Friday, February 29, 2008

Center for Education Reform

The publication, Indiana Charter Schools Today, has an article entitled, "CER's Jeanne Allen is a Woman on a Mission" written by Stan Houseland. Below is an excerpt from the article:

Beyond working with leaders in the 50 states, one of the roles of CER, she asserts, is "discontenting the contented." That often means the National Education Association, perhaps the most powerful force within the education establishment. A spokesman there has complained that Allen "goes for the jugular" and is "mean."

If that means shunning mushy "diplomat-speak," she doubtless would happily plead guilty. Recently a Florida newspaper editorialized against a state policy to expand the power to authorize charter schools. Allen shot back in a letter to the editor: "This is a democracy, not a dictatorship. Having new and additional entities that can foster more and better learning opportunities is a right that no family should be without."

Not eager for compromise, she recently compared the school reform crusade with the civil rights movement of the 1950s. "They didn't stand up and say 'OK, fine, we'll take the bus, but not the water fountain."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Douglas County Schools of Excellence

This afternoon principal Dr. Gary Stueven at Platte River Academy hosted a district-wide celebration for the Douglas County schools that had earned the John J Irwin School of Excellence award in 2006 or 2007. In addition to receiving a framed certificate, award winners received a banner for both inside and outside their buildings, which look much like the banners awarded by the Governor's office until a few years ago.

When the John Irwin Schools of Excellence program began in 2000, then-Governor Owens put on a big celebration and schools received a banner and a $5,000 check. A few years later there was only the banner. Around 2005 even the banners stopped. Many schools in Colorado have a series of these banners and are quite proud, and rightly so, for having earned this distinguished award. The Irwin award goes only to the top 8% of public schools in the state. It's very competitive and hard to earn in multiple years.

Platte River Academy parent, and Channel 7 anchor Theresa Marchetta, served as the emcee during the presentation of awards. Dougco Superintendent Jim Christensen and numerous senior staff members were in attendance for the celebration. State Representative Frank McNulty and Superintendent Christensen both addressed participants. Watch Channel 7 news at 4 p.m., 5 p.m. or 10 p.m. for coverage of this event.

Congratulations to American Academy, Platte River Academy and Parker Core Knowledge, the charter schools in Douglas County earning the John Irwin School of Excellence award in both 2006 and 2007! You're awesome!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Exclusive Chartering Authority

Friday is the deadline for school district's to request exclusive chartering authority for the 2008-09 school year. The Charter School Institute is free to sponsor charter schools within the physical boundaries of school districts without ECA.

The Durango 9-R Board of Education decided not to request ECA because they believe CSI does a better job of vetting charter school applications. This year Durango received a charter application at the same time CSI did. After a rigorous review, Animas Charter HS was approved by CSI.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CSI and Accountability

The schools authorized by the Charter School Institute have recently met to organize a "Council of Schools," which is essentially an accountability committee for CSI.

Since the accountability committee law pre-dates the Charter Schools Act, and even after was amended to eliminate the state accountability committee, how charters comply with the law has been a mystery to many people. CDE recommends charter school governing boards have an accountability committee as a board subcommittee. The statute calls these accountability committees School Advisory Councils. Charters organized before January 1, 2000 may have the governing board serve as the accountability committee. Some charter schools have received a waiver from the State Board of Education to operate their committee differently or have a different membership.

I believe the legislative intent of the accountability law was to give parents meaningful involvement in their child's public school. Having attended numerous neighborhood public school accountability meetings -- elementary, middle and high school, at the school and the district level -- I can honestly say they're a joke. These committees are only to rubber stamp; parental input is listened to and then ignored, which is perfectly permissible the way the statute is written. When parents have tried to bring up issues or ask tough questions, they get shut down. These committees are often "stacked" with people who won't ask the tough questions or are employed by the school, and wouldn't disagree with administration (if they want to continue to work at that school, anyway). Moreover, not all schools even have an accountability committee.

