Thursday, December 31, 2009

Denver All-Girls Charter School to Open Next Year

Denver Public Schools recently approved the opening of a new charter school to serve only girls. The school will start with middle school grade levels and eventually serve girls through twelth grade. GALS, Girls Athletic Leadership School, is led by founder Elizabeth Wolfson.

Other charter schools in Colorado serve a single gender or separate boys and girls for classes. Ridge View Academy, a youth detention facilitiy in east Aurora, serves only young males. A few years ago the school added an all-girls branch in Jefferson County.

James Irwin Charter Schools in Colorado Springs separates boys and girls for their middle school years. Likewise, AXL Academy in Aurora separates students. Both schools comingle the students for lunch and other activities.

Federal policy makers have been intrigued with single-gender education. In particular, former Sec. of Education Margaret Spellings, championed single-gender education during her administration. Single-gender public charter schools have operated for years in New York and other parts of the country.

In order to be in compliance with federal Title IX rules, single-gender schools need to demonstrate that a comparable program is available to the opposite gender. In the case of James Irwin Charter Schools, the same courses are offered to both single-gender classes of boys and girls, taught by the same teachers for each group.

Update: A Pueblo Chieftain article on the subject.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Peak to Peak Makes the U.S. News & World Report Top 100 Again

For a third year Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette has made U.S. News and World Report's top 100 list for the best high schools in the nation. Last year the school ranked #69 and this year it's #76.

According to Peak to Peak's website, they are the only Colorado school to make the top 100 list this year and one of 16 charter schools in the nation to make the list. Another in the long list of accolades appropriately earned by Peak to Peak, a K-12 college prep school.

The U.S. News and World Report top 100 list is based on "college readiness." The magazine uses scores on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests to evaluate high schools.

Other Colorado charter schools to make the U.S. News and World Report list include, Silver level: Ridgeview Classical Schools, Fort Collins and Denver School of Science and Technology, Denver. Bronze level winner was Dolores Huerta Preparatory HS in Pueblo.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's the Future for Textbooks?

The possibilities for ways to eliminate the old, thick textbook are endless! I ran across this site that predicts ways the old-fashioned textbook will become a thing of the past. As more colleges and high schools focus on students using laptops, those same students won't be excited about lugging around heavy textbooks.

The question is, however, how will students be assessed about what they know when their cell phones, kindles and laptops have everything readily available to them?

Monday, December 28, 2009

All-STAR's to Replicate Successful Charter Schools

In the new year, Congress will be considering a new bill, All Students Achieving Through Reform, or All-STARs. This bill, introduced by Colorado U.S. Representative, Jared Polis (D-Boulder), along with 15 original Co-sponsors will provide for a competitive grant program for entities wanting to replicate successful charter school models.

Replicating successful charter schools is the latest trend in public charter schools. Rather than take a chance on a brand new charter school application, many authorizers are more eager to accept an application for a new charter school if its based on a model that they know works and if the same people they've already been working with are involved.

Replication is quite different than creating a brand new charter school. Replication models typically identify a new school leader early in the process and create the new school out of the existing school. The schools may share professional development opporunities, business services and a governing board.

Because replication is still so new, there is very little research about what are effective replication practices. In Colorado, it's considered a best practice to identify a new school leader from within the existing school's staff or bring in a qualified school leader from the outside that interns at the existing school for at least one year.

Colorado's authorizers haven't determined yet if they consider it a best practice to contract (charter) with a governing board for the individual charter school (like CSI requires) or a board over multiple charters (such as Denver Public Schools allows).

This new proposed federal legislation, All-STARs, complements the priorities in the federal grant programs Race to the Top and the Charter School Program. Replicating proven models allows students to benefit more quickly from a better school. This is especially appealing in urban areas where there is a very poor school system and drastic measures are needed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adams 12 Denied Two Charter School Applications

Tonight the Adams 12 School District Board of Education unanimously voted to deny two charter school applications. One was from Capstone Academy, a National Heritage Academies, K-8 school emphasizing moral education and rigorous academics. The other application was Prospect Ridge, a K-12 charter school proposing to use the Core Knowledge curriculum and emphasize science and math.

