Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Converting to a charter school is one of the turnaround options available to failing public schools. But what happens when the school that isn't performing is a charter school already? Many agreed that a charter school should be closed, but Teresa Pena, the chair of the Denver Public Schools board noted that it's harder to close a charter school than a regular district school. She pointed out that parents are more invested in a charter school and thus attend school board meetings and are more vocal. Ms. Pena also noted, "We should focus on high performing options: period."
Numerous legislators and State Board of Education members attended this morning's seminar. They voiced questions about how charter schools impact other public schools and other state policies. A concern was raised about the appeal process and the belief that the State Board often supports the charter school. Randy DeHoff, CD 7 State Board member, stated there were 13 appeals in 2007, only one in 2008 and none this year. He noted that various changes in technical assistance and policy has changed the environment so that charter applicants are not appealing anymore.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
GOAL Academy and CCA-North Colo. Springs are both operating under a transition MOU with the Charter School Institute. The current charter contract for both charter schools is with the Cesar Chavez School Network, however CSI has stated they want to contract with individual charter school governing boards instead of a network.
The legal structure for the network is unclear and it appears the nonprofit established for CCA-Pueblo may actually be the legal entity holding multiple charters. Legal experts are trying to determine if the network has its own independent legal status.
The week began with a CCSN takeover of GOAL Academy, located at the Pueblo mall. Individuals reported school records being shredded, teachers locked out of the technology needed to work with their online students, and the top two administrators were fired. GOAL Academy, operating under a transition Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Charter School Institute, their authorizer, seated nine charter school board members. Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, CEO of CCSN claimed the GOAL board had no authority and told the 26 GOAL employees they either had to sign a loyalty oath or they wouldn't have a job. About half signed under duress and then all 26 employees wrote a letter to the GOAL board asking for help.
Lawrence Hernandez, and his wife Annette who is the CCSN COO, have come under fire in the past few months due to their extremely high salaries. The Colo. Department of Education is investigating the CSAP scores and the network's financials after allegations brought by the Pueblo 60 school district superintendent. Two of the charter schools in the network are authorized by Pueblo 60: Dolores Huerta Prep HS and Cesar Chavez Academy-Pueblo. CSI authorized GOAL Academy and Cesar Chavez Academy-North Colo. Springs. The fifth school is chartered by Denver Public Schools. CCA-North recently organized a governing board and gained independence through a transition MOU with CSI.
Yesterday, for the second time this week, the CSI board met via the telephone to get an update on the GOAL Academy situation and hear from their legal counsel, Tony Dyl, with the Attorney General's office. Seven CSI board members gave up a portion of their Saturday to hear a synopsis of the Friday afternoon meeting at Dolores Huerta HS with network leaders, the network board and Tony Dyl.
Tony reported the following motions were unanimously adopted by the network board:
1. Terminate the legal services of Dolores Atencio.
2. CCSN will cooperate with CSI on revocation of GOAL Academy.
3. Accept the resignation of Lawrence Hernandez and Annette Hernandez from the CCSN; however, Lawrence will remain as Executive Director of CCA-Pueblo and DHPH and Annette Hernandez will have some administrative position with the schools.
4. Accept the resignation of Jason Guerrero, CFO of CCSN, with an understanding that Jason will continue to assist CDE in the financial audit. Additionally, Jason Guerrero will now report to the board instead of Dr. Hernandez.
5. All salaries will be reviewed.
CSI board members also learned the GOAL Academy student count dropped this week by about 140 students. Next week is the official, annual Oct. 1 count to determine funding. CSI board member Joyce Shuck noted she'd visited CCA-North on Friday and the principal, Mona Contreas, was sending a letter home to parents explaining that CCA-North would probably be changing its name, but that the school would stay essentially the same with different governance.
The CSI board then moved into Executive Session to hear from their legal counsel and discuss contracts. In media reports, CSI board chair Alex Medler stated the CSI board is prepared to revoke the charters granted to CCSN, if necessary, and grant new charters to GOAL Academy's board and CCA-North's board, respectively and independently. Currently, the two CSI charters operated under a contract with the CCSN board.
