Monday, March 23, 2015

Civics Exam a Requirement for High School Graduation/

Robert Pondisco, in his recent article in U.S. News makes a case for students to take an exam, similar to what new citizens naturalizing in the US must take, before they can graduate high school.

Four states have already passed a law making this requirement for its high school graduates. Isn't one of the basic reasons we have public education is to create a well-informed public body?

Robert Pondisco makes a good case for why high school students should be required to demonstrate proficiency before they can move out into society. Maybe this would be a good move for Colorado's policy makers to consider!

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Have We Become?

I remember back in the summer of 2005 when the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI) law passed and it was just getting off the ground. As CDE staff, it was my responsibility to put together the initial documents for CSI so they could receive charter school applications as soon as possible.

I spent hours researching and writing the first Request for Applications (RFA). I'd been to all the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) conferences and was even at the first organizational meeting for NACSA. I knew the best authorizer's products and knew what needed to be implemented in Colorado. I poured a lot of passion into that RFA.

Then I showed it to my boss for his feedback.

My boss and his wife started the first charter school in Colorado to open its doors: Academy Charter School in Castle Rock. He knew first-hand what it was like to start a charter school and buck the system in the meantime. The ACS application was written and submitted to the Douglas County School District board before the legislation even passed. It was written based on the bill number.

It shouldn't have surprised me that his only response, written on the front of the half-inch thick document was, "I guess not many parents will be applying for charter schools anymore." That handwritten note hit me hard. I was also a parent who fought to open a charter school in 1994, just one year after ACS opened. It's that passion of being a parent who knew a charter school was needed in order for my own children to succeed, that drove me to become involved at the state level.

But the words of Bill Windler have rung true.

There's a group of parents and community members in the Englewood/Sheridan area of the city that have tried for several years now to get a new charter school open in their community. There are no charter schools in either district and if the districts had their way, there would never be.

TriCity Academy applied in August 2014 to open a Core Knowledge K-8 charter school in either district by applying to both districts simultaneously. Both districts denied the application at the end of October. TCA founders appealed to the State Board of Education and that hearing, held in early January, was approved by the State Board. On Feb. 3rd, both districts denied the charter school application for a second time. The only recourse for the TCA board is to file for a second appeal.

Why should getting a charter school approved be so difficult? While many things are held up as being reasons, it boils down to politics. I've seen really lousy charter school applications get approved and go on to become successful charter schools. In fact, the school I helped start in 1994, Jefferson Academy, had to appeal to the State Board in order to gain approval by the Jeffco school board. Within three years, the first time it was eligible, JA was recognized as a state School of Excellence, getting one of the first John J. Irwin School of Excellence awards in Colorado. JA remains successful with its high school listed as one of the top high schools in the state.

NACSA champions high quality charter school applications and best practices for authorizers. And that makes sense! The plan for how the charter school will operate and the people behind its formation, should uphold high standards for excellence. But who and how is it determined if a charter school is worthy of getting approved?

Ultimately it boils down to the personal preferences of the board making the decision. A board that may be influenced by the teacher's union or certain community leaders. It's political.

Who looks out for the parents? Should parents have to storm school board meetings in order to get a school approved? Should they have to give up their evenings, having dinner with their families and helping with homework in order to get a high quality public education? Or could forward-thinking elected officials recognize that a school district at the bottom of the barrel on academic performance (literally!) simply need a different educational choice?

Let's hope the children who live in the Englewood and Sheridan school districts get a high quality choice because it will, quite frankly, change their lives.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Stop Pitting Technology Against Quality In-Person Time

This article, published in the Forbes magazine, written by Michael Horn is excellent! I love this quote:

In our research, we’ve long pointed out that merely cramming computers in schools or simply handing them out to students won’t produce the educational gains well-intentioned people desire when they start with technology.

There are several school districts that have handed all of their students iPads, but still aren't getting academic results and they're wondering why this is. Technology isn't a cure, in and of itself.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Changes to the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act

There is much conjecture as to the outcome of what Congress will do to the No Child Left Behind Act, now called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by the current administration.

Typically when a new President is elected, he and his administration advocate for wholesale reforms to the ESEA, the generic title of federal education law. This is what President G.W. Bush did when his No Child Left Behind Act was adopted in 2001. The Obama administration has failed to provide an education reform agenda and while the ESEA has been tinkered with, and waivers have been given to most of the states, there has never been a wholesale reform for the Obama administration.

As with every election cycle since Pres. Obama was first elected, interested parties are again speculating what changes the Congress will bring to education policy.

Mike Petrilli from the Fordham Foundation has this to say. Further, this table of what would stay or change is helpful for a snapshot of what's being discussed.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Blended Learning 101

Have you been hearing the label "blended learning" tossed around more often lately? Here's an article that explains it in detail.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

TriCity Academy Wins Both Appeals

The State Board of Education ruled in favor of TriCity twice yesterday in appeal hearings from the Sheridan and Englewood school districts. In the Sheridan case, the board voted 4-3 in favor of TriCity Academy and in the Englewood case, the vote was 5-2. Angelika Schroeder (D-2nd Cong. Dist) voted with the charter school applicants in the second case.

TriCity Academy is a proposed K-8 charter school that wants to locate in the Englewood/Sheridan/Littleton area of the south metropolitan region in Denver. Sheridan is only 2.5 miles across and is largely manufacturing, thus the chances of TriCity Academy finding a suitable facility in the area is slim. However, the Sheridan School District is in its final year of a Turnaround plan, managed by the state.

