Thursday, April 29, 2010

House Ed Acts on 3 Charter School Bills

It was the afternoon to hear charter school bills in the House Education committee. The first bill heard is sponsored by Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll (D-Denver). The Speaker's bill, HB 1345-Emergency Powers, addressed the issue that came up with Brighton Collegiate HS last winter when the district took over the troubled charter school. When the charter school governing board went to district court, the judge stated it wasn't his court's jurisdiction, but didn't elaborate on which entity was the appropriate venue, either.

This emergency powers bill clarifies the process should an authorizer want to step in and address address that don't necessarily fall under the "health and safety issues" for closure commonly covered in charter contracts. The bill clarifies that a district court is the appropriate venue to determine if the district takeover is appropriate. HB 1345 was unanimously approved to go to the floor of the House for second reading.

The next bill, also by Speaker Carroll, was HB 1412-Charter School and Charter School Authorizer Standards Review Committee. The bill would establish a 13-member advisory committee that will make a recommendation to the State Board of Education for rules to detail standards for both of these groups. Rep. Merrifield's amendment to change the deadline for the committee was adopted. The bill was approved 11-1 and will be on the Special Orders calendar on the floor of the House tomorrow.

The final bill, by Rep. Middleton (D-Aurora), HB 1419 was postponed indefinitely at the request of the sponsor. The bill wasn't "ready for prime time," according to the sponsor and needed additional discussion.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vote Early--Vote Often--For DSST

The Denver School of Science & Technology (DSST) is competing with five other schools in the country for the right to have President Obama speak at their graduation ceremonies. You can vote for DSST by going here. One vote for each computer IP address.

You can also follow DSST on Facebook at: DSST Public Schools

Monday, April 26, 2010

More on Imagine Schools

The NY Times ran an lengthy and well-researched article on Imagine Schools. Imagine is the largest management company for charter schools in the nation with 71 schools operating. In Colorado, there are two charter schools--in Firestone and the eastern part of Colorado Springs.

Imagine is criticized for extracting so much money from the schools it operates that the school operates on an extremely lean budget. This results in fewer resources and smaller salaries. Imagine is applying for nonprofit status (since 2005), but it also operates a facilities financing company that is for profit.

Pieces of this information has been reported in the past. However, this is the first article that collectively outlines all of the issues that have surfaced.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Charter School Essay Contest Winners

Winners of the charter school student essay contest were announced yesterday by Chairman of the State Board of Education, Bob Schaffer. First, Mr. Schaffer talked about the importance of choice in education and recalled his days in the Colorado Senate when the 1993 Charter School bill was introduced. Later he supported charter school legislation as a member of Congress, representing the 4th Congressional District. Now Bob Schaffer is the project director at Liberty Common School as they expand through high school in the fall.

Essay contest winners included:

* Mackenzie Whitehead-Bust, 4th grade, Highline Academy in Denver. Mackenzie mother, Alyssa, was the founding principal at Highline. Mackenzie's parents and younger sisters were at the rally to cheer her on.

* Mara Strother, 6th grade, Woodrow Wilson Academy in Westminster. The top picture includes Mara, her teacher, her principal Tim Matlick and several classmates. I must admit that I'm a board member at Woodrow Wilson and we're all very, very proud of Mara for her great essay!

* Clarence Thompson, 10th grade, Ridge View Academy in Watkins. Ridge View Academy is a youth detention facility. In his essay, Clarence told about his troubled past and how his life changed once he got to Ridge View.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Charter School Day at the Capitol

Today a couple of hundred charter school students, parents, administrators, teachers and elected officials gathered on the west steps of the state Capitol to celebrate Colorado Charter Schools week. Colorado League of Charter Schools (CLCS) Senior Vice President, Nora Flood, opened the rally with some information about charter schools. There are more than 160 charter schools operating in Colorado serving more than 66,000 students. About a dozen schools were represented at today's rally.

CIVA Charter Schools, Colorado Springs, brought their jazz band and provided music for the rally. Another big musical hit was the Rocky Mountain Deaf School's drum line. The students did a series of rhythmic exercises that demonstrated a very unique way for deaf students to learn music.

Numeorus people addressed the crowd including a teacher from Bromley East Charter School, CIVA Principal Randy Zimmerman, DSST Exec. Director Bill Kurtz, and students.

