Saturday, June 9, 2012

National Charter School Conference, June 19-22

The annual National Charter School Conference will be in Minneapolis this year and starts June 19th. Bill Cosby will be one of the keynote speakers. Additionally, Dr. Deborah Kenney, founder of the Harlem Village Academies will speak about her new book, "Born to Rise."

I will be attending the conference and be blogging and tweeting. You can follow me on Twitter @cocharters.

Monday, June 4, 2012

How to Write a Grant Application: Advice, Part 5

There are some things about writing grant applications that are universal for any type of grant application. I've both administered a federal grant program and also reviewed federal and state grants on a number of occasions. Some applicants know how to tell their story, including the use of data, and others make the reviewer wonder if they even read the instructions. Thus, here are a few tips:

  • Don't assume the reader knows anything about your school or plans. As much as the applicant may think everyone knows about the great things they're doing at their school, and believe their school has a national reputation, it isn't so. 
  • Don't use acronyms or jargon, especially without explaining them. Every state has their own acronyms and while they're commonly used locally, they're meaningless for reviewers. Further, if for example, the state assessment system allows schools to qualify for alternative status if they serve a very high percentage of at-risk students, explain what that means as far as qualification and accountability.
  • Be succinct. Reviewers don't want to dig through data to determine the accomplishments of students on state assessments. Tell them your story: simply and forthrightly. 
  • Have someone, not associated with your program, read your grant application and give you feedback. Did you address all of the criteria in the instructions? Does it make sense to a novice? 
  • Follow instructions. They're included for a reason. Nothing screams, "I don't care about your instructions! Just give me the money!" more than using binder clips if they're prohibited or using a 9 point font when 12 point is required.
  • Don't submit an application with grammatical errors. Sounds like common sense, doesn't it? I've never read a grant application that didn't have errors. It's the ones with numerous grammatical or spelling errors that raise the question, "How can these people possibly operate a school?"
That said, there are numerous grant applications that I've read over the years that I still remember. One of the best was written by a mother who started a charter school in a remote region of Colorado. She poured her heart into the application and everyone who read it commented on how they felt like they needed to visit the school because they could almost picture it when reading the application. 

A challenge for many applicants is how to tell their story with data. Oftentimes data is provided, but there isn't anything to compare it to. For example, a Proficient/Advanced figure is provided, but it's impossible to determine if that's "good enough" when there isn't a district or state figure to compare it with. This also applies to demographic data. 

Many federal and state grant programs are very competitive. Further, there is a great deal of accountability to ensure the funds (tax revenue) is being spent wisely. Applicants should have key leaders meet to discuss the proposed application, the expected outcomes and how effectiveness will be evaluated--before even starting the application.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New Look

After a few years of using the same look for my blog, I decided it was time for an update. Hope you like the new look!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

U.S. News & World Report: Best High Schools

The U.S. News and World Report came out with their rankings of the best high schools.
Four of the top ten high schools in Colorado are charter schools: Peak to Peak Charter School, Ridgeview Classical Schools, The Classical Academy and The Vanguard School. Congratulations to each of these fine schools!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Peak to Peak is #1 in Colorado and #29 in the Nation!

Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette is the best high school in Colorado according to Newsweek's ranking system this year. No other Colorado high school made it in to the top 100 nationwide, but Peak to Peak came in at #29!

One might consider this old hat for the people from Peak to Peak who every year get ranked among the best in the nation by various measures. Believe me, they're very happy to get this recognition and accolades for their student's achievements!  But the culture at Peak to Peak is different than the neighborhood high school.

At P2P the mantra is, "it's about getting a little bit smarter every day!" There is an intense focus on student academic achievement. Yes, the school offers extracurricular sports and clubs, but the real competition is in the classroom. In the classroom there is learning from bell to bell. The expectation is that teachers start their clas period with an activity that preps the students for the lesson that day. Students should be in their seats and ready to engage when the bell rings--or else they're late.

P2P has a culture of continuous improvement. This doesn't stop with the students' learning. This is also about the adults. P2P started a Center for Professional Development because their value for improving the adults in their school system is very high. Everyone should be improving!

