Monday, February 23, 2015

What Have We Become?

I remember back in the summer of 2005 when the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI) law passed and it was just getting off the ground. As CDE staff, it was my responsibility to put together the initial documents for CSI so they could receive charter school applications as soon as possible.

I spent hours researching and writing the first Request for Applications (RFA). I'd been to all the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) conferences and was even at the first organizational meeting for NACSA. I knew the best authorizer's products and knew what needed to be implemented in Colorado. I poured a lot of passion into that RFA.

Then I showed it to my boss for his feedback.

My boss and his wife started the first charter school in Colorado to open its doors: Academy Charter School in Castle Rock. He knew first-hand what it was like to start a charter school and buck the system in the meantime. The ACS application was written and submitted to the Douglas County School District board before the legislation even passed. It was written based on the bill number.

It shouldn't have surprised me that his only response, written on the front of the half-inch thick document was, "I guess not many parents will be applying for charter schools anymore." That handwritten note hit me hard. I was also a parent who fought to open a charter school in 1994, just one year after ACS opened. It's that passion of being a parent who knew a charter school was needed in order for my own children to succeed, that drove me to become involved at the state level.

But the words of Bill Windler have rung true.

There's a group of parents and community members in the Englewood/Sheridan area of the city that have tried for several years now to get a new charter school open in their community. There are no charter schools in either district and if the districts had their way, there would never be.

TriCity Academy applied in August 2014 to open a Core Knowledge K-8 charter school in either district by applying to both districts simultaneously. Both districts denied the application at the end of October. TCA founders appealed to the State Board of Education and that hearing, held in early January, was approved by the State Board. On Feb. 3rd, both districts denied the charter school application for a second time. The only recourse for the TCA board is to file for a second appeal.

Why should getting a charter school approved be so difficult? While many things are held up as being reasons, it boils down to politics. I've seen really lousy charter school applications get approved and go on to become successful charter schools. In fact, the school I helped start in 1994, Jefferson Academy, had to appeal to the State Board in order to gain approval by the Jeffco school board. Within three years, the first time it was eligible, JA was recognized as a state School of Excellence, getting one of the first John J. Irwin School of Excellence awards in Colorado. JA remains successful with its high school listed as one of the top high schools in the state.

NACSA champions high quality charter school applications and best practices for authorizers. And that makes sense! The plan for how the charter school will operate and the people behind its formation, should uphold high standards for excellence. But who and how is it determined if a charter school is worthy of getting approved?

Ultimately it boils down to the personal preferences of the board making the decision. A board that may be influenced by the teacher's union or certain community leaders. It's political.

Who looks out for the parents? Should parents have to storm school board meetings in order to get a school approved? Should they have to give up their evenings, having dinner with their families and helping with homework in order to get a high quality public education? Or could forward-thinking elected officials recognize that a school district at the bottom of the barrel on academic performance (literally!) simply need a different educational choice?

Let's hope the children who live in the Englewood and Sheridan school districts get a high quality choice because it will, quite frankly, change their lives.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Stop Pitting Technology Against Quality In-Person Time

This article, published in the Forbes magazine, written by Michael Horn is excellent! I love this quote:

In our research, we’ve long pointed out that merely cramming computers in schools or simply handing them out to students won’t produce the educational gains well-intentioned people desire when they start with technology.

There are several school districts that have handed all of their students iPads, but still aren't getting academic results and they're wondering why this is. Technology isn't a cure, in and of itself.