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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Layoffs in the Future as the Birthrate Falls in the U.S.

All but three U.S. states experienced a decline in their birthrate since the recession began in 2007. For 14 states, the decline was in the double digits; a significant impact to schools in the future! Just as schools have had to adjust for the highest birthrate in history in 2007, schools will now need to adjust their work force and building capacity with significantly smaller numbers.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Alabama Becomes 43rd State to Pass Charter Schools Act

Last week Alabama became the latest state to pass a Charter Schools bill and it was signed into law on Thursday, by Gov. Robert Bentley. The  new law provides for an appointed commission to address charter school applications when they are denied by the local board. This is the only way to ensure high quality schools will be allowed to open.

Congratulations, Alabama!

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.