The situation has been contentious for many months. This week things changed when many of Lawrence's long-time friends and supporters withdrew their support. It can be assumed the change came about from either Lawrence's highly irregular actions such as threatening staff, lacking emotional decorum in public meetings and demonstrating the need to completing control people or else the supporters have learned new evidence that has raised questions in their minds. Either way, there appears to be consensus amongst school and state leaders that Lawrence and Annette Hernandez should not remain a part of school operations.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The Twin Peaks Academy board is considering expanding into high school in the future. They have unused space in the back of their facility for future expansion. Principal BJ Buchmann says the school currently has three classes per grade level and has expanded in the past few years.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
A few highlights of the report:
* A charter school student who attends grades K-8 will close 86% of the achievement gap in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English.
* Compared to lotteried-out students, a student who attends a charter high school has Regents examination scores that are about 3 pts higher for each year he spends in the charter school before taking the test.
* A student who attends a charter high school is about 7% more likely to earn a Regents diploma by age 20 for each year he spends in that school.
Unlike the CREDO study released earlier this summer, this Hoxby study uses the 'gold standard' of research, comparing students who made it into a charter school via a lottery and those who did not.
Of course just being in a charter school isn't a guarantee for increased student achievement. However, being in a charter school plus key features such as a longer school day, college prep mission, higher expectations and school culture do make a difference.
In the public discourse on 'turnaround' schools, converting the underperforming public school to charter status is one of the four options. Becoming a charter school is not a panacea. But charter schools have the freedom to design their own educational program and school culture. Under the pressure to perform or lose students, charter schools have often honed their curriculum to align with state standards and place an emphasis on student achievement--for every student. In urban areas, a longer school day and longer school year ensure students without a strong family background to support a quality education has the opportunity to increase learning.
Pundits are quick to rush to judgment about charter schools with each bit of research that comes out. It's important to remember the type of study that's being used when forming opinions. Data can be used to say anything. Quality studies use well-respected methodologies to ensure the outcome isn't biased. Further, research funded by the Institute for Education Sciences, for example, carries more credibility than individual institution research.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
The Russian language school, GOCA, was denied last year in Jeffco and then applied last spring in Denver. They're back in Jeffco now since that's where the majority of their students live. The school plans to model after the Spanish language full immersion program already operating in the districgt. They plan to open K-6, but would begin full immersion in grades K-3 and then grow until all students are in the full immersion program. Voicing the same concern expressed last year, Jeffco school board president Sue Marinelli, stated she had concerns about the proposed school being predominantly of one ethnic minority population with little diversity.
The school would be located in the Arvada-Lakewood area and serve about 344 students. Founders said their school would be the second in the nation because the only other Russian language school is operating in Anchorage, Alaska.
The second charter school proposal heard was Twin Roads HS. Founders are associated with the Home Options Program in Jeffco. Currently there are 450 students in the Home Option Program: 150 HS and 100 MS. Terry Johns and Ronda Norma noted that most of the growth in the homeschool program is in the high school. They project managed growth and presented a conservative budget proposal. There were very few questions for the applicants as board members noted that it was a very solid application and answered many of the questions they would have otherwise had. Both charter schools will get a decision on October 22nd.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Duncan said that charter schools can help by:
1) taking away the ability of noncharter public school leaders to make excuses that "their" kids can't learn the same as "other" kids.
2) competing for students through offering high quality public charter schools in urban areas where the district-operated schools are not performing.
Across American school leaders are gearing up to Duncan's challenge to "turnaround" underperforming schools. At this time, the role of the charter school community in this endeavor isn't clear at the national or state level.
According to Nelson Smith:
The question is whether you can take a successful charter model and open it in an existing school with the conditions that will foster success. Simply taking the educational program of a successful charter and plopping it down in a school where the rules stay the same, and nothing changes in terms of the dynamics of the school is not going to work. We have to make sure that the charter folks who take on this challenge can start their programs at the new site with integrity, that they will have control over staffing, that they will have control over how money is spent and how long the day is and what the calendar looks like and all these other factors that have led to the success of their own models.
So I think the bottom line is a lot depends on what local administrators and district administrators do and whether they’re willing to provide the space and the conditions for this terrific charter schools to succeed in these school buildings that have not seen success before.
