Sunday, October 30, 2011

Student Beliefs About Their Capacity to Learn

Children develop a "self-belief" about their ability to learn that impacts their motivation to learn when it becomes difficult. According to Dweck, students develop one of two theories about themselves: 1) entity theory: there's a finite amount of brain capacity and there are some things people cannot learn; or 2) incremental theory: as one learns, the capacity to learn more increases.

Children believe they either can, or cannot, learn based on their belief early in life and it rarely changes over time. Some children develop the belief system in regard to specific subject area, such as math. They may believe that they can persevere and improve their ability in literacy, but believe they just cannot learn math, no matter what they do.

Imagine the impact elementary school teachers would have on their students if they instilled in them a belief that if they persevere, they can learn anything and become anything they want to be! This belief is influenced by what teachers say to students, but also what parents instill in their children. In the classroom, breaking a difficult objective down in to do-able pieces allows students to gradually overcome the challenge. Students learn strategies for overcoming challenging problems. In turn, they develop a confidence that they can figure out anything, if they try hard enough.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Don't Believe It!

This new report on charter school market share done by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says that Colorado's Adams County School District 50 has the highest percentage of charter schools in the state. I don't believe it.

Adams 50, in Westminster, has one charter school: Crown Pointe Academy. Ricardo Flores Magon Academy, authorized by the state Charter School Institute (CSI), sits within the Adams 50 School District boundaries, but their students would be counted with CSI and not Adams 50. There's no way 2,770 students (22%) are in charter schools in Adams 50!

What does make sense is that the Brighton 27J school district is at 19%. The Brighton district has five charter schools and has creatively used charter schools to address community needs. Rather than going to the electorate for bond resources, the district has put charter schools in new communities in need of a school.

Closely following Brighton, at 18%, is the Falcon School District that serves the east side of Colorado Springs. Falcon has Banning Lewis Ranch (operated by Mosaica Education, Inc.), The Imagine Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch (operated by Imagine, Inc.), Rocky Mountain Classical Academy and Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning. In addition, the Falcon School District has become an Innovation district, another indication that they seek creative solutions to address needs within the district.

You may wonder where the large school districts in Colorado fall in this report. Denver Public Schools (DPS) made the list with 11%, but the other large districts didn't even make the list. The two largest districts in the state are Jefferson County R-1 (~88,000) and DPS (~83,000). DPS has 34 charter schools, whereas Jeffco only has 13.

It's important to note that the NAPCS report is meant to highlight the districts that have used charter schools for the majority of their students. These include New Orleans, the District of Columbia, Detroit, and Kansas City, MO. A full 70% of students in New Orleans are in public charter schools.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What's Wrong With Not Knowing What You Don't Know?

The majority of charter school governing board members in Colorado are well-meaning parents who get involved in their child's education by serving on the charter school's governing board. The rest are community members who are giving of their time for altruistic reasons or simply to build their resume. Either group of people, while attempting to do their very best, often don't even know to look out for things they don't know about.

Take for example, a mother who serves as a Board President and the board decides to terminate a Principal. Soon her children are being cussed at on the playground and her children's classmates are saying mean things about her to her kids. On the surface it would be easy to try and defend the Board President's position with a strong rationale for why immediate removal of the Principal is the best thing for the entire school. But the legal liability of talking about personnel issues leaves the Board President without anything to say--to her children or her (former) friends who side with the Principal.

While drastic experiences like this can be a great learning opportunity, it's best to be able to reason through similar scenarios before they happen. This is what the Board President's Council is about. The next meeting is this Friday, Oct. 21st, 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Colorado School District Self-Insurance Pool.

For any type of personnel issues the best response is no response. It's impossible for board members to explain their reasoning, which is exactly what upset parents push for. It's even more difficult when the upset parents are friends of the volunteer charter school board member. In fact, the board member's family often suffers from the thankless job of being a volunteer board member.

This potential conflict for parents is why many states have predominantly "professional boards" without any parental involvement or else only one or two parents on the board. But board members who aren't prepared for a personnel termination can easily get the charter school into trouble by talking about the issues for a termination.

There's a Board President's Handbook that every charter school Board President should keep handy for easy reference. It's a compilation of years of questions that have been posed by Board President's and ideas for how to address various scenarios.

Wondering how to cut off a disgruntled parent who takes up all of the Public Comment period at every meeting? Is the meeting getting heated and you don't know how to get the board to return to the issue at hand? Do you think your school is doing just fine, but then find out the school's School Performance Framework (SPF) is in the Priority Improvement category? These and many more practical resources are in the Board President's Handbook.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Whose Standards are they Anyway?

This week a group of charter school authorizers met for their regular quarterly meeting. These authorizers are the school district or Charter School Institute (CSI) staff who work with charter schools.

The authorizers group discussed the authorizer standards currently being considered by the State Board of Education as a result of a mandate in HB 10-1412, which created an advisory committee to make recommendation on these standards. In discussing the standards, the group identified what evidence would demonstrate that standard and then what was quality and what was not quality. Evidence oftentimes includes financial statements, charter contracts, accreditation documents, board policies and past actions. The philosophy for quality charter school authorizing will vary in each district. Further, there is quite a range among the 62 school districts with charter schools: Denver has 34, Jeffco 13, and CSI 19.

The discussion about charter school authorizer standards became very interesting when what was quality was compared to what was not quality. Many times there is a very fine line between being a good authorizer and allowing a charter school to operate autonomously versus micromanaging or simply being too "hands off." This dilemma is inherent in authorizers' daily discussions. It's easy to move the line when a charter school is experiencing difficulties and asks for additional assistance. However, the charter school philosophy is to let charter schools operate on their own and if they fall flat on their face, so be it. But the traditional public education mentality is that once a school is open, almost nothing should cause it to close.

Moreover, many authorizers are unsure their charter schools can actually operate successfully (in compliance and financially sound) without providing regular assurances to the authorizer. For example, some districts have a philosophy for regular monitoring that could be construed as being a mother hen and actually trying to control the charter school. Where is the healthy balance in that relationship? Especially when every authorizer-charter school relationship is unique?

That's why it's important to flesh out these authorizer standards to the point of what is quality and what is not quality. Regarding governance, should an authorizer require that they approve any changes made to the charter school board's bylaws? Would there ever be a situation where the school district board would prohibit a specific individual from serving on a charter school board? Should the authorizer approve charter school board policies before they are finally adopted? Each of these questions are in the "shades of gray" category between what is and isn't indicative of a quality charter school authorizer.

It's easy for authorizer to take the standards to a wholly different level -- too far! If a district takes a good thing too far, is it still a good thing? Or a bad thing? Is it even possible, in regard to the standards, to identify when a district crosses the line and has taken it too far?

Sometimes it is possible to distinguish that line. Authorizers should not be determining, or rejecting, who should be on a charter school governing board. But it's happened in Colorado several times. Charter school board bylaws should be in the charter school application and approved by the authorizer board and then it should be delineated in the charter school contract if making a change to those approved bylaws would be considered a material change and therefore requiring district approval. This can be handled either way, and is across the state's authorizers. Many districts require their charter school boards to submit new or revised board policies to the authorizer. Primarily this is done so that the district is cognizant of what the charter board is doing and can help ensure the charter board isn't doing something that's not aligned with federal or state laws or regulations.

Eventually, through enough discussion, a draft of these authorizer standards will be distributed. It's certain these standards will be modified over time and as more experience and lessons learned are gained to provide additional insight. In the meantime, the discussion among authorizers is, in itself, invaluable!