Monday, June 30, 2008

Vanguard Charter School Transfers to Charter School Institute

The Charter School Institute board approved the transfer of the Vanguard School at Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy from the Cheyenne Mountain School District. The district has been in declining enrollment and the increased number of students attending their sole charter school skewed their numbers causing a decrease in state funding. The leadership of Vanguard decided to move their secondary school to CSI rather than face a potential charter revocation in the future if the district wanted to force the funding issue.

When the Cheyenne Mountain School District initially approved the high school portion of Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, they said the words "Cheyenne Mountain" could not be used in the high school's name. Consequently the high school has a unique name, although both the elementary and the middle school use Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy. Until this move to CSI, the entire K-12 system was under one charter.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Denver Adds Two More Charter Schools to its Portfolio

Already the district with the most charter schools in Colorado, Denver Public Schools has approved two more charters: a second middle school campus for West Denver Prep and Envisions Academies.

West Denver Prep found almost immediate success in educating mostly Latino students in southwest Denver. The school focuses on rigorous academics and every student attending college.

Envisions Academies, developed by the Piton Foundation and the Donnell-Kay Foundation, will target students who would be the first in their families to attend college. The schools will serve students 6-12 grade.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dinner with Charter Friends

Folks from charter schools are some of the best people in the world! Here are some who went to dinner in the French Quarter earlier this week while at the National Charter School Conference: Dom, Kim, Peggy, and Chelli from Ridgeview Classical Schools; Rick, Carrie and Kristen from Caprock Academy; Brenda, Lori and Zena from the Charter School Institute; and Krista, Tony and me from CDE.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on Charters

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was the keynote speaker for the close of the National Charter School Conference in New Orleans. He said that the state had serious problems before Hurricane Katrina hit and killed more than 1,000 people. He said the government was wasteful and bureaucratic; the storm just exposed the corruption. In speaking of the education system, he said that students were neglected. He told the story of a high school Valedictorian who scored only a 13 on the SAT. He also said a local school district had spent $27 million by sending checks to former or dead employees.

Gov. Jindal spoke about this year's legislative accomplishments including school vouchers, a "Teacher's Bill of Rights" that strengthens classroom discipline policies and increases teacher pay, increased career and technical options for high school students, and dual enrollment opportunities. The Governor stated his firm commitment to charter schools and said there were 52 charter schools operating in Louisiana with more than 20,000 students. He proudly said last year ALL of the charter schools reached AYP.
Gov. Jindal said the legislature passed a law that will help charter schools expand in Louisiana. The law:
  • Increases the cap by 67%
  • Increases flexibility for the state board of education to charter
  • Allows for-profits to operate charter schools
  • Limits authorizer administrative fees
  • Institutes greater controls before charter schools are returned to their local school district

Gov. Jindal closed with the comment, "Politics should stop at the classroom door."

New York Charters Outperform Their Districts

According to the New York Sun, charter schools in New York are doing better than the district-operated schools. In fact, in the Bronx and Harlem, two charter schools scored more than twice that of their authorizing school district. Denver Public Schools should note that even two charter schools operated by the teacher's union, outperformed their counterparts. DPS is considering a variety of different educational options, including a proposal from the teacher's union.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

National Charter School Conference in New Orleans

In honor of one of the largest conventions in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina almost three years ago, the city threw a parade for attendees at the National Charter School Conference. Over 3,000 people are attending the national conference that began yesterday and ends tomorrow. About 53% of public school students in New Orleans attend public charter schools.

Yesterday, I sat in a workshop by Marci Cornell-Feist, from Meetinghouse Solutions, Inc. Here are a few bullets from what I learned:
  • Each individual board member should evaluate him/herself and then have a one-on-one discussion with the board chair regarding their performance.
  • Strong boards hire strong leaders.
  • If the school leader brings small items to the board, they're inviting micromanagement.
  • How much are we focused on the strategic instead of what's already happened?
  • Every governing board should have a board agreement in place.

This morning at "The Fate of NCLB, " David DeShryver filled in for Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation; some of his points were:

  • Proficiency levels were previously too loose; the focus was more on equity rather than excellence.
  • The Fordham Foundation has recently released a report on high-achieving students.
  • Congress is considering allowing extra flexibility in accountability for states with standards benchmarked to international standards.

Senator Peter Groff Receives Charter Friend Award

Senator Peter Groff (D-Denver) was awarded the Charter Friend award by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools at the National Charter School Conference in New Orleans. Sen. Groff co-sponsored the Colorado Charter School Institute legislation and has been a strong advocate for charter schools. In his remarks, Sen. Groff said he was concerned about only 18 of 100 students going to college.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Union Attack on Charter Schools

In Delaware, the teacher's union has been engineering a subversive attack on charter schools. The Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) commissioned a report with findings and recommendations.
The 38-page report makes seven recommendations, including not to "attack
charters directly," make funding the main reason for restricting the number of
charters and "use teachers to carry the message."

