Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Charter schools apply for waiver from state law through their school district or authorizer. A few district schools have received waiver through their district. Some of these were strongly contested by the teacher's union. Some districts won't allow charter schools to receive any waivers in addition to the 13 that are automatically waived by the State Board of Education, upon request. Yet when the teacher's union went to start a charter school in Colorado Springs, they applied for and received waivers from licensure, collective bargaining and tenure. Why would they seek these waivers?
For the very same reason, Bruce Randolph in Denver wanted waiver from state laws that would have delayed when they could start hiring teachers. The Denver charter schools were getting a jump on the good teachers because the collective bargaining agreement didn't restrict the charter schools like it did the neighborhood schools.
Waiver from state laws permits schools to legally do things that make sense for educating their students. It's an action that says the right of a student to get a quality education (that will, in essence, change their life forever) is more important than the right of a teacher to be guaranteed a job for life (regardless of his/her performance). It's the right thing to do!
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
I had intended to write about the impact on the families of those who have given their lives for our country as we honor our veterans on Memorial Day, but Kay Brooks said it so much better than I could have:
When my daughter visited the Vietnam War Memorial what struck this young woman most strongly was the number of names with 'Jr' and 'III' behind them. She took dozens of photos of those. This is a snip from just one. Those designations made it absolutely clear that these men had left families behind when they got their orders. That those families were anxious and praying for their safety while they were gone. Those families' worst fears were realized when the military representative rang that bell or that telegram was delivered. There would be no joyous welcome home and relief and reentry into normal life. Life for those families was forever changed. Freedom certainly isn't free. There is no way to adequately thank these families for their sacrifice except to ensure that they know we remember and appreciate the tremendous loss they incurred and we appreciate the freedom we still have.
Friday, May 23, 2008
Senior Lexi Tsoi, was named Valedictorian of the class of 2008. Congratulations to Lexi and her fellow graduates at Ridgeview Classical Schools!
Update: Windsor Charter Academy's structure was hit hard, but the students are fine after having been evacuated to the nearby recreation center.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
My daughter plans to attend the University of Northern Colorado in the fall and major in history and secondary education. She'll enter college with at least fifteen credits. In her junior year of high school she took a Teacher's Cadet course that UNC will take for six credits. In the Teacher Cadet class she had a semester of learning about the different age levels, observing in a preschool, elementary school, and middle school and learning instructional methods. She also assisted a teacher for an entire semester, which was an invaluable experience. Many of the TC students found out they didn't want to be teachers, by taking the course. My daughter became even more convinced she'd selected the profession that best suits her.
For one of our twenty years of experience in public education we used the neighborhood school we were zoned for. The rest of the time the kids have either choice enrolled into a school, enrolled into a Gifted/Talented class after completing an examination or attended a charter school. Two graduated from area high schools and two graduated from Jefferson Academy. We've had the entire gamut of experiences.
Inherent to our daughter's graduation today is the imminent "empty nest syndrome." I'm fortunate that our adult children choose to spend time with us and we stay in close touch with each of them. But even so, I'm sure my friends at the charter schools in Greeley will be seeing more of me in the fall!
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
PEAK TO PEAK HIGH SCHOOL RECEIVES SECOND NATIONAL ACCOLADE—
40TH BEST HIGH SCHOOL IN NATION
(LAFAYETTE) – Peak to Peak High School is a Newsweek Top 100 High School, ranking as the 40th best high school in the nation out of 27,000 public high schools. Peak to Peak is the only Colorado school to rank in the top 100. This follows Peak to Peak High School’s ranking by U.S. News & World Report as a 2008 Gold Medal School, ranked 47th in the nation, and 5280 magazine as the best high school in the seven-county Denver metro area.
“Before Peak to Peak even opened, the goal of making Newsweek’s Top 100 High School list was set. That the goal has been reached after only three graduating classes is so exciting. Our mission is to prepare kids for college, and this is a tribute to the years of hard work by the Peak to Peak community,” said founding Peak to Peak Board President Ronda Kelley.
According to the Newsweek website, public schools are ranked according a ratio whereby the number of Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2007 is divided by the number of graduating seniors. All of the schools on the list are in the top 5 percent of public schools nationwide measured by this metric and have an index of at least 1.000.
