Tuesday, September 30, 2008

When is Pushing Children to Advance NOT a Good Thing?

A new study, released by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute, says that most eighth graders pushed to do Algebra I shouldn't be in that class. The bottom 10% of students taking the math NAEP are students taking Algebra I, Geometry or Algebra II, all traditionally considered high school courses.

The problem is that students didn't have the foundational skills to build upon successfully. They hadn't completely learned basic skills such as multiplication and computation. In order for students to excel in middle school mathematics courses, they need to have mastered 3rd thru 5th grade math. Middle school math develops higher order thinking skills in students: a requirement to excel in high-level math courses such as trigonometry and calculus.

I recently learned that the Jeffco School District, as one of its Accreditation Indicators for public schools, is measuring how many eighth grades are enrolled in Algebra I or higher. This immediately raises two important questions:

1. How will the district pay for students taking additional math courses in high school? About four years ago the district considered increasing the high school graduation requirements for math from 3 to 4, to match CCHE college entrance requirements, and decided they couldn't afford the estimated $7 million price tag for additional teachers and classrooms.

2. Will high schools adjust their math graduation requirements if a students is advanced a year? There isn't any incentive for students to advance a year if they don't "save" a year as Seniors. This is another example of where "seat time" often supercedes "subject mastery." Related to this is the question of whether the content of these high school math courses are considered essential content. Why is Calculus important for graduating seniors to know?

As the CCHE college entrance requirements increase for students graduating high school in 2010 or beyond, to four years of math, it'll be interesting to see if the graduation rate is affected and how school districts respond to this since the graduation rate is one of the Accreditation Indicators and closely monitored by policy makers.

Windsor Charter Academy Gets a New Gym

The Windsor Charter Academy community celebrated the opening of a new gymnasium last week. The school is across the road from the area of Windsor hit hardest by last May's tornado. In fact, the contractors that built the gym gave the school the flag that flew that day in a glass frame, to remember the school's eventful day.

Lyn Tausan, former principal at Windsor Charter Academy, spoke and was recognized for her work in getting the school to this point. Ms. Tausan is now the principal at Snowy Range Charter Academy in Laramie, Wyoming.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Demise of Charter Schools

When charter schools close it can either be a result of a quick death or a slow, painful death. The reasons are overwhelming based on just two failures: finance and governance.

I was talking to someone today who is involved in charter school bond deals. Private investors purchase charter school bonds and so when a charter school doesn't make enrollment projects, has governance issues or has audit findings, it makes the investors quite nervous. And rightly so! More often now, investors see the direct relationship beween problems such as nepotism, inappropriate use of operating funds, founders syndrome and the like and are quicker to jump in and demand action. Sometimes the investors are quicker to demand change than even the charter school authorizer. One reason is the incredible amount of power the "money people" have compared to a school district. Revoking a charter can be very political. Yanking the funding doesn't require a public hearing or a majority vote. When the funders pull out, it's done.

From the Sept. 10th Education Week:
Jan Rhode, the director of board development for the Minnesota School Boards Association, which helps the state department provide training for charter school boards says, "They [charter school board members] know the parents, the children, the teachers, and their hopes and dreams very personally. And that's good. But it puts them under tremendous pressure to respond to all those people and their specific issues. They need to stay focused on vision, mission, goals."
Robin J. Lake, the director of the National Charter School Research Project at the University of Washington said, "Many boards started as friends of the school, or of the founder, with a very vested interest in the school's day-to-day operations. It can be hard for them to get some distance, to work like a professional, policymaking body."
The predominent theme state charter school leaders are hearing consistently, is a lack of governance expertise and professionalism in the charter school community. It's rare that a well-meaning parent can function at a high level on a charter school board without training and mentoring. Parents are just too involved in making sure their child's educational needs are met; sometimes to the detriment of the school, as a whole.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

DonorsChoose.org Bloggers Challenge Coming Soon!

