If in preparation for celebrating our nation's declaration of independence—and by the way, for the record, the actual Declaration of Independence is a suggested text in the Common Core, as are many of our founding documents—you missed the thirteenth annual National Charter Schools Conference, here are twelve key takeaways (and only a handful of Fordham plugs and shout-outs):
1. From panels, to keynote speakers, to just plain old networking, everyone was citing the latest CREDO study, but Andy Smarick's take—as well as Adam Emerson's challenge to charter advocates—go in-depth on what the findings mean.
2. Pitbull—yes, a hip-hop artist gave a keynote address bright and early on Monday (How many people had even had their coffee?). For the best take on his speech, check out The Washington Post's Reliable Source.
3. The Walton Family Foundation was inducted into the Alliance's Hall of Fame for its tireless work in improving education and the school-choice movement (they have invested more than $1 billion in education*). The only question is why this recognition didn’t come earlier.
4. Howard Fuller, for many, represents what the charter school movement is all about. He calls it as he sees it—and this year it's about doing diversity instead of talking about doing diversity.
5. The Common Core: Craig Barrett asked when conservatives stopped supporting high standards (bingo and bingo), Michael Lomax thinks it's ridiculous that Arne Duncan can't praise the Common Core, and charter school leaders and teachers clearly want to get Common Core right.
6. Rocketship Education is not just expanding to Milwaukee and other cities; it’s taking over the charter conference (see, for example, takeaway number seven).
7. Scalability and Innovation: The challenge in education reform is how do we take a really good idea that works with one student, one classroom, and one school, and then expand it state-wide and nationwide? The charter movement is not immune to this problem (it's actually one of its major problems). In one of Rocketship's many appearances and mentions, the network was praised for perfecting its model and thinking about scale before scaling up.
8. Michael Petrilli is an entertaining moderator.
9. Closing bad charters and replicating high-performing charters is a policy that Fordham strongly supports—as do many (but not all) of the groups that attended the conference. Bravo to the California Charter Schools Association, for example, which has long been willing to name names in terms of which schools should close.
10. Charter schools have long been criticized for excluding special-needs students. If the number of sessions dedicated to special-needs students is any indication, the education-reform movement is taking this very seriously.
11. Parker Baxter of NASCA spoke compellingly about the nuance needed in creating accountability in charter schools—especially from the authorizing perspective. Baxter also gave a shout-out to Fordham's “Governance in the Charter Sector” brief, calling it one of the best reads on charter governance.
12. Twitter makes conferences so much more useful (and entertaining). Search #NCSC13 to see what folks were saying in the Twittersphere.
*Fordham has received a tiny slice of that funding.