Sunday, December 30, 2007

More on Charter School History in Colorado

I've been purging files in my home office and have come across numerous documents from the "early years" of charter schools in Colorado. One piece is the inaugural charter schools newsletter from CDE, Bill Windler, Editor, dated September 1994. This was before the use of email was routine, so theoretically this paper newsletter was established to convey important charter school-related information.

Many remember the emails Bill Windler would later send out with a solid page of email addresses. Was BCC even invented back then?

I've also come across numerous articles from the time period when the Jeffco School District was holding charter school application hearings in 1994, the denial of Jefferson Academy's application and the subsequent appeal to the State Board of Education. When the State Board unanimously remanded the JA charter application back to the district for reconsideration, board members made such strong statements that the front of the Denver Post the next day said, "State Board Chastizes Jeffco Board."

The Charter Schools Act was initially adopted as a "pilot" program with a sunset of 1998. In 1998, Sen. Ken Arnold carried the bill to lift the sunset. At that time, fully half of the charter schools open were operating because of the strong appeal provision in the Act. When the bill was debated on the floor of the Senate, I recall arguments being made that charter schools were supposed to serve predominantly at-risk students and that ideal had not been realized. It is true that many of the first charter schools in the state were started by people who could -- people with the means to compensate for no startup funds and people who had the legal, business or finance expertise to open a new charter school.

I think people were surprised that the initial pent-up demand for charter schools came from the suburbs. At the time, Denver Public Schools was antagonistic to charter schools, in fact one of the first appeals to the State Board came from DPS. This case eventually went to the State Supreme Court and a decision was handed down in 1999 in the Booth case. An African-American educator, Cordia Booth, had wanted to open a middle school for children in northeast Denver. She valiantly fought for many, many years and would never see her dream for a charter school realized. Mrs. Booth, however, is considered a heroine in Colorado charter school history.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Financial Impact of Charter Schools

Almost every charter school appeal brought to the State Board of Education argues the issue of financial poverty. Districts both large and small have argued that the financial impact of opening a new charter school will harm the district financially.

When I was a volunteer charter school lobbyist I found out that school districts don't consider the per pupil amount the Legislature gives school districts to be associated with each student. Instead, they look at the amount they receive for educating individual students in an aggregate amount, belonging to the school district. As a parent, I'd considered the per pupil amount to be attached to each individual student.

Back in the late 1990's there was a study done on the financial impact on a school district when a charter school opens. The study wasn't considered reliable since it assumed figures reported by school districts were valid without any verification, but the essence of the report was that it cost about $50 a student more to educate a student in a charter school than in a district-operated school. The people delivering this report to the Jeffco School District posed the question, "Since this $50 amount is approximately the cost of one new textbook, is this a good investment for the delivery of quality educational services?"

Districts contend that when they lose 5-8 students out of a 30 student classroom, they can't cut a teacher's salary and instead must absorb the cut. Charter school founders argue before the State Board of Education that the Charter Schools Act provides them the right to establish a charter school and educate students with an educational program of their choice. I think a fundamental aspect of the argument is who owns the right to the per pupil amount designated by the Legislature: the school district or the parent?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

CSI Denied Two Charter School Applications

Newly seated board members voted down two charter school applications when the Charter School Institute board met on Dec. 19th. The first, Colorado Premier Academy, was proposed by former Colorado Virtual Academy and Academy of Charter Schools Executive Director, Kin Griffith. Colorado Premier proposed serving online students in the Adams 12 School District.

The second school, Milestones Academy, was proposed by National Heritage Academies. NHA successfully operates 55 schools in six states; including Landmark Academy in Reunion.

This was the first CSI board meeting for new members Van Schoales, Sam Batey and Pat Grippe. It's unclear at this time if the two denied charter applicants will be appealing to the State Board of Education. People will be watching to see if the formerly "charter-friendly" CSI board has shifted.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Merry Christmas to all my readers! I hope you're enjoying time spent with family and friends. My son is on leave from the Marine Corps and so we've been having a great time with the entire family gathered together eating way too much food!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

KIPP Sunshine Peak & W Denver Prep

Yesterday's Rocky Mountain News had a great article about KIPP Sunshine Peak and West Denver Prep. Although slightly different models, both charter schools emphasize rigorous academics and primarily serve at-risk students in Denver. It's good to see schools like this get recognition because they deserve it. Everyone works really hard at these schools to make sure the students are successful academically!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why Vision Matters

A strong indicator of school success is a clear and focused vision. In charter schools, the governing board leads the school by implementing the vision and mission. For the vision to be purely implemented and sustained over time, a variety of stakeholders must be involved in defining the school and then ensuring the vision is implemented.

The board implements the vision and mission by establishing policy. Further, the board's strategic plan communicates specific short-term and long-term goals. The principal, in turn, communicates the vision and mission to staff, students and parents. The principal does this on a daily basis with specific, measurable goals. The vision should guide all decision making.

Research indicates a sustainable environment requires a strong leadership group, not just a single individual (e.g. principal) or a small group of individuals (e.g. governing board). Schools must have a leadership team with true ownership in how the school is run. Marzano calls this a "Professional Learning Community" and in his books, articulates who is on the PLC, the role these key leaders serve, and the outcomes they determine.

Some schools exist simply because they always have. Some neighborhood schools believe that because they must serve all types of students, they are like a smorgasbord and the result is that they're not "great" at anything. Successful schools know what they're good at and how to deliver that product in a quality manner. If they haven't reached the "great" category yet, these successful schools have a laser-like focus on student achievement based on factual data, periodic assessment and clear goals. These leaders don't guess what's right for increasing student achievement, they do their research and make decisions based on what research or best practice has already indicated works well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

UNC Graduation: Another New Teacher

My son, Luke, graduated from the University of Northern Colorado this morning with a history degree and teacher licensure. Attending and graduating from college is a big deal at our house. My life goal is for all four of my children to earn at least a Bachelor's degree and I'm halfway there as of today.

I started early talking to my children about attending college. None of them have considered not going to college, even the son who is still in the U.S. Marine Corps and will enter college when his enlistment is complete. When Luke graduated from Jefferson Academy Senior High he had 22 college credits. He spent three and a half years at UNC.

I'm very fortunate to have a son who will teach high school history. His fiance graduated with the same degree today. In the fall my daughter will attend UNC for the same degree. You could say history is a big thing in our family! Luke chose to study history after having an awesome middle school teacher, Mr. Eric Thimsen, at Jefferson Academy.

Luke is really good at the strategy game Axis and Allies. Luke used the strategy behind Axis and Allies for a lesson when he was student teaching this semester. The students had to figure out how to move various commodities around the Roman Empire in order to meet demand.

Luke will be a very good teacher because he will hold high expectations for his students and he enjoys getting to know them as individuals. Hopefully, his first job will be in a charter school!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What Does Research Say About Homework?

The pros and cons of homework are perenially debated by students and parents alike. Here's some research findings on homework:

1. Scholars at Duke University reviewed more than 60 research studies on homework that were conducted between 1987 and 2003. They concluded that homework generally has a positive effect on student achievement. The strongest positive correlation was for students in grades 7-12 (Cooper, Robinson, & Patall, 2006).

2. Using data from a national sample of 343,900 high school students, Bembenutty (2005) found that students who engaged in self-directed study methods, such as homework, were more likely to succeed academically because they developed higher motivational beliefs about themselves.

3. Research conducted by Paik (2003) found that students learned more from homework that was graded, commented on, and discussed by teachers than from homework that received no feedback.

4. Nichols (2002) found that schools and districts with clearly defined policies and expectations related to homework were more likely to have higher achieving students than schools and districts without such policies and expectations.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Charter School Demand

Today I learned about two new charter schools that now have to do little marketing for new students simply because of the reputation they quickly established in their community. Both of these schools serve high-risk populations. W Denver Prep serves primarily Latino families in southwest Denver and Colorado Springs Early Colleges serves a mixed population, which includes the Fort Carson area. Keith King, an administrator at CSEC said that they get in new Letters of Intent every day. CSEC is in its first year and offers students both a high school diploma and an Associates degree in four years. More evidence that high-risk families need, and deserve, a quality education!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Charter Schools & Background Checks

I hate it when the media doesn't accurately report situations relating to charter schools. They rarely get the facts straight and it doesn't help students to have their school or a particular situation exploited in the media.

That said, it's a good time to point out that charter schools are required to conduct background checks on all staff in the same manner a non-charter public school would. Some charter schools conduct background checks themselves, rather than doing it through their school district. Further, some school districts require that charter school board members submit fingerprints for a background check prior to board service.