This new advisory council established by CSI schools is the epitome of what legislators intended with the School Advisory Council law. A representative from each CSI school propose to make recommendation to the CSI board on such pressing issues as: charter renewal criteria, potential CSI appointed board members, and the measures by which the schools will be evaluated. The cooperative nature of Council members is commendable and can only have a positive outcome. They simply want to have a part in the discussion and potential decisions that will ultimately significantly impact their schools.

This afternoon the Council of Schools representatives presented their ideas to the CSI board and I haven't heard how that went. But, this is a chance for CSI to exemplify, once again, a best practice model for other public schools and school districts.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ensuring At-Will Employment

Almost all charter schools employ on an at-will basis. It's very important to make sure their verbal or written agreements don't change that at-will status. A charter school should never put anything in writing that would suggest an employee remediation plan or a satisfactory teacher evaluation indicates continued employment. It's good practice to clearly explain at-will employment in any teacher or administrator contract; in fact, it's good to have the employee specifically initial that paragraph. Teacher evaluation policies should clearly state nothing in the evaluation changes the at-will nature of employment.

I've found that because at-will employment is so foreign to school district personnel or legal counsel, that it's best not to get employment advice from them. However, good legal counsel will ensure charter school documents, such as the employee handbook and board policies, are in good shape should the charter school have to dismiss an employee. The only reason to use employee contracts is to stipulate the expected hours or days the employee should work and the related salary. Contracts should never include language that suggests a term of employment.

Another aspect folks have a hard time breaking out of the public education mold for, are step and level salary schedules. Some charter schools refuse to use a salary schedule and instead employ on an individual, negotiated basis. Many other charter schools effectively use performance pay systems. (Click here to read a Lexington Institute report, which includes the model in use at Liberty Common School.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

DATA to Appeal Denied Charter

The Denver Arts & Technology Academy, whose charter was not renewed by Denver Public Schools this week on a 5-4 vote, will appeal the decision to the State Board of Education. DATA is in northwest Denver, next to the former Elitch's area, and is operated by Mosaica Education.

DATA serves a Title I (high poverty) population and two years ago underwent a state School Support Visit, which is highly encouraged for underperforming Title I schools. As a part of the school review, DATA received a grant to implement an improvement plan.

DATA has a new principal this year. One of the unfortunate things about the timing of charter renewals and appeals is that while the school is going through this tumultuous time dealing with an appeal and charter nonrenewal, their students are taking CSAPs. You see, the decision to not renew the charter school's contract was largely based on March 2007 data -- before the new principal had time to implement his new plan with his staff members. Last year Life Skills Center of Denver was in much the same situation. To be sure, good schools would have a variety of academic measures to demonstrate the effectiveness of their work with students, but that doesn't mitigate the fact that these students are taking high-stakes state tests at the same time they're wondering about whether or not their school will be open next year. In situations like this, it's extremely important for all the adults involved to make sure the academic success of students is of prime importance.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

DPS Denies Charter School Renewal

Tonight the Denver Board of Education denied the renewal of one charter school and approved six others. All but four of the charter school renewals were approved on the consent agenda.

The Denver Arts and Technology Academy (DATA), operated by Mosaica Education in northwest Denver was denied. Board members had strong words for the charter school, which had been on probation for several years.

Life Skills Center of Denver was approved for a two-year probationary contract. Board member Jill Conrad noted the school had shown progress and that for many of these "second-chance" students there were no other educational options. She further acknowledged the Life Skills governing board's leadership in the past year. Conrad stated the CSAP scores cited by her fellow board member were taken in March 2007, before the one-year contract was approved in June.

Skyland Community School was approved for a one-year contract provided it meets certain contingencies such as identifying a suitable location.

Challenges, Choices and Images Charter School brought two charter buses full of parents and students to the hearing. Board members cited the Significantly Declining and Declining ratings on the school's SARs, the school not being in compliance with financial reporting, the financial instability of the school and lower test scores than schools serving comparable Free/Reduced Lunch qualifying student populations. One board member stated that the school had been through an especially tumultuous school year due to a move to a new facility, taking in Hurricane Katrina students and doubling its student enrollment. The school was ultimately approved for a probationary one-year renewal, however the school was also "put on notice" that it needed to improve its academic performance or face revocation in a year. CCI was not previously on probationary status.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It Just Doesn't Get Any Better

People who know me know that I love my job. Last week a charter school Principal introduced me to someone as a "charter school fanatic." One of the best parts of my job is interacting with the charter school administrators and board members. It just doesn't get any better!

