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: