Monday, October 11, 2010

The Greatest Generation Speaks with Charter School Students

Today sixteen World War II veterans spoke with charter school middle school students from different charter schools, at The Pinnacle Event Center. The event was hosted by The Greatest Generation Foundation and Woodrow Wilson Academy. As the veterans entered the event center, the approximately 650 students gave them a standing ovation and applauded until all the veterans had entered and were seated.

The program began with the documentary, "Iwo Jima: A Final Tour," produced by KMGH Channel 7. Last spring many of the veterans at today's event traveled to Iwo Jima to mark the 65th anniversary of the battle. TGGF founder and president, Tim Davis, received a check for $1275 from the charter schools and supportive sponsors.

After a veteran spoke about his experiences in the European theater and another spoke about the Pacific theater, students from the different charter schools posed questions of all the veterans. Many of the veterans had incredible stories of surviving the battle for Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor and other battles. One man bailed out of his plane 15 seconds before it exploded over Germany. He spent the next three weeks walking to the border where he could meet up with Americans. During that three week period he went from 185 pounds to 95 pounds, eating only bugs, grass and even a live chicken he came across.

After the program, veterans met with students in an area with numerous artifacts and memorabilia on display. Many of the students collected signatures of the veterans on the back of the photo card distributed by TGGF. The foundation also had two Army jeeps outside for students to climb in and experience.

I spoke with one veteran after most of the students had left and said, "How does it feel to be a celebrity today?" His response was, "I'm just a survivor." One of the veterans declined the Purple Heart after Iwo Jima stating, "...too many others had died for it."

The six charter schools participating in the event today were: Woodrow Wilson Academy, The Academy, Lincoln Academy, Excel Academy, Jefferson Academy and Crown Pointe Academy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Charter School Board Presidents

Friday there will be a first-ever meeting of charter school board presidents. Charter school boards are where the buck stops and board presidents are the leaders of that group of visionaries who lead the charter school.

The board president has many responsibilities including leading meetings, being the primary communication hub between the administration and board, setting the meeting agenda, authorizing contracts, enforcing bylaws, and ensuring the rest of the board is adequately prepared. Until now, many board presidents have been without a resource in which to rely when those odd scenarios arise.

What should the board do about an administrator who is insubordinate? Does a group of employees all need to be invited into a board executive session if they will be discussed? What can be done about a board member who doesn't prepare for meetings? Who speaks with two board members who continue to cross the line in airing their differences during board meetings? The board wants to interview a prospective principal candidate, can they do that in executive session?

These and many more questions are answered in the newly written "Board President's Handbook" that will be released this Friday at the first Board President's Council meeting held at Vanguard Classical School in Aurora. The meeting will go from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

In addition to getting some higher level information for governing boards, attendees will be able to problem-solve sample scenarios with others who lead their charter school boards. This "second level" of charter school board governance focuses on all of the unique situations charter schools have faced. It allows charter school leaders the opportunity to think through how to handle a scenario before they're involved in it.

Many people don't know how to effectively handle a situation without the experience of living through it and either learning from mistakes made or else, hopefully, the situation working itself out correctly. The President's Council will offer the shared wisdom and experience of others who have already been faced with many of the dilemmas that crop up in charter schools.

The charter school board president often carries the weight of the school on his or her shoulders. This person inherently knows the vision for the school and is searching for others who can help implement that vision. It's often a lonely responsibility along with the school's administrator. Now these board presidents will have the support of others in their same role.

Friday, October 1, 2010

HB 1412 Committee Meets for First Time

On Wednesday, the HB 1412 Committee met in a hearing room in the basement of the state Capitol. Speaker of the House, Terrance Carroll convened the advisory committe meeting that resulted from a bill that he carried this past legislative session. The purpose of the committee is to make recommendation on charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards.

Committee members and their designated position to the committe include:
*Rod Schmidt, St. Vrain Valley Schl District board of education, BOCES board member
*Bill Kurtz, Denver School of Science & Technology, charter school founder
*Carol Meininger, The Pinnacle Charter School, charter school business manager
*Stephanie Garcia, Pueblo 60 board of education, local board member with exclusive chartering authority
*April Wilkins, Peak to Peak, charter school teacher
*Alex Medler, Natl Assn of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), NACSA rep
*Francine Thompson, Douglas County Schl Dist, parent of a public school student who is also on the school advisory council
*Mike Nelson, Northstar & Skyview, parent of a district or CSI charter school student
* Al Loma, Colo Springs 11 board of education, local board member that shares chartering authority with CSI
* Kevin Stalker, Harrison 2 CFO, district administrator with financial expertise authorizing charters
* Mark Hyatt, Exec Dir-CSI, CSI representative
* Don Haddad, Supt. St. Vrain Valley Schl Dist, district administrator with expertise authorizing charters
* Denise Mund, CDE Schools of Choice Unit, CDE staff member

Over the next year and a half, the committee will make recommendation on charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards in addition to any possible recommendations for legislative changes or rule changes.

Initially, the committee decided to meet monthly, on the first Wednesday of each month, at various locations. Meeting agendas will be posted on the CDE website. The first meeting will be Nov. 3rd at the CO Assn of School Boards (pending confirmation of location). Each meeting will have a time for Public Comment.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Frontier Academy in Greeley

I visited Frontier Academy's secondary school yesterday and met with principal, Mary Meersman. Frontier Academy operates on two campuses in Greeley. The elementary school is located in a former greenhouse and carpet store. The secondary school, grades 6-12, is in a new block building on the west side of Greeley. The secondary school shares a campus with University Schools. They combine for many sports and share a performing arts center.

Frontier Academy requires 56 credits for high school graduation. Their district, Greeley 6, requires 44. In the spring, it's anticipated that 50 Seniors will graduate. There are 1118 students in grades K-12.

Mary explained that they offer many AP courses including Chemistry, Calculus, English Lit, US History, Biology, Music Theory, and US Government. Additionally, they offer concurrent enrollment classes by staff also licensed through UCD and Aims.

Mary and her leadership team had already completed the Unified Improvement Plan now required as a part of the annual Accreditation process. The Frontier HS received the top ranking, Performance, and the junior high received the second highest ranking (out of four total), Improvement. Greeley 6 required schools to submit their UIP's no later than the end of September. Mary said her team really dug into the data, using multiple sources, and were able to uncover some important information that will guide them in their plan. In fact, they've already incorporated many of these strategies.

Charter School Students to Hear the Greatest Generation Speakers

From the press release:


Denver, CO – The Greatest Generations Foundation (TGGF) in collaboration with Woodrow Wilson Academy will hold their first American Hero Day for more than 650 middle-school students from six Colorado charter schools on October 11 at the Pinnacle Event Center.

Thirty American WWII Veterans will attend the event to speak about their own experiences of war, answer questions, and bring to life the history that students read about in books. Students will be able to interact one-on-one with veterans to learn their stories of heroism, bravery, and sacrifice.

In addition, TGGF will provide WWII memorabilia such as retired weapons, uniforms, and vehicles to give the students a hands-on approach to learning.

"The educational opportunity for our students to meet face to face with our American Heroes is exceptional," said Teri Oates, Founder, and former Board President of Woodrow Wilson Academy. "They can learn more from talking to those who fought for our freedoms than text books can ever provide."

TGGF is an IRS 501(C)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization dedicated to serving war veterans. Their mission is to promote recognition and respect for U.S. and allied war veterans while enhancing historical education for today’s youth. TGGF works to ensure that the dedication and bravery of each veteran is never forgotten, nor the value of their deeds be allowed to disappear.