Smith goes on to talk about the problem in finding enough qualified leaders for these new schools and the professional development and support to sustain new leaders. Smith projects an additional 14,000 to 16,000 new teachers will be needed in the next decade.
With Race to the Top funds tied to states with a robust charter school system, many states are wondering how the charter school model can apply to noncharter, district-operated school systems. In other words, how to look like a charter without actually being a charter. Therein lies Nelson Smith's fundamental point about whether school districts will be willing to provide the essentials for school success.
Many charter schools have defined their mission-critical, key essentials as: 1) control over staff; 2) control over the budget; and 3) unique features such as uniforms, instructional hours and curriculum. Compromising on even one of the key essentials will adversely affect a school's performance.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The largest single component of that is facilities financing. Charter schools, in almost all cases, are incorporated as nonprofits, and are not part of the government, if you will. So they don’t typically have access to state capital budgets for facilities needs. That means that they have to depend either on dedicated facilities financing from the state, or private lenders, or as is most typical, simply going into their operating budgets and taking money that should go into the classroom or other uses and dedicating it to bricks and mortar.Through Amendment 23 funds, Colorado designates a minimum of $5 million in charter school capital construction money. As the number of eligible charter school students has risen exponentially, the per pupil amount has decreased. In addition, the legislature has cut the funding back to the base amount in recent years. Charter school leaders know that this is not a stable fund to include in their budgets as it's at the whim of the legislature each year.
In Colorado, charter schools receive 100% of the per pupil funding, less up to 5% retained for administrative costs, given to all public school students. However, many school districts have access to additional grants, gifts, mill levies and bonds that the charter schools do not receive. Last year's election revealed a discrepancy with several school districts refusing to include their charter schools in ballot mill levy and bond questions. The 2009 General Assembly addressed this problem, but the bill was soon watered down and nothing of significance was accomplished.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
This is the exact same strategy used in Colorado by the Boulder Valley School District who has brought litigation, lost, appealed, lost and now is appealing to the Colorado Supreme Court. Colorado's Charter School Institute is a "virtual" school district in less than nine school districts that do not have exclusive chartering authority. BVSD contends the legislature didn't have the authority to establish CSI because it violates the "local control" provision of the Colorado Constitution.
The Poudre and Westminster 50 school districts were originally part of the suit, but dropped out after receiving exclusive chartering authority from the State Board of Education. BVSD also subsequently gained exclusive chartering authority, but their legal counsel stated they'd take the second appeal on a pro bono basis.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
School leaders, Zach McComsey and Julian Flores, have established numerous partnerships in order to best serve the targeted at-risk student population. The school focuses on preparing all students for college and as you can see by the photo, college banners line the hallways. Each of the classrooms are designated by the homeroom teacher's college banner.
Monday, September 14, 2009
In response to a question about U.S. Secretary of Education's Arne Duncan's request for charter schools to work more closely with school districts and create more innovative options for students, Nelson Smith said,
Charter movement people have gotten a little skeptical about the big urge to cooperate more with districts and to share what we do with districts because the resistance, frankly, has usually come from the other side. I think the best quote I’ve ever heard about this is attributed to Yvonne Chan, the founder of the first conversion charter school in California, the Vaughn 21st-Century School, and she said, “I’m always asked, ‘When are we going to see ripples from your innovation?’” and she said, “‘You can’t see ripples if the lake is frozen.” I think that makes a very good point—that many districts, even those that have created charter schools, refuse to draw on any lessons learned there. And honestly, it has to work the other way too.
Nelson first pointed out that about half of the charter schools operating in the U.S. are authorized by the local school district. Many of these school districts have been adverse to acknowledging that they can learn from charter schools. While the charter schools are happy to share their lessons learned, school districts, even those that embrace the charter school philosophy, are reticent to acknowledge a change of programming due to the influence of charter schools.