I've been telling administrators and teachers in Colorado's charter schools to get their projects posted on DonorsChoose.org because on Wednesday, Oct. 1st, a bloggers challenge starts and I'll be promoting projects from Colorado's charter schools. Check it out and get your projects posted so I can start raising money to meet your school's needs!

Information to Guide Your Ballot Decisions

The resource, ballotpedia.org, is a great resource for finding out more information on the Colorado ballot measures. It should be considered a "must-read" before voters cast their ballots! Several ballot measures deal with education issues -- read and carefully consider!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Today's Charter School Finance Seminar

Today at the annual charter school finance seminar the original charter school philosophy was discussed by Russ Caldwell, Bill Windler, Jim Griffin and Todd Ziebarth. Clear and distinct autonomy was regarded as one of the most important elements. The characteristics of the Charter Schools Act and its original bipartisan support was recognized as one of the strengths of the charter school movement as a whole. Colorado has been known for slow, steady growth of charter schools.

During the legislative discussion Sean Bradley, from the League of Charter Schools, vowed to concentrate his work on gaining equity for charter schools in district bond questions. He mentioned the Adams 12 resolution to limit charter schools and the Republican letter of commitment to support good charter school legislation.

Almost 100 charter school leaders from across the state gathered to discuss financial checks and balances, how to establish a business office, board finance subcommittee responsibilities, staffing, fundraising, PERA, and board oversight among other topics.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Colorado Republicans Send Letter to Charter School Supporters

The Adams 12 Board of Education recently adopted a resolution to support legislative efforts to permit local school boards to deny charter school applications for financial reasons. This resolution states the long-used argument posed by school districts during charter school appeal hearings, which is that charter schools cost the district to operate.

Charter schools give up to 5% of their Per Pupil Revenue to their authorizer for "administrative costs." These costs, itemized in the Charter Schools Act, permit district-wide costs to be charged to the charter school on a per student basis. The Adams 12 resolution states local districts should be able to retain more than the 5% if necessary.

A significant part of the Adams 12 resolution is the high cost of educating students with special needs such as Special Education or English as a Second Language. The cost of educating students determined to need an Individualized Education Program (IEP), or in other words Special Ed students, is a perennial discussion about federal and state mandates without the associated funding.

Today, Colorado State Representative Cory Gardner sent a letter to all charter school supporters stating that he, and the other signatories of the letter, will defend charter schools from this type of legislative attempt. Many of these legislators have already been stalwarts for charter schools in the past.

The letter is signed by:
House Republican Leader Mike May, R-Parker
Assistant House Republican Leader David Balmer, R-Centennial
House Republican Whip Cory Gardner, R-Yuma
House Republican Caucus Chair Amy Stephens, R-Colo Springs
Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colo Springs
Rep. Stella Garza Hicks, R-Colo Springs
Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction
Rep. Kent Lambert, R-Colo Springs
Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan
Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud
Rep. Don Marostica, R-Loveland
Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch
Rep. Ray Rose, R-Montrose
Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling
Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood
Rep. Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial
Rep. Glenn Vaad, R-Mead
Senate Republican Leader Andy McElhany, R-Colo Springs
Assistant Senate Republican Leader Nancy Spence, R-Centennial
Senate Republican Caucus Chair Mike Kopp, R-Littleton
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray
Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins
Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch
Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction
Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley
Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colo Springs

H/T to Ben Degrow

American Academy Breaks Ground

American Academy will break ground this Saturday afternoon after a long, drawn-out effort to get their land approved. American Academy's new site will be in Castle Pines North. They're currently in a remodeled facility near Park Meadows mall. The school serves grades K-8 and will eventually serve 750 Douglas County students.