"We want to make sure that the stories and lessons of World War II are not forgotten, even when there is no one left to tell them," said TGGF Founder and President Timothy Davis. "Preserving the legacy of these heroic men and women will happen most effectively through education and the retelling of stories to younger generations."

Students from Woodrow Wilson Academy, Jefferson Academy, Lincoln Academy, Crown Pointe Academy, The Academy, and Excel Academy will be attending American Hero Day.

"We are excited to see charter schools joining together for such an important and historic event – we applaud and support this joint effort," said Jim Griffin, President of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. "Each and every one of the charter schools involved in this event is focused on rich and meaningful education, and the more we can offer our students in terms of learning, opportunities, and life experiences, the better they will succeed."

"My hope is that the students walk away from this program with a greater understanding of our rich history of fighting for our freedoms, to be impacted by the men and women who serve our country, and to always remember that what we learn today will be forever embedded in their future," said Oates.

For more information about the event, contact Alicia Harms at or for information about The Greatest Generations Foundation, visit

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Denver's SOAR I Campus Visit

Today I visited the first SOAR campus in Denver Public Schools, which is located at the Evie G. Dennis facility on Green Valley Ranch Blvd off Pena Blvd. The facility has three buildings, one for the elementary school (SOAR), another for the DSST middle school and the third will be used by the DSST high school. There's also a student union, which houses a cafeteria, performance center and full-sized hard wood floor gymnasium. Additionally, there are three athletic fields on the property. A community center/preschool will also be on the site when it is completely built out.

SOAR I has 236 students in grades K-2 and just opened this year. The school will eventually serve students through fifth grade. SOAR II is planned for the Montbello area of DPS.

The Evie G. Dennis facility is the newest built by DPS through bond moneys. It's meant to be a community center in addition to the neighborhood school. The design is multi-functional and although the elementary school currently houses young students, it could also be used for high school students. It's a green facility with pipes under the athletic fields to heat or cool the buildings.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Denver School of Science & Technology Receives $1 Million From Oprah's Angel Network

Here's the press release from DSST:

DENVER – DSST Public Schools (DSST) announced today that it has received a $1 million grant from Oprah’s Angel Network to support DSST’s expansion to serve more students in Denver. Oprah announced the gift to DSST on today’s episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The show features the documentary film Waiting for Superman, which will be released this coming Friday. The movie focuses on the state of public education in the U.S. The documentary focuses on the staggering signs that American children are falling way behind their counterparts in other countries, even as school spending increases.

“DSST Public Schools is thrilled by this national recognition of our work to help more than 1,000 Denver students get a college preparatory education,” said Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST Public Schools. “Waiting for Superman does an outstanding job of outlining our country’s crisis in public education and the urgency with which we need to act on behalf of students nationwide. DSST is very grateful for the support of Oprah’s Angel Network to help us expand in order to double the number of four year college-ready graduates from Denver Public Schools. “

DSST was one of six high-performing charter networks from around the country featured on the show as examples of public schools that are serving students well. The money received by each school network from Oprah’s Angel Network will be used to expand and open more schools to provide more students with a high-quality college preparatory education.

Oprah’s Angel Network is the foundation launched in 1997 on an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Through support from Oprah’s viewers, the Angel Network has awarded funds to hundreds of organizations throughout the United States and in more than 30 countries around the world, helping numerous individuals by improving access to education, protecting basic rights and more.

About DSST Public Schools
DSST Public Schools (DSST) operates open-enrollment STEM charter schools and is part of the Denver Public Schools (DPS) system. DSST Public Schools currently serves over 1,000 students on two campuses. DSST Public Schools has been approved to open three additional secondary school campuses (grades 6-12) in 2011, 2012 and 2013. At full enrollment, DSST Public Schools will serve over 4,200 students, and will double the number of four year college-ready DPS graduates by 2020.

DSST Public Schools was founded as the Denver School of Science and Technology in 2004 with the founding campus at Stapleton. DSST: Stapleton serves students from all parts of Denver with a student population of 65% minority and 45% low income. DSST: GVR’s student population is 83% minority and 55% low income.

DSST: Stapleton is widely considered to be one of the leading open enrollment STEM schools (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the U.S. and has become a destination for educators nationwide. DSST: Stapleton has consistently been the highest performing secondary school in DPS and in Colorado, based on growth and absolute performance. DSST: Stapleton’s first three graduating classes earned 100% acceptances into four-year colleges. Fifty percent of DSST’s 2010 graduating class is first generation college-bound.

Additional information about DSST Public Schools and the admission process is available on the school’s web site at

Monday, September 20, 2010

Contacting Me

If you would like to contact me with questions or comments, feel free to send me your email address within a Comment. I receive comments to be moderated before they are posted. These emails, however, come without the sender's email address so that will have to be embedded in the comment.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Annual Finance Seminar

On Friday more than 150 people attended the annual Finance Seminar hosted by CDE at the Adams 12 Training Center in Thornton. The morning plenary session featured panelists Sen. Keith King and State Board of Education member Randy DeHoff. Moderator Vinny Badolato from the League of Charter Schools asked questions about the future reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Randy DeHoff said he didn't think there would be many competitive grant programs in the next ESEA due to the controversy surrounding Race to the Top this year. Both panelists talked about the two assessment consortia in the country and funded through federal grants. Colorado is a partner in both consortia. Only one of the consortia has a writing component planned.

The afternoon plenary session featured Vinny Badolato; Russ Caldwell, DA Davidson; John Griego, Colo Springs 11; and Sen. Keith King, administrator of Colorado Springs Early College. Each of the panelists talked about what they thought would be in the next legislative session impacting charter schools. Russ Caldwell said he thought the moral obligation pool in the State Treasurer's office should be increased. Keith King talked about the formula used to project the School Finance Act and the specific figures used for next year. The Governor's office is projecting a slower economic recovery than was originally expected and so next year's School Finance Act will probably contain at least a 6.35% rescission, which is currently expected.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Does Data Matter?

Data only matters when someone is looking at it. Previously school districts in the state reported some data that didn't have any consequences. Now with the new District Performance Framework and School Performance Framework impacting Accreditation, all of a sudden bad data is being exposed. In the past it didn't need to be corrected or watched carefully, but now it's in the spotlight.

Districts and individual public schools are reviewing their framework reports now before they're made available to the public. Quirky things are coming out of the data used to make these calculations.

It's possible the data used to calculate the four performance indicators can be appealed to the State Board of Education. But the data that's used is all final and cannot be changed.

It'll be interesting to see how faulty data is addressed at the state level, but even more interesting will be watching the new interest school and district-level staff take in making sure the data is correctly reported in the first place.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why Attending This Friday's Finance Seminar is Important

Every year the Colorado charter school community gets together for a Finance Seminar designed for charter school board members, business managers and administrators. This year's Finance Seminar might be one of the best!

Here are a few highlights for someone thinking about attending:
  • A state-level panel discussing the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (f.k.a. No Child Left Behind).
  • A panel discussing the use of Standard 11: Finance for charter schools from the perspective of the CSSI team member, business manager and administrator.
  • The legal aspects to the Financial Transparency Act and what's required of charter schools.
  • Fundraising for charter schools.
  • Lessons learned from one charter school's audit.
  • How to start a charter school business office.
  • An update on the HB 1412 State Advisory Committee established to recommend charter school and charter school authorizer standards.
  • Internet safety for schools.
  • Property and liability insurance tips for charter schools.
  • Information on the BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant.
Too often charter school leaders don't even know what they don't know to ask! Attending a seminar like Friday's on finance ensures leaders are aware of the current issues and where to get specific information. It's also a great time to network with other people in the same role such as board Treasurer or business manager.

