Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Amendment 66: Funding for K-12 Public Schools

By Eileen Johnston

It is time for concerned citizens to voice their opinion by voting on an amendment on this year’s ballot. The ballot question is whether or not the state’s residents should be taxed more for public education. Although there is general support for public education, this tax measure is for almost one billion dollars and locks 53% of the state’s budget in to K-12 public education.

I have heard presentations on both sides of this argument and have to say that it was still confusing.  I have read the brochure from the Colorado General Assembly that explains the rationale, and the pros and cons. 
In the brochure, it explains that the measure “….eliminates the transfer of about 7.2 % of income tax revenue to the State Education Fund,”  and it goes on to explain how 63 % of Coloradans  taxes will increase by 8% while the rest of the people will see a greater increase.  It justifies the additional funding by explaining that principals and Boards of Education will be able to use the money to target areas where research has shown to be effective, (I thought most public schools were doing that now).  It further explains the state will be required to do studies that show the impact of the additional funding on education….it makes me wonder who will pay for this study (usually educational studies are deducted from per pupil funding).  It is also noteworthy that, by design, this amendment allows a portion of taxes paid by one district to increase per pupil funding in other districts.

See you at the polls!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

SB 191 Implementation and the Teacher's Union

By Brad Miller

What is the story behind the State Board of Education's decision to agree to allow the teachers' unions additional time to plan their legal attack on SB191?  Most close observers have concluded that the unions have wanted to delay the filing until after the elections in order not to disrupt the feel-good stories that must be told in support of Amendment 66.  But there is another side to the story.

The extension gives life to the educator evaluation law that is being rolled out across 178 Colorado districts right now.  That momentum is the best defense against union meddling.  Had the union dropped the lawsuit at the end of August it would have likely included an injunction against the educator evaluation law, and stopped the rollout in its tracks.  

The political advantage the unions sought in the extension is illusory. The very threat of a suit against the educator evaluation law shows their true position: to the detriment of highly qualified teachers everywhere, the union seeks to keep those few who do not belong, still in the classroom. 

This is one more example of how the teachers union has sought to impede needed education transformation and in so doing they undermine the root argument supporters are using for amendment 66.

On one hand the union, one of the largest  pro-66 funders, argues that the nearly one billion dollar tax increase will support reforms. On the other hand they seek to gut the basis of that reform--an educator evaluation law designed to promote a highly qualified teacher in every classroom.

This is a stinging indictment of the legacy K-12 government education effort.  One of the most far reaching influencers of the decades-in-place system--the teachers union--wants it both ways.  More money, and no honest accountability.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Defining Blended Learning

What is blended learning? Definitions abound and just about the time someone defines it, new technology and innovative ideas change the landscape once again.

However evasive the definition is, blended learning is quite simply a combination of technology-based online learning and face to face time with an instructor.

Blended learning is part of the new jargon floating around in public education. And why wouldn't it be with several aspects that entice policy makers and educators alike?

First, technology can be incorporated into a student's day with less expense and more personalization. A student can work on lessons designed to address deficiencies and not waste time doing assignments just because everyone in the class got to lesson 15 in the textbook.

Second, utilizing technology, students can learn to mastery rather than accumulating seat time. Technology-based programs track student progress, whether its online or not. This opens up the door for policy makers to discuss competency of the student rather than how much time has been spent in a particular subject. In other words, taxpayer funds could be used for a student learning OUTCOME rather than simply inputs.

As advances are made in technology, the ways to effectively use that new technology also increase. As a state we can examine different funding models because the technology finally allows us that luxury. That isn't as easy as it sounds, however. Not all students learn at the same, or even average, pace. Some have extra needs such as English is not their first language.

Regardless of how blended learning is ultimately used, the variety of options now available to educators and policy makers opens the door wide open.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

CHART for Charter School Applications

CHART (CHart school Application Review Tool) is the online charter school application review instrument that makes application review much easier! This is the only application in Colorado designed to match the state's model Charter School Application and Review Rubric.

School district staff can be entered into CHART and all of their scores (for each line of the rubric) and comments can be printed either for an individual reviewer or for all district staff reviewers together. Further, because the use of external experts is considered a best practice of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), Charter School Solutions can provide experts with a match to the school's design. For example, a bilingual school application will be reviewed by a bilingual charter school expert.

Because CHART is a collection of scores and comments, the charter school application review is considered fair and objective. Should a denied charter school application be appealed to the State Board of Education, the process is state-of-the-art and transparent.

In the past, authorizers would spend many hours of staff time to collect all the reviewer's findings and assemble them into a format that's usable by staff and the district Board of Education. CHART saves hundreds of hours of staff time!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Common Core and Charter Schools

Policy is made for the majority of people. But sometimes it doesn't make sense for others and policymakers have difficulty in accommodating those for which the overall policy causes problems.

Common Core Standards, or national standards, are needed so that students in one state or fairly compared to students in other states. Students all across America deserve a quality education and its rational to believe a high school diploma means nearly the same thing in every state.

But with every set of requirements, there are those who want to game the system to make themselves look better. Thus, the initial plan to standardize everything doesn't work out that way in the end.

Moving state assessments to being computer-based makes sense in this day and age where technology is essential to education and routinely used by preschoolers. However, several charter schools in Colorado adhere to the Classical approach to education, which means the school focuses on the Socratic discussion method of asking students questions in order to increase their learning and students use original texts rather than a synopsis in a textbook. These Classical schools use very little technology. Many do not have a tech lab, as is common in many charter schools.

How will these Classical schools fare in implementing PARCC, the new computer-based state assessment developed in compliance with federal policy to implement and measure Common Core standards? First, the schools will need to purchase the needed technology hardware to administer the assessment. This is extremely difficult on already-tight school budgets, especially given that charter schools spend about 20-25% of their per student funding on facilities.

Next, since third grade students will need to be able to write on the computer, students as early as Kindergarten or first grade will need to take keyboarding. Moreover, the thought process to write on the computer rather than even creating an outline by hand before starting, must be taught to all students. This means even first grade students will need a significant amount of time on the computer to learn the writing process and become comfortable with formulating thoughts on the computer. Hopefully, the students' keyboarding skills will support the thoughts in their head that need to get on the computer.

Just getting students ready for one test -- the third grade writing test -- will require a different curriculum and a significant amount of time. Talk about the tale wagging the dog. How can a Classical charter school stay true to its vision and mission (memorialized in charter school contract) in order to fare well on the PARCC? Many charter school leaders are wrestling with this dilemma right now.

Since many of the Classical schools are K-12, do the math on how the new PARCC will impact administration from early February through early May. There just aren't enough hours in the day. Details such as proctoring, make-up tests, turning Spellcheck off all the computers, individual student accommodations, and scheduling the time needed in the computer lab means that limited quality instruction will be occurring during the testing window.