Yesterday and today I got to spend quite a bit of time with folks from charter schools who are doing amazing things for kids. It's exciting to hear people talk about what they're doing with individual students who were otherwise falling through the cracks or hear the enthusiasm people have for their work because they know they're making a difference in kids' lives.

I've heard general public ed folks say charter school leaders are invigorating. They are. They're excited about seeing test scores rise because their program is working, or because a family appreciates a quality education after years of languishing in the charter school's lottery pool. Teachers are excited when they get an idea for how to help the student who is struggling in class and hasn't responded to the typical differentiated instruction. Board members are excited when what was once only their "dream" suddenly has 4-5 times more students than what they can enroll, entering into the enrollment lottery.

I'm appreciating charter school leaders even more now that I've just attended my last Parent Teacher conference at my daughter's district-operated high school. The stark contrast between educators who genuinely strive to increase the amount students learn each day and those that simply put in the time (and maybe should have chosen another profession) is amazing. Because my view of education is dominated by excellence, sometimes it's good to be reminded of the reason charter schools were created and continue to have strong demand as evidenced by long waiting lists and consumer need.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

E.D. Hirsch and the Knowledge Connection

The Washington Post carried a piece by E.D. Hirsch, Ph.D. Here is an excerpt:

Studies of reading comprehension show that knowing something of the topic you're reading about is the most important variable in comprehension. After a child learns to sound out words, comprehension is mostly knowledge. Many technical studies support the assertion that after students can fluently sound out words, relevant knowledge is the crucial difference between students who are good or poor readers. In light of the relevant science, an analysis of the textbooks and methods used to teach reading and language arts -- for three hours a day in many places -- indicates some of the reasons for the disappointing later results. These test-prep materials are constructed on the mistaken view that reading comprehension is a skill that can be perfected by practice, as typing can be. This how-to conception of reading has caused schools to spend a lot of unproductive time on trivial content and on drills such as "finding the main idea" and less time on history, science and the arts.

In his book, The Knowledge Deficit, Don Hirsch contends that good reading programs use resources with quality content instead of "Dick and Jane" type texts. Children learn to comprehend what they're reading material that makes sense and fits together (builds upon prior knowledge) instead of meaningless sentences such as "Dick flies a kite."

Hirsch states, "The sure road to adequate progress in reading is adequate progress in knowledge."


I was with a group of educators today and we were talking about curriculum alignment, how to use data to drive instruction and quality assessments. Someone said they'd just read a good anaology for formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments are like the periodic physical exam at the doctor's office. Summative assessments are the autopsy report. Formative assessments are given to students fairly often to determine what they've learned. This could be a portfolio assignment or a quick write to assess the day's learning. It doesn't have to be a formal quiz or test. The summative assessment is used at the end. At this point it's too late to adapt teaching methodology or content. The learning is done and it's either there or it isn't.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Jane Goff Replaces Middleton on State Board of Ed

A Democratic vacancy selected Jane Goff, Arvada to replace Karen Middleton, Aurora on the State Board of Education, representing the 7th Congressional District. Last week Middleton replaced Rep. Garcia in the House of Representatives.

Goff has served as President of the Jefferson County Education Association and Vice President of the Colorado Education Association. She has been in education for 34 years.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Annual Parent Surveys & Parent Involvement

Many charter schools are distributing their annual parent surveys. I think this is one of the best things happening in charter schools because parents are actually valued and their opinions matter.

Before charter schools I'd never heard of parent surveys. Nobody did them. It just seemed natural when we started Jefferson Academy in 1994 to have a parent survey in the spring of the first year of operation. The opinions of parents on matters such as how much they know about what their child is being taught, if the Principal is approachable and ideas for improvement are very important!

I've also had children in non-charter public schools for more than 14 years. At one accountability committee meeting there was talk about having a parent survey. Knowing this would be discussed, I brought several samples from charter schools. The questions were quickly whittled down to are you interested in joining the PTA and do you know that our school has an accountability committee?