The highly accredited college-prep K-12 charter school opened as an elementary school in 2000, and has grown to over 1300 students in grades K-12 in 2007. Peak to Peak High School offers a rigorous liberal arts curriculum including AP classes, highly acclaimed fine arts and state championship athletics. The three graduating classes to date average a 99 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of the 93 graduating seniors in the class of 2008 have been accepted to a college of their choice. The 81 2007 graduates were offered over $4 million in scholarship money. Ten 2008 seniors qualified as National Merit Finalists, over 10% of the senior class, and eight additional students received Commended recognition. Sixty-two students qualified for Advanced Placement Scholar distinctions based on the 2007 AP exams taken last spring.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Most colleges and universities consider a variety of diplomas when they screen potential students. The ACT score is a big factor. But numeorus public education high schools have such a wide range of course content and graduation requirements, that they often send a profile of the school along with the student's transcripts. Some high schools weight Advanced Placement courses and others do not.
So the Tennessee Board of Education deciding that home schooled high school diplomas aren't valid really doesn't make any sense at all. All a diploma does is designate that a student has satisfied the requirements for a particular school. The real meaning of a diploma is fleshed out in the ACT score.
Here's what Blue Collar Muse reports:
An ERIC digest titled 'The Scholastic Achievement of Home Schooled Students’ from September of 1999 found the following:
Almost 25% of home school students were enrolled one or more grades above their age-level peers in public and private schools.
Home school student achievement test scores were exceptionally high. The median scores for every subtest at every grade (typically in the 70th to 80th percentile) were well above those of public and Catholic/Private school students.
On average, home school students in grades 1 to 4 performed one grade level above their age-level public/private school peers on achievement tests.
Students who had been home schooled their entire academic life had higher scholastic achievement test scores than students who had also attended other educational programs.
It further found,
Even with a conservative analysis of the data, the achievement levels of the home school students in the study were exceptional. Within each grade level and each skill area, the median scores for home school students fell between the 70th and 80th percentile of students nationwide and between the 60th and 70th percentile of Catholic/Private school students. For younger students, this is a one year lead. By the time home school students are in 8th grade, they are four years ahead of their public/private school counterparts.
The results are consistent with previous studies of the achievement of home school students.
Addressing our question of ACT scores, a long standing metric for determining academic success, the digest reports,
Home school students did quite well in 1998 on the ACT college entrance examination. They had an average ACT composite score of 22.8 which is .38 standard deviations above the national ACT average of 21.0 (ACT,1998). This places the average home school student in the 65th percentile of all ACT test takers.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Using a strategic plan is a way for a charter board to convey their vision through a document that measures progress and details school goals. Many boards use it as a way to speak with one voice and keep on focus. The first step in strategic planning is to talk about the vision and mission statements to make sure everyone inherently understands them and agrees with them. Then the planning team does a SWOT assessment, which includes Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This environmental scan includes both internal and external aspects. After analyzing the landscape, the board outlines long-term (5-10 years) and short-term (1-4 years) goals and annual strategies to accomplish the goals.
Much of the annual "work" is done by subcommittees, staff or parent volunteers. The board provides oversight and direction that is matched to the vision and mission of the school. Many times the board must adopt board policies that ensure future boards will know the values of the charter board. This ensures longevity of the vision and mission.
For boards that use a strategic plan, it becomes their most important governing document. The boards that I've seen use it have adapted the process and model to best suit their needs.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Why are so many students on waiting lists? Why should a student literally have to win the lottery in order to get a good education that may change his/her life?
Many good charter schools in Colorado have already been replicated. Lincoln Academy, Woodrow Wilson Academy, Crown Pointe Academy, and Legacy Academy were all started from Jefferson Academy. Denver is considering replicating several of their high-performing charter schools because of the demand. Students deserve the opportunity to receive a good education--not only when they win the lottery!
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Today's editorial in the Denver Post said: "Denver's school board put the school on probation in February over poor academic performance. The district ought to thoroughly investigate the school, including additional allegations of financial troubles, with an eye toward closing it or
getting someone else to run it."
Where should authorizers draw the line on when a charter school's contract is revoked or not renewed? When should a charter school be closed?
I think pretty much everyone can agree that if charter schools are operating with conflicts of interest, mismanaging funds, or the students are in any danger, the charter should be revoked. Almost all the charter schools that have closed are due to financial reasons. Just a small percentage close due to the lack of academic achievement. But when is the best decision for the students to do a major shake-up instead of closure?
Authorizers wrestle with these decisions and have probably erred on both sides because it's a judgment call and some authorizers have more patience than others. To make sure that the decision isn't disputed or appealed, it's wise for authorizers to walk a recalcitrant charter school through a "noncompliance policy." Basically, this means there are a series of well-documented steps where the charter school is given adequate time to remedy and if they don't, the school eventually closes.