Last year there was legislation submitted that erroneously assumed charter schools with waivers from the background statutes weren't conducting background checks. This was simply false. I called all the charter schools with this particular waiver and they were, indeed, conducting their own background checks. Charter schools with these waivers are delegated the authority in statute (a delegatory waiver) rather than doing something completely different (a substantive waiver).

Friday, December 7, 2007

Life Skills Center of Denver

This week's Westword features a cover story about Life Skills Center of Denver. In addition to a frank account of the real-life situations the students at LSC face, the article does a great job of explaining Santiago Lopez's key role in turning around the school.

Santiago became the Principal of LSC in January of 2006 and then within a year Denver Public Schools revoked the school's charter. Santiago made initial changes, but there wasn't any new test data to report before DPS decided to close the school.

Life Skills is managed by White Hat Management, LLC out of Ohio. They also have a charter school in Colorado Springs. After a rough start, the Colo. Springs school got a new Principal who reformed the school and it currently is an excellent model for at-risk education.

Our charter school support team, the Charter School Support Initiative, did week-long audits of both Life Skills charter schools and the model is effective with high-risk students. The model is primarily computer-based and self-paced. Classroom teachers who are quick to jump in and help individual students and a strong English Language Learner component are both evident at the Colo. Springs school. The Denver school is working on improving a variety of things, including these two components. As mentioned in the Westword article, closely monitoring student attendance and making personal contact when a student is absent, has been a top priority for LSC-Denver staff.

Santiago Lopez has valiently stepped up to the challenge of reforming his school. He walked in to a very difficult situation. Having visited the school several times and having periodic contact with Santiago, I can honestly say Santiago's made dramatic changes and I'm confident the school's data will prove as such to the Denver Public School's board when the charter renewal is considered in February.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Center for Education Reform on the US News & World Report Best High Schools List

Jeanne Allen, Center for Education Reform, said:

"The disproportionately high percentage of charters on this new list not only shows that charters work by bringing badly needed educational options to scores of American families, it should also bring comfort to policymakers across the nation who are considering improving or expanding their charter school laws."

Allen made these statements after noting 11% of the top 100 high schools are charter schools. This even though most charter schools in the nation serve elementary or middle school-aged students.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Vanguard School @ Cheyenne Mountain Academy #1 High School in Colorado!

The School Accountability Reports were released today and again the #1 high school in Colorado is a charter school. However, this time it's a school that has never received a rating before because it's in its FIRST year of operation! Vanguard School @ Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy is the high school for CMCA. According to the raw scores, the second-ranked high school is D'Evelyn Senior High and third is Ridgeview Classical Schools. For the past four years Ridgeview held the number one ranking, another charter school. Moving up to fifth place this year is Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette.

Cheyenne Mountain's middle school is the second highest scoring in the state. The top 10 middle schools are almost all charter schools!

KIPP Sunshine Peak in Denver and Paradox Valley Charter School both serve student populations with more than 80% qualifying for Free/Reduced Lunch and ranked either Excellent or High on the SAR.

To read more about Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, go to:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

US News & World Report -- Top High Schools

The US News and World Report just released today (edition 12/10/07) puts Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette at #47 in the nation! The only other Colorado high school to make it in to the top 100 high schools is D'Evelyn High School in Jefferson County (#62). Peak to Peak is the #8 charter high school in the nation according to the report.

The report is based on four criteria, which includes math and reading scores, the scores of economically disadvantaged students, college readiness and participation rate in AP courses. The study was based on 2005-06 school year data.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Good News about Charter Schools

This information was provided today by the federal Charter School Program office:

1. The percentage of District of Columbia public school students (including charter) who scored proficient or advanced in reading was 38% (elementary) and 35% (secondary). Fifty-nine percent of all public charter schools exceeded the state average, while only 44% of DCPS schools exceeded the average.
2. Of the 239 public schools receiving the National Blue Ribbon award, 8 were charter schools.
3. Among communities with at least 10,000 public school students, eight had at least 1/5th of their public school students in public charter schools, an increase from six in the 2005-06 school year.
4. A 2003 national report by the Brookings Institute shows that test scores at charter schools are "rising sharply" and out-gaining conventional public schools.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

CSP Director's Meeting

I was out of town this week due to a family emergency -- thanks for your understanding. Tomorrow I go to the national Charter School Program Project Director's meeting in Washington, DC and so will be filing reports from there. Tony Fontana and I will be presenting a workshop on the Charter School Support Initiative and the resource handbook, compiled by the Southwest Comprehensive Center. In addition, Dick Carpenter, our state evaluator will be presenting a workshop on charter school typology. Dick will be conducting a typology study in Colorado in 2008.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Brighton #8 in the Nation for Charter School Market Share

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a study on communities in the United States with the highest market share of charter schools. Brighton tied for #8 in the nation!

The Brighton School District was the first district in Colorado to authorize a charter school to serve as a neighborhood school. Both the Bromley East and Belle Creek charter schools serve a geographical region--a new subdivision. The developer provided land to these charter schools, which allowed them to bond to finance a new facility. In each situation the charter school shares a community recreation center facility. The Brighton School District was unable to get a bond approved a few years ago and yet is faced with tremendous growth. The Denver International Airport is in their district along with all the new related growth in that area.

Last year when the Brighton Charter School was in the news due to a teacher who was charged with inappropriate contact with a student, Superintendent Rod Blunck modeled the right way to act as an authorizer: holding the charter school accountable, making sure they were complying with laws and allowing the charter school governing board to rectify the situation. Further, the district has a charter school liaison, Sam Sakurada, who has a good working relationship with charter school representatives. This year the district's new Landmark Academy opened in the Reunion area. Landmark's charter was the first time the district negotiated a charter with a for-profit management company (National Heritage Academies). All parties agree that because of patience and desire to work out what's best for the students, the outcome was successful.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Teaching Reading, Part 5

I have two sons who struggled to learn to read. When the one hadn't learned to read by winter break in first grade, I bought "Hooked on Phonics" and taught him myself. The "learn to read by osmosis" approach in his school just didn't work for him.

Through our quest to address the boys' learning needs, the teacher who worked with them at Jefferson Academy noticed they had tracking problems. This was demonstrated in their difficulty in copying problems from the board. Their eyes didn't follow the line and then go to the next line of text. This was addressed by having them do eye exercises and finding sequential letters in random letters representing "words." One of the eye exercises involved my son laying on his back and me standing above him with a tennis ball suspended on a string. I'd move the ball in a circle and watch his eyes track it. His eyes would jump around rather than making a smooth circle. This meant I'd have to slow the ball until his eyes followed it smoothly. We did this every day for a long time and it, along with everything else we were doing at home and at school, made a difference. Additionally, the eye doctor prescribed reading glasses for my son so his brain wouldn't have to strain as much to read/see text and could instead focus on comprehension.

Years later several charter schools starting purchasing and using a Visograph. The Visograph is a computer with "goggles" attached. I did the examination myself to see what it was like. I read a paragraph, with the goggles on. The computer got data from the movement of my eyes to show how many regressions I had (didn't track to the end of a line before jumping to the next line), how fast I read, and numeorus other data. After reading the paragraph I answered 10 comprehension questions on the computer. After analysis and diagnosis, the Visograph programs offers computer-based therapies. For example, the text on the screen may be in different colors for students who find they can read better with a yellow overlay. Another program only shows one word, or phrase, at a time to teach the student to read every word in the line before going to the next line.

Oftentimes students have a physiological reason for an inability to read. Whether it's their eyes, how they process auditory information, how their brain receives and transmits oral/auditory information or some other reason, this physiological barrier--if not addressed--changes their lives forever.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Teaching Reading, Part 4

Quite often the student who hasn't learned to read by third grade is the student who drops out or "falls through the cracks." Pretty much everyone in education is intrinsically motivated by a student who personally impacted their life.

A family friend has a son, Jay (fictitious name), whom I got to know when he was in 10th grade and started attending Jefferson Academy. Jay has a very kind spirit and is a good kid. But in elementary school he'd fallen through the cracks because he didn't easily pick up learning through methods commonly used in the classroom. The school system didn't catch, diagnose and address his learning needs and so he began to think he just couldn't learn. Jay is a very bright boy who is ingenious in many regards. He has a caring family with parents who tried to advocate for him many times. But the beliefs that he began to believe when his academic struggles weren't addressed, impacted him. Like many students, Jay's needs weren't so severe that he was labeled special ed or became a discipline problem. The gap that started out as a small gap in the primary grades just grew each year Jay progressed in school. Jay is the reason I'm passionate about not letting kids fall through the cracks. It's a disservice to the students and families involved, but how it affects an individual's life is just plain WRONG!