Some Classical charter schools in the state have complied with only the basic minimum for state assessments. They do no preparation. They administer the test and that's it. Back to the Classical curriculum they developed to match their beliefs in what matters most for a student's education. School leaders choose to prioritize the body of knowledge a high school diploma signifies rather than how the school ranks on standardized tests. (It should be noted that these schools do very well, without even trying.)

Classical charter schools are but one example of schools significantly impacted by Common Core and PARCC. There's one more year under the old system, CSAP/TCAP, before every student in Colorado is assessed on the computer, but already there are lively discussions about how some charter schools will be impacted by new requirements.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Colorado's New Graduation Guidelines

Colorado is a "local control" state. This means that in the State Constitution, local school districts are provided the authority to determine the curriculum and operate their own schools. This great concept, which aligns with the state's frontier spirit, has also created some problems.

The state has a patchwork of high school graduation requirements. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) has determined college entrance requirements several years ago, but many districts are still graduating high school seniors who are not prepared to enter higher ed. In fact, Valedictorians have been known to need remedial courses when they enroll in college.

In May, the State Board of Education adopted graduation guidelines. In the 2013-2014 school year, these guidelines will be "guideposts." However, beginning in 2014 (Class of 2021) these guidelines will becomes mandatory.

These guidelines are not based on "seat time," but rather proficiency on state assessments and other assessments. The cut scores for what represents proficiency or deserves a high school diploma, is not completely fleshed out yet. During the pilot year, it is anticipated that local Boards of Education will discuss these graduation guidelines and consider how they will be used in adopting local graduation standards.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Colorado Preparatory Academy

The Colorado Digital Board of Cooperative Education Services (CD BOCES), is opening a new school this year called Colorado Preparatory Academy (CPA).

CPA will serve students in grades K-12 and primarily in an online environment. The school will be managed by K12, Inc. out of Herndon, VA. K12 operates other virtual schools in the state, also.

CPA will be a unique model of blended learning. Parents will need to acknowledge at enrollment that if their child falls below grade level or proficiency, the parent will bring the student in to a face to face setting with their instructor. Further, CPA will offer concurrent enrollment at Pikes Peak Community College, one of the CD BOCES' partner organizations.

To find out more about CPA, go to: http://www.k12.com/cpa/enroll#.Udw45PmThsl

Friday, June 28, 2013

Charter School Governing Board Transparency

Nothing raises suspicions like not providing information. It gets charter school governing boards in trouble every time!

Last year there was a charter school board that raised the ire of their community by not being forthcoming when they made personnel changes. The entire board ended up resigning.

The new board focused on two things their first year: fulfilling the vision and mission statement and being transparent. To be more specific, they:

  • Held two town meetings;
  • Published monthly board agendas and minutes on the school website;
  • Published board action items and votes immediately after board meetings;
  • Wrote monthly emails to parents;
  • Took additional time discussing issues before votes so that the parents attending the board meeting fully understood the board's actions;
  • And most importantly, putting all of their documents on the school website.
It's easy for disgruntled parents to criticize, but even more difficult to turn a school culture that has become suspicious and negative. But it can be done because it was done this past year by a charter school in Colorado.

The board deconstructed the school's vision and mission statements so that every board member not only can articulate them, but knows what purpose they serve in directing classroom teachers. Then the board further defined the school's focus by developing a simple visual to explain its work and priorities. After defining the board's work into five primary areas, the board developed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure progress in each of these areas. Each of the five areas have 3-5 points of data the board regularly monitors. These are aligned with the administrator's data collection and the work of the school Accountability Committee. Even the administrator's evaluation is aligned with these KPIs. 

What were the pivotal things this board did to bring about a dramatic transformation in only one year?

1. Understanding the vision and mission statements and clearly communicating what they mean to stakeholders.
2. Reaching out to other charter school leaders for assistance and consultation and then using best practices from other schools to propel the board further along in its work.
3. Emphasizing transparency in everything that's done.
4. Documenting everything and communicating clearly.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Rick Hess's 2nd Blog on Common Core

A Playbook for the Common Core: Part 2

On Tuesday, I tried to explain how Common Core enthusiasts have gotten themselves into their current fix, where their dazzling, Race to the Top-fueled victories of 2010 and 2011 have given way to a divisive, frustrating slog. Today, the Common Core’ites have some serious challenges. Among these:

  • 1] They have no one who seems able to credibly address concerns on the Tea Party right;
  • 2] are dismissive of practical questions, like whether the technology will actually support glitch-free assessments;
  • 3] lean on the boilerplate language of educational competition rather than addressing specific concerns;
  • 4] and keep repeating the same tone-deaf talking points, mostly just infuriating the skeptics (the enthusiasts are apparently in disbelief that anyone might regard an enterprise driven by two DC associations and backed by federal incentives as anything other than a truly “voluntary” state effort).

Anyway, they don’t seem to be able to get out of this rut. This is a huge problem, because standards and assessments are so integral to schooling that a train wreck here will have all kinds of unfortunate consequences. So, as a public service announcement, here are five suggestions that advocates can do to get their popular and political fortunes back on track. (All five proceed from the assumption that one can never satisfy those who are implacably hostile — but that what matters in public debate is reassuring, calming, or winning over the mass of risk-averse, responsible skeptics.) Here we go:

1] Sec. Duncan needs to give a speech in which he pleads “mea culpa” and acknowledges that federal involvement and money played a nontrivial (and perhaps, in hindsight, an unfortunate) role in the early stages of the Common Core. Doing so will allow the conversation to move off that sticking point, and reassure the skeptics that the proponents are finally speaking to their fears of slippery slopes. Duncan can then pivot to what comes next. He should signal support for proposals by Congressional Republicans that would prohibit further federal involvement with the Common Core and issue bright-line guidance to make clear that ED will not be sticking its 800-lb. thumb on the scale in the future when dealing with waivers or anything else. This got much easier recently when House Education Committee Chair John Kline and K-12 Subcomittee Chair Todd Rokita introduced the Student Success Act, which bars the feds from offering grants or policy waivers contingent on a state’s use of certain curricula or adoption of certain assessment policies. Duncan can say that Obama is also opposed to the feds trying to commandeer the standards, that any initial nudges were a one-time thing, that he and the House Republicans agree in principle, and that the next step is to start wrangling over particulars. By the way, Duncan’s “waiver from the waivers” (despite the laughable absence of legislative authority supporting any of it) at least shows a willingness to acknowledge some of the real concerns.

2] Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, and Chris Christie ought to pen an op-ed in which they unapologetically repeat their support for the Common Core project but acknowledge concerns that the administration has politicized the effort. They should demand an acknowledgment from Duncan (making it easier for him to deliver that essential mea culpa), insist on safeguards regarding data collection and federal involvement, and seek clarity as to how governance of the Common Core and the assessments are going to be ordered so as to respect state sovereignty and guard against E.U.-style bureaucratic creep. Bottom line: they should clearly signal to conservatives that they are aware that the exercise could be hijacked by bureaucrats, partisans, or nationalizers, and that they intend to be vigilant about not letting that happen. Happily, this has gotten much easier with the marker laid down by Kline and Rokita, and by Sen. Lamar Alexander last week. Bush et al. are now beautifully positioned to say, “We think the Common Core is good for our kids and our country, and that’s why we’re full-throated supporters — but that’s also why we need to protect it from federal overreach or partisan meddling by a Democratic administration.”

3] The stellar state superintendents who make up Chiefs for Change should make clear that they’re willing to take the lead on addressing serious concerns with an open mind. Rather than merely voicing support for the effort, as they’ve done of late, they should explain how they’re addressing key concerns and signal an openness to weighing questions about the assemblage of reading lists, teacher and school accountability, data collection, and the need for more transparency around the whole process.

4] Key leaders of the Common Core effort need to stop just repeating their talking points, and show some evidence that they’re listening to concerns and taking critics seriously. Those who could be especially influential here are CCSSO chief Chris Minnich; Achieve honcho Mike Cohen; NGA’s Richard Laine; Student Achievement Partner’s Jason Zimba; and David Coleman, president of the College Board and the dynamo who played the critical role in pushing the Common Core. They need to do more than keep insisting on the urgency of the exercise, praising the standards, and saying that the feds weren’t involved. (I’m sorry to say it, because they’re good friends and terrific guys, but this week’s Ed Week commentary by Minnich and Laine was pretty much a rehash of what’s not working.) Instead, these folks should try to start speaking in a manner designed to draw the poison from so much of the suspicion that has (justifiably) taken root. They should publicly concede that the feds played a significant facilitative role, that the Common Core exercise has been inevitably imperfect, that reasonable people may be nervous about the power seemingly being wielded by unaccountable associations, and that advocates facing a window of opportunity may have focused too much on the ambition of the project and not enough on allaying practical concerns. Such concessions would catch the critics flat-footed, reassure nervous parents and teachers that their concerns are being taken seriously, and permit a reasonable back-and-forth to start emerging. (Remember, once again, most opponents in any of these fights are NOT dead-enders — they’re just citizens who get nervous, and then start to get really agitated when “mainstream” leaders won’t acknowledge or address their concerns.)

5] Somebody needs to explain how all this is going to work without making all the worst fears of critics come true. Supporters should understand that many conservatives will come to regard a process dominated by CCSSO, the NGA, PARCC, and SBAC as actually more worrisome than one driven by Uncle Sam. After all, if something is run by the feds, at least Tom Coburn, Darrell Issa, or Rand Paul can always speak up. Meanwhile, these nonprofits operate with only nominal direction, are unaccountable to voters or elected officials, and operate in a bureaucratic miasma with little transparency or oversight. As conservatives learn more about current arrangements in the next couple years, they’re going to think this is all depressingly reminiscent of how the EU’s bureaucratic megastate took shape. How the standards and consortia will be governed and held accountable are questions that need to be addressed, but that have barely been broached (for one of the very few efforts to tackle these issues, see Pat McGuinn’s thoughtful paper here). If the advocates don’t get ahead of this one, I can assure them that they’ll be enduring a whole set of new, “uninformed” attacks in a year or two.

Will this “solve” everything? Nope, but it’ll give the proponents a chance to be heard and shift the debate. Might proponents actually do any of this? I can’t really say. I guess we’ll see.
-Rick Hess

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rick Hess's Blog on Common Core

I’ve long said that the Common Core strikes me as an intriguing effort that could do much good. So, why am I not on board? Because I think the effort has a good chance of stalling out over the next four or five years. And, because standards and assessments are the backbone of pretty much everything else in K-12 schooling, that could tear down all manner of promising efforts on teacher quality, school improvement, and the rest.

This all leaves me feeling a lot like a kid watching a scary movie through crossed fingers. The past couple weeks, I’ve been struck by how fragile the effort is starting to seem and how clumsily the Common Core’ites seem to be responding to challenges. In the spirit of public service, here’s some advice shouted at the screen. Today, I’ll offer my two cents on why things stand where they do; on Thursday, I’ll offer a few thoughts on what the Common Core’ites can do about it.

The flame jumped the “firebreak”: The giant strategic error for the Common Core advocates was their refusal, from 2009 through much of 2012, to actually take the critics seriously. They treated concerns as a fringe phenomenon, dismissing or ridiculing questions of federal involvement, the quality of the standards, and the rest. Whoops. A politically savvy observer would note that — like opposition to the Iraq War, health care reform, or NCLB — complaints always start at the “fringe.” Like sparks thrown off by a fire, these complaints by themselves are ineffectual. What matters is whether those sparks cross the clearing around the campfire and ignite the forest of more mainstream sentiment. That happened back in mid-2012. Common Core proponents could have reduced the likelihood of the fire jumping by hosing down the firebreak — e.g. by responding concretely to misconceptions, acknowledging concerns, and working hard to reassure those most exposed to the flames. They did none of this until the fire crossed and was burning fiercely on the other side.

Nature abhors a vacuum: Surprising, given the nature of their enterprise, the Common Core advocates have long shown remarkably little interest in taking the time and energy to discuss their exercise with those outside the education policy bubble. (I’ve been given all kinds of good reasons for this — from a dearth of manpower to the need to focus on technical issues — but they don’t change the reality.) Instead, Common Core’ites seemed eager to pocket their Race to the Top-aided wins and just move on to implementation. The problem is that adopting the Common Core doesn’t end the political and popular discussion; instead, it prompts questions about spending, accountability, teacher preparation, governance, and the rest. And it’s now clear that lots of parents, policymakers, and educators never really understood the Common Core, and certainly don’t feel obliged to do what it’ll take to implement it. The paucity of public discussion created a vacuum, and we’re now seeing it filled. Cato’s Neal McCluskey captured this dynamic last week in a public email exchange, explaining: “I’d note that many of the new Common Core opponents are just finding out about Common Core as it hits their schools, unlike supporters who have been working on this for several years. They may simply not have the necessary information, which is likely in part due to the rushed adoption catalyzed by Race to the Top. And a lot of people, from what I can tell, mistakenly attribute things to Common Core – such as data-mining – that should be attributed to Race to the Top. But all those things are intentionally connected, so while the facts may be wrong, the concerns and message are often far from nutty.” Having realized late in the game that changing K-12 standards and assessments for more than 40 million students in more than 40 states might prove controversial, Common Core advocates have opted primarily to ridicule and dismiss skeptics. Not so surprisingly, the Tea Partiers and anti-Common Core’ites haven’t been persuaded.