The culture among the leaders at P2P is that new leaders are always in the making. In addition to growing up their own from within, the school raises up leaders to go to other schools and also works with other schools to raise up their own leaders. This is done through a combination of coaching and training. The clear message is: when you get better, your students will also get better.

P2P started in about 2000 with a handful of parents who wanted a better education for their own children. Even back then, state charter school leaders affectionately referred to the founding group at P2P as the "overachievers" because they were at every event, learning as much as they could and asking lots of good questions. P2P doesn't do things the easy way and they don't rest on their laurels. That's probably a key to their success! And well-deserved recognition for the hard work and dedication they put in to their student's academic achievement!

Put the School First: Advice, Part 4

I've seen it hundreds of times and it never quits! People who step into leadership at a charter school to satisfy their own personal agendas or bolster their egos. Worst of all, in almost every situation, it's the students that lose.

These are the people who get on a governing board and immediately start making significant changes to the charter school in order to put their mark on it. Or the administrator who thinks that he/she is irreplaceable and stirs up parents to help reinstate him/her as administrator. Or the administrator that develops factions among the staff and pits the entire staff against the governing board. Or the parent that gets recognition for leading a parent revolt against the governing board and attempts to recall board members. I could give countless examples--all without resorting to a fictitious scenario. These are all true situations. In the end, it all boils down to someone's ego getting fed.

What's the right thing to do? Focus on what the students of the school needs. Pretty simple, right? Not for a lot of adults, sad to say.

First and foremost, a public charter school should make sure it's providing the best education possible for students. This means not only a focused, rigorous curriculum, but also exemplary teachers and a culture of continuous improvement where everyone realizes they can do better.

People become complacent. They rationalize why test scores are falling each year. If parents like the teacher or lead administrator, they make excuses and justify their belief that as long as their child is happy and safe, slipping academics is acceptable. Even worse is when the administrator clearly doesn't understand how to raise student achievement through high expectations, staff training and instructional coaching, but instead makes excuses, or worst of all--blames the students, or a group of students.

When a governing board member or an administrator is faced with a tumultuous situation, he/she should do some soul-searching about what is the best for the students in the long run. That may require that board member of administrator to resign and let someone else step in to lead the school. But ultimately, everyone, should put the needs of the school first--in front of personal agendas.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Use Data: Advice,Part 3

Data should drive everything in a school. Too often school leaders react to a comment or a small group of parents who are complaining about something when they make decisions. Instead, facts should drive decision making.

The governing board should use a "data dashboard" to monitor the key indicators they watch to determine if the school is on track and performance is at the level they expect. This might include student academic data, financial figures and student enrollment. There are several key indicators that show when a charter school is entering what is commonly referred to as the "death spiral." This is a decline in student enrollment that eventually causes the school severe financial hardship and/or closure.

As a public school, it's important for school leaders to constantly monitor student academic achievement data. This means not only the CSAP/TCAP data, but assessments that are given more frequently throughout the school year such as NWEA/MAPS, DIBELs, or formative assessments developed by the school or district to measure subjects not tested by CSAP/TCAP. Usually the school administrator monitors this data and uses it to drive discussions with staff, but it's also important for the governing board to completely understand trends that are occurring or if certain subgroups of students are struggling. It's wise for school staff to do an annual workshop on student achievement data for the board. This could be done in conjunction with the development of the annual Unified Improvement Plan before it's submitted to the authorizer.

Having the actual per student revenue on the dashboard is important because it explains why public schools are all tightening their belts over the past several years when the State Assembly is making budget cuts. Showing the Per Pupil Revenue over the past several years is a very powerful tool to explain the school's financial situation to parents.

It's important to align the board's dashboard with their strategic plan. Because the strategic plan is the board's way to implement the school's vision and mission, everything should reflect the same focus and direction. The strategic plan should should progress based on specific measures. It's also a good idea to communicate once or twice a year about the strategic plan and board dashboard to the school community so that others understand how the board monitors progress. It also conveys what the board deems important to monitor.