It's almost impossible for a school that's failing academically to turn around within a year or two. But there are other measures that can document a change in the right direction such as the attendance rate or the number of credits students earn. Charter schools with financial issues should undergo a professional audit and the findings in the management letter will provide evidence to the authorizer about what should be done to resolve the problem.
Unless there are student safety issues or concerns about illegal activity, the authorizer is best to leave the responsibility for improvement with the charter board. The authorizer isn't responsible to fix problems, only to hold a firm standard of expectations. If the charter school fails to make necessary improvements, the authorizer is justified in closing the school.
The Colorado Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-110(3)] outlines four specific reasons a charter can be revoked:
a) a material breach of the charter contract;
b) failed to make reasonable progress toward school goals;
c) failed to meet generally accepted standards of fiscal management; or
d) violated any provision of law that the charter school was not specifically exempt from.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
"As a group, the editorial boards share the general public’s views. The newspapers are much more supportive of charter schools than of No Child Left Behind, with charters receiving an average score of 4.1 (meaning the papers are “somewhat supportive” on average), compared to 1.2 for NCLB (meaning the papers are slightly better than neutral on average). Weighting the results by circulation gives the average ratings a small bump (to 4.3 and 1.3 respectively), but doesn’t change the story line."
I don't believe the assertion that these arrests are new information for school leaders. I've known Bill since about 2000 and the fact that he wrestles with personal struggles is known by many. He has repeatedly been gone from the school for weeks at a time. He's been in and out of homeless shelters in Denver and has been seen panhandling by several people. In fact, on two occasions he came to my office and asked for gas money. To be fair, when Bill Brown is "on his game" he has been a great advocate for CCI by raising money, teaching various classes and being willing to help out wherever he's needed.
Carolyn Jones, principal of CCI makes it sound like a procedural error allowed this to slip through the cracks. This is hard to believe since Carolyn and Bill have been friends for so many years.
It seems like the root of the problem is the school's culture -- a culture that makes excuses for people's behavior because they're a part of a close-knit system. Back in February the charter school received a one-year probationary contract from DPS after board members expressed concerns about the lack of academic achievement at the school and unclear financial practices. Other individuals, including one who was a registered sex offender, were permitted to work at the school and authorized by Jones.
The most puzzling piece of the entire Rocky Mountain News article is the quote: "But Jones said having those kinds of backgrounds allows staff members to relate to students better."
WHAT??? Is that justification for a bad decision? Does that imply these ethnic minority students need a lower standard of behavior from their teachers (role models)? Who is the responsible adult in this school?
Monday, May 12, 2008
I've also seen new board members join the board and immediately try to change the direction of the school, which is very detrimental. I like The Classical Academy's practice of having an annual meeting for parents of new students in which the five founding families talk about why they started the school, what the pillars are of the philosophy, and what to expect. The original philosophy has remained intact.
How each charter school deals with recognizing the school's original vision varies as much as the schools themselves. For every charter school, it's vital to recognize the school's unique philosophy and maintain integrity to that original vision.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
I funded science materials for a charter middle school in Colorado. It was easy to do and I picked the project and the amount I donated. Check it out!
Friday, May 9, 2008
Now the charter school has filed a lawsuit saying the district didn't operate in good faith to negotiate a timely contract and obey the order of the State Board. This will be an interesting case to watch for a number of reasons:
1. The exclusive chartering authority law requires school districts to not violate an order of the State Board, so if the court determines the district did violate an order will the State Board revoke SVVSD's exclusive chartering authority?
2. Will the management company be able to recoup costs they put out for a fall 2007? The charter school didn't know it wasn't going to be able to open until late in August, leaving many enrolled families without a school for their children, after the beginning of the district's school year.
3. What responsibility does a school district have to negotiate a charter contract in good faith? What criteria determines if they didn't act in good faith? What about not having a meeting to talk? What about not responding to phone calls or emails? Where will the court draw the line on what "good faith effort" means?
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
[L-R: Patricia Chlouber; Dr. Dennis Corash, Principal, Vanguard Classical School; Juliette Rizzo, US Dept of Education Office of Communications & Outreach; Judy Hamm, President, Vanguard Classical School Board; and Rob Miller, Dir of Operations, VCS.
Vanguard Classical School in the Lowry area of Denver is a charter school that started from a partnership with the Cerebal Palsey Foundation of Colorado. Today Patricia Chlouber, the Regional Representative for the U.S. Sec. of Education, toured the school and visited classrooms as a part of National Charter Schools Week.