Register for the Finance Seminar at:

Charter school business managers meet throughout the school year every other month. The same link works to register for those meetings.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Ed Jobs Bill Prohibits Management Company-Operated Charter Schools From Getting Funds

The new $10 billion Ed Jobs bill passed by Congress earlier this summer won't be going to charter schools operated by a management company. Some states are interpreting the guidance released last week to mean that no employee, not even teachers, are eligible for this new funding aimed at re-hiring teachers laid off due to budget cuts if the management company operates the charter school.

The federal guidance released on Sept. 1st states that a charter school that is an LEA will receive the funds directly. This doesn't affect any of Colorado's charter schools because none of the state's charter schools are their own LEA (Local Education Agency--the label attached to school districts).

The guidance also explains that management company employees are not eligible to receive Ed Jobs funds. Only about nine management companies operate in Colorado and those with varied administrative positions employed by the management company. Most commonly, the lead administrator and possibly another administrative position are employed by the management company and all other employees are employees of the charter school and not the management company.

Colorado's interpretation of the guidance is that teachers, or school-based employees, may be eligible for Ed Jobs funding. Positions paid for by the management company are not eligible.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Peak to Peak Celebrates 10 Years

Peak to Peak celebrated ten years of operation by having several guest speakers including U.S. Congressman Jared Polis, Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones, executive principal Tony Fontana, principals Kyle Mathews, Suzanne Ovelman and Noelle Roni, and a student alum.

One of the school's founders, Rhonda Kelly, spoke but before she began recognized all of the individuals who had served on the board since the school began. Rhonda gave a brief history of the school, which includes their selling bonds to finance their facility in their first year of operation. This is a feat that made history as the first charter school in the nation to do this.

High school principal, Kyle Mathews, said that more than 30 million in scholarships have been awarded to the 500 students who have graduated from Peak to Peak since the first class graduated in 2005.

Tony Fontana, Peak to Peak's executive principal, recognized the Kindergarten, first and second grade students at the school who would be at the next ten-year celebration. He also noted that it was time to go back to class and learn more reading, writing and math because "that's who we are."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Charter School Support Initiative

Today the Charter School Support Initiative team members met for their annual professional development day. Every year team members meet to debrief on the previous year's visits and talk about new topics in the world of education that are relevant to the visits.

The Charter School Support Initaitive (CSSI) is an external evaluation by a team of about 5-6 charter school leaders that ultimately issue a report that documents the findings. The visit is based on the 9 standards of school reform in use by the Colorado Title I process and two additional standards created for the unique aspect of charter schools, which are the governance and finance standards. All schools receiving federal Charter School Program funds are expected to undergo a CSSI site visit in the final year of receiving the grant.

CSSI team members are some of the best charter school administrators, teachers, governing board members and business managers in the state. The criteria for being asked to be on the CSSI team is having already demonstrated success.

Today team members learned about the School Performance Framework that's now in use for state accountability and is tied to state Accreditation. The SPF replaces the School Accountability Report. Schools are placed in one of four categories based on data on the four Accreditation Indicators: Acaademic Achievement, Academic Growth, Academic Growth Gaps and Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness. Depending on the Accreditation category, schools must write a plan. Schools in either Turnaround or Priority Improvement must write a plan this year using the Unified Planning Template. This year the other schools are not required to use the Unified Plan Template, but next year all public schools are required to use the Unified Plan.

The CSSI team members also discussed classroom observations and how to assess a classroom in a common way. This particular topic is discussed annually in order to ensure continuity amongst team members.

Currently about a dozen charter schools are scheduled for a CSSI visit this year. Others will be added as charter schools are identified in the Turnaround Accreditation category. Several of the grant programs available to assist schools in Turnaround require an external evaluation process in order to ascertain the current condition of the school.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Khan Academy: A Great Resource

When entrepeneur Bill Gates recommends something, most people listen. Bill Gates is using Khan Academy to teach his kids. Khan Academy is a collection of videos explaining everything from addition to statistics, the French Revolution, the Geithner banking crisis plan and Physics. The range is from basic to advanced.

This website would be a great resource for students needing a bit more remediation for a concept that isn't quite clicking yet. Since the material is sequential, it builds upon previous knowledge.

Teachers can use this in the classroom for students who either want to advance more quickly or students who want to reinforce what they've already begun to understand.

Check it out. And see what Bill Gates is recommending!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crown Pointe Academy Celebrates Opening of New Building

After twelve years of having a building on a small piece of land without an opportunity for expansion, Crown Pointe Academy celebrated this afternoon the move into their brand new facility at 86th & Federal in Westminster. The building is named after Bill Christopher, former City Manager for the City of Westminster.

Crown Pointe Academy, a K-8 Core Knowledge Charter School opened its doors in 1997 and remains today as the only district charter school in the Westminster 50 School District.

The school's Building Corp President, Cheryl Olivo-Neil, presented a plaque to Russ Caldwell, one of the school's former governing board members and a key player on the financial team that created the opportunity to fund the new facility. The school's new library is named after Russ Caldwell.

Crown Pointe's founder, Kay May, returned for today's celebration and provided remarks about the formation of the school and why various components were selected for its program design. May now lives in New Hampshire.

The Crown Pointe Academy principal, Barbara Ridenour, has been with the charter school since it first opened. She was originally a teacher at the school before assuming a leadership position.

The school was built by JHL Construction and designed by Slaterpaull Architects.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rounding up the Little Doggies

My friend, Nora Flood, Vice President of the League of Charter Schools donned western chaps and cowboy hat the other day for her all-staff meeting. I was there for a meeting and couldn't resist capturing her picture!

Friday, August 27, 2010

SkyView Academy Opens in Highlands Ranch

Last night over a thousand people showed up to celebrate the grand opening of SkyView Academy in Highlands Ranch near C470 and Quebec. The school is located in what was formerly a Home Depot building. Currently they're only using about half of the building. The other half is being rented out every afternoon and evening because it's an indoor sports facility. The school's building has four volleyball/basketball courts, three soccer courts, a batting cage and speed development court.

SkyView Academy will use the Core Knowledge curriculum and will begin with serving the elementary school grades. They've already been approved for a high school to open next fall. The board plans on converting the athletic center into two stories of classrooms for the junior high and senior high.

SkyView's principal is well-known in the charter school community: Merlin Holmes. Merlin is a well-respected former high school science teacher, high school principal, K-12 principal, consultant for the Colo. Dept of Education and consultant for the National Heritage Academies, Inc management company. Merlin had an overabundance of applicants for his new staff and was very selective in developing a high quality team.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall spoke at the grand opening ceremony. He said he's been a long-time supporter of charter schools and commended the school's founders for their work and dedication to improving the community's students. He noted that today's students are tomorrow's leaders.

Founding board president, Jennifer Larson, addressed the crowd by acknowledging the work of several parents in addition to the founding board. She said the building has over 100,000 sf of space and sits on 14 acres. Their plans are to add on to the building since they won't need the 800+ parking spaces currently available.

Daughters of founders Jen Larson and Lorrie Grove introduced their new Executive Director, Merlin Holmes, and gave him several gifts that he would need for the school year. These gifts included a magic wand (because anyone named Merlin should have a magic wand), oversized clown glasses so he could continue to see to implement the grand vision, and a whoopee cushion so that he could be excused from some of the many meetings he's required to attend.