Both of the denial resolutions were very similar, citing classroom size in the elementary schools in that area of the district, comparing the Brighton 27J National Heritage Academies school academic achievement to area elementary schools, financial concerns in a year where the state was rescinding money and the existence of comparable educational programs in district schools.

In my recollection, this is the fifth and sixth charter school applications in a row that District 12 has denied. Just two years ago the district denied another National Heritage Academies application and that decision was never appealed.

Jefferson Academy Beats Peak to Peak in Boys Basketball

As a founder of Jefferson Academy and a big fan of boys basketball coach Mark Sharpley, it's important to note when the team beats another charter school. Last night the JA Jaguars beat the Peak to Peak Pumas 74 to 61. The game went back and forth until the fourth quarter when the Jags pulled away for a comfortable lead.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Witch-Hunt" on Colorado's Charter Schools

Four anti-charter school legislators asked for an performance audit on the state's charter schools in a "witch-hunt" requested by Sen. Evie Hudak, Rep. Mike Merrifield, Rep. Judy Solano and Sen. Bob Bacon. Ben DeGrow has the scoop, including the letter requesting the audit and a podcast with Colorado League of Charter Schools' Executive Director, Jim Griffin.

Be sure to read the inflammatory language in the audit request. Items such as "are charter schools paying their share of unreimbursed Special Education costs" and "are districts adequately compensated for administrative responsibilities and legal costs" associated with their charters are just two of the types of information the Democratic legislators requested.

The hero in this story is Sen. Lois Tochtrop who called out these elected officials by labeling it a "witch-hunt." Sen. Tochtrop was the only Democrat to vote with four Republicans on the committee to stop the "witch-hunt." Republicans joining Tochtrop were: Rep. Frank McNulty, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, Sen. Josh Penry, and Rep. Cheri Gerou.

And the next legislative session hasn't even begun yet. Opening day is Jan. 13, 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Charter School Developer's Reading List

Need something to read during the cold winter months? Check out the suggested reading list for new charter school developers on the website.

After you've mastered the reading list, see if you know all the terms in the glossary. If you have, then you're ready to start writing a charter school application!

The Charter Explosion

The number of charter schools operating in the United States has exploded in recent years. Colorado has around 160 operating this year and eight other states have more than Colorado according to the U.S. News and World Report about this public school choice phenomenon.

California, which has always led the country in the number of charter schools, topped 800+ schools this year. And eleven states continue to hold out without any charter school law at all. The Obama administration is trying to influence states to permit charter schools to flourish by dangling the carrot called "Race to the Top" funds.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Charter School Makes History in Colorado!

History was made today in the Colorado charter school community when the Douglas County School District issued securities on behalf of a new charter school, Northstar Academy-West.

The Certificates of Participation were issued only for the charter school. This includes $7.5 million for site acquisition, $5.5 million for construction and $1 million for a debt reserve fund for a total of $14 million. Because the district issued the securities, the charter school is getting a 4.3% rate instead of the 9% rate it would have gotten if the school had used the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority bond as most other charter schools have done. This is the first time that a district has issued securities on behalf of a charter school in this manner.

Northstar Academy-West will open next year as a second campus to already successful Northstar Academy in Parker.

Update: Douglas County News Press article

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

When is it Right for an Authorizer to Take Over a Charter School?

There's a precedent-setting situation brewing in the Brighton 27J School District that should have the attention of all charter school leaders in the state. A few years ago, the Brighton Collegiate HS had a couple of situations where teachers had inappropriate behavior with students. Part of the outcome was that the charter school was placed on probation and given a rigorous action plan to implement in order to rectify the environment that allowed these inappropriate situations to occur. One of the steps taken was the charter school implemented a policy that included a "no tolerance" for inappropriate contact with a student.

Last month another incident happened at Brighton Collegiate and the school district board voted to take over the charter school's operations. The charter school then went to court asking for the right to continue operating the school. The judge said that the case is best presented to the State Board of Education and out of the purview of the court.

An authorizer has never taken over a charter school in Colorado, so this case is precedent-setting. The school's charter contract didn't contain a provision explicitly allowing the authorizer to take over the school; however, the district cited concerns over the health and safety of the students in the charter school.

