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.