For most students, the learning gap is about reading. Not being able to read, or read well, eventually impacts every subject. The gap increases until the student drops out of school. In first grade, 30 minutes of reading intervention is equivalent to two hours of intervention in fourth grade. Closing the achievement gap begins in the primary grades.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Teaching Reading, Part 3

Teacher knowledge about teaching reading is a critical predictor of how much students will learn. What teacher education colleges teach about reading was addressed by the State Board of Education last year when the Board began requiring that new teachers be taught how to teach reading before the Board would approve teacher preparation programs. In a nationwide study of how many colleges use a curriculum that addresses literacy showed that the majority of colleges don't teach elementary school teachers how to teach students to read. This may be hard for the average person to understand. After all, isn't the fundamental purpose of an elementary school to teach students how to read and write?

Further, when a student is having difficulty in learning to read through the curriculum used for the general student population, teachers often don't know how to diagnose what type of intervention the student needs.

Last year when the Douglas County School District sought waivers from the State Board of Education in order to train their own teachers, they cited a high percentage of students probably mislabeled as "special education" students when they simply hadn't learned to read through the curriculum routinely offered in the classroom. The Douglas County School District sought the means to address this head-on by training professionals to teach students to read through a variety of methods, rather than putting them in the special ed track.

This means that most elementary school teachers won't know how to address the nontraditional learner unless the school provides professional development which specifically addresses this deficit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Teaching Reading, Part 2

By analyzing what students have written, it's possible to determine what part of reading they're struggling with. For instance, it could be that a student doesn't hear the two sounds in a blend (ch, th, sh) and only hears it as one sound. It's fairly common for students not to hear the end of words and write the word: wate (for water) or col (for cold). Because reading is learned, partially through auditory skills, what and how a student "hears" words is key to teaching them the skills necessary to read for comprehension.

There are specific steps to learning how to read. First, learning letter recognition and the letter's sound, then learning words, then phrases, etc. Each of these steps require numerous repetitions (practice) so that the information becomes automated. When automation is achieved, the student no longer requires as much brain power to read certain words. This frees up the brain to better comprehend what is read.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Teaching Reading, Part 1

I spent the entire day in a LETRS class (Learning Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling). I learned a lot and will share pieces over the next few days.

These are the non-negotiable skills students need in order to read:
* Phonemic Awareness: awareness and manipulation of speech sounds
* Phonics: letter/sound correspondences for decoding
* Advanced decoding skill instruction: word analysis skills beyond one syllable words
* Fluency: in decoding and contextual reading
* Sight word memory for irregular words
* Strong oral language background
* Vocabulary knowledge: word conciousness
* Background knowledge: use of accurate, rich background knowledge to help construct meaning
* Meta-cognitive strategies to adjust comprehension as you read
* Motivation: to pursue increased skills and comprehension

Fluency is the bridge to comprehension. Fluency is not the rate of reading--it is being able to read for comprehension.

Schools should have a core reading program, based on scientifically-based reading research (SBRR). For students who are not able to learn with the core reading program, an intervention curriculum should address atypical student needs (e.g. students needing auditory learning or phonemic awareness). A third level of intervention may also be necessary. Students should not be considered "special ed" simply because they don't learn to read with the core reading program or an intervention program. Each segment of learning to read should be firmly established with repetition before moving to the next skill. For some students, this takes additional repetitions.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Charter School Institute Board

Brad Miller recently joined the board of the Charter School Institute. Brad is a parent of students who attend The Classical Academy and he's legal counsel for school districts and charter schools. Mr. Miller was appointed by Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones.

Apparently the Governor has told the CSI Board that he won't be making any appointments and so current board members will continue to serve. This is good news for continuity in the philosophy established by the CSI Board.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Textbook Errors

According to the Dallas Morning News, 109,263 errors were found in Mathematics textbooks Texas planned to purchase for elementary school students. 79% (86,023) of the these errors were in Houghton Mifflin textbooks. Big states like Texas, California and New York comprise most of the textbook sales and so publishers will probably get this fixed, as a result of pressure from the Texas State Board of Education. Wonder where these textbook writers and editors went to school....

Friday, November 16, 2007

South Dakota to get Charter School Legislation

South Dakota is one of nine states without a charter school law. That may change soon when Sen. Tom Katus of Rapid City introduces a bill to allow charter schools. A good portion of the impetus for this legislation comes from the Native American community. Across the country, numerous tribes have effectively established their own charter schools.

According to the Rapid City Journal, "The graduation rate for the district as a whole was 78 percent last year. Native students make up 17 percent of the student population."

It'll be interesting to see what happens to the legislation as it makes its way through the South Dakota General Assembly.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Florida and Colorado's State Authorizers

States with multiple authorizers for charter schools generally have stronger charter schools. Florida not long ago got an additional authorizer, which is comparable to Colorado's Charter School Institute. In Florida the board is called the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission. In certain districts, without exclusive chartering authority, the Commission can charter schools.

The debate in Florida mirrors Colorado. In fact, it's kind of humorous that the attorneys don't find new arguments, they just recycle what's already been used. In Colorado, the Boulder Valley School District, the Westminster 50 School District and the Poudre School District filed suit against the Charter School Institute, saying the Institute's statutory right to charter within their district boundaries was unconstitutional. (Recently both Poudre and Westminster withdrew from the CSI lawsuit, leaving Boulder as the sole claimant.) Same thing in Florida -- the Broward County School District has filed a suit against the Commission for the very same grounds.

About a dozen states have a state-level authorizer for charter schools. These states are given priority preference points in the federal Charter School Grant Program because of this provision. Most everyone agrees that an authorizer with only one job -- sponsoring charter schools -- is better at it. School districts have multiple responsibilities and competing schools. They only occasionally have to consider a charter application. The CSI is regarded as having a quality application process and upholding high quality standards. It's clear they're doing a good job.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Power of Praise

There have been numerous times in my life where I've struggled to explain the essence of the differences between charter schools and noncharter schools to people who aren't familiar with charter school dynamics. This morning I visited a charter school far beyond the average school. James Irwin Charter Elementary School (JICES) isn't a good school -- it's a great school! And it's only in its third year of operation.

The Principal, Elizabeth Berg, and the Instructional Coach, Cindee Will, gave me a tour of the school. We visited every classroom at least once, some twice. Being a parent who has heard educational professionals say, "we think" or "we're hoping" while they experiment with my children, I was especially impressed by hearing several times, "the research says..." Prior learning is reinforced before new learning is introduced. Small groups are used for Reading and Math and students have both of these subjects for 50 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon. Students plot their own progress in subjects, such as Reading, by graphing their fluency rate or other data.

JICES uses Direct Instruction. DI is popular in schools with a high number of at-risk students. Both Berg and Will were previously at Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy where DI is also used successfully. CMCA is a Title I school. DI is an auditory method of cementing learning by the students and teacher rhythmically reciting information.

JICES is great at increasing individual student academic achievement through positive reinforcement. "The research says students need to hear their name and what, specifically, they're doing right for it to positively impact their learning, " I was told. Teachers use data on how many times they are both positive or negative with students in order to increase their positives to 4-7 to one. To be clear, JICES' "negatives" are redirects, not actual negative statements. A "redirect" is saying, "I need your eyes up here." When teachers struggle with certain students, they or someone else calculates their =/- data and the teacher intentionally increases her positives with that student. Typically within a couple of days the student is performing better.

This same philosophy about the importance of authentic praise is used by administration with the staff. Staff members receive side-by-side coaching to improve (implementing DI for new teachers is really tough!) and praise is readily given.

I've been in a district-operated school where the school's leadership led a concerted effort to "raise self-esteem." It was fluff without any substance -- it wasn't real. What's happening at JICES is real. I learned of a student who soaked up the JICES environment for three years before it penetrated and impacted his learning. For other students, it happens within weeks or months. One of my pet peeves is teachers who say hurtful things to students or students who "fall through the cracks." JICES exemplifies a school where students thrive because they work hard, self-monitor and see their own progress. If the student isn't learning, it's the teacher who adjusts so that every student is successful.

I have to mention the awesome fifth grade class that recited the first 25 elements of the Periodic Chart (in order) and the four stages of photosynthesis. Last year this class learned five pages of the story of Paul Revere, which they assured us they could still recite!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Charter School Startup Grant Awards

Charter school startup grant applications were reviewed today and 10 of the 11 applications were funded! Here's the complete list:

More charter school startup grant applications will be reviewed in March in the second tier. It's anticipated that another 8-10 will be awarded in the spring.