JHL was the contractor for the project, which was designed by SlaterPaul. The design is industrial with concrete floors and open areas above the classrooms. In its previous use, there were no windows. There are now large windows and the west side features a great view of the Colorado's mountain range. For the first time in the state's history, the charter school's authorizing school district -- the Douglas County School District -- floated Certificates of Occupancy for the charter school, essentially cutting the cost in almost half.

The founders of SkyView started NorthStar Academy six years ago. They originally intended to locate that school in Highlands Ranch, but couldn't find a facility. Once an existing charter school facility became available in Parker, they decided to locate their new charter school there. But many Highlands Ranch continued to drive a considerable distance to Parker. The founders voiced appreciation for the Parker site's principal, Cynthia Haws, and Dean of Curriculum, Kendra Sheffield, for their help with the SkyView application.

Update: Highlands Ranch Herald News article.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Charter School Board Discussion in the St. Vrain Valley School District

There's a controversy brewing in the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) over a proposed change to district policy that would require charter school board members to live within school district boundaries. This would be the first time a district will have imposed such a requirement.

According to a Longmont Times-Call editorial, this district policy provision is not warranted because the district's charter schools are doing well and the editorial questions why this change is proposed after a proposed charter school application last year had out-of-district founders.

Last year the Lotus School for Excellence proposed a new charter school using a model similar to the school they already operate in Aurora. The application was denied, in part due to their founders -- and proposed board members -- being from outside the school district. In the Lotus proposal they intended to use their existing governing board to also oversee the new school in Longmont.

It's apparent that the vital issue with this whole debate is where should the line be drawn in charter school authorizing responsibilities. This subject came up in the last legislative session when certain lawmakers wanted to see "something done about" schools like the Cesar Chavez School Network. The top three administrators of the Network were eventually terminated, but it was disclosed that they had extraordinarily high salaries and little accountability. Several lawmakers questioned who had the responsibility to ensure things like that didn't happen.

There are differing viewpoints on where the line should be drawn between charter school accountability and "regulation creep." The charter school philosophy embodies the right of a charter school to operate independently, in exchange for increased results. Leaders in the charter school community have expressed concerns over the years that gradually charter school autonomy has been eroded. In fact, this was an issue in the most recent charter school appeal hearing before the State Board of Education.

This debate about autonomy is likely to be a hot topic at the committee hearings established as a result of HB10-1412, which creates a committee to review charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards. The committee will meet this fall and ultimately, have recommendations for the State Board by August 1, 2011.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Wealth of Information for Parents: SchoolView

CDE has a wealth of information for parents through the SchoolView portal. The Colorado Growth Model provides information on achievement and growth. There are videos and powerpoint presentations to explain terms, how to use the tools and stakeholder roles.

To begin, watch the tutorial. If you don't understand why the state uses the growth model to examine student achievement, watch this video.

Not along ago each school district in the state received their data for the District Performance Framework and each individual public school's School Performance Framework. The data in these reports generate different levels of Accreditation. The State Board of Education accredits each school district in the state. In the past the Accreditation process could be a bit subjective. By using the District Performance Framework (DPF), the Accreditation level is based strictly on data.

The type of data used to determine Accreditation level is different for elementary, middle and high schools. By October 15th, districts must assign an Accreditation category to each of their public schools. By November 15th the State Board and Commissioner of Education will approve the school Accreditation categories and the related plans associated with underperforming schools.

There are four key indicators for School Performance Frameworks (SPFs). These are:

1. Academic achievement: the percent proficient or advanced
2. Academic growth: the median student growth
3. Gaps in academic growth: median growth for subgroups
4. Postsecondary & workforce readiness: graduation rate, drop-out rate, and the ACT composite

High schools are accredited on all four indicators while elementary and middle schools are only accredited on the first three indicators.

The School Accountability Reports are obsolete and the state is now using SchoolView to provide information to parents about their child's school. Parents can compare a variety of schools, using the Growth Model, and get specific information about each school through the School Performance Framework.

Many educators have been learning about the Growth Model and SPF at their trainings conducted before school began this month. Schools will have individual student achievement data to use in making decisions on the types of interventions each student may need. Parents should ask to see this information either at Parent/Teacher conferences or by visiting the school office.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The First Day of School

I tell everyone who starts a new charter school that the reward for the long hours and tough work they've endured is all worth on the first day of school. If their new school offers Kindergarten, that's the best class to visit on the first day. Those eager faces are priceless!

However, my memories of dropping my kids off for their first day of Kindergarten was the mothers wore sunglasses and didn't talk with each other after the kids went in. They were too choked up from that first day's goodbye!

The Kindergarten teacher at Jefferson Academy (the first charter school I worked on) is still there 16 yrs later. Her name is Bentley Ryberg and she taught my daughter who is now in college. Bentley is the absolute best! She's smart and she loves kids of that age. Kindergarten teachers are unique. Not everyone can deal well with students so young. But it's amazing to watch the transformation of these 5 and 6 year-olds over the school year. I recall learning the Open Court alphabet sounds right along with my daughter. And my daughter and I still talk about the field trip to the zoo where she and her classmates spelled "hippopotamus" to the sheer astonishment of a couple standing nearby.

The first day of Kindergarten is the very best. Most importantly, it's the best for the charter school's founders in order to completely understand why they went through so much work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CDE News Release on Charter School Grant Award

Colorado Awarded Three-Year, $40.8 Million Federal Grant To Expand Charters And Public School Options

Denise Mund, director of the Schools of Choice Office at the Colorado Department of Education announced today that Colorado will receive a $40.8 million charter school grant to increase public school options in Colorado. The state will be awarded $13.6 million each year for three years.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday the award of 12 charter school grants, totaling $136 million per year to state education agencies in Arkansas ($3.4 million), California ($51.8 million), Colorado, the District of Columbia ($1.3 million), Georgia ($13.1 million), Indiana ($10.9 million), Michigan ($16.7 million), Missouri ($2.2 million), New Hampshire ($1.3 million), Rhode Island ($2.4 million), South Carolina ($5.7 million) and Texas ($13.8 million).

The purpose of the Charter Schools Program is to increase financial support for the startup and expansion of these public schools, to build greater national understanding of the public charter school model and to increase the number of high-quality charter schools across the nation.

"Ninety-five percent of these funds will go directly to new charter schools in their first three years of operation," said Mund. "The grant will fund curriculum, professional development, administrative costs, desks and classroom supplies, office equipment, furniture and technology."

The remaining 5 percent of the grant funds the Schools of Choice Office and provides development opportunities for charter school leaders. Numerous trainings are offered throughout the year, including a finance seminar, business manager network meetings, mentoring opportunities, online board training modules and a variety of other online resources.

CDE's Schools of Choice Office is recognized for its support of developing charter schools and received a very good monitoring report from the federal government in 2009. Last year Mund provided technical assistance to 14 states and was a featured presenter at a national conference and webinar. Colorado, which has seen an overall increase in charter school funding since 1998, received $7.4 million in grant funding last year.

Through the Colorado Charter School Startup and Implementation grant, CDE's Schools of Choice provides technical assistance to charter schools and authorizers, processes waiver requests for the Colorado State Board of Education, collects data on charter schools, produces special topical studies, performs the state evaluation of charter schools, and responds to questions from the general public. For more information, visit

More information about the Charter Schools Program is available from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement at

New Charter Schools in Colorado Get Grant Award

The Colo. Department of Education announced today the Schools of Choice Unit has received a $40.8 million grant award from the U.S. Department of Education under the Charter School Grant Program. The state will continue administering a federal startup and implementation grant program designed to assist new charter schools in up to their first three years of operation.