Making decisions based on data is a solid way to make decisions. That means it's important to have enough data to make decisions. This data might be in an annual survey of parents or staff or even students. But data doesn't lie, even if the message isn't what was expected. Every charter school should have a broad set of data that they examine at different levels and to different degrees. Having the discussions about what is important to monitor and how that data should be obtained and analyzed is vital!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Principal Reports to the Board: Advice, Part 2

Principals should provide a written report for the board at each regular board meeting, usually once a month. In between those regular reports, the Principal may choose to email the board with important information that needs to be provided in a timely manner.

The written Principal's report should be brief, not more than a page or two, and focus on board level information. Delving in to too much detail leads to a natural tendency for board members to get involved in day-to-day operations and so care should be used to keep the report high level.

The report should have standard categories such as academics, highlights and upcoming events. Because these reports are public information, and generally provided to the public via a board packet link on the school's website, there should never be confidential information included. If the administrator needs the board to get involved in a particular issue or situation, this monthly report is a great to place to bring that to their attention. This could be anything from needing board members to participate in graduation ceremonies to something that's come up with the school's charter authorizer that is the responsibility of the governing board to address.

Each regular monthly board meeting should include a section of the agenda for reports. These should generally be in writing and the board only asks questions. The individual presenting a written report, either from the administrator or a committee, should never have to verbally present the same report to the board. Meetings are much more efficient when board members only ask questions about a written report. Because written reports are usually submitted to the board a week prior to the board meeting, the Principal should always be able to bring additional information to the board's attention during this portion of the agenda.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Selecting a Charter School Attorney: Advice, Part 1

When I'm visiting charter schools I often get asked for advice. This includes everything from how to handle a particular situation, where to find specific information or how to improve school governance. There are some things I regularly repeat such as get good legal counsel with charter school experience. It's important to find an attorney with knowledge about education laws and charter schools specifically. But beyond that, you want someone who will be an advocate for your charter school and is willing to step in on your behalf. This is especially important when negotiating the charter contract, but it also applies to student discipline issues and disagreements with the authorizer.

Some charter school attorneys have strengths with particular issues such as Special Education, facility financing or negotiations. It's important for charter school leaders to check out attorneys before making a commitment to hire. In addition, get several recommendations from others within the charter school community before making a decision. People have different experiences with their legal counsel and so it's important to hear a variety of perspectives. This way you can make a decision based on what's best for your particular public charter school and your particular situation.

Note: This is the first of a new series I'll be doing about the standard advice I give to charter school leaders. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Green Schools

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced their first Green Schools awards. Seventy-eight public schools were honored for their environmental impact, sustainability and "innovative school reforms."

It should be noted that the presumably now-healthy students in these Green Schools could be destined for a life of low achievement, underemployment and possibly even incarceration, but will undoubtedly have the satisfaction and peace of knowing they attended school in an environment that promoted recycling and a minimal impact on the environment.

As is the case with almost all education initiatives, there was data used to make the determination for which schools deserved this incredible distinction. For example, schools that now use rain barrels, previously-used pavement or off-grid solar power measured rainfall, tire pressure and iPad charge time, respectively. In the case of districts using school buses powered by used cooking oil for fuel, students who could correctly guess what type of food was made in the cooking oil were given a  higher score.

The department's press release described the academic benefits for rope climbing, kayaking and other activities in their outdoor classrooms. In fact, reading "on the green" was used to enhance wilderness adventures. To ensure that school parents and communities were also involved in the green initiative, some schools posted "no idling" signs in parking lots and distributed garden produce to local shelters.

Students were prepared for growing up in the 21st Century by caring for bunnies, chickens, goats, fish and ducks. However, there was no mention of students learning about the anatomy and physiology of these animals in their Biology classes. One can only imagine these animals will also benefit from the enhanced green environment and live forever in their nurturing environment.

The one glaring omission from this press release was the hundreds of public schools deemed failing by the department and the hundreds of thousands of students attending these schools who cannot read or write on grade level. The effort put in to determining Green Schools meant that even less was being done for the students who have been failed by the public education system. Further, the message that everything is blissful as long as schools are recycling and minimizing their impact on the environment and therefore, focusing on getting students smarter isn't important, is part of the reason our nation is where it is today: performing significantly below countries that have clearly established the importance of a good education.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What's a Million Dollars?