Congratulations to everyone who was funded today!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Georgetown Community School

This afternoon I visited Georgetown Community School. The district was going to close this school a couple of years ago and parents decided they wanted their children to remain in town. The charter school opened in the fall of 2006 in the building previously occupied by the district elementary school.

This is one of the coolest charter school facilities in Colorado. The old part of the building, primarily the gymnasium, was constructed by the WPA in 1939. Bricks are handmade. The entire building is rich in character.

The heart of this charter school is the strong community support. Not just parents! The entire community of Georgetown is involved in this school. Today a Navy seal spoke at the assembly. Every day starts with an assembly. The principal, Rick Winter, talks about the word of the day and the quote of the day (tied in to the character education program). This is a close-knit group of staff members, parents and students.

It's encouraging to visit a school like Georgetown Community School where everyone's focus is on educating students; where people show they care about each other; where the principal respects his staff and their expertise; and where the governing board has thoughtfully made good decisions on behalf of the students.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Principal Turnover

One of the most challenging tasks a charter school governing board can face is hiring a new administrator. The principal is extremely critical to the success of a school.

It's hard for many principals to raise up other leaders, but research on school reform indicates having a leadership "team" is essential. It shouldn't be the principal alone who carries the vision of the school, he should involve key leaders such as an assistant principal, curriculum and instructional leaders and lead teachers.

It's also good for principals to create an atmosphere where individual staff members are encouraged to pursue their dreams. If someone wants to be a principal, the current principal is the one to help make that happen. Even if that means allowing that staff member to go to another school after the training period.

Every principal should be expected to create a leadership team. The governing board should expect that someone else on staff is prepared to step in should something happen to the principal. Doing anything less is simply not properly planning for the school's sustainability.

Free Website to Teach Early Reading Skills

Here's another open source site for teachers. allows teachers to share lessons, leave comments and add to material already posted.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

CK and a Wasted Day

Yesterday's Core Knowledge conference in Colorado Springs was a waste of time! I've been to three national CK conferences and at least six state CK conferences and have never seen anything so disorganized! I never did get to attend a session.

I spoke to someone from the CK Foundation about how poorly organized the conference was. She said they'd anticipated 700 people and instead had 1700 register. I said that projection didn't make sense since the last state CK conference had over 1,000 participants (about 75 schools in Colorado use Core Knowledge). People from all over the U.S. were at this conference.

I wasn't the only one who complained. I was told whole schools asked for a refund and left the conference. During each of the workshop slots there were several hundred people hanging around in the lobby because they couldn't get into any of the workshops. One person told me that she'd tried three different workshops during one time slot and all were over-filled with people standing in the hallway.

It was great to see different charter school principals and teachers whom I know, but other than that, it was a wasted day I'll never get back.

Friday, November 9, 2007

What is Core Knowledge?

I'm a big fan of Liberty Common School's weekly newsletter. Every week Headmaster Russ Spicer's, column conveys the philosophy of the school. This week his column has a very good explanation of the Core Knowledge curriculum used by the school.

I'm off to the Western Regional Core Knowledge Conference being held in Colorado Springs today. I'll report later.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

When Should Charter Schools be Closed?

The attempt in Ohio to close underperforming charter schools raises a very difficult question: When should charter schools be closed?

One of the pillars of the charter school philosophy is that if charter schools don't succeed, they close. This same "perform or close" notion is embodied in the No Child Left Behind Act requirement to convert failing Title I schools to charter schools or else completely reconstitute them.

Last week the League of Charter Schools unveiled their new Quality Standards and notified charter schools the League supports closing charter schools that don't perform academically. This is controversial even amongst the League's board. In fact, one board member is the principal of a school possibly facing closure/reconsitution by both federal and League standards. Does the League board have the commitment to these Quality Standards ideals if it means closing one of their own?

Approximately ten charter schools have already closed in Colorado. All but one of these closed for financial reasons. The Center for Discovery Learning in Jeffco had its charter revoked for academic reasons and then was taken over by the district and currently operates as a district option school.

Where should the line be drawn? When should a charter school be closed? I've seen poor-performing charter schools that with some guidance have overcome dismal test scores and I've seen others that refuse assistance. What if an authorizer wants to close a charter school that is doing everything possible with a challenging student population, but doesn't get enough time to show it's efforts will be successful over time?

This is an issue in Colorado. We're sure to hear more about this dilemma as both charter and noncharter schools face sanctions or get their charters revoked for failing to educate students.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Strategic Planning & Implementing the Vision

Many charter boards struggle with implementing their original vision. Even if the founders completely understand the vision themselves, it's difficult to find a lead administrator who agrees with the philosophy and is able to implement it accordingly.

One way for the board to define its vision is by creating and using a strategic plan. The process involves first discussing the vision and mission of the school to make sure everyone fully understands it and agrees with it. Then the board delineates the school's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. These are both external and internal. The board defines the various functional areas of the school system and creates annual objectives in line with their long-term goals. Here's an example of the Woodrow Wilson Academy Strategic Plan--an excellent model.

There's also a training module available for strategic planning at:

Every charter school should have a strategic plan because it's how the governing board speaks with one voice rather than individual priorities. The plan clearly communicates to administration and staff what should be accomplished within each school year, without being overly burdensome. The principal evaluation should be tied to objectives in the strategic plan. The plan is also an effective means of communicating to parents and stakeholders what the board is working on and what they intend to accomplish.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Today's Charter School Finance Seminar

Charter school board treasurer's, business managers and administrators gathered today for the annual Charter School Finance Seminar. As always, the most pressing financial concern of charter school financial practitioners is how to fund capital needs. Since $3 million dollars was cut from the Charter School Capital Construction line item in the state budget during this year's legislative session, today charter school leaders discussed options for making up for this shortfall and possibilities for future funding. For one charter school, the decreased amount means a cut of over $300,000.

The older charter schools deal with stagnant enrollment and yet a desire to continue to fund new academic programs, such as Gifted and Talented services. Further, new board members may not understand the financial picture of the charter school, nor the impact of their decisions and priorities.

Several people discussed the recent trend to have non-parents on charter school boards. Because Colorado's charter school movement began with grassroots parent startups, it's only been the last few years when management company-operated charter schools have become more prevalent, that an increased number community members and professionals sit on charter school boards.

The importance of having board policies and administrative procedures for finance-related issues was stressed. A good example of these policies is at: One policy of particular interest is the document retention policy, #12.1.

Cheyenne, Wyoming School Board Receives Charter Application

The Cheyenne school board received a charter school application and refused to let supporters of the school speak in public session. The application for Cheyenne Classical Academy is based on the successful Ridgeview Classical Academy in Fort Collins. In fact, the parent who has put the most work into the Cheyenne Classical Academy application was formerly a parent of a student at Ridgeview Classical. Due to nuances of Wyoming's charter school law, they have only a handful of charter schools and their charter law permits less autonomy than Colorado's law.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Why At-Will Employment Matters

One of the pillars of the charter school philosophy is at-will employment. This is why on both a national and state level, teacher unions oppose charter schools.

In private business, if someone hasn't performed his job satisfactorily he is asked to leave. This principle makes sense to pretty much everyone in the United States -- except those in public education.

Naturally, the success of at-will employment lies in people being reasonable and fair. An educator shouldn't be terminated the first time he makes a mistake. And there are two sides to the at-will employment agreement. A teacher can resign and leave a classroom without a prepared substitute.

About 45 school districts in Colorado have collective bargaining agreements with their teachers. Because charter school employees are employees of the charter school and not the school district, charter schools can use at-will agreements. This right to use only qualified, high-performing staff is central to why charter schools often outperform non-charter public schools. It's also a reason to vigorously oppose any actions that would require charter schools to, in any manner, submit to collective bargaining agreements.

Model at-will agreements for principals and teachers are online at and Every charter school leader should examine their employment agreements, board policies and employee handbook to make sure nothing invalidates the at-will nature of employment at their school.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Principal Evaluation & Turnover

The other day I was doing a workshop on governance issues and someone asked the question about how to navigate principal turnover, especially if the change isn't exactly cordial. This is a very tough situation, but one that governing boards must successfully maneuver on behalf of their school.

Principals typically seek new employment January through March. This means it's good to have the pricipal evaluation in January to make sure that the conversations are early enough for both parties.

Of course this results in the obvious difficult situation of the principal needing to finish out the school year with integrity. I don't know any "magic pill" to make this scenario any easier, but I do believe that everyone involved should be totally honest with each other and "take the high road" even if that's the most difficult road to take.

