I'm at the Office of Parental Options and Information Project Director's Conference in Washington, DC. This is all the U.S. Department of Education's programs under the Office of Innovation and Improvement, which includes the Charter School Program.
This morning a panel of speakers addressed the topic of turnaround schools and how charter schools fit into the turnaround of failing public schools. Justin Cohen, of Mass Insights, said that in order to determine if a turnaround is working there should be demonstrable academic results within two years. If there isn't, another turnaround plan should be used. He also said it's impossible to over-communicate change in a turnaround school.
Later in the morning, during a workshop session, Cohen and his colleague, Meredith Liu, spoke about Lead Partners and Partnership Zones. Both of these dynamics are used by Mass Insights when the organization considers working with a school or district in turnaround efforts. Lead Partners work with a school, or a cluster of schools within one district, to handle all of the partnerships, district bureaucracy and other time-consuming activities that distract the school's principal from the essential responsibility to focus on improving academic achievement. Partnership Clusters are a group of schools undergoing turnaround.
When asked what was different about the decade-old federal program, Comprehensive School Reform (CSR), Cohen said two things: 1) the partner is accountable for student achievement and 2) the partner has management over people in the building. With the old CSR program, the only accountability for partners (then called service providers) was that the professional development was delivered, but the partner could blame the school for lack of academic achievement rather than owning the outcome of its work.
Cohen was formerly involved in the turnaround of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and said there were lessons learned from that work, including:
* elementary and middle schools are vital for reforming high schools
* it doesn't work to do stand-alone school reform, they need to be in clusters
* turnaround schools need to be carved out of the collective bargaining agreement
In the afternoon there was another panel discussion, this time about recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), called No Child Left Behind by the previous administration. It's anticipated that the ESEA will be reauthorized sometime in 2010.
Panelists stated recommendations for reauthorization of the ESEA include:
* taking the charter school credit enhancement program off pilot status and decoupling it from the Charter School Program
* funding networks and nonprofits with CSP funds
* prioritizing high-need communities
* defining highly "effective" teachers (currently called Highly Qualified Teachers in NCLB)
* delineating priorities for charter school authorizer quality
* easing restrictions and simplifying the process for charter schools that are replicating and having already demonstrated academic success
The hot topic throughout today's program was turnaround efforts for the bottom 5% of public schools. Throughout the rest of the nation, management companies play a significant role in the charter landscape and so much of the discussion was about how management companies are stepping up their efforts to work with these schools. Most of Colorado's charter schools are considered "grassroots" startups and the state has significantly less management company-operated charter schools than other states.
Another tidbit of information, the hotel where we're having the conference is also hosting the Philadelphia Eagles football team. I've seen several of the players and there are numerous fans in the lobby waiting to get autographs. The Eagles play the Washington Redskins tonight on Monday Night Football.