The Marco Rubio strategy: One problem for the Common Core’ites, at this point, is none of their champions carry much credibility with the Tea Partiers (or with the anti-testing left). This may seem kind of surprising, given the support of prominent conservatives like Jeb Bush and Tony Bennett. But people only accept leadership from leaders who they believe are watching out for their concerns. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has worked double-time to do this when it comes to the immigration bill. There, he’s taken great pains throughout to suggest that he’s the Tea Party’s ambassador to the Gang of Eight, and not vice versa. The problem for Bush et al. is that they’ve appeared throughout the Common Core scrap to be Common Core’ites wooing the right, rather than conservatives making sure the Common Core doesn’t get hijacked by Obama partisans. The other week, for instance, Bush’s foundation issued a document that challenged a number of misperceptions about the Common Core. Fair enough, but it would’ve been a terrific chance to acknowledge some of the legitimate concerns that conservatives have raised and tell ‘em, “I’m keeping an eye on these things.”

Policy is like a funhouse mirror: This stuff matters because the advocates have a real problem — things they regard as sensible and unexceptional are much more disconcerting to many conservatives. Policy is often like a funhouse mirror. Concerns that strike one side as baseless or silly can seem very real to another. The fact that few education reformers or edu-reporters are conservatives (and fewer still see Tea Partiers as anything more than caricatures) makes it easy for them to dismiss concerns. Federal inducements to adopt the Common Core through Race to the Top or waivers are dismissed as modest nudges that don’t compromise the Core’s “voluntary” nature. Complaints about the $350 million in federal funds for SBAC and PARCC are dismissed as bellyaching about a dollop of critical federal seed money. President Obama bragging in the State of the Union that he pushed states to adopt the Common Core is dismissed as irrelevant bombast. Fears of intrusive data collection are dismissed as paranoia (though these are a bit tougher to dismiss than they were a month ago). Advocates don’t even seem able to process the complaint that standards constructed by CCSSO, NGA, and affiliated technocrats are less a state-led endeavor than an E.U.-like exercise in sprawling, unaccountable bureaucratic gestation.

Start by taking skeptics seriously: Tea Partiers are frustrated when liberals describe support for balanced budgets, limited government, Second Amendment rights, and the repeal of health care reform as racist, violent, xenophobic, callous, and uncaring. Yet, whether or not Tea Partiers feel misunderstood, pundits and journalists repeatedly explain that they need to grow up, start compromising, and get over themselves. That same advice would come in handy for Common Core’ites. They’d do well to push past their impatience with skeptics and disdain for talk of compromise around timelines, implementation, and the rest. Especially with something like the Common Core, where success will turn on the willingness of state boards, legislatures, governors, and educators to follow through, it’s time to start taking the political challenges seriously.

I’ll offer some thoughts as to what proponents might do about all this on Thursday. Meantime, here are three good resources for those who are interested in taking these issues seriously.

1] Check out my colleague Mike McShane’s thoughtful ten-part series on the implementation challenges of the Common Corehere.

2] Check out the recent set of extensive AEI white papers on the same topic here.

3] And check out what Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Checker Finn have been writing on this score, as they’ve spent the past couple years operating as pretty much the only Common Core enthusiasts willing to publicly call out Obama overreach or talk frankly about problems and missteps (as with Fordham’s tough new analysis of the Next Generation Science Standards).

-Rick Hess
This blog entry first appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Colorado Digital BOCES Online School Approved

The new College Prep Online Academy's application for multi-district online certification was approved by the Colorado Board of Education yesterday on a 5-1 vote (Berman voted no and Lundeen recused himself). The school is operated by the new Colorado Digital Board of Cooperative Education Services (CD BOCES), which organized solely to provide high quality public online education.

The CD BOCES is a cooperative between the Falcon 49 and Yuma 1 school districts. The Pikes Peak Community College has adopted a resolution to join the BOCES, also. The vision for the CD BOCES is to provide a greater level of accountability in conjunction with a greater level of support.

College Prep Online Academy (CPOA) will operate with parent contracts so that if students fall below proficiency, the parents understand they must bring their child in to a center where the student can receive personalized instruction. The school will be operated by the K12 management company.

For more information on the CD BOCES or CPOA, visit the cdboces.org website.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Financial Transparency Requirements

By Eileen Johnston

I believe that a couple of the requirements under the Financial Transparency Act are being misinterpreted by many charter schools.  While most schools are compliant with posting their accounts payable check register, salary schedule and credit card statements, there may be some confusion about posting financial statements and investment statements.

The statute requires that, at a minimum, financial statements be posted quarterly.  It further requires that financial reports be posted within sixty days after completion.  Most schools post their quarterly statements within the time frame, but they are not posting their monthly statements. I am not aware of any school that only produces quarterly statements.  It seems to me that it would be extremely difficult to effectively manage a budget if you only saw a budget to actual statement once every three months.  To the extent that schools are producing monthly financial statements for their board and/or administration, these reports need to be posted within sixty days of preparation.

The other area that is often overlooked is posting money market statements.  Generally, schools will post their statements from CSAFE or other investment institutions, but the money market account is not included.  In as much as money market accounts earn interest, (albeit insignificant), they should be included in your monthly postings. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Online Learning

The following post is from the Ed is Watching blog. 
Has Colorado taken another step toward providing students with greater choice and opportunity through access to digital learning options? If so, how big and effective a step has been taken? Let’s look at a piece of education legislation that was overshadowed by the likes of the “Future School Finance Act” and others, Senate Bill 139.
recent online column by Reilly Pharo of the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s Matt Samelson shares an overview of SB 139′s key provisions:
Now, what exactly does this legislation do? * Track academic performance of students in online and blended learning courses? Check. Provide educator access to professional development for online and blended courses? Check. Create local level supports at schools and districts for these courses? Check. Promote mentoring to help students be more successful in an online environment? Check. Increasing market incentives for high quality providers in the state? Check.
Pharo and Samelson — the latter of whom worked with my Education Policy Center friends on the development of a digital learning policy road map for Colorado — note that SB 139 creates “a selection committee charged with awarding contracts to statewide online education providers.” The legislation directs the state to contract with a local BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services) to oversee the sharing of supplemental online and blended learning resources, especially with rural schools, at no additional cost to state taxpayers.
I have to wonder aloud: How would this new system work in conjunction with the proposed Digital BOCES idea? Could the Falcon 49 brainchild possibly be thatBOCES the legislation talks about? Maybe there’s a complementary role? A little more thought and digging needs to be done.
Currently, the Mountain BOCES contracts with Colorado Online Learning to provide supplemental courses at fixed rates. But as Pharo and Samelson explain, the change opens the door to more providers without an artificial price cap:
The new law improves the state’s ability to provide supplemental online offerings by removing an arbitrary cost per-course cap of $200 that resulted in a distorted market, limiting the expansion of high quality supplemental courses.
As usual, more work remains to be done. But at first blush, SB 139 sure looks like a small positive step forward for choice, innovation, and quality in Colorado’s digital learning environment. I sure needed something to make me smile today, and this news will do.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Charter School Board Presidents, Part 3

Believe it or not, sometimes people sitting on charter school governing boards do things they shouldn't. Not surprised? I know I've written about it numerous times over the years, including last year when I saw some pretty crazy things going on.