Part of the role of the board president is to be the primary communication link with the principal. This is where the conversation to change administrators begins. Usually things happen leading to a princpial seeking a different position and so often the discussion can be anticipated.

A principal leaving before the end of the school year is almost never good for a school. I tell charter school board members, hesitant to finish out the school year with a principal they're anxious to see leave, that unless the principal has done something illegal or they have reason to believe the principal will attempt to destroy the school, don't terminate someone early.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gov. Ritter Address Charter School Leaders

In his speech to about 300 charter school leaders from across Colorado, Governor Bill Ritter spoke about charter schools, the drop out rate, the achievement gap, capital construction and full-day Kindergarten.

In his prepared remarks, Gov. Ritter said 1/4 to 1/3 of Colorado students drop out before graduation. He said his goal was to cut that drop out rate in half and cut the achievement gap by half within 10 years. He encouraged charter school leaders to join him in meeting these goals. Gov. Ritter also related a lack of adequate preparation for students entering first grade as a causal link to increased incarceration, referencing his experience as Denver District Attorney.

When asked if he would support restoring the $3 million dollars cut for charter school capital construction in the last legislative session, Gov. Ritter said he had supported keeping $5 million in the fund rather than eliminating it completely as was proposed by certain legislators. He also talked about the statewide need for better funding for capital construction for all public schools, including charter schools.

One charter school board member asked the Governor if he could promise that charter schools would not be forced into collective bargaining agreements. The Governor's response was to say that he didn't agree with the term "collective bargaining" agreements, he called them "partnerships." Gov. Ritter also vaguely referenced the Employee Partnership agreement that he later in the afternoon enacted for state employees via Executive Order.

Charter Friend Awards 2007

This year's recipients were (left to right):

Tony Fontana, Executive Principal at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette received the Charter Friend Award for Schools. Tony believes education should be all about getting kids smarter. He's also known for raising up strong instructional leaders in schools.

State Senator Nancy Spence received the Charter Friend Award for Policy. Sen. Spence is a member of the Senate Education committee and was a strong advocate for charter school, particularly during the last legislative session when there were several anti-charter school bills.

Randy DeHoff, Executive Director of the Charter School Institute and also State Board of Education (7th CD), received the award on behalf of the Charter School Institute. The award was the Charter Friend Award for Authorizers.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Press Release from CDE

Charter School Institute Wins "Authorizer Leadership Award" from Colorado League of Charter Schools

The Colorado Charter School Institute today was honored with the "Authorizer Leadership Award" by the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

The institute was given the award for employing the best practices, for the commitment of its board members, and for encouraging the growth of high-quality charter schools. The award was given during the 14 th Annual Colorado Charter Schools Conference today (Friday, Nov. 2) at the Sheraton Denver West Hotel in Lakewood.

The Charter School Institute was created by the state legislature in 2004 as an independent agency within the state department of education. The institute is governed by a nine-member board. Seven of the board members are appointed by the governor and two members by the commissioner of education.

"Since the charter statute passed in 1993, the most profound change to Colorado's charter school landscape came with passage of the Charter School Institute legislation in 2004," said Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. "The institute's presence has turned a bright light on what it means to be a charter school authorizer and why that role is central to the idea of quality charter schools."

The institute may authorize the creation of charter schools in any school district in the state, as long as that district has not been granted "exclusive" chartering authority by the Colorado Board of Education. To date, the institute has authorized 12 schools and oversees about 4,100 students in Aurora, Avon, Carbondale, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Grand Junction and Westminster.

"The Charter School Institute has demonstrated exemplary leadership in charter school authorizing," said Denise Mund, senior consultant with the schools of choice office at the state department of education. "They have instituted numerous best practices, which include interviewing charter school applicants, retaining outside application reviewers, negotiating effective charter school contracts and conducting monitoring and oversight in a reasonable manner. Board members have spent hundreds of hours reviewing charter school applications and honoring the mission of the CSI, which is to serve high-risk populations."

Speaking Thursday (Nov. 1) at the same League of Charter Schools conference, Commissioner Dwight Jones said charter schools clearly meet the needs of parents and students.

"The debate about choice in Colorado is over," said Commissioner Jones. "Parents have already made that choice . . . and I believe we ought to move on. We ought to shift our focus to creating the best schools that parents can send their kids to."

Commissioner Jones called for a partnership between charter schools and the department of education.

"The department of education will support and serve charter schools—you have my word on that," he said.

Whether a poor-performing school is a charter school or a non-charter school, "the first objective is not to punish and close [the school]; our first objective should be to say, 'How can we fix it?'"

CLCS Annual Conference -- Day One

Yesterday the Commissioner of Education, Dwight Jones, spoke to a packed audience during lunch at the state Charter School Conference. The Commissioner spoke about his plan, "Forward Thinking," and how choice in education fits in to public school education. Jones said he supports increased funding for preschool and all-day Kindergarten. He also talked about how sometimes people are reticent to change, but he believes educational choice is a permanent part of the Colorado public school landscape.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien spoke to the group during a reception at the end of the day. She spoke about lobbying for the Charter Schools Act in 1993 while she served as President of the Colorado Children's Campaign.

Rep. Mike May, Sen. Mike Kopp, and Rep. Judy Solano, participated in a panel discussion about upcoming legislation regarding charter schools. Most of the interest was in "thorough and uniform" funding for charter school facilities.

Some of the "hot topics" discussed at the conference were:
* Academic stipulations in the charter contract that raise the bar for performance above the neighborhood public school in the district.
* How to access facility financing options and how to deal with the $3 million cut in charter school capital construction funds made in the 2007 legislative session.
* Diversity clauses in charter contracts that have consequences for not meeting a particular Free/Reduced Lunch qualifying number of students.
* Exclusive chartering authority requirements and the lawsuit against the Charter School Institute.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More on Merrifield

From the Center for Education Reform:

HALLOWEEN HAS NOTHING ON THIS GUY. Think Halloween is scary? Consider real-life-fright Colorado State Representative Michael Merrifield, who scares children, adults and fellow legislators with his stances on education. Merrifield's greatest hit was a forced resignation as Chair of the House Education Committee after he e-mailed a fellow legislator that "there must be a special place in hell" for parents who advocate for school choice. Unfortunately, like so many goblins this time of year, the representative has reappeared through a Denver Post letter to the editor. In it he calls math and science "left-brained" activities that "take the joy out of learning." Good for the Pueblo Chieftain and their willingness to call out this legislator for his severely poor judgment. Unfortunately for us, Representative Merrifield isn't just an aberration. Here's hoping more people in Colorado will see his beliefs for what they are - not so much ghostly as they are ghastly.

But then Rep. Merrifield had the temerity to write a letter to the Colorado Springs Gazette today refuting what Mike Rosen had written in his editorial about Merrifield last week. The Colorado Index has an excellent piece pointing out the facts.

Rep. Merrifield visited The Classical Academy (located in his district) after an invitation from Mark Hyatt. I suspect that Merrifield's statement, "Charter schools are great options for some families," means that his constituents may choose The Classical Academy, but he's been very clear -- on numerous occasions -- that he doesn't like charter schools in general. His voting record and statements made in committee hearings make it very clear.

I would assume that over the next few days, when charter school leaders from across the state gather for the annual charter school conference, Rep. Merrifield's letter to the Gazette will be discussed. I've heard talk of t-shirts with "I'm a charterizer!" printed on them.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction Funds 20% of Charter School Startup Grants

After previously funding 83% of charter school startup grant applications, the Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction has funded only 20% of this year's applications. According to review documents, many of the rejected applicants had governance issues or questions about autonomy. This year the department more closely monitored whether applicants met the federal definition of "charter school" and were in fact, "eligible applicants."

Last year CDE funded nine of 17 startup grant applications during Tier One. CDE also requires applicants to submit an Eligibility Form, which must be approved before a grant application is accepted.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

CLCS Conference This Week

This Thursday and Friday the League of Charter Schools will be hosting their annual conference at the Denver West Sheraton (6th & Union). Check out their website at: for more information. Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Controversy in Eagle County

Recently there was a guest column in the Vail Daily about the Eagle County Charter School. It seems that some people in the area don't believe Eagle County Charter School is "one of theirs."

It's hard for many people to understand that a charter school is a public school like any other in the district. No tuition is charged, students can transfer between schools, everyone takes the CSAP, and accountability and Accreditation are the same. So why the confusion?

People sometimes acquaint "choice" with private education. Twenty years ago that could have been true, but choice in today's world means a variety of public options.

