December 2012 Newsletter: Charter Schools and Interscholastic Sports

31 Dec, 2012

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Charter Schools and Interscholastic Sports

A key part of the conversation about charter schools centers on standardized test scores and comparisons with traditional public schools. On a Saturday afternoon in Washington, D.C., in December 2012, a different kind of metric was in play-points on the scoreboard. When the city's new football championship game was over, Friendship Collegiate Academy, a charter school, had demonstrated its prowess in a 48-12 defeat of Dunbar High School, a traditional district school. The game was organized under the DC State Athletic Association, which was formed in 2012 by the city's mayor and Office of the State Superintendent of Education as a way to bring district, charter, and private schools together for citywide championship competitions in a variety of sports. The football championship highlighted the rise of a charter school in the nation's capital as an emerging national football power and served as a reminder that academics are not the only reason students attend school. In addition, numerous Friendship student athletes have earned college scholarships. This feature of the National Charter School Resource Center's monthly newsletter focuses on the way charter schools are organizing to participate in interscholastic sports and some of the issues they face. The resources we have provided enable you to pursue the topic further.
Providing sports programs and extracurricular competitions is not a simple or certain process for charter schools. The issue was important enough to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools for them to make it part of the organization's assessment of state charter school laws around the country. The analysis found that most states laws do not specifically address matters such as eligibility and access. But changes are occurring. In South Carolina, for example, the state, as part of broad changes to its charter school law in 2012, decided to require that charter school students be eligible for district school activities that are not offered at the charter school. The charter school law in Washington state, which took effect in December 2012, also specifies that charter school students have access to district school programs. Oversight typically falls to associations that govern interscholastic activities. Interscholastic sports organizers face an ever-changing landscape of schools, leagues, and challenges to rules and fairness as they strive to maintain a level playing field and meet the diverse needs of students and schools.
There is no shortage of details to attend to as charter school leaders develop sports programs-facilities access, hiring coaches, paying the bills, and following complex rules for issues such as eligibility of athletes, school classifications, and recruiting. The implications of running afoul can carry an incredible price tag. A Florida charter school, for example, was fined $260,800 for violations of Florida High School Athletic Association rules. Developing a successful program, however, can be worth the effort as a means to help charter schools grow and meet the needs of students who might otherwise go elsewhere to develop their talents and pursue the potential rewards.

