -- when we make site-based decisions collectively with the teachers, some schools think that in higher -- in high school you can have 70 kids in a class, or you can have 20. When I ended up going to college, I had terrific professors where I had 1,000 people in the class and really bad professors that had 10.
So in the earlier stages, I think that's as important. But the culture of a school -- I don't think any public school in America should exceed 500, because 500 is really that point break where every kid gets the need and nourishment of an adult who knows something special about them. And I think as you get past that, you lose that ability.
If you had $25,000 to send your kid to a private school, and you were lucky enough to have that kind of lifestyle, you would never send your kid to a private school that has 1,000 or 2,000 or 3,000 kids. That's just a natural parental instinct that smaller is better. It's not the only answer, but it creates the opportunity for those teachers to apply their craft in a very accountable way.
REP. ROE: Well, we have -- we discussed this forever. I was the mayor of our city before I came here, and we tried to keep elementary schools at 500, so it looks like we were on task there, but our high school has 2,200 students. It's a real challenge.
And I just see it as an opportunity. With what you all have passed, only 3 percent of the children in America are going to charter schools. And we've got, what, nationwide a 40 percent dropout rate? Is that somewhere about right? And the charter schools do much better.
Why don't we move more toward that? I mean, I've never been to a private school in my life. I've said this in this committee before. I overdosed on education. I've been to school 24 years. So the thing that bothers me is, is that we're not doing that, and it sounds like we have a mechanism in the public system to do that.
MR. BARR: Well, I would say that --
REP. MILLER: Let the record show that heads were nodding, horizontally and vertically. (Laughter.)
MR. BARR: Well, I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, and I live in a neighborhood in Los Angeles that the elementary schools -- there's not a charter school in that city that's as good as that LAUSD elementary school. But it's 300. Parents are heavily involved. There's high expectations.
I feel like I will have failed if I can't convince the school district to take the middle and high school and have their schools look like a Green Dot school or the Roxbury Prep or Uncommon Schools or a KIPP school -- and it has the same characteristics, because ultimately, you want to organize yourself out of a job.
I'll build a charter school for my kids if I have to, but I'd rather change the public schools in my neighborhood to look exactly like our schools and create the best public school system.
REP. ROE: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. MILLER: Congresswoman Fudge?
REP. FUDGE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you all of you for being here today.
I'm from the state of Ohio, so I think I look at things a little differently because most of our charter schools are not public charter schools, so you may hear me coming from a very different vantage point.
But I do want to just go a little further with the discussions that we've been having about replication and what we do about public education. I listened to you talk about how successful these charters are, and I think almost every one of you except maybe one used the word "failure" for traditional public schools.
If, indeed, we are here today to ask for more money for charters -- and we're talking about serving somewhere between 10 (percent) and maybe 15 percent of all the children that go to school -- should we not be talking about the other 85? Should we not be talking about putting more money into traditional public schools to make them successful schools? Because if you know what works, which you've said you do -- if you know what works, why can we not then take those models and make traditional public schools what they ought to be?
Because I'm sitting here thinking to myself, "Eighty-five (percent) to 90 percent of the kids in public schools today are languishing in failing schools," is what basically you have said. I would think that it would be a better use of money to try to help the majority of the kids instead of just the 6 (percent) to 10 percent that you're talking about today.
Help me think through that and -- anyone.
LT. GOV. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. I don't think we -- we meant that all the other kids are in failing schools, because there are fabulous public schools all over the country. We're really focusing on what can we do about the kids who are against great odds to get a good education and go on, so the kids in struggling schools, the kids from low-income and minority communities in particular. So I think we've been rather focused on that.
And I would say there's absolutely nothing stopping any public school from doing the exact same things you've been hearing here. But you have to have a will to change. And I think what we're seeing is that when you have a will to turn around the life chances of a group of kids and you're willing to work in different ways and try out different models, you can achieve wonderful things.
But if you don't have that will, just telling a school, "You have to be like Green Dot, and you have to do what they do" -- I mean, there's nothing stopping them. So I think what we're trying to say is we can show that there is not only hope but the possibility of great outcomes and performance, but you have to want to do it. And we're trying to create opportunities for the people who want to make that happen, and not force it on people who don't.