State Board of Education Chair, Bob Schaffer, introduced the students who won the essay contest for Charter Schools Week. I'll post on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This is How it All Begins

This is how many charter schools get started: two Moms can't get their children into a charter school so they start their own beginning in the fall of 2012.

Two mothers from Loveland didn't get their children in to New Vision Charter School so they're proposing a new charter school open. Never underestimate the resourcefulness of mothers who want what's best for their child(ren)!

I've heard this same story more times than I can recall. Teri Oates called me back in 1999 because she couldn't get her children into Jefferson Academy. Woodrow Wilson Academy opened a year later. Deb Coufal moved to Elizabeth after having been at Jefferson Academy and since there wasn't a school, started Elbert County Charter School, which later changed its name to Legacy Academy. When the sibling pool filled the Peak to Peak Charter School kindergarten class, parents whose children didn't make a class list worked together to form Flagstaff Academy in Longmont. The stories are endless.

Predominantly in Colorado, charter schools are created by a grassroots group of parents, educators, and professionals who want greater educational opportunities for their own families. Contrary to the rest of the nation, our state has few charter schools operated by management companies. In other states, their charter school law encourages management company charter schools. Colorado's law has greater flexibility.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sen. King's Charter School Bill Goes to the Full Senate

SB 161, Sen. Keith King's bill to allow charter schools to enter into "collaborative" agreements passed out of the Senate Education committee last week on a 6-2 vote. Senators Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) and Evie Hudak (D-Arvada) voted against the bill.

Current law doesn't allow a charter school to join a Board of Cooperative Education Services other than through their authorizing school district. SB 161 would allow charter schools to join directly. It would also permit charter schools to form "collaboratives" without obtaining approval from their authorizer.

The bill, if approved, would allow charter schools to seek federal grants by authorizing it the authority, under limited circumstances, to serve as an LEA (Local Education Agency). This wouldn't apply to Special Education funding.

If the bill receives a majority approval by the full Senate it then goes to the House where it will first be heard by the House Education committee.

New Resource for Charter Schools and Their Authorizers

There's a new resource for anything charter related and it's called the National Charter School Resource Center. The site provides information for state agencies and charter school authorizers in addition to information about facilities and school turnaround.

The site is fairly new and funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Charter School Program. Watch for the site to grow as additional resources are vetted and added.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CSI Prevails in Appeal from CDELA

The Colorado Education and Distance Education Learning Academy (CDELA) lost their appeal to the State Board of Education this afternoon. CDELA is managed by White Hat Management out of Ohio.

Board member, Randy DeHoff, recused himself from the hearing because he was Executive Director of CSI at the time the CSI board voted to nonrenew the CDELA contract.

CDELA attorney said the three primary issues of the appeal were finances, records and academics. The state board honed in on the lack of academic achievement from CDELA students. In addition, it came out that the CDELA student performance data was only based on 53 students who took CSAP for two consecutive years while with the charter school. CSI's attorney, Tony Dyl, pointed out that a very high percentage of students failed to return a second year therefore making a very small sample size to critique student achievement.

State board chair, Bob Schaffer, before he voted noted that he was a strong supporter of charter schools but he was an even stronger supporter of offering students a quality education and he didn't see that with CDELA. Several other board members also voiced concern about the lack of student academic achievement during the hearing, even redirecting the attorneys when they were presenting their cases.

The board voted unanimously to affirm CSI's decision to not renew the CDELA charter contract. The school is slated to close at the end of this school year.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An Opinion on the Common Core Standards

Dr. Terrence O. Moore, the former principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, addresses common core standards here. Ridgeview is a school that doesn't even attempt to address Colorado model content standards and they believe their educational program exceeds any state assessment. They're right. Ridgeview consistently ranks in the top three high schools in Colorado.
I ran a K-12 classical charter school for seven years. Not once did I or any of the teachers look at a state standard in reading or writing (math is something of a different case). The students did no test prep. When our students took the state exams, all they did was complain about how easy and worthless they were and how they wanted to get back to real learning. Every year the high school ranked in the top three in the state, twice coming out first. The secret was breathtakingly simple. The way to teach literacy for the twenty-first century turns out to be the same way it has been done in the last thirty centuries of civilization: to hire the brightest and best-educated teachers (usually not those coming out of a school of education considered “certified”), to put in their hands the best works of literature and history and philosophy, to invite young people to have a conversation about what it means to be a human being, and to require those students to work hard and demonstrate good character while doing so. When all the Mickey-Mouse language of plot graphs and
“standards” is abandoned, it’s just you and some students talking about love, hate, war, peace, liberty, slavery, happiness, life, and death. And the students know when you’re faking it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Denver School of Science & Technology One of Six Finalists to Have Pres. Obama Speak at Graduation Ceremony