The Classical Academy Breaks Ground on New Campus

Tomorrow The Classical Academy will break ground on a new campus at the Pikes Peak Community College Rampart Range Campus. TCA is currently the largest brick and mortar charter school in Colorado with three campuses already operating. The new site will have students K-12.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Parents Behaving Badly

There are often similarities in what I hear from the various charter school leaders I speak with. Lately I've been hearing about how poorly some parents behave. Here are some examples:

* Parents in the audience at a charter school board meeting flipping off the board members when they disagree with something that has been said.
* Secondary school students calling their parents, on their cell phones, who then rush to school to defend their child rather than letting their child learn how to resolve the situation themselves.
* Parents who think they can determine which teachers stay at the school, what homework assignments are given and what the teachers teach.
* Parents, who are also charter school board members, with a very narrow agenda: the well-being and success of their own child.

When our kids were growing up, like many other families I'm sure, we had the policy that if you get in trouble at school you get in even more trouble at home. When I hear about how some parents treat charter school teachers and administrators, it makes me wonder where this sense of entitlement came from in society today. It's quite possible that some of these parents haven't experienced what it's like at the neighborhood school and don't have any appreciation for what they have.

When we first started Jefferson Academy I remember being concerned that we were attracting all the "malcontents" from across Arvada and Westminster. But these families were predominantly very appreciative of the new charter school's culture and academics. It was almost idyllic the first few years because people were so happy to be in the school. Then after a few years we began to see families with unrealistic expectations because they didn't have any idea of what "normal" was.

When I hear stories about parents behaving badly, I think it'd be good for them to go to their neighborhood school and experience what that's like. For some families, it may be a better fit. Others will find that actually speaking to the Principal is a monumental feat of getting past the school secretary or that expressed concerns go unheard.

Almost everyone I've spoken to this school year, with stories about parents behaving badly, is quick to point out that it's the parents who are the problem -- not the student. But it makes me wonder how long until the parent's issues becomes their child's.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Failure is Not an Option, Part 4

The fourth principle in Failure is Not an Option, by Alan Blankstein, is "using data to guide decision making and continuous improvement." What kind of data should a school collect? How should that data be used and who should be involved in making decisions with that data?

Most charter school governing boards in Colorado have an accountability committee that operates as a subcommittee of the board. This committee typically administers the annual parent survey, creates the Accreditation plan for board review prior to submission to the authorizer, and analyzes achievement data. But how does the staff use data to make meaningful decisions in the classroom?

Typically there is one school leader who is the "data guru" for the school. This individual analyzes the data, talks to teachers about what the data means for classroom instruction, determines what data is collected, and ensures everyone who is impacted by data use understands the school's value for continuous improvement.

People at all levels should use school achievement data. A parent uses CSAP data to determine how well his child does each year. A classroom teacher can use classroom data to determine if all of the standards are understood by the students or if additional time should be given to particular standards. Administrators use data to decide if the curriculum is properly aligned to state model content standards and if teachers are effectively instructing students using CSAP terms or techniques.

Data collection at the school level isn't meant to be an isolated, discreet body of evidence. It's meant to drive discussion amongst the teaching staff, especially when the discussions are focused on improvement from lessons learned from the data.

School leaders now have a new tool to use for evaluating data: the Colorado growth model. For years, people complained about not being able to compare apples to apples, or there was no way to fairly compare schools in affluent areas with schools in high-poverty areas of the state. The growth model now allows for students to be compared to other students that perform relatively similar. This is an objective reflection of how well the school has done to educate the students they serve, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Wall St and Large Public School Districts

Mike Petrilli recently wrote about the similarities between the financial problems of last week on Wall Street and large, urban school districts that many consider "too big to fail."

Predictably, some education analysts are already pointing to the market meltdown as a cautionary tale about deregulation and “privatization.” I don’t know enough about high finance to say whether the 1990s-era policies that removed barriers between bankers and other investors led to this malaise. But surely there’s a better lesson in this mess for schools than just the “regulation is good” storyline that certain interests want to peddle.

