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Charter schools

School Choice Key to Instilling Civic Values

A robust system of education was hailed by our Founding Fathers as vital to maintaining liberty in America. However, Jason Bedrick from the Cato Institute argues that traditional public schools are failing to instill the civic values needed to promote our democracy.

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Two Charter Schools Leading the Way in Student Research

With only 10% of high school students nationwide engaging in major research projects, two D.C. charter schools have instituted mandatory thesis projects for graduating seniors, with fantastic results. These trailblazing schools, both part of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, require students to write a 12 to 15 page paper on a policy issue before defending before a panel of professionals.

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Creating capital citizens: Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools and civic education

For our latest case study in the “Teaching Citizenship in Charter Schools” series, Richard Lee Colvin, an education journalist and author of Tilting the Windmills: School Reform, San Diego, and America’s Race to Reform Public Education (out this month from Harvard Education Press), profiles the César Chávez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy in Washington, DC. The mission of the charter network—which has four schools located in the nation’s capital and serves 1,4000 students, nearly all of whom are African Americans or Latinos from low-income families—is to “empower students by helping them both succeed in college and learn to use their knowledge of government, public policy, and effective advocacy techniques to become ‘civic leaders committed to bettering our communities, country, and world.'”

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In Service of Citizenship: YES Prep Public Schools and Civic Education

In the latest in a series of in-depth case studies exploring how top-performing charter schools have incorporated civic learning in their school curriculum and school culture, Robert Maranto (University of Arkansas) takes a look at Houston’s YES Prep Public Schools. YES Prep (the “YES” stands for Youth Engaged in Service) began in 1995 as a program at Rusk Elementary School in the Houston Independent School District, then became its own independent charter school in 1998, and currently is home to 10 grade 6–12 campuses serving 6,400 students in the Houston area. From its beginning, Maranto points out, “YES Prep has emphasized citizenship through service to the community.”

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AEI Report: In Service of Citizenship: YES Prep Public Schools and Civic Education

In Service of Citizenship: YES Prep Public Schools and Civic Education
By Robert Maranto
(April 3, 2013)

The “YES” in the name of YES Prep Public Schools stands for Youth Engaged in Service. From its start as a program at Rusk Elementary School in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) in 1995 to its opening as a single independent charter school in 1998 to its current network of 10 grade 6–12 campuses with some 600 teachers serving 6,400 students, YES Prep has emphasized citizenship through service to the community.

YES Prep is often compared to another “no-excuses” network of charter schools: the much touted Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). Like KIPP, YES Prep began in the 1990s in Houston before chartering with the support of then-HISD Superintendent Rod Paige. Both networks were founded by and are still largely staffed by Teach for America (TFA) corps members. (In a survey of YES Prep social studies teachers I conducted, 61 percent reported being trained by an alternative program such as TFA, compared to 17 percent of traditional public school social studies teachers. Both charter networks are highly successful academically; YES Prep boasts a 100 percent college placement rate and high college completion rates for low-income students. Seventy-two percent of YES Prep alumni have completed college or are making progress toward that goal, compared to around 10 percent of disadvantaged students generally.  Like KIPP, YES Prep serves a predominantly minority student population (86 percent Hispanic), 78 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged.

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Common core, social studies, and charter schools

On Monday, March 25, the AEI Education team is hosting an all-day conference to discuss the Common Core State Standards and how they complement (or conflict) with school reform agendas that states are already pursuing. There are many great panel discussions throughout the day, but of particular interest is the third panel, on charter schooling and social studies standards. The Program on American Citizenship has released a number of case studies that examine how different charter schools approach teaching social studies and civic education—and we’ll be publishing a couple more studies in the coming weeks. Indeed, one of our authors, Robin Lake (who coauthored, with Cheryl Miller, Strengthening the Civic Mission of Charter Schoolswill be a discussant on Monday’s panel. She will be joined by Jeanne Allen (Center for Education Reform), Russell Armstrong (Office of the Louisiana Governor), and Peter Meyer (Thomas B. Fordham Institute).

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Charter Schools and Civic Education

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spotlights our recent work on charters and civic education, as well as the Center for Education Policy’s analysis of the national civics assessment to compare charters to district schools.

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How can schools best educate Hispanic students?

In its spring issue, Education Next hosted a forum about how schools can best educate Hispanic students. Responding to the question, CEO of Chicago’s United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) Juan Rangel answers that schools catering to Hispanic populations should emphasize civic responsibility and good citizenship.  “A quality public school that emphasizes civic responsibility and good citizenship,” he writes, “will suffice to transition immigrants successfully, challenging them and the rest of us on our joint commitment to the welfare of our nation.”