The current version of the School Finance Act, HB 1345, has an additional million dollars for charter school capital construction. The base of $5 million was all that was left in 2004 when a new administration cut funding previously added by then-Governor Bill Owens, the original Senate sponsor of the state's Charter Schools Act.

After all these years of the funding being whittled away by an increasing number of charter school students who all share in the finite amount, there is a plan to restore a small portion of the pot, which at one time was over $8 million.

Charter schools use this fund, Charter School Capital Construction, to pay for their capital needs. For most of the state's charter schools, it's the only money available for charter schools to use outside of their Per Pupil Revenue (PPR). Unlike school district operated schools, charter schools don't have access to bond funds obtained through ballot questions. If districts choose to include their charter schools in mill or bond questions, a charter school can receive these funds, but it is at the discretion of the local district if the charter school is included.

A million dollars is a small portion of what charter schools need to cover their capital needs in a manner comparable to their non-charter public school counterparts. However, it is certainly a step in the right direction!

Monday, April 9, 2012

New America School Expands In New Mexico

Colorado-based New America Schools is opening a new charter school in Las Cruces, New Mexico in the fall. The school, which targets new immigrants and at-risk youth, operates schools in Lakewood, Thornton and Aurora. There is already a New America School in Albuquerque, making the Las Cruces site the second in the state.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Charter School Management Organizations in Colorado

The Colorado Charter Schools Act (C.R.S. 22-30.5 et seq) doesn't specify what type of an entity can be party to a charter school contract. Although it's never happened in the state, a for-profit company would be permitted to charter with a school district authorizer.

SB12-067 requires that only nonprofits can charter. This could either be a founding board that has incorporated in order to start a new charter school or a charter management organization (CMO). CMOs are generally defined as nonprofit, differentiating themselves from for-profit, education management organizations or EMOs.

There are currently CMOs that have chartered directly with an authorizer in Colorado. While it's permissible for a CMO to hold individual charters, it's also possible for a CMO to oversee independent governing boards that hold the charter. There is no predetermined structure that's best. It's totally up to the authorizer and the charter school applicant.

SB 067 grandfathers in schools established before August 6, 1997 to accommodate charter schools that never incorporated and therefore became nonprofits. Some of the earlier charter schools considered themselves a public school and therefore getting separate nonprofit status was redundant. There has been differing legal opinions about this over the years. In recent years almost all of the newly established charter schools became nonprofits. In fact, the state Charter School Institute law requires nonprofit status for its schools.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Slow and Steady Still Wins the Race

While reading a very interesting blog post by Robert Pondisco at the Core Knowledge site, a portion of the text struck me as being all too true! He writes that the greatest casualty of the education reform era has been patience. In the race to raise test scores and demonstrate growth, some educators have pushed students too hard or skipped some of the essential skills that are necessary for future reading potential. It's like the metaphor of building the foundation correctly in order to create a stable house.

There are several good points in the post, which was also in the Washington Post's education blog, The Answer Sheet. It will be well worth your time to read the entire blog.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Charter School Appeals in Colorado

I've been going through the list of charter school appeals to the State Board of Education and came across some interesting findings.

First, Denver Public Schools (DPS) has the most appeal cases with 19. To put that into context, Jeffco has 17, Aurora seven, and Adams 12 five. This is out of 132 appeal cases.

Second, there were two years, 1994 and 2006, when there were the highest number of appeals: 14. The high number of appeal hearings in 1994 makes sense because that's the first year the Charter Schools Act was in effect and there were numerous charter school applications that year. The high number in 2006 is harder to explain. It was the year after the Legislature adopted the Charter School Institute Act, which created the state's alternative authorizer. However, probably the most noteworthy piece in the data is that the number of appeal hearings dropped precipitously after that so that in 2008 there were only three hearings and in 2009 only one. This can easily be explained by the state's development of the standard application and model contract language. Both of these documents, for the first time, explained what was acceptable practice for charter school applications and charter contracts.