While this is all being sorted out, it's unclear what criteria will be evaluated to determine when, or if, the charter school resumes school operations. Further, it's not clear what course of action the charter school board will have when/if they resume operating the school.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Just Say No" to Union Money Being Used for Anti-Charter School Politics

Once a year Colorado teachers who are members of the teacher's union have the option to request a refund of the money that goes to political activities. Of course, much of this money goes to oppose charter schools and other reforms charter school supporters hold dear.

Every member can request a $39 refund of their "Every Member Option" funds. In addition, many of of the local affiliates have an addtional amount, up to $24, which must be requested separately.

The deadline for requesting these funds is December 15th. If you know of a teacher who belongs to the union, make sure he/she knows about this option so that his/her money isn't being used to oppose charter schools.

Go to Independent Teachers for more information on CEA political refunds.

Cesar Chavez Academy Test Audit Results Released

CDE Releases Audit Of Test Procedures At Cesar Chavez Academy; Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones Calls For New Policies At CCA

The Colorado Department of Education today released the audit of testing procedures at Cesar Chavez Academy conducted by Caveon Test Security. (The audit report may be found at links below.)

The audit found that Cesar Chavez Academy (CCA), a K-8 Charter School in Pueblo City Schools had three successive years of extremely high rates of extra time accommodation for students from 2007 through 2009. The extra time accommodation was provided in grades three through eight and in all subjects—reading, writing, mathematics and science—tested by the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP).

For example, 86.9 percent of fifth grade students at CCA who took the math portion of CSAP in 2008 were provided with extra time. Statewide, just 4.8 percent of fifth-graders were provided with extra time. In 2007, 77.5 percent of CCA third-grade students were provided extra time for the writing portion of CSAP. Statewide, just 6.5 percent of students were provided that accommodation.

The decision to use an accommodation for assessment is made at the local level using a process established by the Colorado Department of Education. Accommodations are designed to provide fair and standardized access to the assessment for students with specialized needs which have been documented in a formal educational plan.

The audit was requested by Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones based on concerns raised by former Pueblo City Schools Superintendent John Covington in June.

“The audit clearly shows that CCA had three successive years of extremely high rates of extra time accommodation for students,” said Commissioner Jones. “There is no justifiable basis for these high rates of accommodation levels. The state is compelled to require Cesar Chavez Academy to establish new policies and implement new procedures to ensure these high rates of accommodations are not repeated. CSAP testing forms the foundation of Colorado’s educational accreditation system and the accuracy, reliability and integrity of those results are paramount.”

The audit also found no evidence, however, that the extra time accommodation resulted in improved scores for Cesar Chavez Academy students, based on Caveon’s analysis of the CSAP results.

The audit looked at testing procedures and practices at both Cesar Chavez Academy and Delores Huerta Preparatory Academy, a high school program that is part of the same network.

Audit findings include:

No evidence of answer sheet tampering (through erasures), test coaching (through similar test analysis), unusual gains from prior years or unexpectedly high scores at Cesar Chavez Academy.
Evidence of unusual allotment of extra-time accommodations at CCA.
• No evidence of any form of testing irregularity at Delores Huerta Preparatory Academy.
• If improper assistance was provided to the students while taking the test, it was done on an individual basis.
• Normal rates of extra time found in 2006 at CCA.
• Extreme rates of extra time accommodations for all grades in 2007 and 2008.
• Extreme rates of extra time accommodations during 2009, especially for grades seven and three.
• The process for granting extra time accommodation was inconsistent from 2008 to 2009.
• The process for granting the extra time accommodation was inconsistent in 2008 from process in 2009 used by other schools.

In response to the audit, Commissioner Jones requested that Cesar Chavez Academy develop and submit to the Pueblo City Schools a written plan to remedy training and implementation of testing procedures by Feb. 1, 2010. Commissioner Jones said the plan must include new CCA policies and assurances that school test procedures are transparent to the school district and to the state.

Commissioner Jones said the policies also must include detail about how accommodation decisions are reached and a mechanism for routine and periodic checking by district and/or state officials to verify that the Cesar Chavez Academy staff is following procedures.

