Monday, January 31, 2011

SB11-069, Charter Educational Management Organizations

SB11-069 has been introduced by Sen. Hudak (D-Arvada, Westminster). The title is "Educational Management Organizations," which in the bill, has a very broad definition to include nonprofits that replicate existing successful schools.

The bill establishes a fee-based certification process through CDE that is similar to the online certification process enacted in 2007, SB 215. The process requires CDE to evaluate an application and then provide continuing monitoring and oversight. The bill also limits the terms of contracts with EMOs to two years subject to annual review. It requires a charter school using an EMO to review the EMO's performance at least annually.

SB 69 also requires the HB 1412, charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards advisory committee, to make recommendations on EMOs. On Jan. 5th the committee held a hearing on management company issues.

In Colorado, the term Education Service Provider (ESP) is generally used for all sorts of management companies. EMOs are generally for-profit management companies and Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) are nonprofit. CMOs may include one-off replications. Hudak's bill defines EMOs to mean all types of management companies and doesn't clearly differentiate for vendors contracting with districts for specific services such as operating an online school.

The sample contract language has an attachment dealing with ESP provisions that should be considered by charter school governing boards and charter school authorizers. Further, the contract has an attachment for board members to disclose a number of things including a conflict of interest with the management company. These types of examples provide increased awareness about the issues of greatest concern for quality relationships.

Update: SB 69 will be heard in Senate Education on Thursday, Feb. 10th.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Charter School Time Capsules

A couple of weeks ago I was at a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new charter school and they mentioned having a time capsule that will be unveiled in 50 years. It reminded me of the one we did at Jefferson Academy almost ten years ago when the new high school facility was built.

Students from each grade wrote a paper and various objects were contributed such as an old cell phone, a JA yearbook and a newspaper. I remember one of the students talking about hearing the heavy equipment preparing the ground as he wrote. Several of the founding board members wrote about the beginning years and what it meant to them.

Later when the steel was erected, we took a picture of the entire school body (at the time) and that now hangs in the high school building. It's quite large, probably 40 in by 40 in and every time I've seen it, it's got numerous smudge marks where students point to themselves in the picture. It's a great way to remember the struggles we went through creating the 13th charter school in the state.

The time capsule is in a large PVC pipe, similar to this photo, with caps at both ends. It's anchored to the southwest corner of the building in what is now the Principal's office. My daughter has the responsibility of digging it out in 2051.

In its sixteenth year of operation, Jefferson Academy has numerous students who are younger siblings of previous students. In fact, my son teaches in the junior high and teaches younger siblings of his former peers. Soon it will be the children of JA graduates that enroll at the charter school.

Everyone who goes through all the work to start a charter school, especially those who labor to finance and build a new facility, should consider putting together a time capsule!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Number of Charter School Students in the State Almost Matches Denver's Enrollment

Just a couple hundred more students enrolled in charter schools and the total would surpass Denver's enrollment. The funded count of charter school students, using Oct 2010 data, is 69,951.5 and Denver's enrollment is 70,160.5. This means charter school students, collectively, represent the third largest school district in the state, right behind Denver and Jefferson County.

Last year the Adams 12 school district had the largest percentage of charter school students, but this year they slipped to third place. Brighton rose to the top again with 18.71% of their students enrolled in charter schools and Falcon 49 was second with 18.37% enrolled in charter schools. Adams 12 had 16.72% in charter schools.

Jefferson County, the largest school district in the state with 80,044 students ranked 19th in the list of districts with charter school students. Jeffco charter schools enroll 5,307 students for 6.63% of the total enrollment.

One of the eligibility criteria for a school district to qualify for exclusive chartering authority is having more than 3% of charter school students than the state average. This year that state average grew to 8.97%, up from 8.20% last year. Nine districts have enrollments above 3% over the state average: in addition to the three districts already mentioned, Cheyenne Mountain has 16.03%, Greeley 15.32%, Harrison 14.36%, Academy 14.04%, Lewis-Palmer 13.21% and Douglas 11.99%.

Taking these comparisons to the national perspective (using 2009 data) Adams 12 ties for twelfth place in school district market share (Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities, 2010).

In the same report Brighton ties for 13th place, Falcon ranks 15th, and Pueblo 60 ranks 17th. Colorado has a total of ten districts with more than 10% market share according to the report. Denver Public Schools has 10% in this report. Now that DPS has exceeded 30 charter schools their percentage is sure to increase in the future.

The top two school districts with the highest market share of charter school students are 1) New Orleans Public School System and 2) District of Columbia Public Schools. New Orleans has 61% of their students enrolled in charter schools. After Hurricane Katrina many of the region's schools were replaced with public charter schools in an effort to use the restructuring required due to hurricane damage to also reform the school system. The District of Columbia has 38% of its students in charter schools.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Charter School Appeal History in Colorado

It's widely believed throughout the state that "the State Board of Education always supports charter schools" in appeal hearings. The facts say different. Of the 155 appeal cases that have been filed, 100 have been heard. Of those 100 hearings, the State Board backed the district 57 times on first appeal. The other 43 times the State Board remanded the matter back for further reconsideration, thereby supporting the charter school applicants.