REP. FUDGE: No, no, no, I'm not -- I certainly agree with you. I think you do have to have the will. But what I'm asking -- I guess my real question is, there are many public school systems across this country who really do have a desire to change. But if we start to put all of our resources into doing something that keeps taking five kids from here, five kids from here, five kids from here, then what we've in effect done is said to those people who are left, "You know what? Figure it out."
But if we've already paid for you to figure it out, why would we not say to these schools, "Look, we have put all of this money -- taxpayers' money -- into creating" -- what you're calling innovative schools and all of these other terms you've used. "Now it is time for the federal government, who you're here asking for money today, to say we need to impose some of these things on public education because what you're asking us to do is take federal dollars and do what you want us to do.
MR. DUNN: If I might, Ms. Fudge -- I think you're asking exactly the right question. And one of the things that the charter movement envisioned 15 years ago when it first got started is that charter schools would be laboratories of innovation, as you've heard many say --
REP. FUDGE: Exactly.
MR. DUNN: -- and that that -- those things that work would transfer over to the traditional public school system.
And it's that second stage of that process that I think we've not done as good a job as a system, and -- from both the traditional side and the charter side to date.
One thing that I think that -- from our perspective, one thing that -- you know, we think that would help that a lot -- and it goes to a suggestion Dr. King made to a previous question, and that's this notion of co-location. We've got urban school districts all over this country with empty space. What's the biggest challenge for charter schools? Finding facilities.
So if we can find a better way to encourage those traditional school districts to invite charter schools onto their campus, it will better utilize space, will provide a charter school access to one of their bigger problems and, I think more importantly, will better allow that sort of transfer of successful innovation from charters and among charters to the traditional schools, because the faculties will be on the same campus.
I think there's just much more room for collaboration. So the co-location notion we think is very critical.
REP. MILLER: Mr. Polis?
REP. POLIS: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. You know, I think all of us on this committee, regardless of ideology, wish that there was a single silver bullet that would make sure that every child in America had a great school and opportunity to succeed. Some on this committee might wish that it was as simple as spending more money. Some might wish it was as simple as saying we're going to have vouchers. Some might wish it was having all big schools or all small schools. But as we all know, the data does not indicate that there is one simple solution that would help every kid in this country succeed.
But there is also a ray of hope. There are instances and examples of success with what some of you have done and others have done -- a ray of hope for kids that otherwise would become merely another statistic and instead can go on to graduate high school and college. And where we have these institutes of success, let's expand them. Let's provide more seats. Let's expand the models. Let's replicate. Because we do know some examples of what works, and we do know also that there is no one single model, no one curriculum that can instantly solve all our woes.
My first question is for Mr. Shelton. First I'd like to compliment him and the administration on their strong support of public charter schools. Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan have repeatedly called for federal investment in innovative programs with a proven track record of helping schools meet high standards and close the achievement gap. It's really exciting to see such strong leadership from the administration on this issue.
I understand the department is seeking flexibility for more effective use of current program funding to better meet the charter sector's growth needs. In many ways, we have a dual mission. We have innovation. We talked about that -- one value charter schools bring. And the other one is replicating and expanding successful models -- growth.
I'd like to know your thoughts on how you envision more broadly the role of charter schools in ESEA -- specifically, what charter schools policies we might look at in terms of expanding and replicating top-performing schools as a separate and distinct goal of kind of promoting innovation and new models.
MR. SHELTON: Mr. Polis, I think you hit the point right on the head, just as Chairman Miller called out. The big challenge today in innovation is actually the innovation of how we actually scale success. That's the code we have to crack.
What we have the opportunity to do is to actually take these high performers -- we're pushing for greater evidence through data systems to figure out which ones are high performing -- and then to make it easier for them to actually replicate.
There are three different ways that we actually should be making sure we do that. One is by leveraging the programmatic questions, really, that we're talking about to actually allow some direct grant- making to charter networks and other high-performing schools that actually are at the top ends of performance in order to allow them to replicate without having to go back to normal pathways for accessing the startup grants.
