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.