This is indicative of a school system that doesn't understand the importance of parental involvement. Indeed, I know people in public ed who are intimidated by parents and quite honestly, don't even know how to interact with them. Their idea of parent involvement is under very controlled conditions.

Yet many people tout parent involvement in charter schools as being one of the key components for their success. I've likened new charter school parents as a collection of "malcontents" because many of them are leaving their former schools for a reason. In fact, this was a big concern of mine the first few years of Jefferson Academy. But I quickly realized that for many parents, once they're given an environment that respects their role in their child's education and values their input and involvement, they can be productive, positive contributors to the school community!

Congrats Utah on 10 Years of Charter Schools

This year Utah will celebrate ten years of charter schools. This fall they will have 66 charter schools in operation. They have a state board for chartering in addition to local school districts. Congratulations on ten years, Utah!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Shivers Academy Cancels Classes

Shivers Academy, authorized by the Harrison 2 School District in Colorado Springs, has ceased operations without any plan to reopen. Shivers has 29 students, some Seniors, without the means to complete their education this year. The district appears unaware that the charter school would cancel classes, although they had been aware of financial problems at the school.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

CO Charter School Enrollment Data

Today I reviewed the Oct. 1 count enrollment data on the state's charter schools. We now have nine charter schools with more than 1,000 students! They are:

1. Colorado Virtual Academy (Adams 12) 3341 students
2. Hope Online Charter School (Vilas) 3270 students
3. The Classical Academy (Academy 20) 2840 students
4. The Pinnacle (CSI) 1618 students
5. Cesar Chavez/Dolores Huerta (Pueblo 60) 1556 students
6. Peak to Peak (Boulder Valley) 1341 students
7. The Academy (Adams 12) 1157 students
8. Frontier Academy (Greeley 6) 1049 students
9. University Schools (Greeley 6) 1022 students

On the other end of the count are eleven charter schools with less than 50 students:

1. Prairie Creeks (Bennett) 6 students
2. Passage (Montrose) 24 students
3. Marble (Gunnison) 26 students
4. Guffey Community (Fairplay) 27 students
5. Shivers (Harrison 2) 29 students
6. Battle Rock (Montezuma-Cortez) 33 students
7. Paradox Valley (West End) 34 students
8. Indian Peaks (East Grand) 39 students
9. New America-Eagle 39 students
10. Rocky Mountain Deaf School (Jeffco) 39 students
11. Mountain Phoenix (Jeffco) 48 students

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

South Dakota Charter Legislation Fails

Even after extensive amendments, the South Dakota Senate Education committee killed the charter school bill, sponsored by Senator Tom Katus, D-Rapid City. The Rapid City Journal article said the bill had been stripped down before this second vote by the Education committee.

The public school graduation rate in Rapid City, SD is 78%. Last year only 37% of Rapid City's Native American students graduated.

"That's just tragic to give up on another generation of kids who can be rerouted through a charter school curriculum," Katus said. "This legislature has a chance right now to begin salvaging lost educational opportunities for this generation and the next.

South Dakota remains one of the ten states without public charter schools. In Colorado, 7.07% of the public school students attend a charter school. The Colorado law passed in 1993 with bipartisan sponsorship: Sen. Bill Owens (R-Aurora) and Rep. Peggy Kerns (D-Denver).

Georgia's Charter School Law Getting Stronger

Georgia already has a charter school law, but now the Legislature is moving through a bill to allow for a state charter school authorizer. You'd think the sky was falling, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's editorial board.

The dire need for strengthening the charter school is alarmingly evident in this quote from the bill's sponsor:

As the sponsor of HB 881, state Rep. Jan Jones (R-Alpharetta) maintains that the Legislature had to intervene because too many school boards were "indifferent, disinterested and occasionally hostile to charter schools." Of 28 charter school applications last year, she said local school boards approved only two.