Namely, in the education sector also, organizations are more likely to be bailed out if they are considered “too big to fail.” States have a long history of coming to the rescue of huge urban districts, long after they have demonstrated an utter inability to get results or balance their books. It’s only the small fry — tiny, public charter schools — that actually go under. As well they should, if they aren’t getting the job done for kids or they aren’t spending public funds prudently.

The Detroit Public Schools is the AIG of education. It’s big, it’s bad, and it’s broken. And while its ship is sinking, school-board members and the superintendent are squabbling over “rudeness.” Is there any reason to believe that current governance
arrangements, political dynamics, and leadership are conducive to the systemic transformation needed to save Motown’s children from a life of despair?

It's frustrated me for years that the same districts that demand academic accountability and financial prudence are quick to point the finger, but rarely look at their own situation. A couple metro-Denver districts have been like this. For example, they deny charter school applications because they don't have a good plan for teaching non-English speaking students and yet fail to teach these students in district schools.

Almost invariably these districts say, "if they just had more money" they could fix their problems. However, this double standard doesn't apply to public charter schools they've authorized and have executed a charter contract with. Many school district leaders complain about the money leaving district accounts and going to charter schools as a part of their "we need more money" mantra.

As Petrilli opines, with a bail-out should come drastic reform -- a complete shake-up of the system. Will it take a collapse, comparable to the magnitude we saw last week on Wall Street, to activate policy makers to reform large public school districts?

Mountain View Core Knowledge Charter School Helps Boy Fulfill His Dream

Brandon Rayner has a dream to collect 150,000 business cards so he can get his name in the Guinness Book of World Records. Brandon has leukemia and is in a cancer treatment center in Las Vegas, but when students at Mountain View Core Knowledge Charter School in Canon City heard about this boy's dream, they collected more than 6,000 cards for him.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rocky Mountain News Brings Light to Plight of Charter Schools

In today's Rocky Mountain News, there is an editorial titled "Charters Get Short Stick." As I've discussed here and here and here and about Aurora specifically here and here and here there will certainly be repurcussions for the school districts either not including their charter schools in bond and mill levy ballot questions, or not including them equitably.

Seven metro Denver school districts are running ballot questions for $1.9 billion in bond revenue. Only $15 million of this amount would go to the 56 charter schools in these districts, which equals 0.8% of the total. This 0.8% would go toward charter school students in districts where 5% of their students are educated in charter schools.

The statute states that charter schools will be considered equitably, but does not have any consequence if the district decides not to treat their charter schools equitably. Due to
Senate President Peter Groff's firm commitment to charter schools, this issue is certain to be discussed by the 2009 General Assembly.

It will also be discussed at Friday's Charter School Finance Seminar. After lunch Colorado League of Charter Schools' lobbyist, Sean Bradley, and D.A. Davidson and Co's, Russ Caldwell, will be discussing legislative priorities for charter schools in the upcoming session.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cesar Chavez Network Files Suit to Keep Pueblo 60 Off the Ballot

The Cesar Chavez School Network has filed a suit to keep their authorizing school district, Pueblo 60, off the November ballot. The district is planning on running both a mill levy and bond question this fall. According to the Pueblo Chieftain article:
The lawsuit claims the schools had two working days to prepare a request for participation in a $70 million bond issue, but district officials say the schools submitted a list of projects totaling nearly $15 million, much of which would have been illegal to fund.

None of the four charter schools in district 60 are included in the bond question. The suit contends that the district violated the Charter Schools Act by not involving the charter schools early enough in the process to allow them to be included in the bond, if approved by the voters.

In Aurora Public Schools, where five charter schools operate, the district has included the charter schools in the bond, but only for $750,000 or less than half of one percent of the total bond on the November ballot. The charter schools were directed to use bond proceeds for technology projects, which must be purchased through the district. Several of the charter schools already purchased technology through their Startup and Implementation Grant funds prior to the discussion about the two ballot questions the Aurora Public School District is putting on the ballot.

