Raising the Bar: Breakthrough Advocates for High-Quality Charter Schools in DC

Breakthrough Visits DC

Breakthrough Schools visits DCBreakthrough Schools was invited to visit Congress and speak on behalf of our community regarding the innovative, effective, collaborative educational work happening in Cleveland, Ohio. At this session, entitled “Raising The Bar: The Role of Charter Schools in K-12 Education,” our CEO Alan Rosskamm spoke along with the following national education leaders:

Student and Mentor at The Intergenerational SchoolCongressional leaders spoke with these charter leaders regarding their on-the-ground work in K-12 education. Among the topics discussed were the relationships between charter and districts, funding inequities, educational innovations, charter school growth, authorization and oversight of charter schools, closure of low performing schools, needs of high-performing schools, the role of the federal government in the developing charter school sector, and much more. Watch the entire session here.

After the session concluded, House Speaker John Boehner released this press release:

Ohio’s Breakthrough Charter Schools Leading the Way in Education Reform

In the press release, Speaker Boehner specifically thanks our teachers for their work in our communities:

“It’s no secret: when our kids learn and thrive, so do our communities.  That’s why the work of Alan Rosskamm and the teachers at Breakthrough Schools is so vitally important.”

Click here for the entire press release.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Highlights Cleveland

Messages from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools highlighted the collaboration and spirit in Cleveland:

Testimony Highlights From the Session

To see all the highlights, visit our Breakthrough Schools YouTube Channel here.

Cleveland.com Highlights Breakthrough’s Visit to Congress

Patrick O’Donnell of The Plain Dealer covered the story for Cleveland.com, highlighting key elements from the day, including:

“Cleveland’s unique partnership between the District and high-performing charter schools continues to draw national attention as a national model for education reform,” Rosskamm said in the written statement.

Breakthrough officials participated in creating Cleveland’s school improvement plan, the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools, and even sat in on delicate negotiations between the mayor, district, foundations and the Cleveland Teachers Union as early opposition to the plan was worked out.

Breakthrough schools also share a portion of the 15-mill school tax increase that voters passed in 2012 and its schools regularly receive some of the highest scores on state tests in the city. Click here for the full story.

Testimony Transcript

Alan Rosskamm delivered the following remarks to Congress today at 11:15am:

Chairman Kline, Ranking Member Miller, and members of the Committee.  Thank you for inviting me to discuss Breakthrough Schools and the transformative education efforts happening in Cleveland, Ohio.  Breakthrough is a nonprofit charter management organization operating 9 schools, with over 2,500 students, growing to serve almost 7,000 students by 2020.  Our student population is 96% minority and 84% low-income.  For the 2nd year in a row, Breakthrough is the highest rated charter network in the state of Ohio. 

Our network had a unique start, growing out of a collaborative effort by three existing independent charter schools each with a distinct educational model.  In 2009, they came together to improve their schools’ long-term financial sustainability and to enable growth so that they could serve more children. 

Our partnership with families is key to our students’ success.  Our teachers conduct summer home visits and parent teacher conferences approach 100% participation in many of our schools. Our Through College Program mentors students and their parents in the selection of high-quality college preparatory high schools that best fit their needs.  Those efforts culminate in one of my proudest evenings of the year, where the 24 best high schools in Cleveland – independent, parochial, charter and District – all join us for a high school fair, with our parents and children shopping together for the right high school. 

At Breakthrough we value our relationship with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  Breakthrough schools are currently the only charter schools in the city sponsored by the District.    Together, we work towards solutions that benefit children.  Breakthrough’s principals and a group of District principals meet regularly for professional development and to share best practices.   I feel I have a true partner in District CEO Eric Gordon. 

We have also collaborated on facilities since 2011 when we purchased four closed school buildings from the district and co-located one of our new schools inside of an existing district high school.  In both instances, these were firsts in Ohio.  The co-location arose when the church lease we were counting on fell through just a few weeks before our new west side school was to open. Eric and the CMSD Board of Education showed tremendous courage and vision, allowing our elementary school to open in the basement of a District high school.  Very quickly, we had CMSD high school students greeting our kindergartners at the door and walking them upstairs to breakfast each morning.   When we outgrew the space, the District agreed to a lease of the empty school building next door for only $1 a year. There is a definite sense on both sides that we really are in this together.  Our joint goal is to create more high-quality seats for children regardless of who owns them.

Our city is best known for our unique collaborative approach to urban education reform.  The greatest example of our partnership has been the work with the Mayor’s Frank Jackson’s office, Greater Cleveland Partnerships, Cleveland’s chamber of commerce, the Cleveland Teachers’ Union, the Cleveland and Gund foundations, the District and Breakthrough to create and pass the Cleveland Plan: transformative bipartisan legislation that has enabled our city to pursue our shared vision of a portfolio school district offering high quality school options in every neighborhood.   Part of the Cleveland Plan included the creation of the Transformation Alliance, a nonprofit organization charged with monitoring the quality of all Cleveland public schools, District and charter, to enable parents to make informed school choices.

Following the Plan’s passage, we worked closely together again to pass a 15 mill operating levy, the first operating levy to pass in 16 years.  Cleveland is only the second city in the country, behind Denver, to allow charter schools to receive a small portion of local tax levy dollars.  As I think the Committee can see, in Cleveland all of us have put traditional differences aside for benefit of the city’s children.  

Breakthrough is an example of how educational entrepreneurs have created innovative schools that work and then proceeded to replicate to create quality seats for many more children. This phenomenon is taking place across the nation.  Breakthrough is one of 24 high-performing charter management organizations that collectively operate more than 400 schools across 53 communities and 23 states, serving 154,000 students.  If we operated as a district, we would be the 15th largest and the highest performing urban district in the country.  With your ongoing support, we plan collectively to open more than 370 new schools over the next five years and to serve an additional 200,000 students.  High-quality charters like those in the Breakthrough network and our peers across the country are proving every day that historically disadvantaged students can learn and excel. 

I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this morning and I look forward to your questions.