Saturday, June 23, 2012

Alpha Authorizing

Jim Goenner is an excellent speaker, regardless of the topic he's presenting on. True to his nature, Jim Goenner presented an excellent workshop on Alpha Authorizing. Goenner started by talking about Ted Kolderie's July 1990 paper called "The States Will Have to Withdraw the Exclusive." Kolderie spoke about the system's need to change the incentives in public education. Kolderie's goal was to improve public education for ALL students. He proposed these goals be met through choice (empower families to choose their schools) and diversification (empower someone other than the district to create new public schools).

Goenner said that authorizers can either be change agents, market makers, forces for quality, and catalysts for excellence or they can be gatekeepers, monitors and evaluators. Goenner encouraged authorizers to think innovatively and challenge the "givens." Instead to foster an environment that attracts talent, capital and entrepreneurship. Authorizers should provide leadership and ideas for improving education, rather than being reactive to policies and practices that stimulate mediocrity.

Geonner stressed that public charter schools are "chartered" (a verb) and not "charter" (a noun). They are dynamic and evolving. Charter schools should foster an environment that attracts the can-do people who can strategize creative solutions.

By focusing on quality, charter school authorizers should:
*Thoroughly screen applicants and their applications.
* Measure and evaluate performance.
* Preserve discretionary judgement; in other words, be able to make wise decisions on a case-by-case basis rather than being locked in to policy restraints that aren't what's best for students.
* Protect school autonomy.
* Appropriately intervene when people fail. Don't be afraid to step in to close a charter school that doesn't perform well academically.

By being a catalyst for excellence, a charter school authorizer should
* Recognize and reward performance.
* Encourage the replication and expansion of successful charter schools.
* Create new performance-based paths for authorizing, overseeing and renewing charter contracts.
* Relentlessly pursue excellence (at all levels).
* Protect, preserve and advance the idea behind chartering. This is in regard to Kolderie's assertion that "someone other than" districts should be able to create new public schools.

Goenner also highlighted several statistics from the National Alliance for Public Charter School's website. He noted that every authorizer should have established key performance indicators for their schools collectively and individually. These indicators can fall into the broad categories of academic achievement/growth, fiscal performance and sustainability, organizational performance and student engagement.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Federal Programs and Their Impact on Charter Schools

Vic Klatt, Ursula Wright and Lisa Grover presented a workshop on federal programs at the 2012 National Charter School Conference.

Here are a few points that were made:
* There is complete gridlock in Washington. The ESEA was originally intended for reauthorization in 2007, but it still hasn't been done. The House put the ESEA in five chunks; only one passed and that includes the Charter School Program.
* NCLB is totally done. AYP is done. Teacher accountability is on the rise and there is general support for charter schools.
* The new waivers policy under U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is huge. In essence, every state with waivers has their own ESEA in 2-3 year segments. Waiver requests contains lots of jargon and confusing language; it's possible the ED doesn't even know what's in some of the approved requests.
* It will probably hold off until after the November elections, but there is a "fiscal Armageddon" coming between election day and January when the newly-elected members of Congress are seated. There will be an automatic 9% cut and cuts to military spending; the debt limit and unemployment tax needs to be addressed; and Bush tax cuts are still in place but will be revisited.
* Obama and Romney are fairly similar on education issues.
* There was no competition for SEAs to get CSP money in 2012 and probably won't be again in 2013. In 2010 funds were overcommitted and so states awarded in that year that are on 5 year grant cycles are probably the only states that are safe. The CSP grant is much more competitive.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Legislation Workshop at National Charter School Conference

Todd Ziebarth and Lisa Grover, both with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools presented a workshop about updates on state and federal legislation in the past 18 months.

Maine adopted a charter law last year, reducing the number of "hold out" states to 10. Montana passed a law out of the House in 2011, but then it died in the Senate.