The state will have $13.6 million for each of the next three years to fund the unique startup expenses of a charter school. Many of the schools receive these funds in the spring prior to their opening, which allows them the opportunity to hire an administrator early. New charter schools don't get operating funds until July 1.

The schools rely on this startup grant to purchase desks furniture, technology, lockers, curriculum, and train their new staff members. Further, the money is often used to inform the community about a new charter school through advertising.

The grant is competitive and as many as 40% have been denied funds. For further information on the grant program, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Turkish-Americans Lead 100 Charter Schools in the U.S.

About 100 charter schools in 25 states have been questioned for their link to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish peace advocate. The schools emphasize math and science and generally outperform their counterparts.

Some of the schools have been criticized for influencing students to accept Islam ideals and philosophies as a result of the school being "Gulen-inspired." Gulen claims no connection with any of the schools.

Fethullah Gulen promotes peace and communication between Turkey and Western cultures. Since 1999 Gulen has lived in the United States. Earlier this summer, Gulen critized Turkish involvement in the flotilla that attempted to deliver aid to Israel's Gaza Strip. Gulen said the Turkish aid group should have sought permission from Israeli leaders before attempting to deliver aid.

The Lotus School for Excellence in Aurora was founded by a group of individuals with connections to Turkey. The school originally opened as a secondary school and is adding an elementary school for this school year. Their grand opening celebration will be later this week where they have expanded their campus by taking over more of the church facility they occupy.

Last year Lotus leaders submitted new charter school applications in the St. Vrain Valley School District and Jefferson County School District. They later withdrew their application from St. Vrain, but appealed the charter denial out of Jeffco to the State Board of Education. Lotus lost that appeal.

A significant portion of the appeal hearing centered on the school's academic achievement data, which was mixed with some small gains. According to this year's Growth Model data, Lotus made Adequate Growth in reading, but not in math or writing.

Lotus plans to submit at least one more charter school application this fall.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vanguard HS Nails the Writing CSAP!

Vanguard High School scored a perfect 100% on the writing CSAP for their ninth and tenth grades. Not even one student, of the 55 who tested, scored below proficient!

Vanguard HS is an extension to the Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy. The secondary school is authorized by the state Charter School Institute while the elementary is authorized by the Cheyenne Mountain School District. The Cheyenne Mountain district wouldn't let the school's leaders use the words "Cheyenne Mountain" in the name for the new high school when it was initially approved. The secondary school's charter subsequently moved to CSI.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Advisory Committee for Charter School Institute Charter Schools Meets

Yesterday was the first meeting of the advisory committee established by SB10-111, sponsored by Sen. Keith King. King is an administrator at Colorado Springs Early College, a CSI school. It was the second day of school for King so he joined the group via the telephone for a portion of the meeting.

Patricia Hayes chaired the meeting. Hayes is a board member of the Charter School Institute, former CU Regent and former State Board of Education member. About a dozen people attended the meeting, reflecting the representative required by SB 111.

The purpose of the committee is to make recommendation to the next legislative session's Education committee members about CSI schools becoming their own LEA. In addition to this potentially impacting Special Education, there is also a potential impact on federal entitlement funds, the Carl Perkins Act and gifted and talented programs. The committee discussed what would be studied by the committee and what would not.

The questions raised centered on what problem was the committee attempting to solve? Since the delivery of Special Education services is distinctly different for CSI schools and district charter schools, the "problem" to solve was quite different. CSI schools must conduct their own Special Ed services and do not have liability coverage through CSI. District charter schools deliver Sped services via a contract with their district (using a variety of different models) and their district has ultimate liability.

Sen. King noted that his interest for the work of the committee was not so much about Special Education, but rather what other programs might be different if administered by the charter school, instead of CSI. He noted a few federal programs, but then also recognized that with increased responsibility comes increased accountability, which may include paperwork and bureaucracy. King carried another bill this session that allows charter schools to form cooperatives with CSI. His other bill allows even district charter schools to seek federal grants through CSI.

It was generally agreed that if there was a better way for delivering Special Education services to CSI schools or there was a more efficient way to operate, the committee's report should uncover those options. The committee will conduct research on what other state's have done and consult nationally recognized groups such as the National Assn of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The committee will meet monthly throughout the fall. For more information, contact the Charter School Institute.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Prospect Ridge Ordered Open by State Board

Today in another unanimous vote, the State Board of Education told the Adams 12 Five Star School District to open Prospect Ridge Academy. This was a second appeal from Prospect Ridge, a proposed K-12 math science focused Core Knowledge charter school in the Erie area. The State Board voted unanimously at the conclusion of the first appeal hearing to remand the application back for further consideration. The State Board, whose membership is split 4-3 along party lines, rarely votes unanimously on charter school appeals.

Today's appeal hearing centered on six issues: two contained in the approval resolution dealing with enrollment and four contractual issues. The four contractual issues were 1) the district requirement that they approve any financial auditor the charter school wanted to use, 2) the requirement of additional audits and/or reports, 3) the district's insistence that they could rescind waiver of district policy from the charter school at any time, and 4) the district's stipulation that they be able to approve any staff hired by the charter school.

The district claimed the four contractual issues were not relevant to the appeal hearing and should have been dismissed because they weren't "ripe" yet because negotiations broke down after the first meeting and no contract was ever signed. The charter school stated there had been a "gross imposition of conditions," a reference to the statute that pertains to a charter school having to comply with unreasonable contract provisions.

Barry Arrington, counsel for the charter school, said contract negotiations broke down when the district refused to negotiate. Charter school founder Dr. Ken Rooks said that the district had simply said they'd "negotiate to impasse" if the charter school leaders didn't agree to the contract terms set forth by the district, which is another way to acknowledge that the district holds all the cards in a charter school contract negotiation and doesn't need to open a new charter school.

In it's deliberation comments and in the resolution to support the charter school's claims, the State Board specifically addressed five of the issues and said the sixth seemed to be close to resolution by the parties and didn't need to be included. The charter school's founders said they planned to use only Highly Qualified or appropriately licensed staff and so if they were able to have complete autonomy over hiring, they would agree to more clear language addressing the district's concerns that staff be appropriately identified as Highly Qualified.

The two enrollment provisions in the hearing were the district's requirement that the charter school must have 80% of each grade's enrollment by March 1st in order to keep its charter and that 70% had to be from the Adams 12 School District. The charter school said they'd agree to 80% aggregate enrollment by March 1st since that was a reasonable expectation. As to the other provision, they cited state law that says a charter school must have a majority of its students from the district or a contiguous district and said they were willing to give priority to in-district students.

More than one State Board member noted the angst between the two parties that was evident during the hearing and expressed hopes that the two parties would be able to resolve their differences.

Monday, August 9, 2010

DPS in the Money

Denver Public Schools is one of 49 grant applicants selected to receive an Investing in Innovation (i3) federal grant provided they can come up with matching funds from the private sector. I3 grants are a new grant program, funded by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, designed to encourage improving academic achievement in high needs areas to close the achievement gap.

DPS plans to use the money, up to 25 million, to improve literacy skills in middle school students through a partnership with the Bueno Center at CU Boulder and Padres and Jovenes Unidos.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Guam Approves It's First Charter School

Guam will have its first charter school a year from now. Guam will receive federal startup and implementation grant funds to support the formation of new charter schools.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have charter school laws.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Which Book is Better?