Don't expect the teacher's union to make a frontal assault on charter schools -- not when they're so popular with parents and teachers. Speaking negatively about charter schools would never work.

Instead, "limit the number of charters," which in Delaware means putting a moratorium on the number of approved charter applications and keeping the focus on districts' losing money. Other strategies could include:
  • Limiting the number of authorizers, or eviscerating alternative authorizers;
  • Raising the application approval bar so high that almost no one can meet the requirements (all in the name of holding high standards, of course); and
  • Ensuring that heavy-handed authorizers retain total control in both the big things and little things.

Oh, but that might sound like Colorado and not Delaware...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

CBLA Reporting

For the upcoming school year all public schools within a school district must report Colorado Basic Literacy Act (CBLA) data using the same assessment. Charter schools may wish to continue using the assessment they've been using, but the district-required assessment is the one that will be reported for CBLA purposes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Improving Literacy in Secondary Education

There's a great new resource titled the "Reader's Handbook," by Kristie Betts Letter online. This resource is geared for 5th through 12th grade students and their teachers. The handbook has numerous tips for teaching reading and would be especially useful for teachers in content areas other than Language Arts to ensure continuity of expectations across the school. There are practical tips, rubrics and other resources. Check it out!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

'Rewiring' Brains?

Having been a nurse before entering the field of education, I've always been very interested in how the brain learns. Not long ago, I read the four-book series by David Sousa, "How the Brain Learns." The set includes books for gifted students, students with special needs and how students learn to read. The brain uses different parts for verbal language or written language. The length of time and how students are taught to read has been studied by neuroscientists and should impact classroom and individual reading instruction.

Now Carnegie Mellon University researchers have released a report on 25 fifth-graders who have been in a study for three years. Students were provided 100 hours of reading instruction with brain scans done before and after the 100 hours and then again a year later. The scans of student's brains revealed function similar to students without reading problems--even one year later.

Patricia Hardman, Director of the Dyslexia Research Institute of Tallahassee, said:
"One of the key issues is if we can know initially, at the 4- or 5-year-old level, that a child is not learning and that the reason they're not learning has nothing to do with culture or IQ, but a difference in how their brain works," she said. "Then we could immediately give them the type of instruction that they need to overcome that."

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Need for More Charter Schools in Nashville

The sunset on Tennessee's charter school law was extended this year by their legislature. The Tennessee law is very restrictive on who can attend a charter school and where the school will be geographically located. Even with more enrollment freedom in the new law, Tennessee still doesn't permit all students to choose charter schools, if they wish.

Even with these restrictions, three charter schools have opened in Nashville: LEAD Academy, Smithson-Craighead, and KIPP Academy. Previous statutory limitations prevented these charter schools from serving the number of students who actually wanted to attend, however. Talk about giving meaning to the saying that "students should haven't to win a lottery in order to attend the school of their choice." Imagine the hundreds of students in Nashville who have been stuck in underperforming schools simply because they didn't win the lottery or didn't meet the state policymaker's restrictive criteria.

Sounds like it's time for the state Legislature to start focusing on the academic needs of their students! When reform such as this provides evidence that it's working--it should be replicated as soon as possible.

Faith-Related Charter Schools

An Islamic public charter school in Minnesota, Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, is raising the issue of religion in public schools again. The school offered religion class after school, but buses didn't run until after the religion class ended. One teacher reported being directed to take her students to the wash room so they could do their ritual cleansing prior to prayer service in the gym. Arabic is a required subject and Halal food is served in the cafeteria.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune has a good roundtable discussion among charter school leaders representing different faiths/cultures, a state department official and a charter school activist. One key point is the school may teach about religion, but not proselytize--or "accommodate" not "promote."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Politics and Charter Schools

It being the political season and all, charter school leaders often wonder what they can and cannot do with regard to potential legislation and political candidates. Most charter schools have a PTO that has a legislative committee. The chair of this legislative committee keeps the parent community informed of charter school-related legislation by putting out a weekly legislative update. Updates include information of an educational nature, such as when bills will be heard or voted on, who sits on the education committees and how bills have been amended. The League of Charter Schools releases information during the legislative session that can be copied by the PTO and sent home with students. Charter schools should be careful not to direct legislation; the information should be instead simply be informative.

Further, it is wise for a designated member of the charter school governing board to keep up to date on charter school legislation for the rest of the board. In addition to receiving information from an advocacy group, such as the League, the board member should be in regular contact with the elected officials representing the area in which the schools sits, or many of the school's families live. The board member should periodically invite elected officials to visit the school or attend school events. Providing specific examples to elected officials gives them facts with which to make decisions and people to contact for additional information when it pertains to potential legislative changes.