Supporting the school district the majority of the time was also true in the early years of charter schools in Colorado. Before 2000 there were 53 charter appeal hearings and 32 times the State Board supported the district's decision to deny the charter application.

From 2004 to 2007 there were 44 appeal hearings filed. It was during this period that the State Board members began searching for another way to conduct appeal hearings. Members Randy DeHoff and Karen Middleton convened a couple of meetings to discuss alternatives which included expert reviewers, a rubric for reviewing charter applications and as different type of hearing process.

This discussion led to the creation of the standard charter school application, checklist for completion and review rubric in 2008 and then charter school appeal hearings dropped dramatically. In 2007 there were 10 appeal hearings and that dropped to one in 2008 and none in 2009.

The development of the standard applcation by the CDE, Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Charter School Institute was revolutionary in that it was the first time the "three C's" collaborated on a project. And it was only the beginning.

Following the standard application, charter school authorizers asked for sample contract language. That was developed in 2009 and just recently revised. The sample contract has something for everyone to love or hate. Some of the provisions are tougher than districts currently use. The contract delineates the responsibilities of both the charter school and the charter school authorizer; a first for many Colorado charter school authorizers to consider.

There has been eleven times that the State Board of Education ordered a district to open a charter school. However, that has only resulted in one charter school actually opening (Imagine Charter School at Firestone).

The first time the State Board took this type of action, the case was taken to the state Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall Charter Middle School was proposed by an African-American teacher in Denver -- Cordia Booth. The Supreme Court ruling declared that while the State Board did have authority to order a district to open a charter school, it could not dictate the provisions of the contract.

When the Charter Schools Act was adopted in 1993 it was a pilot program with a sunset of 1998. When the sunset provision was lifted, almost half of the charter schools in the state were open due to the appeal process.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Online Education Enrollment Increases Again

According to the Colorado Department of Education there are 15,249 students in online schools or programs. This is a 14% increase from last year. The total percent of public school students in online programs is 1.8 a jump from 2002-03 when it was just .25% of enrollment.

There are 22 certified multi-district online schools operating in Colorado. Only four of those are charter schools, which means that the bulk of them are operated by school districts in an effort to keep students that don't fit in a regular classroom model.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Janus International School Appeal Fails with State Board

The State Board of Education voted unanimously to support Denver Public Schools' decision to not approve Janus International Charter School's application. Charter applicants had difficulty communicating their vision. Moreover, probably the most damaging fact was the applicant's acknowledgement that they had no students at all.

Testifying for DPS staff, a member of the Application Review Team (ART), noted that the entire application lacked coherency. For example, the school said they'd be implementing the IB curriculum, but that wasn't reflected in their budget.

New board members Paul Lundeen (5th CD) and Dr. Debbe Scheffel (6th CDE) both asked questions during the hearing and voiced their support for high quality charter schools. Ultimately, all seven State Board of Ed members voted against the charter school applicant.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Management Company Issues Discussed at Today's HB 1412 State Advisory Committee Meeting

Today the HB 1412 State Advisory Committee for quality standards for charter schools and charter school authorizers met at the Colorado Association of School Boards meeting room. The morning began with representatives from the charter school management company community providing public testimony and participating in a general discussion about key issues.

EMOs, or education management organizations, are generally for-profit. CMOs, or Charter Management Companies, are generally nonprofit and include schools that replicate, oftentimes under a single governing board. The discussion included both types of management companies.

Since Colorado has more grassroots startup charter schools and fewer management company operated schools than other states, there has been some negative perceptions created over the years. Many of those issues were raised today with very little consensus, if any, on what could be done to mitigate the misperceptions in the future.

Some of the issues were:
* How to prevent a charter school from getting into a contract with a management company that has a "poison pill" that makes it nearly impossible to "fire" the management company and still maintain a charter school.
* Which entity should hold the assets?
* Both the charter school governing board and the management company should have separate legal counsel and negotiate an "arms length" agreement.
* There needs to be more training information available for new charter school boards and charter school authorizers so that people are aware of what needs to be discussed because oftentimes people don't even know what questions to ask.
* Relationships are important and not just for the charter school and the management company, but also the authorizer and the management company.
* A certain level of academic achievement is required by the charter school contract and it implies that the management company is responsible for producing a certain level of academic results or else it's the company's responsibility to make necessary changes.
* Transparency is vital, especially as it relates to financial arrangements.

The next committee meeting will be on Feb. 2nd and there will be a public hearing on online education issues. Today's committee also established a timeline for its work, which primarily is a report to the legislature with recommended legislation or state board of education rule changes. The committee report will also outline a proposed implementation plan for the recommendations.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What is Normal?