The second is that they ought to be first in line for the kinds of facilities allotments and other credit enhancement opportunities we create to reduce the burden on facilities which, as has been noted earlier, is one of the critical barriers to facilities.
The third thing that actually needs to happen is that we actually need to get much more clear about what the pathway is for taking what their practices are and learning about them and then allowing them to expand to other schools.
And so while there are some dollars dedicated to evaluation of the charter school program, we specifically need a program around the highest performers to understand exactly how we take the lessons learned and apply them to the broader field.
REP. POLIS: Thank you.
The next question is for Lieutenant Governor O'Brien. You mentioned how charter schools were initially sometimes viewed with suspicion by many districts. Can you expand on how some of those difficult relationships have been addressed in Colorado and how we've overcome these misperceptions and suspicions to the point where you actually have school districts that are -- that want to seek more innovation and more charter schools in their district?
LT. GOV. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Mr. Polis. What we've seen is that as charter schools are able to demonstrate that they're actually succeeding in educating kids that otherwise would be falling further behind, the public has gotten more comfortable with them. They're attracting more parents. And in fact, in Denver public schools, which had been losing enrollment, they have been gaining enrollment over the last couple of years, and it's attributed almost entirely to parents coming back into the district because there's a nearby charter school that's doing well.
So I think there's nothing quite like success, and I think as people have realized that they're public schools with the same controls and, you know, protection of kids, and that you can match up a child's interest in math or science or arts and have a good, solid, basic academic program to go with that, you're matching up kids with schools in a better way than just going to what's geographically close. And the public's very comfortable with that now, and the budget for Denver public schools as a whole is better because they've added 1,000 school kids to the district. Thank you.
REP. MILLER: Thank you.
REP. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I'm sorry that I'm running in between committees here today.
Could you try and -- I don't know -- it's difficult sometimes to give a percentage, but obviously there's a self-selection process in charter schools, as there were in magnet programs and other programs that school districts have engaged in over the years.
And I wonder if you could just -- perhaps just go down the line. I mean, in terms of the success of charter schools and in -- you know, the flip side of that is those that aren't successful --
Mr. Chairman, yes? Did --
REP. MILLER: (Off mike.)
REP. DAVIS: Oh, okay.
What part of that do you think is due to the self- selection process, and -- be that of parents, teachers, administrators, kids that make the decision that that's a program that attracts them? What percentage of it is the fact that, in most charter schools, teachers can be hired, fired -- you know, there's a component of control there that's different, perhaps, from other public schools? And finally, just the fact that there's a different kind of curriculum that perhaps is part of selection but may be different as well. What part of that self-selection process do you think is inherent in the fact that these are schools that kids are choosing, parents are choosing?
MR. BARR: Yeah. I would say that -- and it's been the biggest learning curve for me -- was at age 40 when I started this; I had to challenge my own preconditioning of people who don't look like me and how they -- how their motivation and -- you know, we serve a population in Los Angeles where 85 percent of the kids we serve are new immigrants or new Americans.
And if you look at it -- so sometimes people will try to explain away our results and -- by saying we get selective parents, and the -- if you actually peel back and you look at it, well, all those people just risked everything to come to this country, and they've challenged their comfort zones in ways that I and you and most of us can't even imagine.
And what do they do it for, for the hero's welcoming and the high-end jobs? No. They did it for their kids. So they take jobs under the poverty level. They're uninsured. They're the political problem, fingers pointed at them all the time. And their one chance at the American dream are these public schools.
So what happens when they come over to America? Do they -- after two or three years, or 10 years, do they forget because they're treated so well about why they came here? They're all motivated. They don't know how to approach the system. It's not a very democratic system. Our African-American families whose -- whose families are pieced together like mine were -- you know, their -- they have generations of failure in the public schools. They don't really know how to advocate and be part of that.
