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: coloradoleague.org 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 qualitycharters.org

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: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/july-dec07/scotus_10-08.html

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 schoolchoiceforkids.org; 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.
http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2007/10/10022007a.html to see the US Dept of Ed's news release and http://www.pueblochieftain.com/metro/1191419558/16 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: http://www.battlerockschool.com/index.htm