Who's responsibility is it to address improper board behavior? The Board President's.

How, you ask? Every charter school should have a governing board handbook that outlines the school's vision, the role of the board, expected board behavior, the authority and decision-making structure with the authorizer and school administration, and ethics. This handbook should be signed by every board member every year. In fact, immediately upon election, new board members should sign it.

Sometimes board member don't even realize that what they're doing is causing problems. It's very difficult for charter school parents to separate their role as a parent from their role as a board member. The two are very different and require repeated verbalization of which "hat" the board member is wearing.

I've had to discuss inappropriate actions by my son with the Principal and then later, as Board President, not bring that situation into the Principal's evaluation. This is especially important when there are personal differences of opinion. The board needs to provide the Principal the latitude to make decisions and not second-guess those simply based on a different personal opinion of how the situation should have been handled. The board needs to even allow the Principal to make mistakes. After all, who does their job perfectly every day? The Principal needs the same latitude.

If a board member is acting inappropriately, the first step is for the President to discuss the matter with the board member one-on-one. Using the board handbook, the President points out how what the board member is doing or saying violates the agreement. Give the errant board member the benefit of the doubt going in to the conversation and expect him/her to respond positively, having simply not known.

But if that's not the case, and the board member continues to cause problems, then two board members should go speak to him/her. For boards where two member constitute a quorum or law stipulates two member cannot discuss business, this is not an option. For example, all charter schools authorized by the state Charter School Institute are under state law that prevents two board members from meeting or discussing school business.

The third step if the inappropriate behavior continues, is to discuss it in public at a board meeting. Errant board behavior is not an acceptable reason for an Executive Session. It must be discussed in public.

How the board addresses improper board behavior can be handled a few different ways, depending on the board's Bylaws and how the other members want to handle it. Here are a few options:

  • Discuss the situation and resolve it.
  • The majority of the board adopts a resolution "censuring" or noting the errant behavior.
  • If Bylaws permit, and the case is severe or the board members is continuing to do something even after repeated discussions, the majority of the Board may vote to remove the errant member.
It's wise to consult the school's attorney before taking these steps to ensure the President knows the legal options available and doesn't make a mistake that could ultimately harm the school.

From my experience, most of bad board behavior issues are about power struggles. New, inexperienced board members want to make their mark on the school or have their own agenda. Far too often, the school community is harmed by these misguided individuals. It's better for the board President to handle the situation promptly, rather than waiting until it escalates.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Charter School Board Presidents, Part 2

Being a good board President entails knowing what the role IS and IS NOT. The President doesn't have the authority to make decisions on behalf of the rest of the board. Rather, the President is the communication hub for the board.

When a safety issue arises at school, the administration should call the board President. In turn, the President will communicate with the rest of the governing board. Further, the President may act on behalf of the board when duly authorized to do so, such as signing a contract or a letter.

One of the most important roles of the board President is to set meeting agendas, in collaboration with the school leader. When I served as board President, I had a regular monthly meeting with the Principal where we put together the agenda. A week following that meeting, board packet items had to be submitted to me and then a week before the monthly board meeting, I sent out those packets to my fellow board members.

Having an annual board calendar is very helpful for board President's to know when a routine item, such as approving the annual budget, should be on the board agenda. Moreover, dates in board policies should be on the annual calendar.

A friend of mine, who serves as board President at his charter school, created an Excel spreadsheet with the entire year's meeting agendas laid out on each tab. There was also a tab where the reasons for going into Executive Sessions were listed, which allowed him to cut and paste in the specific statutory reference when it was needed. At the bottom of each agenda, there was the "annual calendar" list of board policy items that needed to be addressed in that particular month. This was the rationale for why specific items were on each agenda and would also serve as a guide for future board Presidents. I used this spreadsheet when I was working with a charter school board last year and found it to be a very useful, and practical, tool.

Oftentimes, the board President needs to communicate mundane things with the board such as future meeting dates. It's convenient to do this via email, but this is also a good time to remember the limitations on board member communications as a result of the Open Meetings law, (a.k.a. Sunshine Law). There cannot be an electronic "discussion." This means a one-way communication from the President to the rest of the board is permissible. However, board members may NOT hit "Reply All" because that would begin a "discussion" under the law.

The board should authorize the President to sign specific contracts, such as the charter contract, on behalf of the organization. Even though the Bylaws probably authorize the President to represent the corporation in this manner, it's best to have the entire board approve the contract and authorize the President to sign it. The same goes for annual teacher agreements.

The board President should never take it upon him/herself to make decisions for the board. The board acts as a whole, with one voice. The President communicates that "one voice" to the school leader, parents, students, staff, and the school community. While the President is oftentimes privy to information the rest of the board is not made aware of, that should all be communicated to the rest of the board to ensure the board, as a whole, makes wise decisions.

Good Presidents work on behalf of their board members to ensure good lines of communication. Not only do the other board members need that type of leadership, the school leader does, also.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Charter School Board Presidents, Part 1

Charter school board President's are typically someone whose children attend the charter school and they were happy parents involved in the classroom or chaperoning field trips. Then, somehow, they went from involved parents to being on the governing board to being the President. In very little time, inexperienced, well-meaning people are thrust into the role of chairing meetings, drafting board agendas and serving as the chief communication link with the school leader. At this point, many people feel like they're in over their head.

This new series, especially for board Presidents, is designed to break down the myriad of responsibilities associated with being the President and equip that person with the resources needed to fulfill the role well.

It's important to note the difference between the role of the Chair and President. The Chair presides at board meetings. That's it. Nothing else. The President is the individual that sets the agenda, posts the agenda, meets monthly with the school leader, maintains the board's calendar, ensures proper communication between the school leader and the rest of the board, acts on behalf of the full board (when authorized) to sign corporate documents, and is the first person to address improper board behavior.

Some charter schools have both a Chair and a President. Others have only a President. Either way is fine. Personally, I prefer the two roles be separate because as the board President for seven years, I liked being able to focus on the agenda and what needed to be accomplished or scheduled for the following meeting rather than being focused on if a "friendly amendment" should be a substitute motion or an amendment to the main motion.