By Elle Mund, Guest Blogger & Student at the University of Northern Colorado

A quick search on the internet will reveal hundreds of lists saying what the best books are. Comparing these lists reveals that no one agrees; even if there are some books that appear more frequently than others. Everyone from popular magazines to bloggers are eager to decide what the best books are. I even have a professor who gives every student a copy of his “Highly Selective 100 Book List”. While each creator thinks his/her book list is the best, they seem to all utilize different criteria. These lists raise a very important question. What books should we be teaching students? There are many questions that this leads to:

· Is what a book says more important than how a book says it? A book can be very interesting to read, but make no strong statements. Also, a book can make a very powerful statement, but if the students can’t enjoy reading it, the book will have little to no effect on them.

· What influences are more important than others? Is a book with political influence more important than a book with social influence? What about educational influence or literary influences. Each of these can greatly affect which books make it into the classroom and which don’t.

· Should all races be equally represented in the classroom? Or, what about an equal representation of both male and female authors? What about trying to judge the quality of a book regardless of the gender or ethnicity of the author?

· Should we teach more than one book by the same author? Or, should authors be limited to one book in the classroom to make room for the students to be exposed to more authors?

This list of questions could continue on for awhile. With so many questions to answer it is no wonder that we can’t decide which books are more important than others. The most teachers have time for is to give the students a tiny window to view the vast ocean of literature. What a teacher can do is decide what those students see outside that window. So, what books do you think are most important for students to view through that window?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paul Peterson Says It Wasn't Al Shanker's Idea

Paul Peterson says that it was not Al Shanker who first advocated the charter school concept more than 20 years ago. Roy Budde came up with the original concept and Al Shanker spoke about it, but his view was very limited. Joe Nathan and Ted Kolderie championed greater autonomy and for others outside of education to have the opportunity to start new charter schools. Most significantly, the Nathan/Kolderie model of charter schools proposed teachers operating outside of collective bargaining agreements established in school districts.

Al Shanker, leader of the New York City's United Federation of Teachers, couldn't tolerate the idea that charter schools would operate with anything other than union teachers at the helm. And thus it remains today, proponents of teacher's unions oppose charter schools.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Support DonorsChoose!

What's the best reason to support DonorsChoose right now? It's because after the organization invited teachers to "Waiting for Superman," a film that supports charter schools, some people have decided to boycott

I've supported DonorsChoose in the past and have personally donated to them numerous times. Via the website, teachers can explain a project they'd like to have funding for and donors can donate to all or part of the project.

Support your favorite charter school by supporting DonorsChoose!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

If You Don't Like Your Boss, Just Fire 'Em!

If you don't like your boss, just fire 'em! Too good to be true? Not in Ohio where state law allows an education management company to fire a charter school's board of directors.

Typically a charter school board enters into a performance contract with a management company. The charter governing board should have the authority to terminate a contract if the management company doesn't perform adequately. Well, unless the charter school is in Ohio.

Greg Richmond, from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), wrote an article for EdWeek explaining that charter school boards need to hold their management companies responsible for performance and authorizers need to ensure charter school board members are independent of the company and operate with the best interests of the charter school in mind.

Many of Richmond's recommendations were incorporated into the Colorado sample contract language created last year in collaboration with the state Charter School Institute, Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Colorado Department of Education. The sample contract language has an attachment with "Education Service Provider" provisions to enhance the chances of a good relationship with the management company. Fortunately, with the shared expertise of Richmond and others, Colorado was able to benefit from the lessons learned in other states.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Black Eye for Core Knowledge in Colorado

There's a dirty little secret in the Colorado Core Knowledge community that people are trying to ignore. Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) in Denver was granted official Core Knowledge status in 2008 just a year before Denver Public Schools said the charter school was performing in the bottom 5% of the school district and demanded they either turnaround or close.

Parents who were thrilled that the school received this prestigious recognition were shocked to realize they had been led along a primrose path. The former principal kept bragging about their official status and saying things weren't really as bad as DPS portrayed them to be.

Almost half of the state's charter schools use the Core Knowledge sequence and most are high performing schools. The Core Knowledge Foundation has two levels of recognition: official status and designation as a visitation school.

In order to receive official CK status, the school is visited by two consultants. The consultants' job is to verify if the school is teaching at least 80% of the CK curriculum with fidelity. So the obvious question is, how could a school become an official CK school and within a year DPS was citing the school for being in the bottom 5% of the school district based on academic achievement data? What exactly does "official CK status" mean anyway?

Today Gerald Terrell, from the CK Foundation, said that having the official CK status "label" doesn't justify poor performance.

Certainly having a particular label from the Core Knowledge Foundation is distinctly different than what's actually happening in the school classroom. Many of the CK charter schools in the state are doing well and many of those, without any recognition from the CK Foundation.

Nationally, Colorado is known for having a high percentage of Core Knowledge charter schools. In fact, the state is involved in a federal Institute of Education Sciences study on the impact of CK charter schools on literacy.

Leaders from the CK charter schools that are doing well are struggling with the Core Knowledge Foundation's decision to give official CK status to Northeast Academy Charter School. They don't understand it. And rightly so.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Northeast Academy Charter School Hires New Principal

Last year Denver Public Schools put Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) on their turnaround list. It was one of three charter schools in Denver designated in the bottom 5% of the district. However, NACS was the only charter school on the list to undergo a significant turnaround under the direction of a management company instead of facing closure.

NACS is a K-8 charter school in the Montbello area of Denver (far northeast). The school uses the Core Knowledge curriculum.

The NACS board contracted with Ridgeview Classical Institute (a nonprofit in association with Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins) to take over the school in January. RCI made formal recommendations for changes in early February and April. These changes included school leadership, instructional practices, staffing, operations, board governance and curriculum.

The school's families had been led to believe that everything was going well for the school. Thus, the school community was shocked to learn of its poor CSAP scores and many were in denial. Several tumultuous meetings took place last spring as the families and staff struggled to comprehend the drastic changes that needed to occur at their school. The principal was terminated in mid-February and the majority of staff members were notified they wouldn't be asked to return the following school year.

Now the school is on the verge of a new start with a new princpal, assistant principal and the vast majority of the staff. There's also been turnover on the board as original school founders came back on the board to reignite the school's original vision.

The NACS board recently hired Troy Wathen to lead their school. Troy comes from Houston where he started and led a private school for the past ten years. Before that he taught and was an administrator in southern California.

Several of the new teachers at NACS come from the Teach for America program. Further, at least one teacher is returning after having left the school a couple of years ago. About eight teachers are returning from last year's staff. Many of the former and new staff spent two weeks in an academy in Fort Collins at Ridgeview Classical Schools in early June.

The classroom instructional approach to the Core Knowledge curriculum will be infused with the Classical approach, which embodies the Socratic method and discussion to drive deeper understanding. Mr. Wathen's previous school was a Classical school and as a teacher, he understands how to monitor student progress with this approach to ensure student academic achievement.

There's an enthusiasm building at Northeast Academy for the new opportunity for students to learn more and to become a quality school. The change hasn't been easy, however.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lee Barratt Retires from the Charter School Institute

The retirement of Lee Barratt, Deputy Director of the Charter School Institute was recently announced. Lee plans to retire at the end of this month.

Lee was one of the first people hired after the formation of the Charter School Institute in 2005. At that point, he'd already created and was the director for the Colorado School Resource Center, a nonprofit that provided technical assistance to new and developing charter schools. Lee has been associated with the development of several charter schools, primarily in Jefferson County where his daughter attended a charter school.