I was just at a charter school where we had a discussion about "what is normal"? Oftentimes, charter school leaders and board members don't know what it's like at another charter school so they don't have a perspective of what "normal" is. They don't know if what they're doing is routine or extraordinary.

The best way to cure this problem is to get out and visit other charter schools! This applies to governing board members, principals, business managers, curriculum directors, teachers, and simply: everyone!

One of the best parts of my job is that I have been to almost every charter school in the state and get to see the incredible things happening at these schools. A lot of what I do is spread the word to others who may be struggling in a particular area or need an idea for how to handle a situation. Many of these best practices are on the CDE website: either in the eguidebook of best practices, the administrator's handbook, or the governing board training modules. The charter school community is very open to sharing, without reservation, and so there is an ideal climate for gaining from each other's experiences.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Jefferson Academy Beats Peak to Peak at Pepsi Center

In a game that was dominated by the Jefferson Academy Jaguars the entire time, JA beat Peak to Peak 77 to 48. Most of the game the Jaguars' score was double that of P2P, but in the last quarter the JA Junior Varsity allowed Peak to Peak to pick up a few additional points.

Both teams clearly enjoyed playing at the Pepsi Center. Jason Propst, JA's forward and 6'5" dunked the ball just before the half.

Head Coach Mark Sharpley's son, Bryson, played much of the game although he didn't start. Bryson is 6'6" and just a freshman.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What's Wrong with the Turnaround Model

U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been very vocal about the need to turnaround the bottom 5% of the nation's public schools.

Without delving into this subject from a national policy perspective or commenting on the likelihood of the initiative's success (or cost!), one of the proposed remedies given to chronically underperforming public schools is to become a public charter school. This means "being a charter school" is both the punishment and theoretically, the remedy.

Colorado already went through this years ago when the management of Cole Middle School was put up for bid and eventually KIPP took over the failing school. This sanction was imposed under state law that preceeded No Child Left Behind's comparable provisions. KIPP Cole was open for two years, plagued by numerous problems and then closed with everyone admitting it was a mistake.

First, the KIPP philosophy requires that the student (and family) are totally committed. It's a rigorous model of extended day, extended year and about half of the Saturdays during the school year. It's tough. Many KIPP Cole families weren't prepared for just how tough it would be and balked during the implementation.

KIPP Cole's first principal resigned before the new charter school even opened the doors. Eventually Rich Harrison became the princpal. Rich started as a teacher at KIPP Cole but moved up when there really weren't too many options for leadership in the building.

Many of the Cole neighborhood families chose other educational options for their students. The first year at KIPP Cole there were only about 60 students. It was very difficult to establish a KIPP culture in that type of environment. KIPP Cole was upstairs in the 3-story, 100 yr old Cole building. The district put an alternative high school in the lower level of the building. Students chose KIPP Cole simply because they couldn't figure out another place to go or because they had a delusional view of what the school would be like.

The research I've read says that for the first two to three years, a turnaround school looks worse than it did before turnaround. Further, the cost for turnaround is significantly higher for the first few years (Mass Insight estimates the cost as $250,000 to $1 million per school, per year).

Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel of Public Impact, writing in Education Next in the Winter of 2009, stated their researched identified six strategies for turnaround:

1. Focus on a few early wins.
2. Break organization norms.
3. Push rapid-fire experimentation.
4. Get the right stuff, right the remainder.
5. Drive decisions with open-air data.
6. Lead a turnaround campaign.

A public charter school, operating under a three-year contract term, has a great deal of pressure to show increased academic achievement right away. There is little flexibility for changes in administration, inexperienced teachers and the need for an entirely new school culture. And yet that's what is expected -- right away!

Colorado's first turnaround effort showed that turnaround is extremely difficult. The Hassels estimate about 70% of turnarounds won't be successful. So what can Colorado do differently this time around for new charter schools attempting to turn around low performing communities?

Have patience and provide support. Charter school authorizers need to realize that there will be many mis-steps along the way. Rather than shoot the turnaround leaders, authorizers should provide support to identify different strategies or provide technical assistance. Policy makers and school district leaders should be careful to not continually put the turnaround school in the spotlight (like was done with KIPP Cole). Being in the spotlight highlights every mis-step that's made. Whereas other neighborhood schools would get the opportunity to make mistakes outside of the media's attention, a turnaround school doesn't get the same luxury.

The vast majority of schools identified as needing turnaround are choosing to be reconstituted rather than convert to charter school status. Being reconstituted means a new principal and the majority of teachers are replaced, but the school stays under the district's leadership and teachers may continue to operate under the district's collective bargaining agreement with the teacher's union. In other words, flexibility is limited.

In the state, eyes are on Denver as its approach is to put high performing charter school replications in neighborhoods where the schools are chronically not performing. W Denver Prep, DSST and SOAR are all starting new schools in neighborhoods that are struggling academically.

Let's all hope these new schools get patience and support from Denver Public Schools in their new venture. And most importantly, let's all hope the students in these neighborhoods have the opportunity for a better education -- and life -- as a result of these efforts!