Yes, in that group there are some that do find some charter schools. I would tell you that the second five schools that we opened around Jefferson High School in South Central Los Angeles -- one of the worst schools in Los Angeles -- 80 percent of the attendance area applied to go to those five schools rather than go to Jefferson High School. Now, I got a C in stats, but that's a pretty good sample set.
Locke High School is a total -- we have taken everybody, you know, the 200 special day care kids in that school, the 200 kids who come in and out of juvenile camps. So hopefully it proves that model -- you kind of -- we're trying to get to the point where you can't explain away the results. And I share the same concern there.
REP. DAVIS: Anybody else want to comment quickly?
MR. GOENNER: I talk to a lot of parents and schools, and almost to a person what they say they love about the charter schools is that they're small; they're safe; they're family-friendly; their students, their children, get individualized instruction; and most importantly, they can talk to who's in charge. And that ability to talk to the school leader who's got decision-making authority is critical to parents, because they feel like their voice is heard and that they're empowered.
MR. KING: I just wanted to cite the study that Mr. Shelton mentioned earlier. The Boston Foundation did this really interesting study looking at the high-performing charters in Boston and tracking the performance of students who got into the lottery versus students who applied for the lottery but didn't get in. So it was sort of eliminating the issue of selection bias, since everyone had applied to the lottery -- and found that the high-performing charters were making a difference of upwards of 20 (points) or 30 points in terms of students' achievement.
And so I think there's a lot of evidence that although there may certainly be some selection bias just in that exercise of having a lottery, our kids are coming to us looking very much like the students in the district in terms of free and reduced-price lunch, special ed, et cetera. They're coming to us dramatically behind academically and they're making tremendous progress. I think the more charters there are in a community, the less selection bias you have because it becomes sort of understood by families as one of the options that are available to them.
REP. MILLER: On the questioning list -- and we've begun the vote -- I have Ms. McCarthy, Mr. Hinojosa, Ms. Titus, Ms. Shea-Porter, Mr. Tierney, and I -- unless there's serious objection, I would ask you each to limit your time to three minutes, and I think that will -- everybody will have a chance to ask questions before we have to dash to the floor.
REP. MCCARTHY: Thank you.
My question will be very rapid so I can hear from everybody. I believe in charter schools, but the more I'm actually listening to this panel, I'm getting really frustrated. And I'll go with Ms. Fudge and Ms. Davis: Why can't we do this to all our public schools? I mean, we just basically closed down General Motors because they didn't do a good job.
If that's the case, then putting all our money into the charter schools, which would still be a smaller percentage of students, you know, excelling -- what are we supposed to do with all the other children? So you've got to convince me here that we should be taking all this and somehow make all our public schools that way.
REP. MILLER: Anybody? Anybody?
MR. BARR: I'd say -- you know, I've offered now three superintendents, "Take me out of the charter school business, please." You know, let's take this model of small schools, decentralizing, putting dollars in the classroom, high expectations and involving the parents, but let's really do it. Let's not talk around it and then keep the 60,000 out of the 100,000 people that work at LAUSD employed that aren't teachers. You've got to be more efficient but not talk around it.
And so I agree with you. I think about this every day. I don't want to build charter schools anymore. I want our public schools in Los Angeles to look like that R&D that's working, that we all know works, as a parent and as an advocate for charter schools. I totally agree with you.
MR. KING: And I'd say that urban districts that are making the most progress are trying to make the district schools more like charters -- that is, that they're giving principals the ability to extend their school day, greater flexibility around hire/fire power. They're making changes that allow those schools to make decisions that look more like the decisions charters are making.
The other point I would make is that in cities where there are schools that have been chronically failing -- that is, that there are schools that for 30 years -- schools like Locke -- 30 years failing the community generation after generation, I think those schools ought to be closed and they should be replaced with high-performing schools, and that could be high-performing charters. If high-performing district schools have a portion of their staff that's interested in trying to take over that failing school and make a difference, we should do that.
But I agree with you, we should hold schools accountable for their performance the same way we should hold companies accountable for their performance.
REP. MCCARTHY: Finishing that up, though, unfortunately -- and you mentioned about that, but the parents that fight to get their children into charter schools are pushing to get their child to have the best education.
