Next Up Blog

What a treat to join a favorite podcast, Forgotten America hosted by my friend Garrett Ballengee, founder of the Cardinal Institute in West Virginia, to talk about What’s the Big Deal With Microschools?

American Ingenuity was the real focus of our conversation. In this watershed moment when millions of American families have come to reevaluate their relationships with the institutions they have historically relied on to serve their educational needs, a new incarnation of the microschools that began to dot the praries during this nation’s westward expansion, is coming back charged by technology, a golden age of digital content, and everything we’ve learned about teaching and learning.

And we also make time to discuss other favorite manifestations of American ingenuity along the way. Join us for an hour of fun conversation. Listen here.

The following public comment, filed by Nevada Action for School Options, analyzes a rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Education on March 11, 2022. The proposed rule, which you can read here, sought to make harmful changes to the federal Charter School Program which we believe would compromise one of the federal government’s most effective education programs in inequitable and unfair ways.

 

April 12, 2022

The Honorable Miguel Cardona, Secretary of Education

Re: Proposed Charter Schools Program Rule — Docket ID ED-2022-OESE-0006

Dear Secretary Cardona:

Thank you for your agency’s leadership in support of high-quality public charter school opportunities for learners across the United States. My extensive experience with the federal Charter Schools Program has provided me important opportunities to observe the program’s impressive effectiveness and its tremendous value for expanding equitable access to high-quality educational opportunities. 

In my service as a charter school authorizer, as a trustee of high-quality charter schools fortunate to receive grants under this program, and as an official grant reviewer for this program, I feel qualified to assert that as it is presently administered, it is truly one of the most efficient and impactful federal grant programs I have encountered in any agency.

As with any federal program, it is important to continue to revisit its structure, funding priorities, and various other mechanisms to ensure that it is adequately meeting the evolving education needs of the community it serves – families in need of effective schooling options. I applaud you and your colleagues in leading this important process.

I do, however, believe that the regulatory changes proposed in this docket would be problematic and would negatively impact this excellent program for the reasons outlined below.

1. Proposed Priority (1)(e) requires that applicant charter schools provide evidence that “the number of public schools needed to accommodate the demand in the community” not be exceeded. What this proposed requirement fails to address are the common instances where the only available seats for residents in many underserved neighborhoods are seats in ineffective schools rated in the bottom half of the school performance framework of their state.

It is not adequate, and is not morally justifiable, to offer children and families access to only low-quality educational opportunities in schools with poor records of success demonstrating academic outcomes, like the growth of individual students over time. In such communities where I have worked, where the only schools with available seats are ranked in the bottom tiers (for example, one- or two- star rankings in a system where five stars represents the highest ranking), new, high-quality charter schools are badly needed and generally extremely popular with families.

Any proposed rule which does not distinguish openings in high-performing schools from those that perform below average, or worse, would limit access to high-quality educational opportunities to children and families who live in such neighborhoods, an unfortunate and inequitable outcome indeed.

2. Proposed priority (2)(iii)(b) seeks to require applicants to provide a letter from a partnering traditional public school or school district detailing a commitment to participate in collaborative activities. This misguided requirement would effectively give school district managers unilateral power to veto a new charter school from receiving a grant under this program. As a charter school authorizer in a state where school districts are instructed by legislation to provide written feedback about new charter applicant plans, I have seen firsthand how competing priorities within school district leadership can lead to incomplete, inaccurate or inadequate results in such instances. School district funding would not be dependent upon district leadership providing this commitment to charter school applicants, so it is incomprehensible to me why prospective charter school students be penalized by such inaction by school district leaders if funding for their charter school were threatened instead, as proposed by this rule.

3. Proposed priority (1) (g) would require charter school applicants to propose transportation plans for students who are unable to walk or use public transportation to attend. While I very much agree that government resources should be equitably allocated so that charter school students be provided the same opportunities as their peers in traditional public schools, the fact of the matter remains that charter school students in many jurisdictions are not funded at levels that permit their schools to offer transportation options. If additional federal or state funding were made available to provide these charter school students with ample vouchers to meet their transportation needs, this would serve the cause of equity of educational opportunity well.

