Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Brighton 27J Tops the State in Market Share of Charter School Students

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools' new report, "A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities," 20% of Brighton 27J's students attend a public charter school. This is the highest market share in Colorado.

Brighton 27J routinely rates at the top of Colorado in regard to charter school market share. The district of about 16,000 students has five charter schools: Eagle Ridge Academy, Foundations Academy, Landmark Academy, Bromley East Charter School and Belle Creek Charter School.

Two districts takes the second place spot in Colorado according to the report. They are Falcon 49 and Harrison 2, both with a 19% market share. Falcon has four charter schools (The Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch, Rocky Mountain Charter Academy, Banning Lewis Academy and the Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning) plus recently approved a transfer request from GOAL Academy that will begin in July 2013. Harrison 2 authorizes James Irwin Charter Schools, a K-12 system of three separate charters.

Disclaimer: The Brighton 27J School District and Falcon 49 School District are both in contracts with Charter School Solutions for charter liaison services.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Story Behind the Data: Adams School District 50 Tops Colorado for Charter School Market Share

Sometimes data tells a story. Sometimes it tells a very misleading story.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, "A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities" reports that Colorado's Adams County School District 50 (Westminster) has the highest market share of charter schools in the state. From this, one could interpret that the district is "charter friendly and favorable to school choice.

The truth is, the state Charter School Institute (CSI) has authorized several of its schools within the boundaries of Westminster 50. Arvada Early College, GOAL Academy and Ricardo Flores Magon all sit within this district of approximately 11,000 students.

The combined enrollment of the Early College at Arvada, GOAL Academy and Ricardo Flores Magon is about 2,670 students. Westminster does have one charter school, Crown Pointe Academy, which enrolls 415 students. By counting all the CSI students, Westminster 50 reached a high market share of charter school students.

The state Charter School Institute can authorize charter schools within the district's boundaries because Westminster 50 doesn't have exclusive chartering authority. After the CSI law was passed in 2005, districts could apply for, and be granted by the State Board of Education, exclusive chartering authority if they met certain "good authorizer" criteria. Westminster 50 applied during the first year it was available and was denied by the State Board. Westminster 50 was part of the reason the CSI Act was even proposed when it refused to open a charter school after the State Board ordered the district to open it. In essence, it refused to implement an order of the State Board, one of the criteria for earning exclusive chartering authority. Westminster 50 applied again in 2009, but was again denied by the State Board.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Does the Federal SIG Program Need to be Reformed?

Much has been said about the U.S. Department of Education's School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. Bloggers have said it's too early to make a judgment on the program's effectiveness and others have said it's a broken system that needs to be fixed. This is in response to a report released by the U.S. Dept. of Education earlier this month.

The SIG program provides funding for under-performing public schools in high poverty communities. Billions of dollars have poured in to this reform effort through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Now people are pondering how much money is worth it to reform education, especially when the gains are slow, or in about a third of the schools, there were declines. They are also questioning whether it's better to transform or simply start with a new school.

Many of these questions have been raised and debated for years. A little more than a decade ago, the federal government used Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) grants to fund under-performing Title I schools. Like SIG, there were mixed results.

There is at least one similar outcomes to the two federal grant programs designed to accomplish the same results: good school leaders are key to school improvement. So why does SIG fund school reform efforts and not programs to create more high quality school leaders?

In Colorado, CDE pulled SIG funding from five schools that didn't have high enough gains. There could be a number of reasons for the lack of performance, including:

  • the consultant/company leading the effort didn't have the capacity to implement the plan;
  • the staff at the school wasn't sold on the reform strategies;
  • not enough significant changes were made and sustained over time;
  • people didn't think there'd be any real accountability for performance and therefore didn't implement the plan with fidelity; or
  • the plan/strategies didn't address the school's specific needs.
Charter schools, with unique design elements, have driven reform efforts in other public schools, often without the same results. For example, having an extended day or extended year doesn't necessarily mean student achievement will increase without the necessary component of teachers knowing how to effectively use the additional time with effective instructional strategies. 

It's typical for large-scale reform efforts to use a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore when improvements are realized, it's difficult to ascertain if it was a particular strategy or instead a different factor, such as a top quality administrator, that made the difference. 

I have a few suggestions for improving SIG:

1. Incorporate the lessons learned from the failed Comprehensive School Reform program so that the same mistakes don't continue to happen.
2. Invest in people who have already demonstrated success; this includes not funding consultants and companies that have recently jumped in to the education reform business because that's where the money is now.
3. Err on the side of pushing harder rather than not enough. Most district or school administrators don't have the heart to push hard for reform and are unduly influenced by the adults in the system, causing the children to suffer the effects.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rick Hess on Cage-Busting Authorizing

This link is the essence of what Rick Hess spoke about at the National Association of Charter School Authorizer's conference in Memphis.

The New Normal in New Orleans

Before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the schools were in such deplorable condition that policy makers in the city and state were all struggling with strategies that were effective in improving student academic achievement.

But Hurricane Katrina changed everything. Now almost 80% of the city's students attend a public charter school and education leaders say that percentage will rise to 97% in future years.

A report, Born on the Bayou: A New Model for Public Education, explains the "new normal" in New Orleans.

Further, the report states that in the first year after Katrina, 23% of students tested at grade level, while five years later, 51% of students tested at grade level. That means that the New Orleans school district improved faster than any other district in the state. In fact, at the rate of three and a half times the average state increase.

That news should be all over the media! It wasn't simply the fact that there was a high percentage of public charter schools introduced into the public education system. Instead it was the tenets of public charter schools that made the difference. The report says the following strategies are making a difference in New Orleans:

  • public school choice and competition for students;
  • recruiting high quality school leaders;
  • decentralized control to the school level; 
  • change school cultures; and
  • closing schools that weren't performing well
Systems that are bureaucratic or sluggish to address problems need to be shaken up. It's unfortunate that the residents of New Orleans had to experience a hurricane in order to realize education reform for their young people, however. Fortunately leaders stepped in with the priority of focusing on what was best for the kids!