Negative trends
* Requiring fiscal impact reports for anything related to charter schools.
* Mandating teacher evaluations; or in other words, not explicitly waiving charter school teachers from legislation supposed by teacher unions. This is seen as a way to chip away at charter school autonomy.
* Limiting enrollment boundaries in only urban areas. This is a part of the urban-only agenda. The Feb.12th NAPCS report shows 16%of charter schools are in rural areas.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Panel Discussion in the Opening Session

John Merrow of the PBS NewsHour moderated a panel of charter school leaders, including:

  • Nina Rees, President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
  • Howard Fuller, Black Alliance for Educational Options and Founder and Director of the Institute for Transformation of Learning at Marquette University
  • Don Shalvey, Deputy Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • John Darrow, CEO and Co-founder of Rocketship Education
The panel discussion was largely about where the charter school movement has come in its 20 year history and what the next 20 years will hold.The highlight of the comments was Howard Fuller's assertion that, "You collaborate when you can, cooperate when you can, but you've got to be ready to fight!" John Darrow noted that oftentimes school districts don't want to admit they can learn from their charter schools, but that the Superintendent in San Jose said he was glad to have the leverage with his district-school Principals. In San Jose, Rocketship has 30 schools, but there are 90 schools failing.

Panelists speculated that the next 20 years will include:
  • continuing to advocate for equal funding
  • lifting the caps on the number of charter schools
  • identifying more leaders of color and providing them with the same opportunities others had
  • and according to Don Shalvey, "Quit acting like charter schools need to live in warehouses! Get them regular school buildings."
John Darrow also said that charter schools are just beginning to realize that we're in a highly political system and he talked about the importance of influencing state and federal policy.

The recent trend toward replicating successful schools was discussed when John Merrow asked panelists if they thought mostly Charter Management Organization (CMO) schools should be approved rather than grassroots startups. Nina Rees was quick to point out that it was primarily quality that should be considered and not the association with a CMO or EMO (Education Management Organization). Don Shalvey said it's not "an either/or." Howard Fuller addressed the importance of grassroots startups to the movement and the importance of giving parents quality educational options.

2012 Charter School Hall of Fame Inductees

This morning's opening session of the National Charter School Conference gave recognition to charter school leaders that were instrumental in the early years of charter schools in the early 1990's. Colorado's own Jim Griffin, President of the Colorado League of Charter Schools was inducted in to the Hall of Fame for his work, which includes starting the first charter support organization in the country. The video clip of Jim's work also featured the North Routt Community Charter School outside of Steamboat Springs.

Also inducted into the Hall of Fame were several leaders from Minnesota, the first state to pass a charter schools law in 1991. Jon Schroeder, Eric Mahmoud and City Academy were all honored. City Academy, started by Milo Cutter, was the first charter school in the country. Alums of City Academy were featured in a video clip and also personally addressed the audience.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Attending the National Charter School Conference

People attending the National Charter School Conference for the first time may feel overwhelmed. There are a couple of strategies that may be helpful, including picking a strand (e.g., governance, facilities, etc.) and just going to workshops in that strand. Another strategy is to pick a variety of workshops, on different topics, to get a little bit of everything.

Almost everyone who attends a conference with a group of people makes sure that they are all in different workshops so they can report back and discuss what they've learned. This is a great strategy because it's one thing to hear about a new or innovative idea, but it's totally different for it to be instituted back at your charter school. Further, it's often the side conversations, with other people in the workshop, where real nuggets are unearthed.

I've always liked when new charter school leaders attend the national conference and then come back appreciating how great we have it in Colorado! We have a wealth of resources available for charter schools and a comprehensive support system in place. Most states don't have that level of support.

The best part of the conference, however, is in getting to catch up with old friends and meet new friends. Attendees are typically very eager to learn and so are eager to engage in conversations. Everyone likes to talk about their charter school and it's fun to hear about the variety of models in use around the country.

I went to the very first National Charter School Conference in 1997 in Washington, DC. There were maybe 150 people there. Now we have more charter schools than that in just the state of Colorado!

Lots of great memories are made during the conference each year! I hope to see you at this week's conference!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Governing Boards: Advice, Part 6

I've heard numerous stories in the past few weeks about charter school governing boards behaving badly. I was recently asked what's better: a board of parents or a board of professionals from the community? Colorado has always been unique in that the charter school movement has been driven by grassroots involvement of parents. It wasn't until about 2004 when the state Charter School Institute formed that we really had any significant presence from the management company sector of the market.

