Monday, July 30, 2007

Charter Shopping

It's that time of year again when parents "shop" for schools, much like their child's back-to-school clothes. Not all charter schools are alike! In fact, there are charter schools in Colorado for pregnant and parenting teens, a residential youth detention facility that also operates as a charter school, charter schools linked with the juvenile justice system and about 40% of the charter schools in the state use the Core Knowledge curriculum.

It's common for the public to develop a perception about charter schools in general through what they hear about the charter school nearest their home. For example, I live nearby four charter schools that each use the Core Knowledge curriculum and so many of my neighbors believe all charter schools have lots of homework and push the kids to excel. In Grand Junction, there's been a struggling charter school that serves high-risk youth in an alternative setting. This week a new charter school opens in Grand Junction that uses the Core Knowledge curriculum. These two schools, in the same community, will be totally different and so the perceptions of the people from Grand Junction will change.

I've visited numerous charter schools that use the Core Knowledge curriculum and none of them are alike. One school might emphasize science and technology while another focuses on character development. That's what is great about charter schools: they're all unique and serve the needs of their students uniquely.

When parents are shopping for a school they need to spend time in the school and ask lots of questions. Parents know their child the best and can tell if a school will suit their child's needs.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Charter School Capital Construction Funding

Earlier this month a wide variety of people met to discuss charter school capital construction. The group is to become a task force that will meet until 2010 in order to address the needs of charter schools to fund their facilities.

I thought the meeting was interesting because no one ever mentioned the elephant in the room: the fact that $3 million had been cut by the General Assembly this year. Here's the historical funding for charter schools, which was initially funded using Amendment 23 funds.

SY $ per fte Total Allocation
2001-02 322.40 $6,471,051
2002-03 327.38 $7,813,943
2003-04 301.35 $8,200,000
2004-05 171.06 $5,000,000
2005-06 145.09 $5,000,000
2006-07 201.17 $7,800,000
2007-08 110 (projected) $5,000,000

The total allocation is divided by the number of eligible charter school students each year. As the number of charter school students has increased exponentially in recent years, the amount per student has fallen significantly. In this discussion, it's also important to note that charter schools typically spend 15 to 25% of their general operating funds on capital construction needs.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"Education is Not Rocket Science"

There's a great article, written by Dr. Terrence Moore, at This article contains much of the same information Terrence spoke about at the Ridgeview Classical Schools high school graduation.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Education in France

I recently had the fortune of hosting a French student for two weeks. I learned some interesting information about education in France:
  • They have school from 8 AM to 6 PM four days a week and 8 AM to noon on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
  • At seventh grade they enter "tracks" (chemistry, mathematics, etc.) selected by the student and family. A student can change tracks. Each track also contains all the basic courses.
  • Most students begin learning English in the primary grades. Students can take both English grammar/mechanics and oral English.
  • Students interested in art, music or drama must take those courses outside of the school day, on their own.

By the way, if you'd like a very enriching experience, host a student from another country. Our student was here to attend classes in the area. It's a great opportunity to learn about another culture and teach young people about the ideals of the United States!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Value of Rubrics

Lots of people in the public education system speak about rubrics a lot. I used to wonder if "rubrics" were a code word or something akin to a secret handshake. But it's quite simple: rubrics are helpful to explain expectations.

When my kids were growing up I always left them a list of jobs to do while I was away. As an experiment, I tried leaving a list with three different levels. For the minimum level, there was no money, it was a part of their regular repsonsibilities. For the second level, there were additional jobs and additional pay. If they really wanted to earn some money, they could work to the third level of jobs.

In a classroom, rubrics explain the expectation level for students to earn different grades on an assignment. Through a rubric, the teacher describes what needs to be included to get the best grade and how that grade will be evaluated. For example, one bullet in the rubric could be, "a bibliography with at least 5 sources."

The best thing about using rubrics is the additional information and a clear description of what it means to be in level one, two or three. Rubrics are meant to eliminate the guessing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Parental Choice in Education & Why it Doesn't Matter

We live in a choice state. We have an Open Enrollment law that permits parents to choose the school their child attends as long as the family provides transportation. So one would think we have a strong choice state, right?

The Open Enrollment law works if the school system permits it. Five years ago I was doing some research for some parents and called some area high schools to see if I could get my son into the school. The school secretary asked if he had any behavior or academic issues, including wondering if he was labeled "special education." She said that if he didn't have any pertinent issues the Principal would probably approve his attending that school.

Of course what I was told by the school secretary was wrong. However, many parents don't know what the law says and what their rights are. Plus, quite frankly, many school districts have learned how to play the system to their advantage. My experience in public education has made me realize that some public educators feel threatened by parents. They simply don't know how to involve them in their child's education and they don't want them around. On the other hand, the administrators who have found ways to use parents effectively have created great supporters and advocates!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Charter School Closures

It looks like at least three charter schools will close this summer. Ute Creek Academy in Longmont has decided they don't have the financial resources to continue. Pioneer School of Expeditionary Learning in Fort Collins also ran into financial problems and has decided to join with the school district. They'll operate as a magnet program within one of the district's high schools for the next year. It's been known for several months that KIPP Cole College Prep in Denver was set for closure. The KIPP model was extremely difficult to enact in a mandatory conversion school. Of the about 800 students in Cole when the state mandated they convert to a charter school, only about 200 students stayed for the first year of KIPP Cole College Prep. This past year there were only about 52 students.

Since the Charter Schools Act was adopted in 1993 there have been about 12 school closures. Almost all were for financial reasons. Community Involved Charter School in Jeffco closed for academic reasons. Several charter schools got in over their heads financially when they made bond deals to finance their new buildings. Over-projecting the number of students can quickly translate into financial ruin. But the fact that charter schools without student demand and/or financial stability cease to operate is one of the major tenets of the charter school philosophy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Charter School Autonomy & Parenting: What's the Difference?