The second point is, we are the federal government. We can't take over, unfortunately, and say that -- what we want to say to all the public schools.
Third point, and the most important -- the superintendent and the principal -- they set the tone. They hire the teachers, basically. And they're the ones that are overseeing all of our children.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. MILLER: Where were we, here?
Mr. Hinojosa. Oh, he left. Voted with his feet.
REP. TITUS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Nevada has charter schools that are limited for non-at-risk students but not limited for at-risk students, in terms of the number. We were recently ranked number 22nd out of 41 states by the Center for Education Reform, and we got a grade of B for the strength of our charter law.
We have one of the best in the country -- Andre Agassi Academy -- but we've also had lots of problems. I don't know what we could do to get an A, if that would make a difference, if there's some federal standards we ought to try to look at imposing on all schools or not. But I was going to ask you what we could do to get an A, but I'd like to go back to the previous question. I think the thing that we're overlooking are state dollars for education. We could do all these wonderful things if states could afford it.
Nevada had to cut education funding last cycle, which is a terrible thing to do. It should have been last and not first. But you're talking about building more schools because they're going to be smaller. You're talking about longer days, longer terms, more cost. You know, how do we get over that if we're going to spread this out to public schools?
MR. GOENNER: I'd like to try and answer that. One of the key lessons is that we have to fund students rather than institutions. And when you fund students, it empowers parents in a key way because now they have some say. When they're not happy and they vote with their feet, the money follows the student, and that creates a real incentive to schools to be responsive, to change with the environment, and to deliver results.
And so I think that's absolutely one of the key things that you can do through the incentives, is make sure that we're funding students and quality education rather than institutions.
MR. KING: I think this is a unique moment where, as you say, states are really eager to have access to federal dollars because of the financial straits that they're in, and so there's an opportunity to leverage that eagerness to incentivize states to do the kinds of things that have been described and to make better decisions about how they spend the money that they do have, both state money and federal money.
And there are resources that are going into programs that haven't been demonstrated to work. There are resources that are going towards salaries of employees whose work has been of low quality and who aren't demonstrating results. And those resources would be better invested in high-performing schools, whether that's district schools or charter schools that are high-performing, and helping those schools create more schools like them, build teacher training programs, build leadership training programs, that try and take those best practices to scale.
MR. SHELTON: It's certainly important to also point out -- Steve talked about how in California the major differential is actually facilities. In most places, charter schools actually operate at a lower funding level than their traditional public schools in the same places -- significantly less in some places. So in fact, it's not clear that the assumption that this has to cost more is true.
MR. GOENNER: If I could just add -- in Michigan the schools we charter on average, according to our state Department of Education, are receiving over $2,000 less per student. But again, we don't want to look at this as an us-versus-them. This is about kids and about great education, whether they're in a traditional district, in a charter public school, private school or parochial school. What we want to do is what works, and we want to share that with everybody so we can learn from each other, because kids are the key.
MR. BARR: I'll tell you the same thing I told Andre Agassi when I went to see his school.
REP. MILLER: You've got to do it real quickly.
MR. BARR: Really quickly -- is don't come to Los Angeles and look at a Green Dot school. Come to New York, where you have total alignment with the mayor, the chancellor and the president of the teachers' union, with a free facility and $12,000 per pupil. How successful is that school going to be? When you have that kind of political alignment, that's -- you're never going to get to an A until you have that kind of alignment.
REP. MILLER: Ms. Shea-Porter?
REP. SHEA-PORTER: Thank you. I appreciate this.
And I listen to this with great interest. Just last week I was with the principal in my own community, with about 25 percent dropout.
And, Lieutenant Governor, the words that you had used in your testimony was accountability, welcoming data, culture of achievement, high performance standards, leadership of a good principal, and innovation.
And you also used the words, Dr. King, talking about high standards, academics, autonomy. Well, you know, that's what I heard from the principal when I spoke, and I know I've heard that from many other teachers.