Similarily, the Douglas County School District and Jefferson County School District's are including their charter schools on a limited basis or not at all. Reports from St. Vrain Valley charter schools also bring into question the compliance with the "equitable distribution" of funds cited in the Charter Schools Act.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Charter School Finance Seminar, Sept. 26th

Next Friday, Sept. 26th, is CDE's Annual Charter School Finance Seminar at the Adams 12 Training Center in Thornton. The seminar is designed for anyone dealing with finances at a charter school, which includes board members, business managers, and finance subcommittee members.

Three men who were involved in charter schools during the early years (mid-1990's) will discuss the major tenets of the charter school philosophy and what has changed over the years. Then there will be small group discussions about subjects pertinent to charter school leaders. After lunch there will be a legislative discussion about charter schools and school district bond and mill levy ballot questions. A number of charter schools are not satisfied with how their districts have included, or not included at all, their needs in ballot questions.

This seminar is also a good place for people wanting to start a charter school to get information they can use in creating a charter school application, including the budget.

Registration information

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Get Ready for the Challenge

In October, DonorsChoose.org is having a bloggers challenge and I will be participating. So now is the time for teachers to sign up to get a project funded. I will be highlighting specific projects I'd like to see funded and encouraging people who read this blog to fund the projects.

When I go on the Donors Choose website, as a donor, I search by "Colorado charter" and right now there are only seven projects that need funding under that search criteria. I'm sure this is because not enough teachers have heard about this wonderful website. Upload your projects now so that I can highlight them, and hopefully get them funded, during October!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Confused About This Year's Long Ballot?

If you're feeling overwhelmed with the long ballot this November, check out ballotpedia.org for information on the ballot measures on this year's Colorado ballot.

If you're considering a candidate for either the state House or state Senate, here are some questions you might consider asking:

1. Do you believe that charter schools should be funded equal to other public charter schools?
2. Do you support strengthening the state Charter School Institute by making it more difficult for school districts to have sole chartering authority?
3. Would you support colleges and universities authorizing charter schools similar to other state charter school laws?
4. Should school districts be required to share mill levy and bond revenue on a pro rata basis with their charter schools?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Failure is Not an Option, Part 3

The third principle in the book, Failure is Not an Option, is collaborative teaming. Effective school leadership doesn’t come from just one central figure. Strong schools have diffused leadership across many key individuals. The term, Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, means the school has a culture where everyone is a learner. PLCs are led by a leadership team with representatives from different grade levels and serve varied functions within the school. A few of the characteristics of a collaborative school are:
  • The staff is committed to a shared mission, vision, values, and goals, and recognizes its responsibility to work together to accomplish them.
  • The school is characterized by a culture of trust and respect that permits open and willing sharing of ideas and respect for different approaches and teaching styles.
  • The staff has real authority to make decisions about teaching and learning.
  • A plan is developed to provide meaningful time for teams to meet.

Last week when I was at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, I learned about their new peer mentoring program. Teachers are paired for a variety of activities designed to improve their instruction. High school students videotaped teachers during the first 15 minutes of their class. At P2P, every teacher uses an “anti-set” or anticipatory activity to get the student engaged in the day’s lesson. When the bell rings, the expectation is that the student is in his/her desk and working. Peer coaching teams asked questions of the teacher during the videotape debriefing session, such as “Why did you kneel down to speak to that student?” or “Why is your room arranged that way?” Teachers can help each other improve on the little things they do that may or may not improve instruction because only good teachers notice some of those things. Obviously, this peer mentoring program works because there is a sense of trust and respect amongst the staff.

Another key to ensuring collaborative teaming is making sure everyone understands the philosophy of the school. Teams cannot enhance practices if they aren’t focused on a common vision and mission. At The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs, which operates on three separate campuses, they have a Director of Curriculum and Philosophy, whose primary job is to communicate the school’s philosophy through vertical and horizontal faculty discussions. Teachers at one grade level, need to have a consistent philosophy of what levels their students can attain, but teachers of elementary school students, middle school students and high school students also need to model consistent philosophies. Schools serving grades K-12 can propel students even further academically because students don’t have to re-learn expectations as they advance to a different physical school for the next segment of their education.