Only two of 28 charter school applications were approved last year! With odds like that, why even bother under the current law?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Charter School Transportation

During charter school appeal hearings, whether or not charter schools should be expected to provide transportation and a hot lunch program, has been bantered back and forth. Recently the Schools of Choice Unit at CDE conducted a quick survey and found:

Of 76 schools reporting:
  • 13 provide transportation and 63 do not. Of the 13 that provide transportation, 9 provide transportation on their own, the others use the district's transportation services (typically via a contract).

  • 53 provide a lunch program. Only 21 of those use the district's hot lunch program, which means they can be reimbused from federal funds for students who qualify for a Free or Reduced Hot Lunch.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Vanguard School @ Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy

The Colorado Springs Gazette did a story on The Vanguard School, the high school portion of Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy. Their principal was deployed to Iraq in January and will be out for seven months. This is Mr. Mullaney's second deployment. In this picture Mr. Mullaney is with General Patraeus.

Caprock Academy Off to a Strong Start

There's more from the Grand Junction Sentinel about Caprock Academy. Caprock is in its first year of operation and is authorized by the state Charter School Institute. It is the second charter school in Grand Junction, but the first to use Core Knowledge.

I've had the opportunity to work with the Caprock Academy board a couple of times and have been very impressed with their expertise and dedication. Since before the school opened board members have diligently researched best practices at other operating charter schools and used that platform to apply the best practice in a manner that uniquely matches Caprock.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Caprock and Ridgeview Classical in the News

Kudos to both Caprock Academy and Ridgeview Classical Schools; both were featured in a Grand Junction Sentinel article yesterday. Caprock Academy in Grand Junction is in its first year of operation and is modeled after the successful Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins.

Carrie Sherrill, a founder and board member of Caprock Academy, studied the classical form of education in creating her vision for Caprock.

“Up until the 1920s, most kids in the United States were learning classically,” Sherrill said. “(The change) has to do with the Industrial Revolution that has much to do with America modeling themselves after Germany. Classical education is a global kind of learning.”

The classical approach in education is based on three components: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The grammar phase is typically during elementary school when students learn rote facts such as multiplication tables and learn to read. During this phase they're adding knowledge to their foundation of learning. The second phase is grammar when the students begin to understand and reason with the knowledge they have previously acquired. The third stage, rhetoric, is the culmination of the previous knowledge. During the rhetoric phase students exhibit how to present cogent arguments, write persuasive essays and reason their own conclusions.

For more information about the education at Ridgeview Classical Schools, go to: Be sure to read "The Conversation," which is primarily written by Ridgeview students!

Friday, February 8, 2008

South Dakota Charter School Bill Revived

Next Tuesday the South Dakota legislature will again consider SB 194, the charter school bill voted down by the Senate Education committee last week.

Knowing that Colorado Senator Mike Kopp is a native of South Dakota and a member of the Colorado Senate Education committee, I asked what he thought about this proposed legislation. Here is his response:

"Colorado's original charter laws were primarily advanced by Republicans. However, in recent years great reforms in education have begun to be advanced by Democrats serving urban areas with low income minority students. They have learned that students in many of these inner city schools have been short changed by a failing education establishment. I applaud the efforts of education reform-minded legislators in my home state of South Dakota. Keep at it!"
Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, CO

Jeffco Renews Three Charter Schools

Last night, in three unanimous votes, the Jeffco Board of Education approved five-year contracts for Excel Academy, Compass Montessori Academy and Woodrow Wilson Academy. I've never seen the school board be so quick in taking action on anything related to charters--all three resolutions to approve were done in less than ten minutes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

South Dakota Rejects Charter School Law

The South Dakota Senate Education committee killed a proposed bill to allow charter schools in the state. The legislation was primarily backed by Native Americans in the Rapid City area. Robert Cook, a proponent of the bill, testified with information he'd personally collected on 103 Native American students who had transitioned from middle school to high school in 2003. Of those original 103, just 11 graduated "on time and on track" in 2007. Others testified about the discrimination Native American students face in Rapid City public schools, saying students are "pushed out."

South Dakota is one of nine states without a charter school law. Senate Education committees were told that having a law would make the state eligible for new federal grant money through the Charter School Program, Title V of No Child Left Behind.