Another interesting point is the number of charter schools that never open even after a successful appeal to the State Board. The vast majority of appeal hearings are from brand new charter applicants; however, the law also allows an existing charter school to appeal "gross imposition of conditions" or issues with which the two parties disagree. Further, the vast majority of appeals are only heard once by the State Board. Even if the charter school wins a remand, most of the time the parties settle their differences and it doesn't go to the State Board for a second appeal. But when there is a second appeal and the State Board orders a local district to open a charter school, only a small number of those schools actually open.

It's also interesting to note that in 1994 there were more appeal hearings than charter schools that were approved to open. There were 14 appeals, but only 11 charter schools opened. Again in 1995, when there were 10 appeals, only 10 charter schools opened. In the early years of the Charter Schools Act, there was a high number of appeals and not many schools opening. But the law was also under pilot status until 1998 when the sunset provision was lifted.

This year there have been four charter school appeal hearings and none others scheduled for hearing at this time. Of the four, three of the cases are from Denver. The State Board ruled in favor of Northeast Academy and Monarch Montessori in February. However, the March hearing of Life Skills High School went in favor of the district on a 4-3 vote.

The appeal provision of the Charter Schools Act is one of the tenets that makes Colorado's law rank strong on national studies of charter school laws. It allows any applicant that has been denied, to bring their case to the State Board of Education for a quasi-judicial proceeding. In Colorado, the State Board has historically ruled with the district about half of the time and with the charter school half the time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

DPS Gives Green Light to Two Charter Schools After Appeals to the State Board

The Denver Public Schools (DPS) Board of Education voted 4-3 to let Monarch Montessori open this fall after every board member expressed their distaste for the State Board of Education ruling against them at the February charter school appeal hearings. The board met in Executive Session for almost an hour before coming out and receiving public comment on the appeal remands and then voting.

Monarch Montessori plans to open K-2 in the old Samsonite building along I-70 in northeast Denver. The school is already open as a preschool and will add a grade level until they serve grades K-5.

The DPS board also approved Northeast Academy to operate as a K-5 next year, this after an appeal to the State Board when the DPS board voted to take away K and 6th grade for the 2012-2013 school year. The Superintendent said earlier in the day that his board would be voting to close Northeast Academy entirely and the charter school responded with a counter proposal.

Northeast Academy was deemed a Turnaround school in 2009 after several years of poor test scores. They operated under a management company for the 2010-2011 school year and test scores fell even further. In May 2011 the governing board hired Jere Pearcy, with a strong Core Knowledge background to lead the school. While significant changes have been made at the school this year, the DPS board continued to express doubt that the school could improve. Northeast Academy faces renewal in the fall.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Peak to Peak Job Fair 2012

Peak to Peak Charter School held its annual Charter School Job Fair on Saturday with over 800 participants and 37 charter schools. As usual, the job fair ran very smoothly with a host of volunteers from Peak to Peak taking care of everything from meals to water bottle distribution.

The job fair, the only one of its kind in Colorado, is THE place to learn about openings in the state's charter schools. One teacher candidate even flew in from England to attend. In addition to numerous new, or soon-to-be, graduates there were also many experienced candidates looking for a different position.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Life Skills of Denver Loses Appeal to State

Yesterday the State Board of Education on a split vote, 4-3, decided to affirm the Denver Public Schools' refusal to renew the contract for Life Skills of Denver. Life Skills serves 100% at-risk students qualifying for an Alternative Education Campus (AEC) designation. There are 160 students in Life Skills at present and the average student has attended 5 other schools before choosing Life Skills.

Life Skills also appealed a DPS decision to close them back in 2007. At that time, the State Board voted to remand the decision and DPS allowed the charter school to remain open. Numerous changes were made at the school, including a wide array of wrap-around services for students, many of whom were over age and under credit.