Vanguard Classical is unique because they use a co-teaching model where both teachers teach at the same time, which is different than team teaching where the teachers take turns. The school has twice the number of students with Special Education plans (IEPs) when compared to their district, Aurora Public Schools. In most of the classrooms, one of the two teachers is a credentialed Special Education teacher. The school practices "full inclusion" where even severe needs students are in the classroom for the entire day. Services such as occupational therapy or medical treatments are typically delivered in the classroom.
While serving a high percentage of students with special needs, VCS utilizes the Core Knowledge curriculum and holds a rigorous standard for all students. The faculty incorporates multi-sensory instructional approaches into their lessons, especially the kinesthetic. During the school tour, two boys came into the hallway with an adult to jump on a rebounder for awhile; this was a preventative approach to ensure they would be on task in the classroom for the next segment of time.
VCS opened last fall in a brand new facility, which they share with the CP Foundation and a birth-to-preschool HeadStart program. They are adding on to their facility to accommodate the addition of a junior high next year.
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Today Patricia Chlouber, Regional Representative for the U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, visited Ricardo Flores Magon Charter Academy in Westminster and gave Principal Marcos Martinez a proclamation signed by President Bush honoring National Charter Schools Week.
Magon Academy is a K-8 college-prep school using the Core Knowledge curriculum and authorized by the Charter School Institute. The school's student demographics include 93% qualifying for a Free/Reduced cost lunch and 80% English Language Learners. The majority of their Kindergarten and first grade students don't speak English upon entry. This year Magon has grades K-2 and will add a grade level each year.
All students attend 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for more than 182 days a year. All Kindergarten students are enrolled in a free, all-day program. The teacher/student ratio is 12 to 1. Every student knows the year they will enter college because each class carries the title of "Class of 20xx."
A key factor to improving academic achievement at Magon Academy is the school's instructional leader, Antonio Vigil. Antonio is available to teachers, full-time, to ensure their quality of instruction is effective, the school culture conveys rigor and high expectations, and everyone associated with the school inherently knows the school's mission.
Some of the key factors in the study are if there are multiple chartering authorities (Colorado has both local school districts and the state Charter School Institute), the number of charter schools approved (141 operate in Colorado with about 7% of the public school student population in charter schools), the automatic waiver of laws that provide autonomy (Colorado permits the automatic waiver of 13 statutes), and the automatic exemption from collective bargaining agreements (Colorado charter school employees are all at-will). Probably most important--Colorado doesn't have a cap on the number of charter schools that are permitted.
Good days, bad days and changing the world
[From the HeadFirst Colorado newsletter]
By Ellen J. Levy
I moved to Denver in 1995 and taught chemistry for eleven years in a university classroom. I loved teaching, but began to feel that “real” teaching was too important to be left at the college level. I found myself thinking about the far-fetched possibility of moving to the trenches at the K-12 level.
Finding the web site of West Denver Preparatory Charter School in the Spring of 2006 led to an incredible series of events. I am now completing my second year as a middle-school science teacher. I have a Ph.D. in Bioinorganic Chemistry from Columbia University. My students call me “Miss Dr. Levy”, and I have never felt more challenged or more rewarded as a scientist or a teacher.
West Denver Preparatory Charter School opened on August 14, 2006. By August 16th, I was angry. How had the education establishment arranged its collective organizational thinking so that the skill levels of our students were considered acceptable for entering sixth-graders?
My plans for textbook use were tossed. About 75% of our students did not read well enough to glean anything useful from a middle-school science textbook.
My plans for homework were tossed. Most of our students could not understand a simple science question or make the logical leap to an answer.
I began to believe that expectations for our students in the past had previously been non-existent. Had simply handing in paper marked “homework” been sufficient? The majority of our students often answered questions with any random word that vaguely related to science. Or, they guessed. Why hadn’t anybody taught them that the classroom was only Step 1? My students had been robbed of learning, and of the joys of the “A-HA” moments that make science so wonderful.
Almost two school years later, I still haven’t lowered my expectations. What I have done is make startling revisions in how I teach.
Make no mistake. Most of my students are now meeting my expectations. Some make it look easy. Others still exude hostility as they do what is required. Still others struggle with the material but are eager to learn. The number of students who are not succeeding at some level is very small.
I continue to think about new strategies. Some of these are discussed below.