Being a native of North Dakota, another one of the nine states without charter schools, the final quote in the Rapid City Journal story rings sad, but true:

Sen. Nesselhuf, D-Vermillion, who cast the lone vote supporting the charter-school bill, said, "When I look at Robert Cook's testimony and I see the statistics he shows, I find it very difficult to believe that if this were a group of Norwegians we wouldn't have declared an emergency."

CSI Bill Sponsors in Leadership at Capitol

Both sponsors of the Charter School Institute Act are now in leadership at the State Capitol. Rep. Terrence Carroll (D-Denver) has just been appointed House Assistant Majority Leader. Rep. Carroll's Senate sponsor of the CSI bill is Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver). Both of these men completely understand and advocate for increased educational options for parents.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

HB 1159 Approved by House Ed

Yesterday the House Education committee approved HB 1159, the Charter School Institute bill, on an 11-0 vote. Amendments were made to the bill prior to the vote. The bill now goes to the Appropriations committee due to the fiscal note attached to the bill.

10 Most Famous Americans

Sunday's USA Today ran an article about who high schoolers, in all 50 states, thought were the 10 most famous Americans in history. Most surprising to me was that only one person, Benjamin Franklin, who fought for America's freedom and was a signer of the U.S. Constitution was listed. But it was also surprising to see Marilyn Monroe and Oprah Winfrey appear on the list! Surely these students didn't learn anything in their history classes!

I could agree with about half of the people cited on the list. But I would also add: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Witherspoon, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy come to mind right away. There are probably dozens of people who should have been on the list before Marilyn Monroe and Oprah Winfrey!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Federal Programs and Charter Schools

According to No Child Left Behind, charter schools should have the same access to federal entitlement funds as any other public school. Colorado uses a consolidated grant system where school districts and/or BOCES apply for all the federal program funds in one application. Charter schools must be represented in the district's needs assessment and action plan. In fact, the process requires charter school representatives to sign off on the district's application.

Districts will be submitting these consolidated applications by June 30th. Within the next few months, charter school administrators will be contacted to determine their needs in relation to the parameters of each of the funding streams. Generally, if the district's plan doesn't match the charter school's needs, the charter school can instead use the funds for their own plan. Be sure to check the guidance for each program because conditions may vary.

These federal funds include: Title I, II, IV and V. Go to for more information.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Teacher Evaluation

Over at Charter Insights, Doug Hering has written a post about teacher evaluation. He briefly mentions a point that should be emphasized: teachers should be measured on how well their students are learning and if the students aren't learning, it's the teacher--not the student--who needs to adjust. Frequent assessment, both formative and summative, should be examined. There should be multiple measures for what, and how well, the student is learning.

Charter schools have the freedom to hire teachers on an at-will basis and don't negotiate with the teacher's union. This means they can hire the very best teachers, which is ultimately a key factor.

There are a few really top-notch charter schools that require candidates for teaching positions to teach a mock lesson in front of students. This feature of the hiring process shows if the teacher has rapport with students and what type of classroom management skills the teacher has. This hiring practice has enabled some charter schools to make excellent hiring decisions, which result in fewer dismissals or lack of academic performance during the school year.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Online Education

Colorado is one of 18 states where Internet-based charter schools operate, according to the New York Times article, "Online School Grows, Setting Off a Debate." Colorado has two online charter schools: Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA), a K12 school and Hope Online Academy.

COVA has more than 4,000 students in the state. Bill Bennett's K12 company operates the school, which has students across the state. Students get a computer in order to access their online curriculum. Students in primary grades have a great deal of parent/mentor interaction, whereas high school students interact more online with each other and their teachers. For many COVA students education is similar to home school or independent study. High school students have synchronous classrooms where students and the teacher interact with webcams and audio links and a screen that permits students to ask questions, make comments or answer questions.

There are about 20 online education programs in the state. Most of these are credit recovery or supplemental programs operated by local school districts.

Last year an online education bill passed that created a new Online Division within CDE. This division is led by Pam Ice. An advisory panel has proposed rules for online education that were adopted on an emergency basis by the State Board of Education on January 10th. The advisory panel also developed Quality Standards that are included in the rules.