Friday, July 8, 2016

Where Should the Power Lie Between Districts and Charter Schools?

Yesterday the CO Board of Education voted in favor of HOPE Online keeping five of its online learning sites operating in the Aurora School District. The only reason this charter school's case came to the state board was because they offer online education and in order to operate these sites, must have an MOU with the local school district, according to state online education law.

The Aurora School District contends they don't approve of the academic performance data coming from these five online learning sites, which are basically a stand-alone school operating under the auspices of HOPE Online's charter.

HOPE Online's administrators argued that interim data was more positive and that parents needed these educational options.

An interesting twist to this case is that Aurora Public Schools (APS) is not responsible for HOPE Online data since the charter is with Douglas County Schools. More importantly, APS has more than its share of under-performing schools that it operates itself. Certainly not a strong position to argue for accountability for increased academic performance.

The state board ultimately ruled in favor of parents needing educational options. Admittedly, these options are not high quality.

So where does the power lie? The district argued for local control, which district officials always interpret as THEIR local control--not parents. Many people believe parents have the ultimate control over their child's education. Similarly, if a parent decides to home school, but the student doesn't fare well academically, where does the power lie for that parent's decision to home school?

In the end, the unanimous vote of the State Board of Education, which is split 4-5 politically, speaks volumes! It means that parents have more power in decisions about their children's education than the local school district.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Is Charter Equity Fair?

Senate Bills 187 and 188 are designed to bring about equity for charter schools. SB 188 would require school districts to give an equal per pupil share of mill levy override funds to their charter schools. Most would think that all public school students should be funded in the same manner, but apparently three members of the Senate Education Committee disagreed when they voted against SB 188 last week.

President of the Jefferson County School Board, Ron Mitchell, spoke against the bill saying that the local board of education was better suited to make funding decisions than charter school board members. Even though Mr. Mitchell stated that Jeffco funds their charters equitably, public charter school students receive about 75% of the mill levy override funds given to the district.

SB 187 would clean up several provisions of the Charter Schools Act. For example, CSI schools are under the same legal requirements as the CSI board and thus two board members are not permitted to speak unless it is an open meeting. SB 187 would change this and allow CSI-authorized schools to operate with the same legal requirements as all district-authorized charter schools in the state, meaning that there would need to be three board members in order for it to be a public meeting.

Both bills passed our of the Senate Education Committee with all Republicans plus Sen. Mike Johnston (D-Denver) voting for the bill. Next, the bill will be heard by the full Senate on second reading.

Monday, February 8, 2016

What is America's Cultural Foundation?

This morning Denver Broncos fans are waking up as Super Bowl 50 champions! The big win blankets this morning's media coverage. There was a report of one woman tweeting that "the NFL has been around longer than our government. We've had 49 Super Bowls and only 44 Presidents."

Juxtapose that tweet with the following list developed by Robert Pondisco here.

1. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
This most famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence sets any serious understanding of America in motion. To fully grasp its importance, however, means that learners must be conversant in Enlightenment thought, America’s colonial history, and the revolutionary moment at which these words were written—and which gave them resonance. An entire education could be wrested from considering what it means in America to “pursue happiness.” Perhaps it should.

2. “To form a more perfect Union”
If I had to choose only one, this would be it. This phrase from the Constitution establishes the overarching narrative for the whole of America’s social history. Our nation may have been ordered around the prerogatives of a select class of citizens, but no serious contemporary thinker argues that civil rights can be legitimately denied to a person on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. The ceaseless effort to form a more perfect union is—on our best days—the story of America.

3. “E pluribus unum”
The nation’s motto, which translates to “out of many, one,” first appeared on the Great Seal of the United States when adopted by Congress in 1782. In its original use, the phrase meant that a single new nation was birthed from the original thirteen states. Over the centuries, however, this durable motto has evolved to connote our status as a nation of immigrants—people of many races, religions, languages, and traditions who have come together as a single people in the American “melting pot” (a phrase itself badly in need of rehabilitation). Those wishing to view the American experiment through the lens of diversity, or make it the central narrative, should start here.