Since this post deals with chairing board meetings, I will refer to the individual leading the meeting as Chair.

First, brush up on Robert's Rules of Order. Chairing a charter school governing board meeting means the Chair is the final authority in making decisions about what occurs during meetings. Here's a quick guide for easy reference during meetings. Most people aren't very familiar with anything other than the basics of Robert's Rules so when the board Chair knows enough to be comfortable with how to chair proceedings, it instills confidence in his/her leadership. The most important reason to use Robert's Rules for every meeting is because it's very clear what action has taken place and where the board is in the process of making decisions. There's also a Question and Answer guide for the most commonly-asked questions from charter school board members.

The second most important thing to remember in chairing a charter school board meeting is to make sure everything is done transparently and is properly communicated. Take the time to explain what's happening to audience members. However, while a board meeting is a public meeting, the public should not be involved in the meeting. Don't begin the practice of inviting comment at any time during the meeting other than the posted Public Comment agenda item as it will slow down meetings, create misunderstanding about the board's role and often causes hard feelings. It's the nature of charter school parents to believe they "run" the school rather than that they have a "parent governed" school.

Board members want to know that their volunteer time spent attending meetings and serving on board committees is worthwhile. This means having productive board meetings that start and end on time. In order to accomplish productive meetings, it's essential for the Chair to ensure the pace of the meeting is brisk without making board members feel like they were able to speak their opinion on a motion. The Chair can establish a norm that each board member is allowed to speak twice to each motion, but no more. Further, the Chair should have it prearranged with the Vice Chair, or another board member, that when discussions are getting bogged down, the Vice Chair "calls the question." At this point discussion ceases and the motion to call the question is voted on. If it passes, the motion on the table is immediately voted on without any further discussion. Usually it only takes once or twice of someone calling the question before the rest of the board gets the message that they need to be succinct and to the point and then be ready to vote on the motion. The Chair further sends the message that board member time is valuable and therefore will be respected.

Many boards find it effective to briefly discuss pros and cons of the meetings at the end of each meeting. This allows board members to give feedback for something they'd like changed or make suggestions for a portion of the board's work that didn't go well. Effective charter school boards also evaluate themselves, as a whole, at least annually using an instrument that addresses all aspects of the board's work.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Charter School Financial Oversight

by Eileen Johnston

Charter schools are usually started by parents who are engaged in the education of their children.  They are the parents who are committed to supporting their children in any and every way they can.  They are passionate about ensuring that their student is exposed to the methodology that they believe will be the best experience for their child.  They likely have experience in education; however, generally they are not accountants or bookkeepers, and very likely know nothing about accounting (including governmental, for profit and not for profit accounting).  In fact, the skill set and qualities that make for a great Principal do not necessarily include the ability to develop a budget and use it as an effective management tool.

There are networking opportunities available for the new Principal and/or charter school accountant.  CDE has a Business Manager's networking group that meets for a day once each quarter for professional development and offers the opportunity for attendees to share ideas and experiences.  This year there is a track for those who are new to charter schools while continuing education for those with more charter school business experience.  But this is not enough!

Authorizers must take an active role in overseeing how their charter schools are doing with providing stakeholder’s timely and accurate financial information.  New charter schools need assistance with setting up their chart of accounts and understanding what you expect and require from them.  It is not enough to check and see that they are complying with state financial transparency requirements.  It is imperative that authorizers take the time to actually read the financial statements that the schools are sending to the district and posting on their website.  It is better for all concerned when potential problems can be addressed proactively rather than reactively.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

State Board Sides with Cherry Creek School District on Charter Appeal

In the appeal hearing, Infinite Charter Academy v. Cherry Creek School District, the State Board of Education sided with the school district and affirmed the decision to deny the charter school application.

The primary issue of the case was whether or not Infinite was a private school conversion. The school previously operated as a private religious Muslim school called Crescent View Academy (CVA). In 2006 CVA began contracting with Hope Online Academy to be a learning center of the charter school. During this arrangement the learning center's students take an online curriculum during the day, with a "mentor" overseeing the students. Hope Online is a public charter school authorized by the Douglas County School District. CVA offers a tuition-based religious program after school each day. About 200 students attend the learning center.

The State Board 6 to 1 to affirm the district's decision to deny Infinite Charter Academy.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Charter School Job Fair 2013

After years of having excellent weather for the annual charter school job fair at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, this year the heavy snow kept many teacher candidates away.

More than 550 teacher candidates registered for the job fair, but about 150 didn't show, largely due to the weather. However, 44 charter schools were present, many hiring numerous positions. This job fair is especially ideal for brand new charter schools hiring a complete staff.

Aspen View Academy's new Principal, Merlin Holmes said they were hiring 30 instructional positions and about 50 total staff members. Aspen View will open in the fall, in Castle Rock, with about 600 students K-6 eventually growing through 8th grade.

Jen Dauzvardis, from the Center for Professional Development at Peak to Peak, the group that organizes the job fair said that it's hard to estimate, but somewhere around half of the candidates who are screened at the job fair move on to a second interview at the charter school.

This charter school job fair is the best place to get information on positions open in the state's charter schools. Schools come from all over the state and oftentimes follow up on resumes even later in the school year.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Six Years and 1,000

Today marks the sixth anniversary of this blog AND this is the 1,000th post! To celebrate these two milestones, I thought a little reflection on the past six years was in order.

Most read post: "Bad Board Behavior" posted Aug. 6, 2012. The popularity of this particular post is probably due to the bad reputations boards in general have. I don't think it only reflects on charter school governing boards, although they have certainly been known to have their dark moments and end up in the media. As almost all of my posts touch on something that really happened, I must say that the situation I wrote about (and is still continuing today) is the worst case of bad board behavior that I've seen in my 20 yrs of working with charter schools.

Most used label: Charter Success (114). Authorizers ranks second, followed by New Charter Schools and then Governance and Parent Info. Looking at the statistics surprised me because I would have guessed governance to be higher in the ranking.

Favorites: I have several and can't narrow it down to one. My favorites include Senior Pranks where I wrote about some things my son and nephew did. This is a favorite because for years I've drawn in readers who Google "senior pranks" and I'm entertained by the numerous school district email addresses that read about the pranks. I never have figured out if the school district people were trying to avoid senior pranks or get ideas!

I had fun writing Innovators. I wrote it tongue-in-cheek and enjoyed getting an email from a friend who laughed out loud when he read it.

It's also fun to write about my pet peeves--and there are many related to charter schools! The names people pick for their charter school is a big one! The other biggee for me is what I can bureaucratic/regulation creep.  Charter schools were created out of a philosophy that LESS is BETTER and over time, we have re-created the bureaucracy that led to the formation of charter schools.