At yesterday's hearing the primary point of disagreement was whether or not Life Skills' contract required them to make "reasonable progress" or, as Supt. Tom Boasgberg asserted the contract stated if they committed a material breach of ANY provision the contract could be terminated. The Life Skills contract had 12 provisions in the contract and the school contended they made 9 of those provisions. Legal counsel for the State Board, Nick Stancil, responded to a question from Board member Paul Lundeen by pointing out that "makes reasonable progress" is language in the Charter Schools Act, and in the Life Skills contract. He disagreed with the claim that any breech of contract provisions was enough reason to revoke a charter school, however.

Students, teachers and family members attending the hearing were visibly upset with the Board's decision. The school, operated by White Hat Management out of Ohio, has not decided their initial next steps.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why You Should Join a Charter School Board

There aren't enough good charter school board members out there! Repeatedly, I hear stories from charter schools that don't get enough candidates for open board positions and there are also endless stories about board members who have ulterior motives.

Being on a charter school governing board is difficult, especially if you're a parent of a student in the school. That means you'll have to remember to represent what's best for the school as a whole and not your own individual child. Further, you'll need to differentiate what "hat" you're wearing--and keep the roles separate--especially when you're dealing with school administration. Being upset about how your son was disciplined should never become part of how a board member evaluates the Principal.

In the past several years, there has been a trend in Colorado for more community members and business professionals to sit on charter school boards. This is very helpful, especially when they bring needed expertise such as legal or financial expertise.

A good charter school board member volunteers a lot of his/her time. It's obvious that an individual serving as President or Secretary would have additional time commitments, but all good board members should plan on attending the annual Board Visit day, assisting in writing reports or communications with the authorizer, promoting the school through networking and attendance at public events and periodically attending the authorizer's board meetings. All board members should monitor their authorizer's board meeting agendas to keep abreast of issues they are dealing with that may impact the charter school.

The types of board members that charter schools DON'T need are those who want to change something. Having change as the primary motivator will probably become very frustrating when change takes longer than intended or others within the system don't want the same type of change.

It's common for new board members to report that the first year they just feel like they're on a perpetual learning curve and they don't get comfortable with board responsibilities until the second year of their service. This is why having two to three years terms is wise. Moreover, terms should be staggered so that not all of the school's knowledge leaves the board at the same time.

Being on a charter school board can be very rewarding! It's great to watch a school system improve and to get to know individual students for whom the charter school has made a huge impact on their lives. Check out your neighborhood charter school to see if they have any openings or if they need a committee volunteer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Monarch Montessori Wins Appeal

The founders of Monarch Montessori won their appeal before the State Board of Education on a 6 to 1 vote. Only Elaine Gantz Berman, from Denver, voted against the charter school. Monarch Montessori applied for a charter from Denver Public Schools and were denied.

Monarch Montessori is also a private preschool that's been in operation for two years. Now they want to add an elementary school as a charter school. Some of the issues of the appeal were if they would be able to operate a private preschool in conjunction with the charter school. Legal counsel assured the State Board that all the details had been worked out.

This case was argued by Denver Public Schools (DPS) by the head of the Office of School Reform and Innovation (OSRI) Alyssa Whitehead-Bust. Supt. Tom Boasberg also spent a considerable amount of time at the microphone responding to questions. Both Tom and Alyssa said the Monarch Montessori application was deficient, but weren't able to provide specific examples. State Board Chairman Bob Schaffer said that the application was required to provide a description of, for example, their governance, but not a particular type of governance model. Schaffer asserted that the district had gone outside of their statutory responsibilities in having a higher standard for charter school applications.

In addition to the two charter appeal hearings in February, another DPS charter school is bringing an appeal to the March State Board meeting. Life Skills was not renewed by the DPS board and is appealing that decision.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

State Board Hears Northeast Academy Charter School Appeal

Citing that Denver Public Schools (DPS) didn't have the authority to take away Kindergarten and sixth grade during the 2012-13 school year, Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) appealed to the State Board of Education yesterday. The board backed the charter school on a 4-3 vote.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg took the unusual position of arguing the district's case before the State Board. He spent a good deal of time touting the accolades of the 83,000 student district, about 10,000 of which are in public charter schools.