4. “A government of laws and not of men”
This concept reflects a political philosophy dating back to the ancient Greeks; but it was first applied to the United States by John Adams, repeated by John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison and uttered again by Gerald Ford in announcing the resignation of President Nixon. The idea that every government official pledges to uphold the Constitution is a seminal element of the American creed—the rule of law is above the power of any individual or institution. Those who find the word “men” anachronistic can substitute “equal justice under law” as inscribed over the door of Supreme Court building.

5. “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”
The phrase is familiar from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, but to understand its significance and resonance means an appreciation for the historic novelty of self-rule.

6. “Self-Reliance”
No single phrase can capture the character and self-image of a large and diverse nation, but the title of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s seminal 1841 essay still resonates. A half-century later, Frederick Jackson Turner argued “that coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and acquisitiveness…that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism” could all be attributed to the indelible stamp of the frontier on America’s psyche and character. Alexis de Tocqueville made similar observations about the unique character of the citizenry in Democracy in America in 1835.

7. “The chief business of the American people is business”
It is impossible to separate the nation’s history from its status as the most robust and productive industrial, financial, and economic engine the world has ever known, captured neatly in this famous Calvin Coolidge observation. America’s large population, wealth of natural resources, entrepreneurial spirit, and rich legacy of inventions and innovation—from the telegraph to the lightbulb to the personal computer—made the United States the most prosperous nation in history through industry and free market capitalism.

8. American exceptionalism
John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon described America as a “city upon a hill,” a phrase Ronald Reagan constantly invoked centuries later. The debate over whether or not America has a unique role to play in transforming the world into a better place burns as hotly today as ever.

9. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
Emma Lazarus’s stirring words etched in bronze in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, a few hundred yards from Ellis Island, are among the most aspirational sentiments ever penned about the promise of our nation. Every American school kid used to learn the verse by heart. We should insist they do so again. Some adults too.

10. “A republic, if you can keep it”
Benjamin Franklin’s response, when asked what kind of government had been decided upon by the delegates to the Constitutional convention, is a pointed reminder that self-rule must never be taken for granted—and of the historic longshot American democracy represents. His words may be more relevant today than at any time in our history.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Banning Lewis Preparatory Academy Gains Approval

Last night, in a unanimous vote, the Falcon 49 Board of Education approved the Banning Lewis Ranch Academy expansion request. The contract amendment with the district will allow the school to operate through 12th grade, expanding their current school that is through eighth grade. The school plans to build a second campus to house their secondary school. Banning Lewis Ranch and Oakwood Homes have been working on this project together.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

CO School Districts with High Percentages of Charter School Students in Their Districts (2015 edition)

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools just released its annual report on the school districts with the highest percentage of charter school students in their districts.

For Colorado, that list includes:

Greeley (25%)
Brighton (21%)
Falcon 49 (20%)
Harrison 2 (18%)
Colo Springs 11 (17%)
Denver (17%)
Adams 12 (16%)
Douglas Cnty (15%)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Are Charter School Students Worth an Equal Amount?

Should charter school students be funded the same as non-charter school students in the same school district? You'd think that'd be a no-brainer, but just recently the Jefferson County R-1 School District's Board of Education voted for equitable funding of district mill levy override monies. For years the Jeffco charter schools received only a small portion of mill levy funds. In 2013-14 charter schools received $247 per student while district students were funded at $1400 per student. In June, the Jeffco board voted to equilize that with all students in the district getting the same $1400 per student.

Now, Rep. Lang Sias, Arvada, a charter school governing board outside of his elected duties, is talking about running a bill that would mandate equitable funding for charter schools.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Vanguard School

In 1995, a group of parents in the Cheyenne Mountain school district applied to open a charter school. The school opened with an extremely dedicated core group of parents, educators and students. Recently, the school celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The original K-8 was named Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy (CMCA). As students graduated eighth grade and families weren't completely satisfied with the neighborhood high schools, families organized to open The Vanguard School. Not wanting competition for the local high school, Cheyenne Mountain HS, the school district's Board of Education refused to let the new high school use the words Cheyenne or Mountain, thus the name The Vanguard School. The school is now merging the entire K-12 under the name The Vanguard School.