My 500th blog post was Jan. 20, 2009. I wrote more often the first few years of this blog. I wrote then that the blog took more time than I'd initially thought it would. It took less than two years to get to 500 blog posts, but the second 500 posts took four years! I've had very few guest bloggers contribute, which probably would have helped the times that life interfered with blogging.

I'm always entertained when I talk with someone who has read one of my posts. It's nice to know that people actually read what I write. Most of the time I imagine myself pontificating to an empty auditorium or writing my legacy.

I've written a lot about the history of charter schools in Colorado because I got involved in the fall of 1993 and worked on the application for Jefferson Academy. The school opened in 1994 after a successful appeal to the State Board of Education, but having been initially being denied by the Jefferson County School District. In 1996,  I worked on Lincoln Academy, which didn't open until 1997. Then in 2005-2006 I helped a group of parents from the north Jeffco K-8 charter schools to submit an application for Madison High School. The application was denied by Jeffco, appealed to the State Board of Education and lost on a tie vote. The following year the appeal was successful, but due to a legal maneuver, the school was never allowed to open.

Now that this blog has migrated to our Charter School Solutions website, more posts are about charter school authorizer issues. As new charter schools developed technical assistance was important to help schools establish in a manner that would increase their chances of being successful. In the last decade, the role of charter school authorizers has moved to the forefront as it's become apparent that the best charter schools are in a strong relationship with their authorizer. Now there are numerous tools available for authorizers so they can build on best practices from others.

Thanks for reading my 1,000th post! I hope you keep reading!

Aspen View Academy Uses DCSD Credit Rating to Improve Bonds for New Facility

Aspen View Academy is a new charter school slated to open in the fall in Castle Rock. Yesterday the school received media coverage because they negotiated a deal with the Douglas County School District, their authorizer, to use the district's excellent credit rating to get a better deal on the bonds for their new facility.

The Aspen View Academy governing board has worked diligently to provide the means for a brand new facility to house approximately 600 students on opening day within budget constraints inherent to charter schools that must use their per pupil funds to pay for a facility.

The school received an exceptionally high score on their Charter School Program startup grant, earning bonus funds from the CO Dept of Education's Schools of Choice Unit.

Aspen View's new Principal, Merlin Holmes, is well-respected in the state's charter school community. Merlin has led schools such as SkyView Academy, The Classical Academy and Legacy Academy and helped open Foundations and Landmark when he worked for National Heritage Academies. Mr. Holmes has a great deal of experience with establishing a well-run, positive learning environment and he has a reputation for hiring extremely talented staff.

Disclaimer: Merlin Holmes worked with me at the CO Dept of Education and remains a close friend. I first met Merlin when he was the administrator who opened The Classical Academy's high school and I sought his advice on creating a quality high school. We've had numerous conversations about charter schools over the years and he continues to be someone I seek for advice.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I'm feeling a bit nostalgic since 2013 is the 20th anniversary of charter schools in Colorado. I've been digging through old pictures and files to share at the upcoming June 3rd celebration lunch sponsored by the League of Charter Schools.

One of my most cherished possessions is the Charter Schools Act bill that belonged to then-Senator Bob Schaffer. Bob served on the Senate Education committee, which heard the bill before sending it on to the floor for a full vote. The bill, SB 93-183 was sponsored by then-Senator Bill Owens and then-State Rep. Peggy Kerns. Originally the bill was 15 pages long, but it was amended as it moved through the Senate and then House.

Bob Schaffer's notes on the legislation included questions he had such as why the original bill limited the number of charter schools to only 20? Eventually the bill passed with a limitation of 50 charter schools by 1998, which was the five-year pilot phase that was added in order to gain enough votes for passage.

The SB 183 file also contains notes made by Dave D'Evelyn, who worked for the CO Dept of Education at the time and was supportive of the bill's passage. He died in a plane crash before the first charter school was approved, however. There's also a memo from CASB (CO Assn of School Boards) asking for a no vote on the bill. There are also a couple of memos from the CO Education Association. The first asks for legislators to oppose the bill and the second urges them to support the conference committee report (the last version before it goes to the Senate and House for final approval).

In case you're wondering how it is that I came into possession of this bill and the file of Bob Schaffer's, I was working for a friend in the Senate and he was given Bob's old filing cabinet. When I was putting away new files, there were several old files. And yes, Bob Schaffer does know that I have his file now.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

John Griego, 2013 Charter Friend for Authorizers

Our friend and team member, John Griego, received the 2013 Charter Friend Award for Authorizers. John works part-time for Colorado Springs District 11 where he's been an administrator, a private school administrator and for years, the charter school liaison for the district.

John is known for his collaborative approach to chartering. In addition to holding regular administrator meetings for the district's charter schools, John has also invited the state Charter School Institute schools located within district boundaries.

When accepting the award, John recognized his fellow teammates at D11, including Kris Odom, Ruth Smith and Mark Capps. The high level of communication among this team is essential to providing exceptional services to the district's charter schools.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Celebrating 20 Years

Yesterday the people responsible for Colorado having a charter school law talked about how it happened and what their original vision was for the charter school sector.

Former Governor and State Senator Bill Owens and former State Rep. Peggy Kerns were the original sponsors of the Charter Schools Act. Barbara O'Brien, former Lt. Governor and former President of the Colorado Children's Campaign lobbied for the bill.

Bill Owens, who was out of town and so participated via video, said after an unsuccessful attempt to get a charter school law in 1992, he and Peggy Kerns ran the bill in 1993 and barely got it through the Senate. In fact, the Senate Education committee vote was 4-3 and the vote on the floor of the Senate was 18 to 17. Then Governor Roy Romer lobbied his party members for votes in support of charter schools.

Originally provisions were added to the legislation in order to get enough support for passage. Those initial concessions included a cap of 50 schools and a sunset in 1998. Both provisions were removed in 1998 when the Act's pilot status was removed in a bill sponsored by then Senator Ken Arnold.

Panelists also recognized Bill Windler who worked for CDE at the time and became a founder of Academy Charter School in Castle Rock, the first K-8 school to open in 1993 shortly after the Charter Schools Act became law. The other individual recognized was Dave D'Evelyn who died in an airplane accident while he was working for CDE. After Dave D'Evelyn's death, Bill Windler, took over charter school responsibilities for CDE.

More than 400 people attended the first day of the state's charter school conference. More workshops and special guests are planned today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mandatory Parent "Volunteer" Hours

At least one state in the nation, Florida, allows charter schools to require parents volunteer x number of hours in the school in order for the student to be re-enrolled the following year. Oftentimes parents are "encouraged" to volunteer in their child's school and many charter schools even suggest an appropriate number of hours to donate. But in Colorado, these "volunteer" hours cannot be mandatory, nor can parents be told they can buy out their hours with a donation.