Building Charter School Sports Programs Takes More Than Cheering

In the San Francisco Bay area of California, as in other locations, parents have been enrolling their children in charter schools for better academics. But the schools have realized that extracurricular activities such as sports are important for the development of both students and schools, according to Melvin Landry, a longtime director of parks and recreation programs in Oakland, California. Landry left the municipal work for a job as athletic director of an area charter school and now serves as commissioner of the Bay Area Charter School Athletic Conference (BACSAC). The conference, formed in 2007, developed as more charter schools in the area expressed interest in sports participation. They wanted to play not just against each other but against traditional public schools and private schools too, which required joining the local section of the statewide organizing authority, the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF). The 13 BACSAC schools range from Freemont, California, to Richmond, California, a distance of about 50 miles. Teams compete in cross country, soccer, volleyball, and basketball. "Most of our schools don't have enough kids to do tackle football," Landry said in an interview with the Resource Center.
Finding facilities for practice and games was a challenge from the start. Some BACSAC schools are in former district school buildings and have gyms, while others are without their own facilities, although a conference KIPP school is expected to complete construction of its own gym in 2013. "We try to secure a facility around the school so it's like their home gym or field," Landry said. "We've gotten a lot better because we've built very good relationships with parks and recreation, schools, and churches that have facilities," Landry said. In addition to rental fees, liability insurance is required to cover damages to rented facilities. "All of the locations require that we give them a copy of the insurance," Landry said, adding that the coverage usually is an addition to the school's basic insurance policy and typically costs about $300.
Costs come in many forms. There are membership fees for BACSAC and CIF, transportation expenses, pay for coaches and administrators, and the cost of meeting sports dress codes for players. "You have to wear specific types of uniforms." Landry said. "You have to have certain piping; letters have to be in a certain place. You cannot just come out there with a T-shirt on."
"Sometimes when we communicate this to the schools that are interested, they don't realize it's going to cost them that type of money," Landry said. "A lot of times, honestly, they don't think about paying people." But, under CIF rules, evaluation of coaches cannot include a bonus tied to the success of the team. And tight restrictions apply to how a coach can build a team. "You can't just go out and recruit kids because of sports," Landry said.
"As long as you've got people who are committed to the process and really understand why we're doing it, then it tends to work better," Landry said. For example, schools must provide appropriate supervision to ensure proper behavior of their students. It's extra work for a teacher or administrator to show up as a game site administrator. Some schools have been unable to comply and maintain order. "We've had to dismiss a couple of schools from our league because they didn't understand that part."
The KIPP King Collegiate gym, which is expected to be ready to host its first game on January 14, 2013, is among the new facilities being completed on a lot behind the existing school that will include a soccer field, eight classrooms, a library, office space, and a kitchen. Curt Goehring, the San Lorenzo, California, school's Athletic Director, said in an interview with the Resource Center that the school has relied on a frequently changing cast of rental facilities. Other teams often have taken priority for use of such facilities, meaning that Goehring's teams have been relegated to 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. practice slots. Some of the facilities have been up to 15 miles away from the school that opened in 2007. Practices soon will become more convenient. "Our kids will be able to get home at a decent hour and we'll be able to get rid of a lot of travel," said Goehring, whose duties at the high school of 460 students also include serving as college counselor, registrar and student scheduler, girls basketball coach, and AP psychology teacher. The new gym will have seating capacity for about 500 people. "We'll be able to get really big crowds," Goehring said. "It'll be great for school culture once we get it going."
In Arizona, one of the key people focused on keeping the system operating is Randy Baum, Executive Director of the Arizona Charter Athletic Association (ACAA). The group has 139 member schools from across the state competing in baseball, basketball, flag football, football, soccer, softball, track and field, cross country, ultimate Frisbee, and volleyball. A charter school physical education and health teacher, Baum has headed the organization for the past seven years.
Many schools have a significant population of economically disadvantaged students, meaning that a $100 participation fee might be hard to raise. "There are not many charters that allocate funds for sports," Baum said. "It's the kids that fund it." He noted that some schools gain support from outside organizations and that the capacity of charter schools to start and run sports programs ranges widely. For example, larger charter schools in the association have the means to assign assistant principals to serve as athletic directors, Baum said. Smaller schools struggle, and part of the association's role is to help train administrators, according to Baum. Baum also helps provide information about matters such as making connections with facilities, getting uniforms and equipment, and determining the types of staff who need to attend games, such as an emergency medical team.
When it comes to facilities, the association has been able to rent community college gyms for tournaments and often relies on renting sports complexes of private developers that also cater to youth club teams. "Districts will rent to us now and then," Baum said. "It just depends on the district." Part of the challenge for charter schools is to attract students who might be lured by an impressive facility at a district school. The association helps round out the charter school experience by providing the infrastructure that gives students events such as Friday night football and state championships, the traditional experience of high school. "They want that culture," according to Baum.
Rules governing teams vary among the associations. For example, the ACAA takes a less strict approach to student transfers than the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA), which focuses on traditional public schools and has more than 200 members. The ACAA allows students who switch schools to compete immediately instead of sitting out for a year as called for by the AIA, according to Baum.
The challenge of organizing interscholastic events is not new, but the landscape is rapidly changing, according to Mark Cousins, Director of Athletics at the University Interscholastic League (UIL). The University of Texas at Austin created the UIL in 1910 as a way to guide public school extracurricular activities. Charter schools entered the scene in Texas in the mid-1990s. About 60 charter schools have joined the UIL, which has about 1,400 high school members, nearly all the high schools in the state. The rise of charter schools prompted changes to rules, including those on eligibility, which have been adjusted to accommodate the new circumstances of charters and to keep the playing field as level as possible and prevent students from jumping to new schools simply for varsity sports participation. Charter school students must meet the same varsity eligibility standards as other students in public schools. For example, a student who does not choose to attend a charter high school in their district at the first opportunity to pick a high school is ineligible for varsity sports unless the student has been going to the school for a year.
Charter schools are able to draw students from a wider area than traditional public schools, for example, from multiple school districts. But for the purposes of sports, the attendance zone for charter schools is defined as the traditional school district in which the charter school is located. Cousins said refinement of the rule may come, as officials consider whether to further shrink the eligibility boundary for a charter school to make it more like that of a district school attendance zone.
Charter schools are not alone in stirring changes. Traditional public schools offer many types of school formats-magnets, each catering to a different type of student, early college schools, dropout recovery schools. "Certainly charter schools are a piece of this evolution," Cousins said. "But it's also just a reflection of the changing nature of public schools."