PLCs thrive on continuous improvement through high-level discussions about students, instructional methodology and other subjects germane to the school’s unique needs. They are effective because as the faculty learns together, they implement their ideas together and then discussion what did and didn’t work.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Constitution Day, Sept. 17th

Congress has asked all public schools to teach the U.S. Constitution one day a year -- September 17th to commerate the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. Ideas and resources are available through the Department of Education's website.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jeffco Schools Bond & Mill Levy Ballot Questions

Last night I attended a meeting for Jeffco charter schools about the upcoming bond and mill levy ballot questions. The district calculated the square footage of their schools and the square footage of charter schools and used that percentage, 3.89%, to determine how much of the 350 million dollar bond will go to charters. Most everyone knows that charter school students are in inadequate facilities. Rather than compensating in the formula for charter schools having to squeeze into smaller facilities, the district decided to exacerbate the existing shortage by giving charter schools less than a per student ratio such as they did in 2004, the last bond and mill levy. Discussing anything about the equity of $13.5 million for charter schools wasn't on the table, charter school leaders were told.

Another taboo topic at the meeting was any opinion that would differ from the school district's legal counsel who said that any project where bond funds are used must be deeded over to the district. The district has to hold title to any building. If a charter school were to use bond funds to renovate the facility they own, they'd have to give the district title for that property. Further, bond counsel believes that debt reduction on an existing charter school facility, isn't permissible with district bond funds.

This limits the types of projects the Jeffco charters can use bond funds on, if the ballot measure is approved. There was no discussion on mill levy proceeds because the district hasn't made a decision on if charter schools will, or will not be, included.

It's very hard for a charter school governing board, operating with a long-term facility plan, to create a meaningful project that meets the restrictions, but will also complement the school's long-term needs. When asked what the district's future plans were should this bond pass (and the last one which passed in 2004) the response was that another bond and mill levy would be pursued in 2012 or 2013. Queried if charter schools could expect to be included in the next bond, the district official leading the meeting stated that it's possible charter schools wouldn't get any money from the next bond; there were no guarantees.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Student Bloggers

Last night I watched an interesting video of Michael Wesch, an assistant professor of anthology from Kansas State University. He presented information on how and why YouTube grew so rapidly, with an emphasis on why members of society grabbed on to this new phenomenon. Clearly young people today (the age 18-24 category is among the highest user group of YouTube) are using new forms of media to express themselves and process life's questions as they mature. This is also true with Facebook or MySpace.

A teacher at Arapahoe High School, Karl Fisch, created a Power Point presentation called "Shift Happens" to explain the reality of little-considered numbers, such as "If you're one in a million in China that means there are 1,300 people just like you." Mr. Fisch, a math teacher turned technology teacher, has taught his fellow teachers to use technology in their classrooms. Numerous teachers at Arapahoe High School use blogs to encourage their students to write and discuss the information they learned in class. In fact, according to this blog students also comment on each other's essays using Google Docs. Check it out because the creative ideas these teachers are using are very impressive!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Failure is Not an Option #2: Ensuring Achievement for All Students

“It is imperative that a school’s entire staff hold high expectations for students,” says Alan Blankstein in Failure is Not an Option. Prior to the adoption of the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, it was permissible, in some parts of the country, to make excuses by contending that some kids (i.e. children of poverty or ethnic minorities) simply couldn’t learn at the same rate as other students. The federal law drove discussion and an acknowledgement that some educators used outside factors as an excuse for not teaching students the way they needed in order to learn. It was easier to blame the student than for the teacher admit to insufficiencies.

A school leader, dealing with a staff that doesn’t honestly believe every student can learn at high levels should first try to educate the staff on the results of research. The book says that “Leaders can also create this dissonance, as well as pathways to change. Modeling alternative behaviors, demonstrating success, and forcefully challenging assumptions are all part of good leadership.”

