My final day as TCSA Executive Director approaches and it is definitely bittersweet. The opportunity to serve as a leader in this vibrant and successful movement has been extremely rewarding. As most of you know, it also has been quite challenging.

As I reflect on our shared journey over the last nine years, I think one word expresses my feelings best: proud. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished together. I think each and every one of you – whether a teacher, or a leader, or a parent or an advocate – should be proud as well.

We have come a long way baby!

When I started TCSA back in October of 2008, there were 90,000 students attending school at 374 charter campuses around the state. Last year, there were nearly 273,000 students on 675 campuses! On average, student enrollment at charters has grown at a rate of 12 percent annually and I have every reason to believe this phenomenal growth will continue for years.

In the early years, there were many challenges. Frankly, in the late 1990s there were charters granted to entities that never should have been allowed to educate our state’s youth. National studies showed that charter student performance lagged behind students in the traditional ISDs they left behind.

Over the last nine years, TCSA has maintained a laser focus on improving the quality of the sector. We have partnered with charter and school leaders across the state to improve governance, fiscal management, and operations. And, these improvements have allowed charter leaders to keep the eye on the ultimate prize: improving student outcomes.

And, yes, we have worked to ensure that charter schools that are not meeting the needs of kids or are not good stewards of taxpayer funds are shuttered.

We are seeing the results of this work. CREDO, out of Stanford University, released a report this summer that showed – in an apples to apples comparison – that charter students were outperforming their traditional ISD peers in Reading, and had completely closed the gap in Math. In fact, public charter students received the equivalent in learning of an additional 17 days in Reading. Over three weeks of additional learning!

The Texas Education Agency recently released its performance reports, once again showing that public charter schools serve higher proportions of students who are economically disadvantaged, African-American, Hispanic, and/or English language learners. These student groups outperformed their district peers in reading, writing, and social studies last year.

And, we are now seeing the results of this hard work pay off in a more charter friendly environment in Austin and elsewhere throughout the state. In the 85th Legislative Session the charter movement scored historic wins: Funding for facilities for the very first time; an additional $3 billion in Permanent School Fund Bond Guarantee capacity; and we were able to protect the funds for charters serving our most vulnerable youth, and charters that have implemented truly innovative programs.

So, yes, I am very proud of our work. I think you should be too.

And, I am fully confident no one will rest on these laurels. The work continues. The challenges remain. I can’t wait to see future results.

Thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving as a leader in this movement. There is no more important work than serving students.

There is much to celebrate with the latest Texas Education Agency (TEA) academic accountability ratings that were released last week. More charter campuses than ever, 538 in all, achieved Met Standard or Alternative Standard accountability, while the number of charter holders meeting standard increased to 85 percent, a 4.8 percent increase over the years from 2013-2017.

The gap between the performance of ISDs and charters is closing rapidly as well. Using an “apples to apples” comparison that removes “not rated” campuses from the denominator for ISDs and charters, 91.4 percent of all charter campuses achieved Met Standard in 2017 while 95.7 percent of ISD campuses did the same, a 4.3 percent difference. That’s a great deal of improvement since the year 2013 when, using this same methodology, the Met Standard difference between charter and ISD campuses was 11.8 percent. The same improvement is seen comparing charter holders to ISDs, with a 6.7 percent difference in Met Standard ratings between the two groups in 2017, compared to an 11.2 percent difference in 2013.

The recently released Stanford University Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) study confirms this improvement in performance indicators. The 2017 CREDO analysis of Texas charter school academic data reveals that Texas charter students gained about 17 extra days in reading each year compared to students in ISDs, with math performance about the same. This is significant as the 2013 CREDO study found that Texas charter school students were losing about 17 days of instruction in reading and 23 days in math compared to their ISD counterparts. Also noted in the most recent CREDO study is the fact that Texas charter schools educate more economically disadvantaged students (72 percent to 60 percent) as well as higher percentages of traditionally underperforming populations, including Hispanic and African American students.

Achievement at the highest levels is particularly noteworthy, as 40 charter campuses received all available academic distinctions this year, up from 32 campuses in 2016. This amazing accomplishment represents six percent of the 675 charter campuses evaluated and mirrors the performance of ISD campuses where 427 out of 6,904 campuses (6.1 percent) received all available distinctions.

So what’s in store for the future of Texas academic accountability? Most importantly, the implementation of HB 22 mandates that beginning in August 2018, all Texas ISDs and charter holders will be evaluated on three domains: Student Achievement, School Progress, and Closing the Gaps. Based on performance in those domains, a rating of A, B, C, D or F will be assigned to each domain as well as an overall letter grade for the ISD or charter holder. Campuses will begin to be evaluated on the A-F system beginning in 2019. In the meantime, Commissioner rules will need to be written to provide guidance on how the new accountability system will roll out. As we receive more information, we will keep you informed and provide the training and support you need to understand and successfully navigate this new system.

As each of you begin your new school year, please know that the Texas Charter Schools Association is here to support you in every way to provide you, your students, staff, and parents with the highest level of quality support and advocacy. Please let us know how we can help you to accomplish your mission for success as we all work together every day to provide a quality public school choice option to the students of Texas!

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