State law permits charter schools to participate in their school district's bond election questions. In fact, this has already happened in about a dozen school districts and so it shouldn't be anything new in Vail. Moreover, who is talking about the inequity of requiring charter schools to fund capital needs with their operating funds? On average, charter schools spend 15-25% of their Per Pupil Revenue on facility costs. Yet these charter school parents pay their taxes like everyone else.

The Eagle County School District should be applauded for believing charter school students are also "their kids."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Principles for Quality Charter School Authorizing

More from the NACSA conference earlier this week...

According to the NACSA "Principles and Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing" publication:

The purpose of charter school authorizing is to improve student achievement. A quality authorizer engages in responsible oversight of charter schools by ensuring that schools have both autonomy to which they are entitled and the public accountability for which they are responsible.

In furtherance of this end, quality authorizers should:

* approach authorizing deliberately and thoughtfully with the intent to improve the quality of public school options;
* support and advance the purposes of charter school law;
* be a catalyst for charter school development to satisfy unmet educational needs;
* strive for clarity, consistency, and transparency in developing and implementing authorizing policies and procedures;
* be a source of accurate, intelligible, performance-based information about the schools that they oversee;
* be responsible not for the success or failure of individual schools, but for holding schools accountable for their performance;
* use objective and verifiable measures of student achievement as the primary measure of school quality;
* support parents and students in making decisions and staying informed about the quality of education provided in charter schools; and
* make the well-being of students the fundamental value informing all decision-making and actions.

It seems that the best charter school authorizers are those that go about it methodically after having conducted research on best practices from other authorizers. NACSA has a wealth of information on its website at

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Colorado Premiere Academy Decision

Last week the Colorado Charter School Institute postponed making a decision on Colorado Premiere Academy’s application while they sort out whether CSI is a multi-district authorizer or a single-district authorizer. SB07-215, the online education bill passed last legislative session, limited the ability of authorizers to charter multi-district online schools. Since CSI is a “virtual” authorizer in a patchwork of geographical districts (those without exclusive chartering authority), there are differing opinions on how the law applies to the Institute.

National Assoc. of Charter School Authorizer's Conference

I've been attending the NACSA conference in Savannah, GA. Yesterday's luncheon speaker was Steve Barr, the Founder and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools. The teachers at the failing Locke HS in Los Angeles recently voted to have Green Dot take over their school. During one of the meetings leading up to this vote, a teacher said, "The only time the district [Los Angeles Unified School District] comes out to our school is when someone gets shot and the only time our teacher's union comes out is when Green Dot is here." Green Dot's mission is to change the second-largest school district in the nation (LA Unified) rather than creating numerous charter schools across the nation.

There's been lots of discussion about two hot topics to charter authorizers: management companies and how to hold charter schools accountable. In Colorado, many authorizers (school districts) still operate with old policies that don't contemplate receiving a charter application from a management company. It's common for routine disclosure information not to be included in the charter application, which leads to problems during the hearing phase.

Many authorizers realize how important the interview process is. In fact, today I heard someone say the interview should be with the full board and that it's also a good idea to have the management company representatives leave the room during part of the interview. This allows the authorizer to determine how much individual board members know about their charter application and especially, the mission of the school.

State laws differ considerably. Several authorizers from other states manage the charter school governing board process to the point where they "approve" individual board members after they've undergone a criminal background check and an interview. Some state charter laws encourage this type of behavior by requiring authorizers to "appoint" governing board members. For states like Colorado, asking for the charter board's bylaws and basic policies, such as Conflict of Interest policies, brings out the type of information an authorizer needs to have in order to make a sound decision on a charter application. I found it interesting in discussions the last two days that nepotism is commonly frowned upon and yet so many authorizers in Colorado fail to even ask the charter applicant how they would handle that issue. A charter founding team being related to each other is not a sufficient reason to deny a charter application, but it may be indicative of how the charter school board will operate, if approved.

Accountability is another hot topic. Authorizers have varied beliefs on what type of data should be monitored and evaluated. There is consensus, however, that the measures should be varied, meaningful and agreed upon in the application and contract phase.

Additionally, I've been pleased to hear so many people focusing on academic excellence in charter schools. In the early years of the charter movement, quantity was emphasized over quality. That has definitely shifted!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Animas HS Approved by the Charter School Institute

Today the Animas High School charter application was approved by the Charter School Institute board. Animas HS will be modeled after the successful High Tech High in San Diego, California. The school will start with ninth grade and add a grade level each year. It'll be located in Durango. The Durango 9-R school district didn't get exclusive chartering authority this year when they didn't meet the filing deadline.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy

I was impressed to read this from the KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy (KSPA) newsletter today:

Teachers from KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy volunteered at Manual High School on Friday, August 10. After being closed last school year, Manual reached out to the community to help make the school ready for its new class of freshman. KSPA's involvement with Manual goes back to an earlier time this year. Manual's new principal, Rob Stein, KSPA School Leader, Rich Barrett, and the principals from West Denver Prep and Denver School of Science and Technology meet monthly for informal breakfasts to discuss best practices, leading a school with similar demographics, and idea-sharing. Thank you to KSPA's faculty and staff for taking time to support public high schools in Denver and for making a difference at Manual.

Kudos to the teachers who took their valuable time to help prepare Manual HS for a new school year. These KSPA teachers already work much more than the average teacher. KSPA says their students have 70% more time in school than their counterparts. KSPA teachers have cell phones to respond to questions from their students at any time. They went above and beyond--again--to help at Manual HS.

I was also pleased to read that Rich Barrett, Rob Stein, Chris Gibbons and Bill Kurtz meet together to discuss best practices at their schools. The three charter schools (KSPA, W Denver Prep and Denver School of Science & Technology) are all very similar. They're excellent models for Manual to emulate!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Charter School Program in NCLB

Part V of the No Child Left Behind Act contains a section designed to assist new charter schools with the unique costs associated with marketing their school, training new staff members, outfitting classrooms, creating a library or tech lab, and other "startup" expenses. This part of the law is called the "Charter School Program" (CSP).

Each state is allowed certain flexibility in administering the program. Colorado's startup grant application is competitive the first year and then the following two years (Implementation grants) are not competitive. Over the course of three years, a new charter school is likely to get more than a half a million dollars.

Charter school authorizers in Colorado do not provide any startup funding for new charter schools. However, fronting the costs for equipment, curriculum, and other necessities required the first day of school is nearly impossible without this federal grant program. Most charter schools are funded monthly by their authorizer, within a few days of the district getting funded by the state. Cash flow the first year is almost always very tight.

Startup grant applications are due next week. This year, for the first time, CDE will be awarding an additional ten points to the score of high school grant applications. Additionally, extra training and resources are available to subgrantee charter schools with more than 50% of their students qualifying for Free or Reduced Lunch. Training includes CSAP 101, curriculum alignment, data driven decision-making, leadership and board training. Through previous work, these five training subjects were determined to target the most predominant needs of new charter schools.

There should be approximately twelve startup grant applications submitted next week. More new charter schools will be able to apply in late February of next year.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What's Coming?

There are several projects in the works that may be of interest to you:

* A typology study of charter school performance, over a four-year period, broken out into different categories (using the Fordham typology) to show which models work best with different student populations.

* An Administrator's Handbook is in development. This will initially have Stage One (pre-opening) and Stage Two (first three years of operation). The handbook will have checklists, questions to consider, standard forms, procedures and "everything" a new charter school administrator needs. Both the academic and operational sides of administration will be addressed.

* The next state evaluation of charter schools will, for the first time, contain a longitudinal analysis of charter school student performance. The report is due January 2009.

* By next spring, the board training handbook, developed in collaboration with the CO Dept of Education, CO Charter School Institute and CO League of Charter Schools will be transferred to online board training modules. This curriculum is considered the "essentials" necessary for all charter school board members to learn.

* In 2009 there will be a study analyzing charter school leadership (board and administrator) turnover.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Challenges of the "Early College" Model

There's a new trend in education, which is the "early college" model. These schools offer students both a high school diploma and an Associates degree from a partner college. There are several charter schools using this model in Colorado and even more planned.

The model is even more difficult than the obvious challenge to provide four years of high school and two years of college within a four-year span. Oftentimes the students who come to these charter schools are several grade levels below in reading and math.

Upon entrance most early college schools test students on the Accuplacer. This test determines if they're ready to take college coursework. I recently spoke to one administrator who said that 40% of their new students were reading at the 5th grade level, according to the Accuplacer. Since reading is key to being able to handle college-level courses, it's nearly impossible to advance studens without first intense remediation to bring up their reading level.

Now think about the social/behaviorial aspect to why a student is this far behind in reading or math. This is probably a student who "fell through the cracks" or had special needs that were never identified. This takes an emotional toll on the student and often they "give up" on their education. Accordingly, they don't have the discipline or commitment to study hard.