Charter school PTOs can host candidate forums during election season. Engage a community member or "neutral" party to moderate the candidate forum. Have questions previously prepared or submitted by audience members. Be sure to include questions relevant to charter school families, such as, "Do you or do you not support the charter school philosophy and what is the reason for your position?"

The charter school board and the PTO should both have policy for how and when they will involve the school or its families in political activities. For example, the policy should stipulate that all candidates will be invited and not just one. Charter school leaders can invite candidates to attend Back to School Night or other school events. Candidates can, and should, be introduced to the parents.

It's inevitable that charter schools are political by nature. Every year the legislature determines the funding level for charter schools and amends charter school legislation. It's good for charter school families to get involved. The League of Charter Schools has a guide for policy that every charter school governing board member and administrator should review.

Friday, June 13, 2008

When Does Reform Work?

Joanne Jacobs tells about the transformation of Keiller Leadership Academy in San Diego. Due to accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind converting underperforming schools to charter status or simply reconstituting them has become much more common. Policy makers have tried to ensure certain key components are in place, such as effective leadership, new staff, a new curriculum, and a specific mission. As you will learn from Joanne Jacobs' post, school reform can be effective, but it's a lot of hard work and a firm commitment to the core values of the new school.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Response to Intervention: What is it?

For anyone who's been hearing about Response to Intervention, but it still seems like an elusive new phrase being floated about in education-land, take the time to read Reid Lyon's explanation on Jay Greene's blog.

For those unfamiliar with the term "Response to Intervention," it is the attempt to reduce the number of students who are misidentified as needing Special Education services for reasons such as the student simply didn't receive reading instruction that allowed the student to actually learn to read. Not all children learn to read the same; add in the myriad of potential problems (i.e. visual tracking, auditory discrepancies) and often, the blanket approach just doesn't work. Instead, various tactics should be used before attaching the Special Education label.

However, Dr. Lyon addresses how complex and layered RtI is. It's hard to inculcate the philosophy into a school faculty, much less make sure the plan for assessment and intervention is broad enough to be effective for every student.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

53% of New Orleans' Students in Charter Schools

Post-Katrina, a significant number of new charter schools opened in New Orleans, boosted by 20 million dollars in federal Charter School Program funds. In fact, 53% of the city's students are in public charter schools according at Jay Mathews at the Washington Post. (For comparison, the saturation rate in the Brighton, Colorado school district is 17%, the highest in Colorado.)

Most everyone would agree that the New Orleans public education system needed reform before the hurricane damaged the city. It's too early to know, for sure, if achievement data will show the charter schools have conclusively improved the education system. It'd be an interesting research project to study which charter schools demonstrated commendable achievement gains over time and which key factors were attributed to their success.

In just a couple of weeks the National Charter Schools Conference will be in New Orleans. Stay tuned for more information on how the "charter school experiment" in New Orleans has impacted the city!

Monday, June 9, 2008

When is the Time to Hang it Up?

Today's Washington Post has an article by Jay Mathews talks about a D.C. charter school that will be closing because its students were not learning enough. Mr. Mathews notes that its unusual for a public school to close due to lack of academic achievement, but he also notes that this is a topic many charter schools authorizers wrestle with. Indeed, there are other charter schools in D.C. performing even worse than the one set to close at the end of the month.

Every authorizer should have a non-compliance plan and a very clear charter contract (a.k.a. performance agreement) that very specifically details what happens if the charter schools fails academically and then fails to rectify the situation.

I've written about this before. Board of Education members see it differently and with board turnover, districts have a hard time consistently enforcing an acceptable standard. Bring a busload of kids to the board meeting and the chances of keeping your charter increase dramatically.

The other day I heard a charter liaison for an authorizing school district say a charter school should be able to try to operate a charter school if there's a reasonable chance they're going to do better than the district in serving an under-served population. In the Washington Post article one of the commonalities of the charter schools performing worse than the charter school that was closing, was that they served special needs populations. Certainly data should be examined to see if the charter school is at least doing better for the students than the school district would be doing.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Technical Assistance Resources

Recently I've had a couple of people tell me that 1) I don't tout the information on the CDE website enough and 2) in Colorado we have a LOT more resources available to use than other states. I know other states don't have as many resources for new charter schools, but we've had charter schools longer than most states. Further, charter school operators in other states can use a lot of the resources we have available because except for the state-specific information, they can be widely applied.