Three Charter Groups Win Total of Nearly $70 Million in RTTT–District Competition

Three charter school organizations won a total of nearly $70 million as part of the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) $400 million Race to the Top–District Competition.
Harmony Public Schools and IDEA Public Schools, both of Texas, were each awarded about $29 million, and KIPP DC in Washington, D.C., was awarded $10 million, according to ED.
They are among 16 winners representing 55 school districts in 11 states and D.C., ED announced December 11, 2012. ED received 372 applications and has posted scores and comments for the winning submissions. The four-year awards range from $10 million to $40 million.
ED said the plans are "tailored to meet the needs of local communities and feature a variety of strategies, including: using technology to personalize learning for each student; giving students opportunities to learn beyond the traditional school day and environment; supporting students' transitions throughout their education, including from high school to college and careers; expanding partnerships with community organizations to provide students with targeted social services like crisis intervention, individual counseling and life enrichment opportunities; and providing professional development and coursework options to deepen learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields."

Multimillion Dollar Gates Foundation Grants Going to Seven Cities for Charter–District Collaboration 

Seven cities are being awarded multimillion dollar grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to back collaboration between charter and district schools, according to a December 5, 2012, announcement from the foundation.
The grants totaling about $23.6 million will go to the cities "over the next few years," with New Orleans receiving $2,968,172; Hartford, $4,996,773; Boston, $3,250,000; Denver, $4,001,999; Spring Branch, Texas, $2,192,636; Philadelphia, $2,499,210; and New York City, $3,699,999, according to the foundation. The cities were picked from 16 cities that have formed charter–district collaboration compacts and received support from the foundation.
The grants will enable the cities to "continue scaling and working on initiatives including, joint professional development for teachers in charter and district schools; implementing the Common Core State Standards with aligned instructional tools and supports for teachers; creating personalized learning experiences for students; universal enrollment system for all public schools in a city; and common metrics to help families evaluate all schools on consistent criteria."
The Foundation "is likely to make another round of compact-related funding announcements" in 2013 to support "mutually beneficial financing and facility use proposals," possibly "in the form of low-cost loans, credit enhancements or risk sharing structures that leverage external funding and can serve as proof points towards the ultimate goal of open facility access to high performing schools regardless of governance."


June 30-July 3, 2013: National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, D.C.


University Interscholastic League

This website of the University Interscholastic League provides a wide range of information about its organization and guidance for interscholastic sports and other activities, including bylaws and rules for charter schools, manuals for specific sports, procedures for facilities, and information for parents.

California Interscholastic Federation, Constitution, Bylaws and State Championship Regulations, 2012-2013 

This website section of the California Interscholastic Federation includes extensive information about the governance of interscholastic sports programs, including game management guidelines, charter school provisions, and standards for transferring out of a low achieving school.

Bay Area Charter School Athletic Conference, Constitution and Bylaws

This document of the Bay Area Charter School Athletic Conference provides detailed information about the governance of the conference, including management procedures, coach hiring requirements and ejection policy.

National Federation of State High School Associations

This website of the National Federation of State High School Associations provides extensive information about the organization and operation of high school sports programs, including standards and rules for competition and conferences and events nationwide.

2012 Model Law Rankings Database

This section of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Model Law Rankings Database reviews state charter school law provisions on extracurricular and interscholastic activities eligibility and access.

No Left Tackle Left Behind: The Improbable Rise of Friendship Football in Washington, D.C.

This 2012 article from Grantland focuses on the development of the football program at Friendship Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., including issues of league participation, academic benefits, scholarships, drawing students, school commitment, and a history of school sports in the city.

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Key Developments Affecting Charter Schools