These challenges make the early college model extremely difficult, to say the least! Yet numerous students have found success and have become the first of their family to receive a college degree. The key is whether the student is willing to commit to the intense focus on academics that is required. That's different for every student and they have to look within in order to determine their own success.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Games Charter Opponents Play" Article

This article from Education Next reminds me of some of the situations charter school developers and operators in Colorado have endured.
Today, more than 1 million students are enrolled in public charter schools in the 41 states (and the District of Columbia) that have charter laws, with almost 4,000 charter schools in all. Most, if not all, of these schools have encountered some form of bureaucratic resistance at the local level. That resistance may take place at the school’s inception, when it first looks to purchase a building and comply with municipal zoning laws. It may come when opponents play games with a school’s transportation or funding, or when legal barriers are tossed in the way, or when false information about charter schools is widely disseminated. Despite the obstacles, many charter schools are thriving. It’s worth taking a look at the forces on the ground that would have it otherwise and the myriad ways they attempt to stymie the charter school movement.

Here are a few of the Colorado situations I've heard about:

1. A charter school application states the school will provide all its own Special Education services because the school is designed to serve high needs students. The charter application is approved, but then during the last meeting negotiating the charter contract, the district says they will provide all Special Education services.

2. A charter school purchases transportation services from its district. The school serves low income students and needs to transport their students in order for them to access a quality education at the charter school. After providing transportation for several years, the district states they can no longer cross school district boundaries to transport students to the charter school.

3. A charter applicant proposes a charter school in rural Colorado. The animosity from the school district is so strong that district staff attending the appeal hearing drag chairs to the "district side" of the room. The charter school never opens.

4. A school district Board of Education revokes the charter of a school only to then be recalled through a petition drive. Charter school parents are elected to the school district board.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

US Supreme Court Case Splits on School Choice Case

The US Supreme Court split, 4-4, on whether or not a school district must reimburse parents for a private school education if the student hasn't first utilized a public school for Special Education services.

According to Education Next, students in private schools and receiving reimbursement, amounts to 0.18% of the public school population. No state has more than 1% of their student population in private placements.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

US Supreme Court Hears School Choice Case

The US Supreme Court is hearing the case School Board of New York City vs. Tom F. At issue is whether a student, with an Individualized Educational Program (Special Ed student), can attend and the parents be reimbursed for, a private education if the family hasn't first tried a public education alternative.

Lower courts have agreed that Tom F should be reimbursed for his son's private school education. In fact, the NY School District's staff also agreed for the first two years of the boy's education. Then they developed an IEP and recommended a public school, with a 15 to 1 student to teacher ratio. The private school has a 10 to 1 ratio; a hearing officer agreed with the parents that the private school was the best placement. A lower court also agreed with the parents.

You can read more about this at:

Monday, October 8, 2007

New School Choice Website

There's a new website for parents to use when researching schools for their child. It's; a website that is in both English and Spanish. The website allows a parent to enter their home address and find a school within a selected radius. Each of the schools has a complete description and the different types of educational choice are explained in laymen's terms. Moreover, there is a glossary of terms and other parent-friendly information. This is an excellent site for any parents interested in educational choice!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Homework Assignments Gone Awry

The other day I was read an education blogger's post complaining about the silly homework assignments her child had been given. It reminded me of some of my own experiences before we started our charter school.

The entire time we were at the neighborhood school I never saw a textbook, instead there were numerous worksheets. There were no textbooks at the school and certainly none were ever sent home. Many of us, as adults, consider it pretty basic to know how to copy a math problem out of a textbook and work it on lined paper. Or even to fold a piece of lined paper in half lengthwise to use for the second column during a spelling test. These were the types of skills the teachers had to teach the first year at Jefferson Academy because almost none of the children knew how to do these basic things. They'd never had a textbook!

In Core Knowledge there's a saying: Everything on purpose. There are no cutesy craft projects. Every activity has a specific purpose. For example, third graders make a Roman road in a clear cup by layering ice cream and various toppings.

Before we opened Jefferson Academy, I had purchased the Core Knowledge grade level books and one afternoon sat with my kids and skimmed different topics they'd be studying at their new charter school. In the Civil War unit, I saw a section explaining the Underground Railroad, so I asked who knew what the Underground Railroad was. My fourth grade son piped up and proudly said, "The subway!"

Although humorous, my son's response was also indicative of my children's educations up until that point. They knew a lot about dinosaurs, the rain forest, China, and Native Americans. They'd never had basic anatomy. My son who had spent five years in a self-contained gifted classroom (which he tested to get into) knew nothing about the heart or other major organs.

Years later, in junior high at Jefferson Academy one class was given an assignment on Vietnam and students were given a variety of ways to demonstrate what they learned. My son, Aaron, chose to make a 3 ft by 3 ft diorama of a Vietnam POW camp. While very artistic and creative, Aaron wouldn't have been able to read a reference book and write a lengthy report due to learning disabilities. But the representation he made of the POW camp was remarkable. He showed it to a friend of ours who served in Vietnam and there were numerous details he was amazed Aaron even knew about.

Some teachers are very creative in providing homework assignments that stimulate learning in a variety of ways. Far too often, the old methods are used instead. For me, I've helped with more than my share of worksheets!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

"Up to 5%" Audits Were Due October 1st

By October 1st each year charter school authorizers need to provide an itemized accounting of how it spent the up to 5% permitted in statute. There are only three Chart of Account codes that are legally permissible: 2300, 2500 and 2800. If the charter school believes more than 5% was withheld or that the authorizer withheld for unacceptable reasons, CDE may be asked to make a decision. Charter schools are funded at 100%, minus the up to 5% that districts may withhold to cover administrative costs.

This week many charter schools received their district's financial statements. For some charter schools the amount that was withheld is a significant amount and so it's a good time to review the figures to make sure they're accurate.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

James Irwin Charter Schools Breaks Ground Today

Today leaders of James Irwin Charter Schools broke ground on a new elementary school and high school fieldhouse. These additional buildings will be on the secondary school campus near the Colorado Springs airport.

JICS opened in 2000 with a high school. They added a single-sex middle school and then an elementary school. The school uses Core Knowledge in grades K-8. In the middle school, students have the same teachers, but single-sex classrooms. There are currently 1080 students enrolled K-12. When the facility is complete it will be able to house up to 1400 students.

The school is named after Jim Irwin, an Apollo astronaut and director of a nonprofit, the High Flight Foundation. I knew Jim before he died of a heart attack in the mid-1990s. I've also been friends with his daughter, Jill, for many years. Needless to say, naming a charter school after Jim Irwin is a perfect way to commerate Jim's life. In fact, when the charter school was initially approved in 2000, the swing vote on the Harrison 2 school board came from someone who also knew Jim Irwin and voted for the charter simply because of the man Jim was.

During today's groundbreaking ceremony many of the school's original founders returned to celebrate, including Stan Lightfoot, Jonathan Berg, Elizabeth Berg, Dawn Batteinger, and Jane Olk. These folks plus Diane Borre and Skip Rice were on the original charter school board. It's no wonder the charter school has developed into one with high academic performance and character development because the school's origins were under the leadership of top-quality people dedicated to seeing students succeed in life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Cesar Chavez Academy Hosts US Dept of Ed Today

Mr. Morgan Brown, Director of the US Dept of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement was in Pueblo today to release the new publication on K-8 charter schools that features Cesar Chavez Academy.
Left to right, the people in the picture are Peggy Littleton, State Board of Education representing the 5th Congressional District; Morgan Brown, US Dept of Education; Lawrence Hernandez, Principal, Cesar Chavez Academy; and Patricia Chlouber, Regional Representative for the US Secretary of Education.
All 1650 students from Cesar Chavez Academy (K-8) and Dolores Huerta Prep HS (9-12) gathered in the DPHS gymnasium. Since the high school just opened its new facility last month, this was the first time the entire K-12 was in the gymnasium. The school floated a private bond through the Colorado Cultural and Educational Facilities Authority for 15 million to cover capital construction costs. The DPHS gymnasium is the largest high school gymnasium in Pueblo; it's second only to the Pueblo Event Center gymnasium.
During his remarks, Morgan Brown stated, "Parents shouldn't have to win an [enrollment] lottery to get a quality education for their children." He commended CCA for holding high expectations for all students and making sure all students are successful.
Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, Principal of CCA said, "What Cesar Chavez Academy has accomplished is neither a miracle nor an accident." He went on to explain that it was the result of hard work and the belief that all students can learn. If students do not score at least 80% on tests, they are remediated with additional supports, which may include one-on-one tutoring. to see the US Dept of Ed's news release and for the Pueblo Chieftain's report.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Battle Rock Charter School

The Battle Rock Charter School is a small, rural school located in the Four Corners area of the state, in McElmo Canyon. The first teacher/administrator of the school was Stephen Hanson. In 2002 William Celis wrote a book about the school, "Battle Rock: The Struggle Over a One-Room School in America's Vanishing West." The school is one of only four one-room schoolhouses still being used in Colorado. The school has been in continuous operation since 1915; it became a charter school in 1994.