Anyone interested in starting a new charter school should read the Charter School Handbook first. It explains what should be included in each component of the charter school application. Last week we had a two-day training on how to write a charter school application that was well attended. Much of the content we covered in the training is in this handbook.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

School Mascots

I grew up in North Dakota where I attended a rural school grades K-12. Our school was built in the mid-60's to consolidate the area's small town schools. School founders chose the mascot Corvairs, which is a car that is no longer made. Our junior varsity team was the Corvettes and the junior high team was the Comets (another obsolete car). Drawing cars for team spirit posters was always interesting, to say the least. That's why I was very entertained when I read this list of school mascots. Note the Colorado mascots: Brush Beetdiggers and Rocky Ford Meloneers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Spellings Announces Americans Don't Understand Mall Geography

In a report in The Onion* U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings reported the findings of a study recently released that shows only 60% of Americans could identify where Payless shoes was on a map of a mall. In fact, many of the survey respondents didn't know how to identify where they were on a mall map, even with the "You Are Here" information provided.

The media source quotes Margaret Spellings as saying:
"In a modern, mall-going society, these important life skills should be second nature to citizens of all ages," Spellings said. "No schoolchild should be allowed to grow up ignorant of the varied chain stores around him."

* For anyone not familiar with The Onion, it's a humorous satirical representation of current events and issues.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

State Employee Compensation

Ever wonder how much your favorite state bureaucrat makes? Here's a link to a new online searchable database from the Denver Post.

Saying Thanks

One of the themes of this year's monthly administrator breakfasts has been how to show appreciation to staff and students. At today's breakfast meeting they shared the following ideas:

* Start a staff meeting by having each staff member write three notes to students.
* Log these notes to students through the school office to make sure every student is recognized throughout the school year.
* Administrators can block out a half hour every week just to write personal thank you notes to staff members.
* Give an unexpected bonus.
* These notes should be specific and be sure to include the person's name.
* One school has a special place designated on the hallway wall where there are blank little shaped notes, making it easy to write a quick word of appreciation or thanks and post it on the wall for everyone to see.

Monday, June 2, 2008


Yesterday's Rockford Register Star, in Rockford, IL, carried an editorial by Ed Wells about holding high expectations for students. This subject has been very important to me since I started studying the dynamics of effective high school cultures. In fact, one of my favorite books is "Greater Expectations" by William Damon.

Our society tends to give kids whatever they want and parents don't understand the value of having their children do chores or exercise self-discipline. It's very difficult for teachers to hold high expectations for students when other students, the student's parents or even other teachers may encourage a lesser standard. To be sure, there are hundreds of small decisions made every day in schools across America where a teacher is making a judgment call about what standard to hold for students. It can't be easy when the teacher is pressured by parents to let something slide. Or even worse, when administration doesn't back up the teacher.

We wrestled with how to hold a high standard for a wide variety of student abilities when we opened the high school at Jefferson Academy. It was about the time I first read "Greater Expectations" and I realized that the teachers with high personal expectations were the ones who could more strongly hold high standards for their students. They inherently knew what their students were capable of accomplishing because they, themselves, had overcome obstacles and demonstrated personal fortitude.

Something as simple as parents requiring an elementary school student to complete homework before going out to play becomes finishing a high-quality term paper by its due date in junior high and then the capability to take Advanced Placement courses in high school. Students who enter high school without the self-discipline to study for a test or complete assignments struggle to earn the grades to graduate and have less of a chance to attend college.

So why are so many high expectations/rigorous college-prep charter schools in demand? Some parents actually want their children in a school that holds a high standard for behavior and academic achievement! But from conversations I've had with some of these charter school principals, parents tend to say they want high expectations, but then when it comes to a situation with their child, they frequently ask the school to bend the rules. Administrators not only need to reinforce high expectations being modeled by their teachers, they have to reinforce the standard with families on a regular basis. Oftentimes, these administrators are criticized for "holding too high a standard" for their students, which is exactly why Chris Gibbons, principal at West Denver Prep, was visiting the homes of incoming sixth graders and getting them to sign student and parent contracts. At least then neither the parent nor the student could say they didn't know what they agreed to.

What's the bottom line? Begin to hold high expectations at home, early in life, and it's much easier in school and adulthood to meet high expectations. And if you're in a school situation and have the opportunity to influence today's young people, be fair and firm in your commitment to uphold high expectations.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Charter School Grant Program & Multiple Campuses

The feds recently changed the nonregulatory guidance for the Charter School Program, which is a part of No Child Left Behind. Colorado uses its federal grant to fund startup and implementation grants for new charter schools.

Previously every charter school that was funded had to have a separate charter. Several schools in the state adhered to this criteria by having multiple charters under one governing board. Now the feds are saying a K-12 system, even if there are two or three separate charters, cannot be funded. However, "separate and distinct" charter schools, on multiple campuses but under one charter, can be funded.

In order for a state to be able to fund multiple campuses the state must file an amendment to the approved grant application and have it approved by the feds. There is interest in Colorado to have the ability to fund multiple campuses.