Thank you again for your leadership for public school students.  I am available at any time to discuss these suggestions and to assist your team in incorporating effective solutions into your Charter School Program plan.

 

Sincerely,

Don Soifer, President, Nevada Action for School Options

This year’s annual Nevada Private School Summit showed in bold, bright colors just how dedicated, and how diverse, our state’s community of private school leaders remains through whichever challenges may emerge.

Faith-based schools in attendance included Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Christian, Seventh-Day Adventist and Islamic institutions, while independent secular schools included two specializing in serving children with special needs and the autism spectrum, an academy for gifted children, and different student-centered and “hands-on” learning models.

Nevada has a relatively small private schools sector – 150 schools serve about 20,000 students statewide. This constitutes about one-third of the number of students currently enrolled in Nevada’s charter schools.

These schools are generally small in size, and contrary to what some less familiar with this community may think, very much serve children from working families who make sacrifices in order to pay tuition. The state’s Opportunity Scholarship program provides funding to only about 1,000 children, who generally attend less costly schools.

Nevada’s private schools are also some of the heaviest-regulated in the country, subject to stringent, and expensive, requirements dictating the number of days (at least 180), even hours, in a school year, minimum number of square feet allotted for each child (30), administrator and staff qualifications, curriculum accreditation, and other components of mandatory renewal of state operating licenses every two years. Several leaders expressed frustration at not being included in consequential education policy conversations by Governor Sisolak’s administration, and at being subjected to excessive delays and uncertainties receiving the expressly allocated shares of federal funding targeted to nonpublic school students.

This year, as in previous years, school leaders gathered to share observations and experiences and to learn from national experts including bestselling au

thor and schools innovation expert Anthony Kim discussing practical strategies to rethink teacher retention, Lisa Snell of the Stand Together Trust analyzing recent national schooling trends, and Foundation for Economic Education Director of External Relations Marianna Davidovich.

Participation, while strong, was lower than in previous years, amid this sector’s own version of staffing and educator shortages prevalent across K-12 education right now. Nonetheless, this strong-spirited community of veteran leaders proved its enduring eagerness to be there to support each other, their schools and communities, to be vitally present to meet the needs of the families who make them their choice.

We at Nevada Action for School Options proudly support this hardworking community of education leaders in putting on this important annual gathering. If you’ve not had the opportunity to visit these schools to see them in action, please let us know and we would be happy to help make arrangements.

April is National Poetry Month, and Nevada Action for School Options is excited to celebrate with our third annual poetry contest and Facebook Poetry Reading Event with the finalists (videos will be pre-recorded by the finalists)! Watch our pretty unforgettable inaugural reading featuring some amazing young poets here.

We want you to send us your poem for our National Poetry Month contest with the theme “Spring is for New Beginnings.”  The winner from each age group will receive a certificate and a prize! 

This contest is open to all Nevada children grades K-12, wherever they currently receive their schooling. The contest will be broken down to grade level groups, as always.

One winner will be selected from each group. Check out past winners here!

There is no required format for your poem, however we do ask that your poem be inspired by the theme “Spring is for New Beginnings” in any way you like.

All poems must be emailed to ashley@nevadaaction.org by the end of day April 30, 2022. Please include your name, age, grade, and city you live in when you submit your poem. Multiple entries are accepted, but a child may only win one prize.

Finalists will be selected by our panel of VIP poets. All finalists will be notified by email. The finalists will be asked to send a video recording of themselves (with parent permission) reading their poem for our Poetry Reading Facebook event. The VIP panel will select one winner for each age group from the finalists.

Please contact Ashley at ashley@nevadaaction.org with any questions! We cant wait to read your poems!

So what are microschools and what is this microschooling movement all about anyway? Some of the most compelling microschool founders in the movement describe what matters most about the work they lead in this 90 second spot from MicroschoolingNV.