Having been to the Battle Rock school, I enjoyed reading Celis' book. Celis describes the farming and ranching cultural influence on the school. The school uses an experiential, place-based educational philosophy with a heavy emphasis on using the community and local experts to shape the curriculum. The school teaches the Navajo language.

For several years Stephen Hanson led the Colorado Rural Charter Schools Network. I was at one of their meetings when the discussion turned to how long it took people to get to the nearest grocery store. Almost everyone had more than an hour's drive.

The Battle Rock Charter School website is:

Sunday, September 30, 2007

K-8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap Publication Released

The US Dept of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement just released a new publication providing information on best practices through portraits of seven charter schools that are closing the achievement gap. Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo is one of the seven schools featured in this publication.

The publication states:
for the 2007-08 school year, 347 new charter schools opened, representing an 8 percent increase over the previous year, and bringing the total number of charter schools to more than 4,100, serving over 1,200,000 students.

Because charter schools can more easily affect school climate and address individual student needs, it seems charters are more effective -- over time -- than school district-operated schools.
K-8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap cites common factors among all the schools profiled:

1. The schools are mission-driven.
2. The schools have created a safe learning environment and a strong school culture, creating a uniquely focused community.
3. Charter school teachers see themselves teaching for mastery.
4. There is a high expectation that parents are partners with the school, and in some cases, parent involvement is formalized through contracts referred to as a "commitment to excellence."
5. As charter-governed institutions, the schools have the independence to make creative scheduling, curriculum and instruction decisions.
6. Charter schools hold themselves accountable.
7. The schools are able to attract and retain excellent teachers because the schools are committted to continuous internal professional development.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Charter, Contract, Magnet, Focus, Option: What They All Mean

There are a variety of choice options in public education in Colorado. Probably the clearest term is "charter" because it means that there is a contract with an authorizer, usually a local school district. However, if that district doesn't have exclusive chartering authority then the charter could be from the state Charter School Institute.

One school district uses the terms, "internal charter" and "external charter." Another district calls their choice school a "district charter" that is really not a charter school at all. Still another district contracts with a private school for only some grade levels offered by the school. The reason there is such a variety of terms, and definitions of choice schools, is because we're a "local control" state. This means local school districts have the Constitutional authority to establish their own curriculum and operate their districts.

Here are the terms used for choice schools and a short definition:
* Contract: a district school; could be operated very similar to a charter school or could be certain grade levels of a private school
* Magnet/Option: a district-operated choice school with a specific mission, such as a school for performing arts, which requires an audition prior to enrollment
* Focus: a district-operated school with a specific mission; could be a math/science focus; could be a neighborhood school

Thursday, September 27, 2007

CDELA Charter Revocation Rescinded

The Charter School Institute board voted to rescind their previous resolution revoking the charter of the Colorado Distance & Electronic Learning Academy (CDELA). CDELA is managed by White Hat, a for-profit company based in Ohio.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

FERPA and Charter Schools

FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is a federal law protecting the privacy of student educational records. Here are a few tips for charter schools:
  • Parent volunteers should not have access to individual student records while they are volunteering in the charter school. In other words, they should not be filing CSAP scores in the school office or using individual academic achievement data in their role as a member of the accountability committee.
  • Charter school board members should not have access to student records in their role as board members. For example, they should not have individual student information as a part of conducting the enrollment lottery.
  • A student at least 18 years of age is considered an adult and has the legal right to access his or her own student records without parental consent.
  • Charter schools, like all public schools, may disclose "directory information" such as name, address, phone number, awards and recognitions and date of birth without parental consent, however they should be notified and given the opportunity to request that their child's information not be released.

More information and sample notices are available at:

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Charter School Leaders

This morning more than 20 people met to begin a year-long series of meetings designed to raise up new charter school leaders and increase the personal capacity in current charter school leaders. The group will be studying Dr. Kathryn Knox's, "Windows on Leadership."

Charter school leaders need to have a greater variety of expertise than a traditional school district Principal. In addition to being the instructional leader, a charter school Principal needs to manage the school budget and oversee the business office. Typically charter school Principal's "think outside the box" and appreciate the fact that they can make modifications to their school design when they need to. If one approach to educating students isn't working, the staff can assess the situation and try another method.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Open Meetings

If I could pick one thing that trips up more charter school governing boards than anything else, it'd be not being able to communicate with each other via email.

I wrote this "Top 10 Mistakes Charter School Governing Boards Make" a couple of years ago. It's based on things I've seen happen repeatedly over the years by board members who often didn't know any better. Charter school board members can often be characterized as "the well-intentioned in full pursuit of the irrelevant." They're very well-meaning people who simply don't know that there are laws that affect what they're trying to do.

A charter school board member can send an email to the entire board as an FYI. The key is that individual board members receiving the email cannot hit "reply all" and respond. That "reply all" action makes it a "discussion" and public bodies cannot conduct or discuss business outside of a properly noticed meeting. Further, any email concerning school business, even if it's on the home computer of an individual board member, is subject to an Open Records request.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Charter School History, Part 4

Barry Arrington and I started Jefferson Academy together. I tell people that being a charter school board president was both the most rewarding and most frustrating thing I've ever done over a significant length of time (7.5 yrs).

The discussion started in October of 1993 when Barry asked me one day if I'd like to start a charter school with him and our friend, Tom McMillen. After finding out what a "charter school" was I was ready to jump in. Our first parent meeting was October 30th at someone's home. We submitted our application to Jeffco on Jan. 10, 1994.

I can't write about how we started JA without mentioning a humorous anecdote. In a previous posting, I'd mentioned we'd gotten the Academy Charter School application (hard copy). I volunteered to enter the basis of what we needed into a word processing program. It being 1994, I knew very little about Microsoft and had only recently converted from DOS programs. So as I wrote the first draft of the charter application during Christmas break, I put a hard return after every line. I was happy to be out of state when Barry later discovered the draft had hundreds of unncessary page returns in it!

There were 13 charter applications submitted to Jeffco that year. The district held hearings at area high schools because there wasn't enough room in the district board room. At one of these meetings, I met Randy DeHoff, one of the parents working on the SciTech charter school application.

On March 9th, the Jeffco board voted on all 13 charter applications. They approved the Community Involved Charter School (a.k.a. Center for Discovery Learning) and SciTech. They voted down Jefferson Academy. We appealed that denial to the State Board of Education in April. The State Board unanimously voted to remand JA's application back to Jeffco and in doing so, reprimanded the district, which ultimately made the front of both newspapers the following day.

The appeal was based on two issues: 1) a location and 2) the curriculum. We had a copy of an internal memo written by then-Superintendent Lewis Finch that stated "no charter school" would ever be allowed to use a district facility. Of course, the statute very clearly allowed charter schools to use vacant facilities and we were asking to use an elementary school that was just being vacated, but was still in good shape (and is still in use today). The second issue was our intent to use the Core Knowledge curriculum. Jeffco's board members stated it was "experimental" and it was too heavy with content--kids wouldn't be able to learn. Tom Howerton, one of the State Board members who heard the appeal, had done his own research on the curriculum and was very enthusiastic about a charter school using it the curriculum. In addition, there were well over 1,000 students on the Dennison Elementary wait list in Jeffco and Jefferson Academy's educational program would alleviate some of the parents who couldn't get their children into Dennison.

In May the Jeffco school board reconsidered the JA charter application as required by State Board order. As is their typical pattern, they went into Executive Session with their legal counsel before coming out and voting. The vote was split. Kirk Brady was the swing vote in favor of JA. The school board did require that JA open with only one class per grade level rather than the proposed two. This proved to be a very wise requirement. Opening with 180 students and growing one grade level each year was hard enough!

Within two years of operation JA had more than 1,000 students on its wait list. It's earned the John. J. Irwin School of Excellence award three times. In 1996 a junior high charter was approved and then in 1999 a senior high charter was approved. All three charters operate under one governing board and are located on the same campus. This year the first class to go Kindergarten through 12th grade at JA graduated.