There are numerous beliefs on what is reasonable autonomy for charter schools. Some authorizers, in their genuine desire to see their charter schools succeed, over-reach their authority and lean toward micromanaging. Charter school operators have made some pretty big mistakes and deserve to be chastised by their authorizer. But, what happens when the rights of a charter school to operate autonomously impinge with the authorizer's desire to ensure success?

I think it's similar to parenting. Sometimes teenagers just need to learn from their mistakes. But a wise parent oftentimes lets the teenager figure it out on their own rather than making sure everything always goes right. Many people learn best by their mistakes. Certainly the likelihood of making a second comparable mistake is lessened by the freedom to make a mistake in the first place.

Similarily, a charter school governing board doesn't have to ensure the staff never makes a mistake. The board should focus on the result, rather than how the staff chooses to reach the desired outcome.

Of course a charter school should never be allowed to violate the law or harm a child in any way. But, for the most part, the philosophy of charter schools allows them to do things differently, with the optimism that the student will be better served in the long run. Authorizer, like parents, should exercise restraint in how they monitor their charter school's operations. The Charter School Institute board uses the rationale that they expect their staff to do 20% monitoring and oversight, while allowing the charter school 80% autonomy.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Hillary and the NEA

U.S. Senator and presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, addressed the National Education Association's convention in Philadelphia earlier this week. She softened her support for charter schools, having learned a lesson in 1999 when her statements supporting charter schools met with dead silence from the 15,000 in attendance.

According to the New York Sun:

The former first lady took a more nuanced position on charter schools. "We've got to experiment. We've got to try different approaches," she said. But she added: "We also have to be sure that charter schools do not drain the financial resources from public schools." Mrs. Clinton's rhetoric matches that of the NEA and many teachers' unions, which have embraced limited numbers of charter schools as long as they are held to the same standards as public schools.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

What's in a Name?

The Manhattan Institute's Center for Civic Innovation has just released a reported titled, "What's in a name? The Decline in the Civic Mission of School Names."

Quoting from the executive summary:

After analyzing trends in public school names in seven states, representing 20 percent of all public school students, we obtained the following statistics:

  • Of almost 3,000 public schools in Florida, five honor George Washington, compared with eleven named after manatees.
  • In Minnesota, the naming of schools after presidents declined from 14 percent of schools built before 1956 to 3 percent of schools built in the last decade.
  • In New Jersey, naming schools after people dropped form 45 percent of schools built before 1948 to 27 percent of schools built since 1988.
  • In the last two decades, a public school built in Arizona was almost fifty times more likely to be named after such things as a mesa or a cactus than after a president.
  • In Florida, nature names for schools increased from 19 percent of schools built before 1958 to 37 percent of schools built in the last decade.
  • Similar patterns were observed in all seven states analyzed.
  • Today, a majority of all public school districts nationwide do not have a single school named after a president.

The authors suggest there is a corelation between the decline in naming schools after distinguished citizens and teaching civic responsibilities. "The unwillingness of school boards to take stands when naming schools may indicate a reluctance to take the stands necessary to teach civics effectively."

"To some extend, the change in school names is a reflection of broader cultural changes, including increased skepticism of inherited wisdom, revisionist history, and increased interest in the environment. But attributing the change to culture is an insufficient explanation. Culture partially shapes the decisions of political leaders, but culture can also be a product of the decisions of political leaders. The question is, why are the political leaders who are in control of school names--school board members--increasingly reluctant to fight for names that honor individual people?"

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Lawsuit Filed in Arizona to Protect Charter Schools

Arizona's Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit to protect the autonomy of five top-performing charter schools in the state. The Arizona Dept. of Education mandated the schools align their curricula to the state's curriculum sequence, which is prescribed for each grade level. The charter schools contend that by "dumbing down" their curriculum, it would significantly alter their original school design.

According to Dr. Daniel Scoggin, CEO of one of the charter schools, "Our students want to be challenged with greater depth, coverage, and content and to have access to an advanced prep school experience in a public school setting. The increasing pressure from the state to align our curriculum to all other public schools compromises our unique charter and the options offered to Arizona families."

Four of the charter schools involved in the lawsuit rank among the top ten schools in Arizona, based on scores from their state assessment. Additionally, one of the schools (BASIS Tuscon) was ranked in the top ten high schools nationwide according to Newsweek.

The new Goldwater Institute Scarf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation has filed this lawsuit on behalf of the five charter schools. The litigation center's director is Clint Bolick. In 2003, the Arizona Dept. of Education began mandating charter schools align their curriculum to the state prescribed curriculum. Compliance problems developed this year when the state required all schools to teach U.S. History in 7th & 8th grades. At least some of the charter schools in the lawsuit teach ancient history in 7th grade and medieval history in 8th grade as a prerequisite to U.S. History in 9th grade.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Vanguard Classical School

There's a new charter school opening in August, located in the Lowry area. This will be a Core Knowledge K-8 school, but only going through 6th grade this fall. The school is at 10th & Yosemite, chartered by the Aurora Public School District.

Vanguard Classical School (VCS) was started by the Cerebral Palsey Foundation of Colorado and will have a higher-than-average number of students with disabilities. But their educational program is purposefully designed to serve all types of students. The Core Knowledge content will be delivered with the student who needs to move around in mind. It won't look like the traditional Core Knowledge school.

VCS has a brand new building to open in. They share the facility with CP of Colorado and CP's HeadStart preschool program.

Any family in the Lowry area should seriously consider this new charter school because it has all the elements to be a success!