So can't and shouldn't you be in the public schools, the other ones, providing the great talent that you have and sharing this? I mean, is it just so impossible for you to go into a regular public school? Clearly, you have a vision, a mission. You understand what needs to be done. Don't they need you there?
MR. KING: (Off mike) -- so, you know, my family spent over 70 years collectively working for -- my -- just my parents, for the New York City Public School District. But one of the things that I saw happening to the folks I know who are principals in district schools is that they are facing tremendous constraints on their ability to do the things that I believe are critical to the success of my students.
And honestly, for me, the draw of starting a charter school was having that freedom around budget, around staffing, around curriculum instruction, around school culture, to do the things that were necessary to get great results for kids.
REP. SHEA-PORTER: But, interrupting, can you slice through that? Is it that impossible to work through that, when I know that there are principals in other schools who would like exactly what you have? Is it really that impossible a mission?
MR. KING: I don't think it's impossible from a policy standpoint. There's very clear policy things we could change. There are certainly people who are able to do it, and I -- you know, as was mentioned before, in every city there are those examples of the incredibly high-performing schools.
But we shouldn't build a system where it takes extraordinary heroism to deliver quality education to low-income kids. And so, you know, to me the question that is before you, before all of us, is how do we build a system that allows there to be lots of schools that are excellent, not just islands of excellence.
LT. GOV. O'BRIEN: And thank you for that question. I just want to say we're in a really unique point in history. I mean, we haven't had this understanding of where we are with kids and what it's possible to do before.
So could we have done this before? Yes, but I don't think we knew. I mean, right now we have the information we need. We have the experience of this R&D effort. And you all have the chance to capture this moment in history and say we can fulfill this American dream of an equal education for everyone.
And part of it is we need to get a system that's used to operating a slightly different way to change, and part of it is we have to remove -- I just love that comment. You know, you shouldn't have to be a hero to have the courage to open up one of these schools. It ought to be the way we just do all of education. And I think we're here to say we believe you can move the country forward.
REP. MILLER: Mr. Tierney?
REP. SHEA-PORTER: Thank you.
REP. TIERNEY: Thank you.
Look, I have a problem with some of the things that are going on here. I think we're talking around and around here. Some charter schools succeed. Some don't. Some public schools work. Some don't.
And, Lieutenant Governor, you just said it, all right? Now we know what to do. We have the research. We have the idea of what we want to do. And the problem is that you didn't try to do that in existing schools, all right? That would have been heroic, and we should have to be heroic for our schools like that. You sort of went around it. You sort of took a bypass on the system and said, "We'll set up a parallel system, and we'll do what we now have the research to do over here for 2.6 percent of the kids, and the other can all go fish."
So that's an incredible duplicate cost. Now you want money for duplicate buildings. You want to get your principals special select money to make them better when we should be doing it for all principals. You want to do the same thing for highly qualified teachers.
So I mean, I have a little bit of a problem with why we didn't have the heroic nature of just doing it for the schools now that we know it can be done, and instead we said, "You know? It's much easier to go out and set up a special school with a small number of kids. I can highly qualify those teachers. I can get a principal there. I can do all that, but I'm not going to take on the problem of doing it for all the schools that are having difficulty."
Essentially, we've giving up on the other students and pulled out. You know, we have that research. And I think, you know, we ought to apply it to the existing schools. Now, what we lack is the political will to do that, all right? All of us -- you, us. We're setting up these alternative schools over here because we don't have the wherewithal to put it in place where it should be. We know exactly what should be done and we don't do it. Instead, we're taking large amounts of money, separating it out for small amounts of kids, having some good public schools going on and not focusing on those that are not so successful, and putting it in place all of these things.
Now, we say we're going to do it. That's No Child Left Behind. It's all the things we're looking at on the new bill coming along. But will we put the resources there? Will we really have the political will? That should be the question.
When you take out those 2.6 percent of the kids and all of their parents, you've basically taken out a lot of people who would be agitating to get that done in the larger system, including yourselves at this table here. So you know, shouldn't we support existing successful schools and then apply all of the things we now know should work and would work, put in those new things, and put the resources towards that and getting it done?