Similarly, parents can be asked to pay for school supplies or field trip fees as long as the class or activity they're paying for isn't a course required for graduation or advancement to the next grade level. For example, a student cannot be required to pay Chemistry Lab expenses when Chemistry is required for graduation.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

We're Number Four!

That's actually better than it sounds since it's rare for someone to aspire to the number four ranking. The National Association of Public Charter Schools ranks the Colorado Charter Schools Act as number four in the country. This is up from #7 in the previous year. Only Minnesota, Main and Washington state ranked higher than Colorado's law.

Criteria to determine the ranking of state charter school laws is based on 20 components such as there not being any cap on the number of charter schools that can open, alternative authorizers, equitable access to capital funding, and clear processes for renewal/revocation.

Colorado has always had a relatively strong law, which was originally adopted by the General Assembly in 1993. The change this year are quality standards for authorizers and clarity about the authorizer's role in charter school oversight and monitoring.

Colorado ranked the lowest on student enrollment processes. The state law allows charter schools to determine their own enrollment process and doesn't require the use of a lottery. Further, the statute doesn't provide for multiple charter schools established under one charter contract, which also lowers the state's ranking.

Almost 10% of the states public school students are in a public charter school. Most charter schools are in a city, primarily Denver and Colorado Springs. About 85% of the state's charter schools are independent, grassroots schools rather than being operated by a management company. This is an unusually high percentage in comparison to other states where management companies operate more charter schools.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning

The Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning (PPSEL) opened in 2001. It was originally chartered by the Academy 20 School District, but then moved to the Falcon 49 School District a few years later. In 2008 the school built a brand new facility just east of Falcon where it now serves 400 students in grades K-8.

Principal Don Knapp has been with the school almost since the beginning, first starting as a teacher. The school uses the Expeditionary Learning program. In the past three years the school has raised its ranking on the state School Performance Framework (SPF) two performance levels. It is now in the Performance category. 

When asked how the school was able to raise performance levels so quickly, Knapp explained that the staff aligned their curriculum to the content standards and that they use data to make further modifications and to address individual student needs. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What's Charter School Renewal?

Charter schools exist by contract, or charter. Each contract is for a specified time, usually three to five years. However, some charter schools have longer contracts (30 yrs or more) for facility financing reasons. Every time the charter contract is up for renewal, the school goes through an evaluation process to determine if the school should continue.

Before moving on, I just have to say, wouldn't it be nice if EVERY public school in the country went through a regular close examination and the local Board of Education had to vote to either renew or non-renew?

Good charter school authorizers begin building the "body of evidence" for the next renewal when the first contract is executed. A school shouldn't be able to operate in a vacuum for five years and then suddenly undergo close scrutiny by the authorizer in order to get another contract signed. There should be regular, transparent communication between the charter school and the authorizer. This includes regular documentation such as the Annual Performance Report (APR). The authorizer compiles data and findings every year, in cooperation with the charter school, that is then part of the renewal body of evidence. There is ongoing conversations about the APR, such as what should be included and the school should be asked to verify all of the data and information before the APR becomes final.

The Colorado Charter Schools Act requires a charter school to submit a "renewal application" by December 1 of the year prior to their charter contract expiring. In the early years of charter schools in Colorado, these renewal applications took on all forms. Everything from a full charter school application (updated), along with current information for the authorizer and the charter school just renegotiating the charter contract without there being any other paperwork. In other words, the process is driven by each authorizer and can vary significantly.

It's a best practice for authorizers to provide a Renewal Request for Proposals (RFP) that details what the authorizer needs from the charter school in order to consider renewal. This also provides school leaders the opportunity to tell their story to the authorizer. Anything they want to highlight can be included. In the renewal RFP, there is no need for the authorizer to ask for data they already have. Instead, the charter school should comment on what their data shows, strategies for improving data, comprehensive school planning goals, and how gaps will be addressed.

Once the authorizer receives a charter school's renewal application, it should be reviewed by district staff and the charter school subcommittee of the District Accountability Committee. Further, it's considered a best practice for authorizers to have a team of charter school experts, not associated with the charter school or district, to evaluate the charter school. Charter School Solutions does a District Site Review that uses ten standards and 127 indicators within those ten standards. This is an objective, outside analysis of school-wide performance.

All of this information is synthesized into an executive summary for the Board of Education to consider during the charter school's renewal hearing. By law, this must be completed by February 1. The board rules, by resolution, on the charter renewal application. If the school will be renewed, the two parties have 75 days in which to negotiate the new charter contract.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


At the end of each calendar year the lists of over-used words and phrases is in the news. This year's banished list includes "spoiler alert," "trending," "kicking the can down the road," and "bucket list."

Every subculture has their own idiosyncrasies with language. We certainly do in the world of education. In Denver Public Schools everyone starts their sentences with "Sooo..." A few years ago "push back" was so overly used that I thought it impossible for most people to express a complete thought without using the term.   And heaven knows that in education, "accountability" is used for everything imaginable under the sun.

Now out with the old and in with the new. No longer should we be using the terms "reformers" or "reform." Instead, "innovators" and "innovation" are the new black.

In Colorado, we even have an "Innovation Schools Act." To do what you ask? Well, to reduce the bureaucracy we previously created. The law allows schools and school districts to operate differently.

Teachers are expected to be innovators. They should be able to innovatively differentiate instruction for the varied needs of their students, based on data. In fact, it could be said that teachers who cannot innovate are...old. Their practices are stale and unappealing. After all, who wouldn't want a teacher to be an innovator? School is supposed to be fresh and exciting for students every day. The teachers who are innovators do this with the glitzy use of technology and "authentic" or "real world" content.

School district Board's of Education and administrators should also be innovators. Never mind that the people previously fulfilling these roles for the district are probably the individuals who ceded their innovation in previous years when they bought into a collective bargaining agreement or created a new district policy (probably in response to a single event that happened).

And of course policy makers such as the State Board of Education and lawmakers are expected to be innovators. Everyone expects the avant-garde of education to rest with policy makers. Surely every new idea, regardless of its effectiveness over time, is innovative. But the label is only effective with the most recent idea, not the previous ideas. Otherwise, it wouldn't be "innovative."

Being innovative is more than simply tossing around the latest (over-used) word. Moreover, true innovation is often very hard to replicate because it's more complicated than simply instituting a prescriptive formula. It's often the unsung heroes who are the true innovators. But then you don't hear much about the people who put in hundreds of volunteer hours every year going above and beyond their job description because students needed extra help or the administrators who make themselves available to their staff during the day so that instruction is optimal in every classroom and then stays up late each night completing mundane administrative tasks. Many of these individuals wouldn't even call themselves "innovators." They say they were only doing what was right. That is, what was right for the students in their care.