Making Material Accessible
With only occasional use of textbooks, my material is delivered by packet. I write an original piece of material, usually 5-7 pages long, complete with graphics, for every class. (Next year, however, as I move to 8th grade with our original sixth graders, I will regularly use a textbook. They are ready!) Students use their packets for notes, practice, and homework. Our faculty all use packets. It doubles our workloads, but in my view is a major reason for our success. Writing original curricular material is also very creative, and it taxes your pedagogical skills to the limit.
Modeling Thought Processes
How can students think about science? I now ask a question and then break down the approach to the answer. Answering a question might first involve answering five “pre-questions” which collect important facts and make necessary leaps. I take NOTHING for granted.
Changing Student Thinking About Learning
The slogan of our school is “STRIVE for College”. If we had a secondary slogan, it would be “Look It Up!” During class, our students use their packets to look up anything they have forgotten. They are expected to do the same at home. Our students know that it is unacceptable not to think and learn. My students all know that “Look at you! You’re really thinking!” is high praise.
Support for Success
After a few weeks of disappointing homework from one of my classes, I asked to have a special homework tutorial with them. The results were stunning. Students often just needed to be told that their answers were correct and that they were doing a good job. If told that one answer was incorrect, they could often go back and get the right answer with no hints or additional help. If that did not happen, a quick and simple hint sent them back one more time, and this usually worked. We now make homework support a key part of our program.
Other Keys to Success
Our administration supports innovation. Teachers try new things and tackle challenges in ways that might actually work. This kind of leadership is critical to our success. Our administration also deals quickly and consistently with discipline issues. Teachers remove disruptive students and give consequences for inappropriate behavior. On any given day, we actually teach, and much of this results from our discipline structure.
I keep coming back for more, and this means that even the REALLY bad days can be put aside. This year, another teacher told me about students arranging game pieces (in a math class) to be white blood cells and red blood cells. I have heard a 7th grade girl get up at a school-wide gathering and explain how people get Huntington’s Disease. A student at a recent field day came up to me in a soaking wet-T shirt and told me that the heat of her body was evaporating the sweat.
This is incredibly hard work, but despite my end-of-the-year completely exhausted demeanor, I am not sure that there is anything more important I could be doing.
We admit students each year by lottery. This year, I brought my 11-year-old son to help me work at a table on lottery night. The next time he hears someone talk about students who cannot learn and parents who do not care, he will have a vision of parents bursting into tears as their children were admitted to West Denver Prep.
Dr. Ellen J. Levy is Founding Science Teacher at West Denver Prep.
Update: The Denver Post did an article on Ellen Levy.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Here's a clip from President George W. Bush's proclamation:
Education is the cornerstone of a hopeful tomorrow. During National Charter
Schools Week, we highlight the contributions of charter schools to ensuring that
our Nation's future leaders have the skills and knowledge necessary for a
lifetime of achievement.
Charter schools are educational alternatives that empower families with additional choices for their children. By providing flexibility to educators while insisting on results, charter schools are helping foster a culture of educational innovation, accountability, and excellence. Charter schools also encourage parental involvement and help contribute to the national effort to close the achievement gap.
The No Child Left Behind Act has played a central role in America's efforts to improve our public schools and expand the opportunities available to our children. In 2007, American students reached record achievement levels on reading and math tests, and the achievement gap is beginning to close. Charter schools have been an important part of this success. National Charter Schools Week is an opportunity to recognize the strength, vitality, and excellence of outstanding schools.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
After the last redistricting, when the 7th Congressional district was added, the General Assembly passed provisions that allowed Jared Polis to stay on in his at-large seat and Evie Hudak to continue to represent the 2nd Congressional even though she no longer lived in the district. This even made for an eight-member board while Jared Polis served out the remaining four years of his term.
This was the second year the legislature has tried to either remove Randy DeHoff from the State Board of Education or force him to resign from being the Executive Director of the Charter School Institute. Randy DeHoff is a founder of Collegiate Academy in Littleton, originally known as Sci-Tech Academy. He's always been a strong supporter of charter schools during appeal hearings and because of his own charter experience, has been an effective leader of the CSI.
The final bill that became law last year resulted in several CSI board members having to step down because they were on a charter school board or worked for a charter school. CSI board members with this type of experience were vital during the formation of CSI because they knew what it was like to operate a charter school. The CSI board philosophy has shifted since losing these valuable board members and their expertise.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
HB 1388, the School Finance Act bill, now goes to conference committee before it has a final vote in both houses of the General Assembly. A preliminary estimate of the per student amount next year is around $175.