That, in my estimation, would be heroic, because everything you've said here is essentially things that we know should be in our public schools -- extended learning time where it's necessary, principal autonomy, excellent teachers -- it means we have to pay them, and you're able to do that in your schools; we haven't done that -- high expectations, data-driven decisions -- all these things we're putting in place -- high levels of parental involvement -- you know, it's always going to be a struggle. You managed to get people who say -- have enough wherewithal and political pull and say I want to go to that school because they're getting specific money. The ones left behind may not have that quotient of high-level parental involvement.
So I think that it always comes back -- it looks to me like we're setting up a duplicate system with duplicate costs for facilities, for training, for all of these things, and we're just sort of working around the problem. I wish we had the political will to hit it right on the head and get it done.
I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
REP. MILLER: Thank you very much to all of you for spending time with us this morning.
I think, in fact, that the charter school movement, after some fits and starts over the last decade, is rolling out as we had hoped it might, and that is that it would be on the cutting edge, that it would provide innovation, that it would give us an alternative model to look at, and hopefully it would give us the results that would encourage us to move in that direction in the district schools. Some places that has happened. Other places it hasn't.
But the fact of the matter, I think, is that the -- both in some district schools and in the charter school movement the most important piece of information for me is exactly the population that we have wrung our hands over for 30 years or 50 years in this country about whether or not they can succeed, whether or not they can learn. I mean, imagine asking questions like this about a newborn baby -- will this baby be able to learn? Can they really -- will they really have the gumption to do it? Can they -- if they're offered the opportunity, will they take advantage of it? I think charter schools and a number of district schools have proven the fact that this exact population can excel. It can succeed at high levels of performance. And it can enter four-year colleges. It can -- they can graduate from four-year colleges. And they can succeed in the rest of American society and the economy.
And the idea, with all due respect to my colleagues, that you can simply walk into the public school system, the district school system, and say, "We'd like to do it this way" -- in most districts that would be years of debate and waiting for a whole series of events to take place, so you didn't interrupt anything that was already in place. And you know what? One of the things that I worry all of the time -- I came here when I redid the foster care system, when we had six-month reviews for children placed in foster care. And it dawned on me at one point -- I was a little slow -- that if a child had a six-month review at six months, it was their entire life. If they had one at one year, it was half of their life. And we were still wondering what to do with the children.
For people to suggest that somehow we can wait with these children who are entering school or in pre-K, and we can wait for a decade of change or two decades of change is to sentence those 60,000 students who entered that stadium to failure.
Now, some of them magically will figure it out and navigate the existing system. But what -- we ought to use this as a beacon and a lantern to show us the way on what we ought to expect and have a right to expect, and what parents, more importantly, have a right to expect. These parents may be poor, but the waiting list suggests that they're not stupid. They know what they want. They have the same instincts for their children as anybody, whether they live in the Palisades or they live in -- in East L.A. The fact of the matter is that's what they want for their kids. They're lining up in the District of Columbia. They're lining up all over the country to ask for a better educational opportunity.
I think the trick is to integrate this into the models in the district schools and get rid of the impediments that stand in place and have stood in place for 30 years, to apply the best resources to the most difficult cases, to try to achieve the best outcomes for those children.
We know all of the politics -- everyone sitting here know all of the politics that keep those schools failing for 30 and 40 years in plain sight. You can drive by them on your way to work. You can drive by them on your way to shopping. And they continue to fail. And it's not an accident. It's not an accident any longer. And I think now we have the emergence of success for these young children, for these middle school children, for these high school students that now we ought to just crave as a nation to replicate.
So thank you so much for the contributions that you have made to this effort, to the success and the growing success of the charter school movement, and hopefully for the policy of this committee to be able to see how we have to integrate this into the education policy of this nation.
And again, I want to thank the leadership of the president and the secretary of Education for making this a public discussion. Thank you very much for your participation.
REP. EHLERS: Amen, brother.
REP. MILLER: Amen. There you go.
See, and now I've got to -- Jesus, I've got to only beat 91 of my colleagues to the floor to vote, so hopefully somebody's slower than me.