Many of the founders of CMCA are still involved in charter schools. Leaders such as Jonathan and Elizabeth Berg, Cindee Will, Collin Mullaney, Diane Boore, Keith King, Linda Carroll, and Deborah Cole not only blazed the trail for many in Colorado Springs, they also are still contributing to the charter school sector after two decades of work.

The Vanguard School is almost always in the top five schools on anyone's list. Beginning in Kindergarten, students and staff know how to impact learning. The school uses the Core Knowledge curriculum with a Direct Instruction methodology and curriculum. The school's philosophy is based on a Classical philosophy.

Congratulations to all the students, families, staff, and leaders at The Vanguard School. You deserve a wonderful celebration for all the hard work and accomplishments you've realized over the years!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Authorizer Reputations

Charter school authorizers have a reputation with the charter schools they authorize. Some are very friendly and respect the autonomy of charter schools. Some authorizers change over time and so does their reputation. Denver is a good example of this. During the first year of charter school applications in Colorado, Denver denied an application from the Thurgood Marshall middle school. That denial eventually made it's way to the state Supreme Court. That's how hard Denver fought that charter school application!

There are a potential of 179 authorizers in Colorado since all school districts and the state Charter School Institute can authorize charter schools.

When the Charter Schools Act became law in 1993, it was for a group of charter school founders to operate autonomously, separately from their district. Many leaders in the charter school community have repeatedly expressed concerns about recreating the bureaucracy that we created the Charter Schools Act to separate from.

At least one charter school authorizer in Colorado has exceeded the bureaucracy and imposed a heavy level of control, far worse than many school district. The charter school community has been talking about this authorizer and the "gotcha" mentality conveyed to its charter schools.

If charter schools are operating successfully, the philosophy is that they should be able to operate with autonomy in exchange for results. This one authorizer, instead, imposes higher standards, which are far beyond that of a district-operated school. Should charter schools be held to a standard higher than other public schools? Should the performance metrics be different -- and higher -- for charter schools?

Most charter schools just want to be treated fairly. This means a professional working relationship built on trust, respect and transparency. Charter school leaders relish the opportunity to exceed the performance of their district-operated counterparts if that aligns with their mission and is supported by a solid curriculum. But what about the schools that have a different educational philosophy that doesn't align with the state's accountability system? For example, a dual language immersion charter school may sacrifice Reading achievement in the early elementary grades for language acquisition and instead prioritize academic achievement at higher grade levels. Still other charter schools don't place value on the state assessment system, that keeps changing, and instead focuses on the ACT or internal assessments such as NWEA's MAPS.

What is "fair" in charter school authorizing? Allowing the charter school to set goals to match its vision and mission is important. These discussions should occur when the charter school application is being considered. The evaluation of a charter school's success should not change over time, or at the whim of the charter school authorizer.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Digital Learning's Impact on School Architecture

Without reverting to the failed "open school" concept of the 1970's, architects are considering ways to positively impact digital learning through school design. Michael Horn explores this further in an interview with architect Larry Kearns.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Key to Effectively Using the Blended Learning Model is to Use the Data

As Michael B. Horn reports in Education Next, a recent study of school districts using the blended learning model admit they don't use the student achievement data reported through the blended learning program. In fact, one school district admitted to not even knowing how many students they served in their dropout recovery program.

Software developers have gone to great lengths to incorporate high tech, detailed achievement data capabilities into blended learning programs. In real-time, teachers can see how their students are performing and know exactly which standard or component they don't understand. This allows the teacher to address the deficiency immediately.

But not if the teacher doesn't know how to use the data behind the software or doesn't have someone to support him/her in effectively using the data gleaned from the student's work.