Commissioner Jones noted that the state will review the district-approved plan and determine whether it is sufficient to make needed adjustments and provide assurances to parents, students and the public that the errors will not be repeated. Additionally, said Commissioner Jones, “a lack of good faith efforts at CCA to comply with the development and implementation of new policies and procedures will be viewed critically.”

The Colorado Department of Education also is in the process of identifying a firm that will be engaged to conduct a financial audit of the Cesar Chavez Academy. The announcement of a firm to conduct that audit is expected soon.

Caveon Audit Links:

Cover Letter:

Caveon Cesar Chavez Test Security (Powerpoint):

Caveon Cesar Chavez Test Security (PDF):

For more information, contact Mark Stevens, 303-866-3898, or Megan McDermott, 303-866-2334, in the CDE Office of Communications. To sign up for the CDE e-mail news service, please visit

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is it CMO or EMO and What's the Difference?

One of the many acronyms that gets floated around in education are the acronyms for Charter Management Organization (CMO) and Education Management Organization (EMO). The difference between these two labels is very relevant now that school districts in Colorado are talking about turning around failing schools and we've just had a very public charter network (CMO) expose its dirty laundry.

An EMO is a for-profit or non-profit company that manages schools. The educational program is typically proprietary, the company runs all of the business operations and pays key administration staff. The model the company usually employs is unique to each company. Some companies were established based on a particular model (i.e., National Heritage Academies use only the Core Knowledge curriculum and Mosaica Education, Inc. uses only the Paragon curriculum). Other companies were more focused on establishing a business of operating public schools (i.e. Edison, Imagine Inc. or White Hat Management) than on the educational program that was used.

In recent years a new genre surfaced as the number of high quality charter schools increased and the focus switched to replicating successful models rather than experimenting with new models. These CMO's are the more grassroots operations and often focus on an educational philosophy rather than a business. In fact, these nonprofit companies or foundations sometimes only franchise their model and don't assume operations of the new charter school.

The looming question about CMOs is how many can they replicate without sacrificing quality? This question impacted KIPP developers when they were approached about replicating KIPP schools across the country. Rather than create new KIPP schools, KIPP chose to train new KIPP leaders. Each of the newly trained principals went out to start their own KIPP schools or take over the principalship at an existing KIPP school. The model was franchised.

This emerging trend to replicate existing highly successful charter schools lacks the research to support what is truly the best practice.

However, it's a hot topic for the state of Colorado as Denver Public Schools plans to replicate W Denver Prep, Denver School of Science and Technology and KIPP schools. In DPS' turnaround plan some of the unique characteristics of these successful charter schools are tweaked. This includes making a charter school a "boundary" school, or a neighborhood school serving all of the students in a particular geographical region.

Again, it's too early to tell what type of impact it will have on students that don't choose to attend a school with a particular model, but instead are assigned to that model. For example, the W Denver Prep model includes a longer school day, longer school day and rigorous academics. Students that aren't bought into this model, may decide to either transfer or fail out of the system. Lack of support (i.e. the decision to choose a choice school) by a student and his/her family, greatly impacts the effectiveness of the model.

On its own, one component of a unique model probably will not disintegrate. But when does the erosion of the unique charteristics cause the model to fail? There are numeorus characteristics inherent in successful urban charter schools that aren't palatable to the current education establishment. It will be interesting to watch how EMOs and CMOs change the landscape of what was previously considered protected territory that outsiders wouldn't dare touch.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Douglas County Approves New STEM HS Charter

The newly-seated Board of Education for the Douglas County School District voted on a resolution to approve the STEM HS charter application last night. The vote was unanimous.

The four new board members sworn in last night ran as a pro-charter slate. Many of the Douglas County charter school parents were active in campaigning and voting for this slate.

The district is also in the midst of hiring a new Superintendent after the departure of Jim Christensen earlier this school year.

The STEM HS is slated to open in the fall of 2010 near the Lucent Blvd and C-470 intersection. The secondary school will begin with grades 6-9 and grow one grade level at a time through 12th grade. Members of the aerospace industry have been vocal supporters of the charter school application.