DPS entered into a three-year contract with NACS in 2010 and the charter school asserted that imposing the condition that the two grade levels be eliminated was tantamount to unilaterally changing the contract. DPS cited that the charter school has never performed well since it opened in 2004. The NACS attorney, Barry Arrington, stated that the 2010 turnaround contract with the charter school, in essence, wiped the prior slate clean because the district acknowledged the school needed to improve and agreed to a three-year period to improve.

Chairman Bob Schaffer said he didn't understand the district's logic in eliminating only two specific grade levels. He stated that the district, if it were true to that argument, would need to close the school. Supt. Boasberg did call the plan a "phased closure."

George Sanker, who led the turnaround effort from January 2010 to May 2011 testified at the hearing that DPS wasn't clear on if the school were in transformation or turnaround and therefore made the improvement process extremely difficult for the charter school's leaders. Further, while other district schools in similar situations were given significant funding for improvement, NACS did not receive a comparable level of funds.

In the end, the State Board backed the charter school along a party line vote. Board members stated they believed the charter school had made their case that the three-year contracted needed to be honored. Before walking out of the hearing room before it was adjourned, Supt. Boasberg gave the NACS Principal a veiled threat about the school's future, implying that he would see that the school closed.

DPS now has 30 days to make a decision on the State Board's remand order. If the charter school disagrees with that decision, they can appeal to the State Board for a second time. At a second hearing, the State Board's directive is mandatory.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Legislation Proposed for Charter Schools

There are two bills this session that have already been introduced that will impact charter schools. They are SB 61, sponsored by Sen. Keith King and Rep. Tom Massey, concerning charter school authorizing. The other is Sb 67, by Sen. Evie Hudak and Rep. Chris Holbert, regarding the corporate status of charter schools.

SB 61 would add to the list of charter school application components, which matches the Standard Application and Review Rubric, the state model for applications. The bill also requires school districts to have a process for closing a charter school. A best practice for authorizers is also included, the stipulation that all authorizers provide each of their charter schools with an Annual Progress Report (APR). This would include Accreditation, but be broader and more specific in scope.

SB 67 is aimed at closing the ambiguous language that has been in the Charter Schools Act since its initial passage in 1993, which never defined who could be party to a charter school contract. The current law would allow even for-profit management companies to contract directly with an authorizer to operate a charter school. SB 67 would require all charter schools to incorporate, as a nonprofit, and restrict only nonprofits to being party to a charter contract.

Legislation can be tracked through the General Assembly's home page. Also, sign up for the Colorado League of Charter Schools' grassroots effort here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prospect Ridge Academy's Grand Opening

It was just six months ago when I wrote about Prospect Ridge Academy breaking ground on their new facility in Broomfield. Today was their first day in their new building! The celebration was even more sweet after spending the last six months in a temporary facility, a significant distance from the current school location.

Principal April Wilkin used a megaphone to speak to the hundreds of parents and children waiting to see their brand new building. April presented a plaque to the Rooks family who gave hundreds of volunteer hours over the past several years to get PRA approved and open in their new facility.

Students made tiles to display in their new hallways. The 12 inch square handpainted tiles were interspersed with plain tiles. They fit right in with the design, which was done by SlaterPaull Architects.

PRA had to delay a year in opening and then went through numerous hearings with board the City of Broomfield and Adams 12 School District to get their facility plan approved. In the future, the school will build an addition to house more classrooms as they expand grade levels.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tim Tebow's Education

A small percentage of the nation's students are home schooled. An even smaller percentage of those were home schooled Kindergarten through 12th grade. But, widely popular Broncos football quarterback, Tim Tebow, was one of the small percentage of students who were home schooled throughout elementary, middle and high school.

As reported by the Washington Post, Tim Tebow and all his siblings were home schooled. Knowing that home schooling is a huge family commitment, especially for that length of time, that puts Tim Tebow's parents up there at the sainthood level, in my opinion.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Life Skills of Denver Graduation

On Friday evening I attended the Life Skills of Denver graduation for ten students who otherwise may not have earned their high school diploma. Life Skills enrolls students, many who have dropped out of 5-6 other schools before enrolling at Life Skills, who are dealing with pressing life issues and have not been successful in other environments.