Lee has a Masters in Economics, which he used to provide consultation to schools in regard to their finances. He also established business operations for the CSI. Lee served as the Interim Director of CSI between the resignation of Randy DeHoff and the hire of Mark Hyatt as Executive Director.

It's unclear at this time what Lee plans to do in the future. Knowing Lee, however, and his passion for charter schools it's highly likely he'll be volunteering his services for new charter schools.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Letter to Sec of Education Arne Duncan

A group of us were having lunch yesterday and the discussion turned to Arne Duncan's comments at the National Charter School Conference in Chicago last week. Dr. Jody Ernst, from the Colorado League of Charter Schools, was at the conference and standing in line to ask the Secretary a question, when time ran out. Jody posed her question to the Secretary in the letter below.

Dear Education Secretary Duncan,

I am writing to point out a contradiction you posed to the nation's charter school movement in your address to us at the National Charter Schools Conference on July 1st, 2010. You began your address by issuing a clarion call to the charter movement to increase the number of schools that target a) low income and minority students, b) special education students, and c) students that have dropped out of the traditional education system. While I strongly believe that the movement is already doing this, I think they are also up for this challenge.

But here is the rub.

You followed up this set of statements by berating the leaders of the charter movement for not being bold enough to close the lowest performing schools. While I whole heartedly agree that chronically poor performing charter schools do need to be closed, I think you fail to see a contradiction between these two statements.

I pose you this question to help clarify my point; of the 200 charter schools on the bottom 5% of each states list, how many of those ARE the schools with missions to recover prior dropouts and serve predominantly special education students?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer for the nation but I do know that in Colorado there are 48 such campuses (including, charters, district run, and state schools). Of these 48 campuses, approximately 95% of them are either on Tier 1 or Tier 2 improvement status.

This, I believe, is not due to the effectiveness of the schools but is an artifact of the accountability systems that are in place. According to the 2008 data, Colorado's alternative education campuses (AECs)-including both charter and non-charter schools-averaged 13 percent proficiency in writing, 26 percent proficiency in reading, and 4 percent proficiency in mathematics (compared to the state averages of 53, 68, and 53 in writing, reading, and math, respectively). While this makes me sad to report, I am not terribly surprised given that the average student attending one of our AECs comes to the school between 2 and 6 years behind grade level.. Even if a school is successful at growing their students the equivalent of 2 academic years in one year's time, a great majority will not be able to pass a grade level standardized test.

Colorado appears to understand this, and has recently adopted an alternative accountability framework. This framework focuses a bulk of the accountability for these alternative schools on academic growth and on students' preparedness for postsecondary options, including workforce entry, military enlistment, and enrollment in a certificate program or postsecondary institution. The new framework also gives AECs the ability to report on measures that suit their students, allowing them to provide evidence based on formative assessments that can be given multiple times per year. This is extremely valuable as these high-risk students tend also to be highly mobile.

Until the federal government is prepared to acknowledge the needs of these students, as well as the efforts put forth by the schools whose missions are to serve them, there will not likely be an increase in the number of schools serving drop outs and special education students, charter or otherwise.

Authorizers grow leery of opening new alternative campuses because, under current accountability models, they so often fail. Districts, too, limit the number of alternative programs or schools they open for the same reason.

I encourage you to explore this further, perhaps calling for a survey of the alternative education landscape to help identify quality alternative school models and relevant accountability metrics, and not be so quick to point fingers and issue catch 22s to the charter movement. As a researcher who has dedicated much of the past four years on this topic, I would be delighted to share my findings with you.


Jody L. Ernst, Ph.D.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Was Duncan Right to Scold Charter School Leaders?

After taking a few days to mull over U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's remarks at last week's National Charter School Conference, I have a few comments to make. First, Duncan's tone made people in the audience feel like they were being scolded. People I spoke with said if Duncan would have made his chastising remarks only once, it would have appeared appropriate. As it was, after about the fifth time, it was viewed as Duncan's excuse for failing to come out as a strong charter school advocate and instead bowing to pressure from the teacher's unions.

To be clear, Colorado's charter school movement is vastly different than charter schools in most other states. Our charter schools tend to do better and we tend to have more grassroots startup schools rather than charter schools run by management companies. Further, as a state, we've always focused on quality rather than quantity unlike states like California and Arizona.

The climate around accountability and performance in charter schools has changed over the years. Having been involved in charter schools since 1993, I've seen a shift from an excitement over a new way to do things to a more sophisticated look at how to make sure charter schools are doing well.

I was involved in starting new charter schools in 1994, 1996, and 1999. What's required in a charter school application today is completely different than back in the 1990's. In fact, when the Charter School Institute began in 2004, I was a primary author of their original Request for Applications and my boss and I wrestled with the question, "Are we raising the bar so high that concerned parents will no longer have the capacity to start a charter school?" You see, we both believe that average people, not necessarily professional educators, should be able to start and run a public charter school. Albeit with a lot of time, effort and a steep learning curve!

Additionally, charter school authorizers have dramatically increased their sophistication in reviewing new charter school applications, monitoring/oversight of operating charter schools and the fortitude to know when a charter school needs to be closed. The availability of information through the National Association of Charter School Authorizers has changed the landscape for authorizers. In Colorado, where in the past two years there's been a Model Charter School Application developed and sample contract language available now to improve authorizing practices, the capacity of authorizers to do their job well has increased exponentially.

I've only missed one authorizer's meeting since they began about four years ago and can honestly say that authorizers attending the meetings want to be fair and not play any tricks with their schools. But they also want to see their charter schools doing better than their average district-operated schools. It's a fair trade to assume that if a group of people want control of public funds in order to provide a quality education for students, they should do that better than others in the marketplace.

Colorado has seen 21 charter school closures. Although at first many closures were due to financial reasons, the past five years have brought at least four charter schools to close their doors. Most charter schools that close are in what's called the "death spiral": they're not doing well academically, so their attendance goes down, which means they can't meet budget.

Clearly charter schools that do not educate their students well should close. The same should be true of noncharter public schools, operated by school districts. Further, charter schools should be held to a high standard. The same standard applied to noncharter public schools. Singling out poor performing charter schools while ignoring the poor performance of district-operated schools is hypocritical.

In his remarks last week, Duncan said that the charter school movement was losing its influence on the national scene because it wasn't policing its own. His remarks seemed aimed at both academically low-performing charter schools and also the many charter school scandals in the headlines across the country in the past year (of which Colorado contributed plenty!).

Last year when Duncan spoke at the same conference, he said that he viewed charter schools as one of the four turnaround strategies he intended for the bottom 5% of public schools in the nation. That particular option is rarely used by districts in their turnaround efforts. Hmm, wonder why? Now the Secretary says charter schools themselves are to blame for not being more appealing. Really?

Or has the Secretary of Education simply run into opposition he is having trouble surmounting? Maybe when Duncan stepped into his new role as Secretary, he didn't anticipate the resistence from teacher's unions and education establishment who don't like the status quo being altered. Many educators voiced their displeasure with No Child Left Behind and with a change in national leadership were hopeful that things would go back to the way they were before. But they didn't.

Instead Pres. Obama and Secretary Duncan voiced support for charter schools by incentivizing states to be charter friendly in order to compete for Race to the Top dollars. But while taking that stand, they failed to put anything into the grant program for charter schools so instead, states are able to use RttT money without including their charter schools.

It appears as though the current administration wants to be identified as supporting reforms, such as charter schools, but is hesitant to take a strong, effective stand. Thus, charter schools are still the "little guy" and are getting kicked around by a system strongly in favor of the status quo.