From Bill Kurtz, the Principal of Denver School of Science and Technology in Denver:

Dear Friends,

I am thrilled to share with you that DSST has been selected by the White House as one of six finalists in a national competition to have President Obama speak at our high school graduation ceremony in May. You can read more about this in the press release that was issued by the White House this afternoon (please see below).

1,000 high schools applied for this honor. The application was 3 parts: Academic results, Student essays, and a Video. You can watch the video and read application materials here:

Later this month, DSST along with the other 5 finalist schools will be featured on the White House website for voting by the public to determine the top 3 schools. Then President Obama himself will choose the winner from the top 3. We will have more information about this process in the weeks ahead.

We are very proud of our students, parents, teachers, and staff for their achievements! Our continued academic success is what has made this great honor possible. We are very grateful for the support of our board and you, our community and friends, for your continued belief in our mission and model. Thank you and we will continue to update you as the story unfolds.

Office of the Press Secretary
April 9, 2010

President Obama, Department of Education Announce Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge Finalists Six Public High Schools Selected to Compete for Presidential Commencement Address

WASHINGTON – The White House and the Department of Education announced today the six high schools selected as finalists for the first annual Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge. The Commencement Challenge, launched in late February, invited the nation’s public high schools to submit applications showing their dedication to providing students with an excellent education that will prepare them to graduate ready for college and career choices. Applications were judged based on the schools performance, four essay questions and supplemental data. The six finalists were selected for their dedication to academic excellence and for showing how they are helping prepare students to graduate college and career ready, and prepared to meet the President’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

· Blue Valley Northwest High School (Overland Park, Kansas)
· Clark Montessori Junior High and High School (Cincinnati, Ohio)
· Denver School of Science and Technology (Denver, Colorado)
· Environmental Charter High School (Lawndale, California)
· Kalamazoo Central High School (Kalamazoo, Michigan)
· MAST Academy (Miami, Florida)

“I thank all of the schools that submitted applications for the first Commencement Challenge and I congratulate the six finalists for demonstrating effective approaches to teaching, learning and preparing students to graduate ready for college and a career,” said President Obama. “The quality of the applications we received is a testament to the exciting work happening in schools throughout the country, and I look forward to visiting and speaking at the winning school later this spring.”

“These six schools represent just a few of the stories of success that are happening all across the country,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We won’t accomplish the President’s national goal of leading the world in college completion by 2020 without the hard work and dedication of the school leaders, teachers and students exemplified by our six final high schools.”
Over the next few weeks, each school’s students will work with The Get Schooled Foundation, which includes Viacom and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation among its founding partners, to create a short video highlighting how the school best fulfills the Challenge’s criteria. The six videos, along with portions of each school’s written application, will be featured on the White House website in the coming weeks and the public will have an opportunity to vote for the three schools they think best meet the President’s goal. The President will select a national winner from these three finalists and will visit the winning high school to deliver the commencement later this spring.

Watch a video of the schools being notified of their selection on Thursday, April 8, 2010.

Update: Denver Post article

Tennessee Squeezes Their Charters Out of Race to the Top Funds, Too

It's not just Colorado that has no plans to share their Race to the Top Funds with public charter schools. Back in January, I wrote about Colorado's RttT application not having any benefit for our state's charter schools. Colorado was selected as one of the 16 finalists for Race to the Top, but only Tennessee and Delaware were chosen for Phase One funding.

Race to the Top is a U.S. Department of Education competitive grant that is awarded to state's meeting certain criteria. One of these is how they treat their charter schools. Colorado faired well in this category.