Whereas the early charter schools to open in Colorado all had parent governing boards, that has changed over time. Management companies often don't want to deal with the instability of having parent representation on the board and so choose non-parents from the community. These are often professionals or elected officials that don't want to get involved in the day-to-day operations, as parents tend to do when their own child is involved.

What's ideal? Probably a blend. Parents should have a meaningful role in their child's education, but oftentimes parents cannot separate their role of parent from their role on a governing board. That said, there have been numerous parents in the state who have done that very well. They don't make a decision for the school based on their individual child. They realize they don't wear their charter school board member hat unless they're in the board room. Many of these parents have made incredible sacrifices in order to see their charter school get opened and off to a successful footing.

There's also a lot to be said for involving community leaders in a public charter school. Other states even require this type of board member. These types of board members represent their school well in the community and oftentimes are successful fundraisers. It's not uncommon for "professional" boards to meet only quarterly and not the monthly or semi-monthly typical for parent governing boards.

Regardless of the composition of the governing board, training is imperative! Even individuals that have already served on numerous boards, need to learn about issues relevant to charter schools. Colorado is the only state with online board training modules specific to charter school governance. The website,, is invaluable in providing the foundation for solid governance. Check it out!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

National Charter School Conference, June 19-22

The annual National Charter School Conference will be in Minneapolis this year and starts June 19th. Bill Cosby will be one of the keynote speakers. Additionally, Dr. Deborah Kenney, founder of the Harlem Village Academies will speak about her new book, "Born to Rise."

I will be attending the conference and be blogging and tweeting. You can follow me on Twitter @cocharters.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How to Write a Grant Application: Advice, Part 5

There are some things about writing grant applications that are universal for any type of grant application. I've both administered a federal grant program and also reviewed federal and state grants on a number of occasions. Some applicants know how to tell their story, including the use of data, and others make the reviewer wonder if they even read the instructions. Thus, here are a few tips:

  • Don't assume the reader knows anything about your school or plans. As much as the applicant may think everyone knows about the great things they're doing at their school, and believe their school has a national reputation, it isn't so. 
  • Don't use acronyms or jargon, especially without explaining them. Every state has their own acronyms and while they're commonly used locally, they're meaningless for reviewers. Further, if for example, the state assessment system allows schools to qualify for alternative status if they serve a very high percentage of at-risk students, explain what that means as far as qualification and accountability.
  • Be succinct. Reviewers don't want to dig through data to determine the accomplishments of students on state assessments. Tell them your story: simply and forthrightly. 
  • Have someone, not associated with your program, read your grant application and give you feedback. Did you address all of the criteria in the instructions? Does it make sense to a novice? 
  • Follow instructions. They're included for a reason. Nothing screams, "I don't care about your instructions! Just give me the money!" more than using binder clips if they're prohibited or using a 9 point font when 12 point is required.
  • Don't submit an application with grammatical errors. Sounds like common sense, doesn't it? I've never read a grant application that didn't have errors. It's the ones with numerous grammatical or spelling errors that raise the question, "How can these people possibly operate a school?"
That said, there are numerous grant applications that I've read over the years that I still remember. One of the best was written by a mother who started a charter school in a remote region of Colorado. She poured her heart into the application and everyone who read it commented on how they felt like they needed to visit the school because they could almost picture it when reading the application. 

A challenge for many applicants is how to tell their story with data. Oftentimes data is provided, but there isn't anything to compare it to. For example, a Proficient/Advanced figure is provided, but it's impossible to determine if that's "good enough" when there isn't a district or state figure to compare it with. This also applies to demographic data. 

Many federal and state grant programs are very competitive. Further, there is a great deal of accountability to ensure the funds (tax revenue) is being spent wisely. Applicants should have key leaders meet to discuss the proposed application, the expected outcomes and how effectiveness will be evaluated--before even starting the application.