So when I hear Arne Duncan's attack on charter school leaders for not policing their own, it sounds like an excuse. Something to hide behind. And I thought that last year, Duncan made bold claims about reforming the bottom 5% of the nation's public schools. I guess he found out that task is harder than he thought.

Monday, July 5, 2010

BEST Capital Construction Grants Go to Five Charter Schools

The Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program's board is recommending 35 cash grant awards, including five charter school projects. To be eligible for the grant program, the project needs to have a local match. Lake George, N Routt and Vista are all being recommended for the lease-purchase funding portion of the BEST program.

The five charter schools recommended for funding include:
1. James Irwin Charter Middle School: $655,280 for a roof replacement
2. Marble Charter School: $177,768 for a walkway between school buildings
3. Lake George Charter School: $6,488,532 for a new P-6 school
4. North Routt Charter School: $3,186,671 for a new K-8 building
5. Vista Charter High School: $4,595,063 for a high school facility replacement

Having been at most of these facilities, it's easy to say that these schools are very deserving of this financial assistance. Small, rural schools such as Marble, N Routt and Lake George are the lifeblood of these small communities and have very few options for facilities. Marble and N Routt are at least partially in facilities that are listed as a historical building. Translated this means lots of charm and minimal functionality.
Update: Lake George article

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Boasberg Addresses National Charter School Conference

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg was on a panel moderated by Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning at the closing day of the National Charter School Conference.

Boasberg said that charter schools have brought competition to the monopoly and that DPS was trying to embrace all high quality schools. He said there should be no distinction between charter schools and non charter schools.

Boasberg spoke about the Innovative Schools Act in Colorado and noted that seven DPS schools have selected that option. He also said that when DPS “stack ranked” all their public schools, two clearly rose to the top: Denver School of Science and Technology and W Denver Prep.

US Sec of Ed, Arne Duncan, Address National Charter School Conference

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education addressed the charter school conference today through a web link. In his opening remarks, Duncan repeatedly chastised charter school leaders for not taking a firmer stance against low-performing public charter schools. Duncan reminded attendees that at last year’s conference in Washington, D.C. he issued a challenge to charter school leaders to vocally oppose bad charter schools. He said that charter schools are vulnerable to criticisms when it is not policing itself and warned that if the charter school movement didn’t police itself, others would step in. Duncan said, “I strongly, strongly urge this movement to step in and close that void.”

Duncan also reiterated several of the common misperceptions about public charter schools and challenged the charter school community to address the criticisms that charter schools cream the best students, don’t serve the same percentage of special needs students and are seen as the problem instead of the solution.

The Secretary responded to questions posed by audience members. Duncan was pointedly asked what his administration’s response would be to the proposed cuts to charter school funds that Rep. Obey introduced yesterday. He vaguely stated that “this ball game isn’t over yet” and said they were in “an active conversation with Congress.” Duncan said there were other options without sacrificing their reform agenda.

Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ board president, Caprice Young, told Sec. Duncan that they would provide him with a list of the low-performing charter schools state charter school associations worked to close during the past year. Duncan contended that the charter school community needed to do more than just verbally agree with the principle that only good charter schools should be open. He said that the charter school community has not been policing its own. He pointed out that of the lowest performing public schools being targeted for turnaround, 200 of the 5,000 lowest schools are public charter schools.

Congress Considers $100 Million Cut to Charter Schools Program

People attending the National Charter School Conference were eager to get an update on the cuts to the Charter School Program funds in Congress. Yesterday, Rep. Obey (D-WI) amended the War Supplemental bill to provide for 10 billion for education jobs while making this funding available by cutting 200 million from the teacher incentive program, 500 million from Race to the Top and 100 million from the Charter School Program. Those hit hardest by the proposed cuts would be new charter schools that rely heavily upon federal startup and implementation funds to open their doors and successful charter schools that seek to replicate.

The proposed cuts are aimed at the Obama administration’s education reform projects. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has incentivized states wanting Race to the Top funds by saying the state needed to be “charter friendly.” Many states have either increased their caps on the number of new charter schools or else considered legislation that was not passed.

Charter school lobbyists are eager to apply pressure on Congress today, before they break for the July 4th holiday. One U.S. Representative said charter school folks had generated more than 10 million email messages to Congress and asked the Alliance for Public Charter Schools to “call off the dogs.” Rep. Obey took action in the Rules Committee yesterday and further action could happen as early as today.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

National Charter School Conference

At the opening of the National Charter School Conference today in Chicago, Nelson Smith had the following to say:

  • · It’s because of charter schools that districts are now trying to create “faux charter schools.”
    · We’re showing that you can now run a system of charter schools without a central office breathing down your neck.
    · We now serve 1.65 million kids; 40 chartering states plus DC (Mississippi signed on this year).
    · Average charter school is now open 6.7 years.
    · 26% operated by CMO or EMO; 65% are free standing (grassroots)
    · Less than 3% of total national student population.
    · In 14 cities more than 20% of the student population are in charters.
    · RttT: 15 states lifted caps since RttT was announced
    · Serious discussion about charter school law in Alabama, W Virginia, Kentucky, etc.
    · Critics say charter schools are causing re-segregation; many are opened in inner cities where parents are desperate for a better education for their children. He's proud of the fact that children of color are flocking to charter schools.
    · Authorizers are getting more aggressive in chartering only schools that are of of quality academically.
    · We should support authorizers when they have to hold a standard for supporting quality.
    · Increased funding for startups this year through replicating funds. President Obama plans to double charter school funding by the end of his term.
    · The Ball State report said that the funding gap, between charters and noncharters, has increased in the past 5 yrs. The Alliance will attack the facility funding disparity.
    * There have been t oo many negative headlines this year. Every person needs to support the highest standards of ethical behavior and draw a bright line between unethical behavior and that high standard.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Board President Issues

Today I had lunch with two charter school governing board presidents. One was experienced and the other was a new board member last August and has been president for one month. Both are from well-established, successful schools that have been in operation more than ten years. What did they talk about?

Here are a few of things that were discussed:

1. How to set the agenda--keeping the meeting efficient, using reports in writing in the board packet, public comment protocol.

2. A handy tool for making the monthly agenda. It's a spreadsheet with a monthly tab for each agenda. At the bottom there is a list of all the statutory reasons and citations for going into executive session in case that needs to be put on the agenda. Each month's agenda is already prepopulated with the agenda items that are routinely addressed during that month. There's also a reference at the bottom for any of the policies that require something to be done during that month, such as approving the school budget in April.

3. Principal evaluation: when to do it so that the board can make a timely decision for the next year and know the impact to the school's budget. Quite often boards neglect to do an annual evaluation of their lead administrator until problems arise.

4. Board training. Both boards are already using the online training modules for charter school boards in Colorado, but now that a study guide is in development the presidents both had plans to incorporate three modules into each board agenda. They plan to have a short workshop, using the study guide's guiding questions, for each set of three modules.

5. Transparency and accessibility for the school's stakeholders. One of the boards puts their entire board packet (unless something is confidential) online. Past board packets are archived.

In the fall, there will be a new program for board presidents and board members wanting more detailed training. This will be the "second level" of training for board members who have already completed the 30 online board training modules. Each semester there will be a President's Council meeting and a webinar. Information will be available through the CDE Schools of Choice Events page and listserv.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peak to Peak Moves Up on Newsweek List

Peak to Peak moved up to #35 on Newsweek's list of the top public schools in the nation. Last year Peak to Peak was #61. Congrats to Peak to Peak on this accomplishment!