Englewood is in a similar situation with three of its four elementary schools on an improvement plan. Different charter school applicants have applied the past two years and Englewood always turned down the applications.

TriCity Academy is assisted by Delta Schools, Inc., a nonprofit organized to assist new charter schools in getting approved and open. Delta is a charter school incubator. Schools assisted by Delta are autonomous and after the initial assistance to begin operations, gradually assume more responsibility for operations.

Delta also assists new applicants in acquiring and financing a facility for the school through the Education Opportunity Fund. TriCity Academy is working with the Fund for its facility.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Is it Time?

I was just reading NACSA's latest report, On the Road to Better Accountability, and one of the policy recommendations it to allow the state's Charter School Institute (CSI) to independently authorize charter schools without restrictions. Currently CSI can only authorize in districts that don't have exclusive chartering authority.

This state policy restriction was in the original CSI bill. In order to get the legislation approved, the sponsors carved out provisions for certain school districts. Then several years later, the General Assembly neutered the law even further by removing the requirement that districts needed to demonstrate their right to retain exclusive chartering authority every year. Consequently, only eight school districts do not have exclusive chartering authority. This is out of 178 districts in the state.

With more than 20 charter schools successfully operating and being overseen by CSI, I think it is time for legislators to loosen restrictions. CSI has proven that it can hold schools accountable and demand high expectations. Moreover, CSI has intentionally directed its efforts to meeting the legislative-mandated mission to serve at-risk students by having a greater percentage of Alternative Education Campuses (AECs) and schools serving at-risk students.

It IS time to give CSI authority to authorize charter schools without the restriction of only being able to authorize if the local district grants permission.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Charter School Enrollment

It's that time of year when my favorite study is published. The one about how many charter school students are enrolled in school districts across the country. The ninth annual edition of the National Alliance for Public Charter School's A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities analyzes charter school growth and saturation rate.

Districts with more than 10% enrollment of charter school students in Colorado are:

22% Weld County 6 (Greeley)
21% Brighton 27J
17% Colorado Springs 11
16% Denver
15% Adams 12
14% Falcon
13% Academy 20
13% Douglas County
11% St Vrain
11% Aurora

Does it seem odd to you that one of the largest school districts in the state is missing from that list? Jefferson County R-1's rate is 9%, below the 10% threshold for the table included in the report. However, it's the same size as Denver, with 16% of the market share. Jeffco has 15 charter schools while DPS has more than 40 now.

Denver Public Schools has 13,653 students enrolled in public charter schools during the 2013-2014 school year, when the report was written. Jeffco had 7,595 in the same period.

It's interesting to see the changes to this list over the years. In 2009, Cheyenne Mountain Academy was at the top of the list, but then Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy's high school, Vanguard Classical moved to the state's Charter School Institute and so they're not even on the list for the Dec. 2014 report. This year Vanguard is back with their local district, which means that next year we'll see the data change.

Adams 12 (Thornton-Northglenn) continues to slip in the ranking. In 2010 it was the top district with the most charter school students enrolled. This was largely due to the largest virtual school in the state, Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA). In 2011 it slipped to third place and this year is in fifth place. It will continue to fall since COVA has lost a significant number of students in recent years when many students transferred to another K12 operated school, Colorado Preparatory Academy created by the Colorado Digital BOCES.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What Should Parents Have to Go Through in Order to Get a Charter School?

Colorado isn't like most states in the nation where a charter school can get approved by showing there is a need in a particular community. Some districts in Colorado believe there needs to be a certain amount of parents at public hearings in order to approve a charter school. Why should hard-working families, possibly with a language barrier, be required to show up at a school board meeting in order to get a high quality education for their child?

Or is it a convenient excuse for districts to deny a charter school because they don't want the competition? School board meetings can start as early as 4 PM on a school night. For families where both parents work, many are still at work until 5 or 6 PM and then immediately go home and make dinner for their families. Then there's homework and hopefully a decent bedtime for young students. A schedule that's not conducive for young families to attend school board meetings.

Having been at dozens of school board meetings in my time, it's fairly typical for school board members to think their work is the most important thing going on in the community. Why wouldn't people think they need to show up at a school board meeting?

School board members welcome public comment. To clarify, a particular type of public comment from the citizens in its district. Positive comments. Many school board members view a proposed charter school as threatening. Threatening against the status quo the district offers. Threatening against the good things they believe they're doing. Most importantly, charter schools are viewed - by some school board members - as trying to "take their kids."

Parents believe they can make the best decision for their individual children. Parents know that each child is different and that a one-size-fits-all approach to education just doesn't work for their children. Parents want more. They want choice. Why should that be so difficult?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What is Blended Learning?

Quite simply, it is a combination of technology and a personal connection with students, most often a physical environment. The use of technology allows students to work at their own pace and be pushed beyond where other students may be working. Students can progress through the curriculum at a faster pace.

Within just the past couple of years, most educational software has become "adaptive," meaning it adjusts based on how the student is responding to questions. If a child needs to back up and review a particular concept. the software does that without the student even realizing it. Moreover, the software is "gamified." Students think they're playing a game and in fact, they're learning.

Adaptive software has revolutionized how students learn. Significant gains (more than one year in one year's time) has been documented in several research publications for programs such as Reading Plus and ST Math. Even students who come from disadvantaged economic situations are making significant gains using technology.

For more information: The Learning Accelerator has a video explaining Blended Learning. And the Christensen Institute has developed the four different types of blended learning, which makes it easier to distinguish styles along the spectrum.