At graduation ceremonies, the graduating Seniors, choose a teacher to introduce them to the audience. Comments by the staff ranged from tear-jerking stories about how students before committing to the task of graduating to a hilarious impersonation of a students by his math teacher. Let's just say the student and his teacher were probably polar opposites, which made the impersonation even funnier!

This was a huge event for these ten families! One student graduated six months earlier than planned, but everyone else was getting a high school diploma after a very long, and often frustrating, struggle to complete course work.

Disclaimer: I have been contacting with Life Skills the last couple of months as they appeal the decision by the Denver Public School Board to not renew their charter contract after the current school year.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Nobody Talks About With Blended Learning

Blended learning, or using an online curriculum with face-to-face teacher contact, isn't talked about much in Colorado because state law doesn't allow for blended learning schools. Sure, schools could offer the blended learning model, but they wouldn't get paid for those students. Well let me clarify with a caveat: district-operated public schools can offer a blended learning model, but not charter schools.

Districts can use a blended model because they have more flexibility in how those students are counted. They could, for purposes of the funding paperwork, be brick and mortar (BAM) students with the online portion as supplemental. Or the students could be recognized as being fully online although they still come to a BAM school for a certain number of days each week.

Charter schools don't have that flexibility because they operate under contract with the district authorizer and have only a finite number of students. In other words, there's less places to hide students.

State policy was created (as much state policy is), in reaction to various situations that happened rather than sitting back and asking what was best for the individual student. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that a blended model is better for most students. Whether students are young, high risk or simply extremely social, having the interaction of an adult to explain difficult lessons and help them stay committed to the task of independent learning is always a good thing.

So rather than acknowledge the benefits of blended learning, Colorado state policy provides for "learning centers." These are basically private schools that use an online curriculum. Online schools can also have "drop-in centers." Although this isn't defined in statute, it means that online schools have a physical location where students can come for additional assistance. There are even students who are "strongly encouraged" to come to the drop-in center on a regular basis for additional help. But they cannot be "required" to come to the center at a specific time or for a specific length of time. It's all in how it's worded for the student and a "wink-wink" from the teacher.

One of the best things about blended learning also makes it the most confusing. That's because there is no clear definition of what it is. It's a significant variety of models along a paradigm from fully online to fully BAM. But that's why it's so ideal: it meets the individual needs of students in a variety of ways.

It's certain that this year's General Assembly will be talking about online learning. If they were really interested in doing what's best for students, they'd be talking about how to provide for blended learning.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Best and What's Next

Top story in 2011: Without a doubt, this is the final report of the HB 10-1412 state advisory committee to write charter school and charter school authorizer standards. The final report, which came out during the summer, will drive State Board rules and legislation. For the first time in our state, authorizers will have a clear definition of what monitoring and oversight is appropriate and what it means to be a "fair" authorizer. The report also recommends several changes to the Charter Schools Act, including an update to charter school application components that haven't been changed since they were first adopted when the law passed in 1993, except to eliminate the "Statement of Need" section early on. The model standard application has a more comprehensive list of components, for example including management companies. This results in a better evaluation of charter school applications and mitigates the "gotcha" several applicants have felt when they were asked to provide additional information after the application was submitted.

Best blog post: For this category, I'm going with my personal favorite since I wrote about something I'm passionate about: regulation creep. This is the gradual, step-by-step, return to the same overly-regulated public schools the charter school movement grew out of. I wrote about this in two posts, so I'm actually including both the first and second posts as my "best."

Predictions for 2012: First, I predict we're going to see a significant decline in the number of new charter schools getting approved for the next few years. Primarily, I think this will occur because of resistance to charter schools, but even more so because districts haven't figured out how to use charter schools to their advantage in offering a variety of choice options to parents.

I also predict we're going to see more charter school closures than in recent years because small charter schools that haven't prepared financially won't be able to make their budgets work any longer and have to face closure. The financial situation is tight for everyone in public education, but small charter schools have less to work with and so feel restrictions to an even greater level.