Friday, December 31, 2010

The Best, Worst and Funniest of 2010

I admit that I've been influenced by hearing about the best and worst of most everything fro 2010 over the last few days. So I perused blog posts for the last year and this is what I came up with.

Best: It isn't very often that a stellar group of individuals join together to create a new charter school. When they do, and they do everything right, they should (theoretically) sail through the process and open. That didn't happen with Prospect Ridge Academy, a charter applicant that twice had to appeal to the State Board of Education. At the second hearing, the State Board ordered Adams 12 School District to open the new charter school.

The case had several elements that are critical to the charter school philosophy such as the State Board declaring that the district did not have the right to approve charter school staff nor select its financial auditor. Many believe these examples of autonomy, created by the Charter Schools Act of 1993, have been eroded over time as charter leaders have acquiesced to districts demanding more control. The State Board drawing a line in the sand on a handful of issues will have an impact for quite some time.

Worst: Colorado had two failed attempts at the federal Race to the Top grant competition. It's important to note that on the section of the grant application relating to charter schools, the state received 100% of the possible points. Colorado clearly has a national reputation for being charter-friendly. Statutory provisions such as multiple authorizers, automatic waivers, employee autonomy and financial autonomy are just some of the reasons Colorado has a strong charter school law. The Race to the Top process didn't honor states that were truly innovative and instead encouraged states to lift their caps or pass new charter school laws, measures that do not have lasting effect because there wasn't a foundation to support the measures -- only a short-lived incentive that meant nothing to the states.
Funniest: I've milked the "Kermit" story for almost an entire year. Almost every time I've seen Tony Fontana, the Executive Principal at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, I've found a way to remind him of the Kermit story. Last January we were in an administrator's meeting in Longmont when Tony took a call on his cell phone and then left the meeting to run back to his school. There was a security alert due to an abandoned duffel bag in the parking lot. After law enforcement shut down the perimeter of the parking lot and school was called off, oh and the news helicopters captured the suspicious duffel bag from the air, it was determined that the suspicious item was actually Kermit the Frog. Kermit belonged to a teacher at the school and students had taken it (as a prank) and then didn't have any way to "return" it. Hence, a situation that could only be attributed to teenagers without all of their brain cells fully developed. And of course, many opportunities to tease people about the "dangers" of Kermit the Frog.

Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Growth of Management Company-Operated Charter Schools

In 2004, there were only 10% of charter schools operating with a contract for services provided by a management company. In 2009 that had grown to 25%. (National Charter School Resource Project)

There are two types of management companies: for profit and not-for-profit. Even the not-for-profit companies still need to be able to pay for central administrative costs, buildings and future growth from proceeds derived from the management agreement.

Colorado's charter school movement grew largely through grassroots efforts. Conversely, across the country many states have a charter school community that's operated predominantly by management companies. Only a handful of companies operate in Colorado, including Imagine, Inc., White Hat Management, Edison Schools, Mosaica Education, Inc., and National Heritage Academies.

Management companies operate public charter schools via a written performance agreement with the charter school governing board. In the past, some management companies have recruited and selected board members they believe will agree to everything proposed by the management company. Imagine's founder, Dennis Bakke, received media attention when an email he wrote about this very subject was revealed.

Colorado sample contract language has an attachment with provisions for management companies (or Education Service Providers) and charter school boards to consider before reaching a final agreement. Districts can use this list of provisions as a way to ensure transparency and fairness. For example, one of the provisions is that both the management company and charter school board have separate legal counsel representing them in negotiating the agreement.

There will continue to be an increase in the number of charter schools operated by charter schools, both nationwide and in Colorado. For companies that have found the "magic formula" and have both academic and financial success in the venture, it only makes sense. It's wise for potential charter school authorizers to do their homework before authorizing a new school that will be operated by a management company, however.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

While the City of Englewood is trying to help a new charter school get land for a building, the City of Broomfield is fighting the opening of a new charter school within their boundaries.

Ben Franklin Academy wants to build a new facility on land at Lucent Blvd and C-470 in Douglas County. The land is owned by the City of Englewood. The city originally purchased the land as a part of it's long-term planning for a water reservoir.

Contrast this effort with the City of Broomfield that is fighting the location of a new charter school, Prospect Ridge Academy, by taking its opposition to the Adams 12 Five Star School District. On Wednesday night, the school board will hear the city's claims that the charter school should not be located within its boundaries. The City of Broomfield doesn't have a charter school currently.

As public schools, charter schools receive a certificate of occupancy through the Colo. Dept of Labor, the same as all public schools. If a municipality disagrees with a charter school site plan, the municipality can take that issue back to the charter school authorizer's board for reconsideration. It's not uncommon for there to be disagreements on the details within a site plan, but this is the first time a city has said they don't want any charter school within their boundaries.

Ben Franklin Academy was unanimously approved by the Douglas County Board of Education in November and plans to open a Core Knowledge school in the fall. The school will begin with grades K-6 and grow through eighth grade. A developer from Utah plans to construct a facility for the new charter school.

Prospect Ridge also plans to use Core Knowledge, but will extend through twelfth grade and have a focus on math, science and technology. Prospect Ridge had to appeal to the State Board of Education earlier this year in order to get the right to open their school.

Update: Boulder Daily Camera article

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

State Advisory Committee Considers LEA Status for CSI Charter Schools

The SB 111 advisory committee met for the last time today before providing the General Assembly with a report next month containing recommendations related to Charter School Institute (CSI) schools becoming their own Local Education Agency (LEA) for purposes of either Special Education funding (IDEA, Part B) or entitlement programs (No Child Left Behind).

The committee decided to recommend that CSI schools at least be given the opportunity to ask the CSI board to do their own Special Education services, but only after demonstrating they have the capacity to do it. This will probably be via contracting with a Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) in a manner comparable to small school districts in the state. The agreement with a BOCES would need to transfer liability from CSI to the individual charter school in order for it to be approved.

In regard to entitlement programs, the committee agreed that managing the federal programs would probably be a greater burden than it would be worth. Individual charter schools would need to be substantially familiar with numerous federal requirements and the amount of money received from most of the programs would be a marginal amount. The additional burden on CSI charter schools would be prohibitive in comparison to the benefits.

Patricia Hayes, chair of the SB 111 committee, distributed an initial draft of the committee report and the recommendations were each discussed. The committee did a great deal of research and had lots of discussion on the specific issues. Two of the largest CSI schools were a part of the discussion and expressed concern about the burden associated with the federal programs.

Statute requires the report to be delivered to the House and Senate Education Committees by January 15th.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Blended or Hybrid?

There is a broad array of online educational options for students. The type of online education delivery models has changed as school leaders realize that most students, particularly at-risk students, do better with a combination of online learning and meeting face-to-face with a teacher. People call this either blended or hybrid learning and there hasn't been a strong preference for either term nationally.

In Colorado, hybrid/blended schools cannot get funding to operate. The School Finance statute and state board rule do not permit schools to use the blended approach. Colorado law allows online schools to use a "learning center," meaning a regular location that students attend where instruction is delivered online and the school has gained the approval of the school districts in which the learning centers are located. However, to establish a student's schedule with both online and regular hours with a teacher isn't permissible under the law.

Across the nation, policy makers are wrestling with how to fund online students. Colorado's system relies on a annual count day (October 1) to establish funding for the entire year. Online students need to sign on their computer's online program numerous times within the "count window" in order to be counted. Further, teachers must document time on the phone with students and any virtual classes they conduct.

As the use of technology increases, and students become more adept at newer technologies, watch for policy makers to address the issue of blended or hybrid learning.