The Memphis Business Journal reports their state's charter schools won't receive a benefit from the Race to the Top funding recently awarded to Tennessee. The money will be given to school districts that do not have an obligation to equitably distribute those funds to their public charter schools. The reason for this juxtaposition is that the federal RttT guidance doesn't include charter schools in a meaningful way. The grant is very misleading to the public who thinks that because states must be "charter friendly" in order to get the grant, the charter schools would receive some sort of benefit. Not so.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Colorado Aces One Section of the Race to the Top Application

Colorado's Race to the Top application scored 40 out of 40 in only one section: the section regarding charter schools!

Not surprising given that Colorado's charter school movement is known to have high performing schools as a result of slow, manageable growth. There's always been an emphasis in Colorado to push charter schools to increase student academic achievement. The Charter Schools Act has always prioritized accountability. The addition of the Charter School Institute Act in 2004 emphasized quality authorizing through the grant of exclusive chartering authority to districts who have demonstrated they were good authorizers through meeting certain criteria and CSI is statutorily mandated to be a best practice model in regard to authorizing.

What makes the Colorado charter school law strong? Our law provides for the automatic waiver of employment laws such as teacher licensing, tenure and salary schedules. Charter schools all use at-will employees and don't--at all--deal with collective bargaining agreements that bind most of the state's school districts. Further, the law provides for autonomy by granting the charter school board control over their operations, including the financial budget. Finally, another key point is that the Charter Schools Act provides a way for failing charter schools to close. In fact, more than 20 charter schools have closed since the law was originally adopted in 1993. A handful of these, about four, have closed for academic reasons.

The Center for Education Reform ranks Colorado's law as a "B."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Defining "Members"

Every charter school that incorporates has to declare who "members" of their corporation are. Some charter schools choose the parents of all currently enrolled students. Others have just the board be the members, particularly if it is a board of community members or a school run by a management company.

Members typically have voting rights. They usually cast their vote at the annual meeting, which is oftentimes in May for charter schools.

The members determine who holds the charter, or who really has the authority in a charter school. When problems arise at a charter school, the first thing parents should investigate is the school's bylaws.

The Articles of Incorporation are online on the Secretary of State's website. There's a searchable database and so it's easy to find out what corporate documents a charter school has filed. Sometimes the bylaws are also on this site, but most often bylaws are obtained through the school's front office. If access is readily provided, an Open Records Request should be filed. This means that by putting in writing that you want a copy of the bylaws, you must be given them within three business days.

There is no right or wrong way to decide who should be the members of a charter school. There are pros and cons to each scenario. But if someone wants to know where the "power" lies in a charter school: check the bylaws to find out who the "members" are.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Imagine That!

Parents at a charter school in Nevada that is managed by Imagine Schools, Inc. are upset by their lack of decision-making authority.

Imagine founder and president, Dennis Bakke, caught media attention last fall when a private memo to company executives was released. The memo was critical of charter school board members who would question Imagine's decisions. Bakke said, "Before selecting board members we need to go over the voting process and our expectations that they will go along with Imagine unless the board member is convinced that we are doing something illegal."

Many charter school authorizers across the nation have expressed concern when a management company comes in to a state and selects board members for a new charter school. Then Imagine writes the application and shepherds it through the approval process. Imagine also has a branch of its company that owns the facilities built for new charter schools while the school pays a lease indefinitely.

The parents involved in the Nevada charter school said they didn't have authority to make necessary budget cuts because Imagine made those decisions. This is a difficult situation for parents who believe their child is getting a good education at the charter school, but have questions about the management of the school. The contractual or legal scenarios at these schools means the parents would be left with a charter-school-on-paper-only if the management company walked. All the assets belong to the management company. Some management companies don't even disclose their financial expenditures to the governing board of the charter school.

How can charter school authorizers and developing charter school board members avoid problems with a management company after the school is operating? In Colorado, there is a "ESP Provisions" attachment to the state's new sample contract language that lists numerous provisions that the charter board and the company should address prior to the charter contract being signed with the charter authorizer. Authorizers in Colorado want an assurance that the company can be "fired" for not fulfilling its obligations and that the governing board will still have a school should that happen. One of the ways this is accomplished, is by the assurance both the charter board and the management company will have separate legal counsel when negotiating the performance agreement for the company.