The book also suggests that having staff members get to know the students that they think won’t succeed, their beliefs will change. In other words, relationship building will break down barriers to achievement.

Blankstein’s “comprehensive system for assuring success” includes:
· Having an improvement plan for all students
· Having systems for quickly identifying those in need
· Providing a continuum of support and targeted strategies for low-achievers
· Publishing results on closing the achievement gap\

Key to this entire principle is the belief system of the school leader and the staff. Everyone has to believe that all students can succeed.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Vail's Stone Creek Charter School

Stone Creek Academy in Avon is opening this year with a new principal and the addition of an eighth grade class. Stone Creek had a tumultuous beginning due to cash flow shortages. Further, the school's modular campus wasn't ready for occupancy as originally planned, which caused school leaders to arrange for individual classes to begin in various resorts and hotels around town.

The Stone Creek governing board has persevered through tough challenges and now it looks like their efforts are paying off with a more stable student enrollment and financial situation.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Charter Schools Not Included in District Bond Questions

Denver's NBC Affiliate reporter, Nelson Garcia, has a story on American Academy in Douglas County not being included in the Douglas County School District's bond question. The district is running a $395 bond question.

The Douglas County district official quoted in the article stated there were concerns about the district having no way to recover a building that is built for a charter school, with public bond proceeds. In the past when districts have included charter schools in bond revenue, a legal agreement is executed that stipulates the district will own the property should the charter school close.

Even though several districts running ballot questions are including charter schools, the schools are not being included on an equitable basis. In districts with 6% of their student population in charter schools, such as Aurora Public Schools, charter schools are slated to receive less than .5% of the total bond.

Watch for this issue to be discussed more thoroughly before legislation is proposed in January.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Failure is Not an Option, Part 1

At our monthly administrator meetings in the north part of the state we typically do a book study together as a part of improving instructional practices in our charter schools. Last year, we read the book, "Failure is Not an Option" by Alan Blankstein. Since the book talks about the six principles "that guide student acheivement in high-performing schools" I am beginning a six-part series on these principles.

The first principle is: Common mission, vision, values and goals. This is the one part of the book that I don't completely agree with. I think the author uses "mission" and "vision" exactly the opposite of how they should be. The overall premise that school leaders need to coalesce around a common vision is correct.

Every charter school application, according to the Charter Schools Act, requires a mission statement. Many charter schools also have a vision statement. The vision statement is the big picture and the end product. The mission statement, is how the school will reach that point. To begin the process of writing a vision and mission statement, there should first be a discussion on what values or beliefs the founders have for the school. These should be noted in a bulleted format. From these belief statements, pull out the important words or phrases and create the vision and mission statements.

Vision and mission statements should be specific and avoid phrases that mean little and are over-used such as "prepare students to be global citizens." Most important, these statements should clearly convey a message to parents and staff. The statements should mean something!

As a part of the Charter School Support Initiative, team members look to see if the vision/mission statements are posted in the school and if students, parents and staff members know what the statements mean.

The book also talks about creating school goals. Charter school governing boards do this as a part of their annual strategic plan. The plan includes both long-term and short-term goals. Administrators can use the board's strategic plan to create personal professional development goals and staff goals.

The four pillars -- mission, vision, values, and goals - create the foundation for a professional learning community (PLC) or an environment that models continuous improvement, good communication and effective practices. According to the book, "Creating a 'product' for each of these pillars is technically simple. But the real gains in doing this come from the process and the relationships that are shaped along the way."

Miscalculation Causes Charter School's Delayed Opening

Monument Academy will be opening next Monday after a delayed opening as a result the miscalculation of how much the new building would cost. The charter school board was notified in June that they were about a million dollars short in funds to finish the building project. The school had already sold their modular classrooms to another school and so were left without anyway to open in August, as was originally planned.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

High Standards = Charter School Philosophy

I spent the day with twelve people who work in the trenches of a charter school, but are willing to learn the state school support process in order to evaluate charter schools as a means for making them better. In Colorado's charter school, this process is called the Charter School Support Initiative.

These new team members in training all hold high personal standards for themselves and their schools. Average isn't acceptable for them.

The Charter School Support Initiative process requires team members to document what they hear and read. Team members don't provide assistance or tips. But, for new charter schools receiving a charter school startup or implementation grant, there are people and resources available to help them begin their new charter school with a strong foundation. Trainings, at the school itself, include CSAP 101, data driven decision-making, curriculum alignment, leadership and board training. Lessons learned from high-performing schools undergoing a school support visit have identified these five trainings as essential in the formation of a new charter school.

The charter world is filled with dedicated people who uphold high standards at their schools. These people, like the ones I spent the day with, typically have a passion for quality education due to someone who influenced them earlier in life and then are continually motivated by the students they currently serve. These people are the heart and soul of the charter school philosophy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

District Mill Levy & Bond Questions: Should Charter Schools be Included?

From the League of Charter Schools:
Seven major school districts in the Denver/Metro area are considering bond elections for November 2008. Collectively they are seeking an estimated $1.9 billion from voters. Nearly 6% of public school students (21,000 kids) attend charters across these seven districts. Yet only one-half of one percent of bond proceeds is slated to go to charter schools. In 2002, legislation was passed requiring school districts to notify their charters schools when a bond initiative is being considered, and invite them to submit proposals for inclusion in the bond. At that point, school districts ultimately have the right to say 'no' to the charter school funding request. Unfortunately they appear to be saying no with regularity. The League is working with charter school leadership in many of these districts to help maximize their opportunities for inclusion in the bond process. We are also bringing this situation to the attention of State legislators in hopes that the statute can be revisited to close this loophole.

Click here to view an opinion editorial in the August 25, Denver Post about the upcoming bond elections, and how charter schools are not being fairly included. The article was written by Senator Peter Groff, Senator Nancy Spence, Rep. Bob Hagedorn and Rep. Frank McNulty.

Union Power

From the Center for Education Reform, Aug. 26 edition:
DENVER UNION CONFAB. Speaking of spin, the opening paragraph of this AP article tells education reformers all they need to know about what education policies would be permitted to emerge in an Obama administration, unless he does something dramatic to stop it: "After years of hard feelings following a difficult split, the nation's organized labor movement came back together Sunday at the Democratic National Convention to urge its members to vote for Barack Obama in hopes of changing the nation's labor policies. 'It is important to know that we are united in our determination to turning around America,' said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. 'And by united, I mean all of us, the AFL-CIO, the NEA, Change to Win - 17 million members, 38 million potential voters in union households.' ... 'I almost feel sorry for the other party,' said National Education Association President Reg Weaver."

From the AP article, it seems seven major labor unions have rejoined forces to support Obama. As with most elections, it's very important to follow the money. Big union organizations are pouring money into Colorado races and national races.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Teacher's Union Trying to Enroll Charter School Teachers?

It happened a few years ago in a school district north of the Denver metro area, now reports are that another metro school district teacher's union is trying to enroll charter school teachers.

This is interesting because charter schools don't recognize the union and employ only at-will. Charter schools won't acknowledge tenure or change daily schedule, calendar or assignments in relation to a collective bargaining agreement. At-will employee terminations are very difficult to contest.

There are charter schools in the U.S. that have been organized by union teachers and in fact, some states require the majority of teachers to approve a charter school application. These types of charter laws are considered weak laws, but they do exist in the forty states that have charter school laws. Albeit, there aren't many charter schools that operate in such an environment.

Charter school teachers can get liability insurance through organizations that offer group insurance and professional development. Many charter school teachers probably realize the union is opposed to their charter school and the means that makes it effecive: dedicated teachers going above and beyond to ensure their students learn!