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Civic education and charter schools: current knowledge and future research

The Center on Education Policy at George Washington University has just released a new report that provides a good overview of current research on civic education in charter schools and suggests opportunities for further research. (In regard to this latter point about future research opportunities, as Maria Ferguson, the head of the Center, notes, “The most interesting finding from our analysis is that the research that exists about civic education in any kind of school (charter, traditional public, or private) is limited at best.”)

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School choice week

In celebration of National School Choice Week, we have been highlighting our ongoing case study series “Teaching Citizenship in Charter Schools.” The series explores how top-performing charter schools have incorporated civic learning in their school curriculum and school culture. We have published three case studies so far: Daniel Lautzenheiser and Andrew P. Kelly’s “Charter Schools as Nation Builders: Democracy Prep and Civic Education”; Joanne Jacobs’ “Counting on Character: National Heritage Academies and Civic Education”; and, most recently, David Feith’s “Making Americans: UNO Charter Schools and Civic Education.”

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AEI’s education policy academy

If you’re a grad student who enjoys the work we do on teaching citizenship in charter schools and AEI’s education policy work, consider applying for the AEI Ed Policy Academy, to be held in Denver, Colorado, this July 28 – August 1.

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Why charters?

The third-annual National School Choice Week officially kicked off earlier this week, with over 3,600 events planned across the United States to bring attention to and advocate for more educational options for students and families. (Click here to see what school choice events are happening near you.) As the nation turns its attention to school choice, it’s  a good time to take a look at how charter schools are approaching civic education.

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Preparing for democracy

Over at the “Rick Hess Straight Up” blog at Education Week, AEI’s Rick Hess highlights our new series of case studies on teaching citizenship in charter schools. Providing some helpful background as to why we think these case studies are important, Hess writes: “Amidst our “achievement-gap” drenched discourse, it’s easy to slight other educational priorities–like, say, the obligation of schools to teach, prepare, and equip students to be good and responsible citizens. As I noted in The Same Thing Over and Over, since our nation’s founding, schools have been asked to inculcate good citizenship with at least as much urgency as they’ve been asked to promote literacy and numeracy.”

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Counting on character

Last week, the AEI Program on American Citizenship published a case study by Daniel Lautzenheiser and Andrew P. Kelly that looked at the Democracy Prep Public Schools network in New York City. Today, we’d like to highlight the second study in the series that explores how top-performing charter schools have incorporated civic learning in their school curriculum and culture: “Counting on Character: National Heritage Academies and Civic Education.”

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AEI Report: Counting on Character: National Heritage Academies and Civic Education

Counting on Character: National Heritage Academies and Civic Education
By Joanne Jacobs
(January 23, 2013)

Like other charter schools, National Heritage Academies promises parents to teach a rigorous curriculum that will prepare their children for success in college. It also promises a moral education imbued with traditional values such as love of country and family. Good character is not just a private asset, NHA leaders believe. It leads to good citizenship.

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Democracy Prep and civic education

In the first in a series of in-depth case studies by the AEI Program on American Citizenship exploring how top-performing charter schools have incorporated civic learning in their school curriculum and school culture, AEI’s Daniel Lautzenheiser and Andrew P. Kelly take a look at the Democracy Prep Public Schools network in New York City.

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States reduce focus on social studies, civics

Over at the Heartlander, Rachel Sheffield, an education research assistant at the Heritage Foundation, interviews the Program on American Citizenship’s Cheryl Miller about the state of civic education in American schools and the promise of charter schools when it comes to civics. Miller notes that “states say civic education is important, but very few test on it. […] That communicates something to teachers, administrators, parents, and students about the importance of this subject.”

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Democracy Prep students: vote for somebody


Fourth grade students at Harlem Prep, part of  Democracy Prep Public Schools (one of the charter school networks profiled in Strengthening the Civic Mission of Charter Schools), have created a catchy song, sung to the tune of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call me Maybe,” encouraging eligible voters to get out and vote this November 6. Check it out.

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A tale of two schools


Writing recently for Education Week, AEI’s Daniel Lautzenheiser expanded on the “new and potentially transformative way of thinking about schooling” that charter schools provide.

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Henry V and modern education

As we continue to explore the broad range of approaches that different charter schools bring to preparing students to become engaged citizens and active learners, we thought David Brooks’s recent column in the New York Times on the need for public schools to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to be pertinent.

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