This is also true for Colorado where school districts may change their philosophy about charter schools based on the beliefs espoused by the current Board of Education. For example, Denver Public Schools was anti-charter for many years, even taking an African-American educator, Cordia Booth, all the way to the State Supreme Court rather than letting her open a charter school. In the early part of this decade, DPS changed and is currently hailed as one of the best authorizers in the state. Moreover, DPS has embraced reforms used by charter schools and heartily acknowledges they've learned from the experiences of their charter schools.
Fundamental to charter school oversight and monitoring is the authorizer's philosophy about charter schools. In school districts, this comes from the top: the Board of Education. When board members turn over so can the district's philosophy about charter schools.
Another factor is quite simply, the people involved. In a pro-charter district, antagonist staff can make a charter school's existence miserable. Conversely, a helpful and responsive charter school liaison for the district can smooth even the most tense of relationships with the district board or superintendent.
Because Colorado is a "local control" state, there are all types of philosophies within the 52 districts that have charter schools. The Charter School Institute board was established to be a "model authorizer" for the state. However, even the philosophy of that board has changed since it was first established in 2004.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Currently CSI is in a contract with the Network to operate CCA-N and GOAL Academy. GOAL is an online school operated in Pueblo. After issues arose at CCA-N last spring, CSI reconsidered its decision to contract with the Network, which they defined as a management company, instead of the board of a charter school. While Colorado law doesn't dictate what type of entity can be party to a charter contract, an authorizer can make policy to only enter into contracts with charter school boards.
Stakeholders from CCA-N asked to establish their own board and operate independently from the Network. Dr. and Mrs. Lawrence Hernandez (COO and Operations Director, respectively) and Jason Guerrero, CFO of the Network contend that the charter school doesn't have the authority to operate independently.
The second CSI charter school to venture out on its own is GOAL Academy and their board met yesterday along with state officials Tony Dyl, Asst. Attorney General and Lee Barratt, Interim Executive Director of CSI. Both CSI and the Network have appointed board members for GOAL and more are slated to join.
Both charter schools are considering filing for nonprofit incorporation as many charter schools do in Colorado. However, it's still unclear when, and if, the governing boards will gain the authority to file with the Secretary of State's office for that status.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Back in December, the Court of Appeals stated the district was wrong in applying a different funding mechanism to the charter school. Not agreeing with this decision, PSD took an appeal to a higher court.
One might think that since this case has now gone to the highest court in the state, it'd be settled. Wrong. PSD, earlier this year when negotiating another charter school contract, stated that due to a sentence added into the 2009 School Finance Act, they have the right to charge their charter schools for a percentage of the per student funding alloted via the Oct. 1 count. It's unlikely that the outcome of this appeal will have any bearing on future contract negotiations for the charter schools in PSD.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Imagine Classical at Fountain Meadows has just opened in a brand new facility east of Colorado Springs after spending one year in modulars. Imagine at Firestone opened last year in a brand new facility. In order to keep costs down, both of the facilities are identical. The buildings are designed for K-8 systems holding approximately 800 students at capacity.
The demand for the Firestone and Fountain Meadows school has been incredible. In its first year of operation, Fountain Meadows third graders scored 100% on the reading CSAP. This, while holding school in temporary modular structures.
Management company-operated charter schools have the capital to invest in new buildings even before the charter school opens. The charter school typically enters into a contract for the property and assumes ownership over a long-term purchase similar to a mortgage on a house. This enables the charter school to enjoy the new facility without the up-front costs most charter schools must finance.
Schools such as Imagine at Fountain Meadows, in Colorado Springs, are able to serve a new subdivision. In a high-growth district such as Falcon 49, where the Fountain Meadows school is located, this means taxpayers don't have to approve a bond in order for the new subdivision to have its own school and avoid busing students considerable distances.
Entertainment Properties, Inc. investing in charter school facilities is actually very similar to the mechanism used by most charter schools, which is obtaining a bond through the Colorado Cultural and Educational Facilities Authority (CECFA). These CECFA bonds are purchased by private investors and paid back over time. One drawback, however, is that schools must have a three-year credit history and a solid business plan in order to obtain the private bond.
Just as the charter school philosophy to educate students in unique and innovative ways, charter school facility financing, the greatest obtacle most charter schools face, is likewise using a variety of creative methods.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Since charter schools operate autonomously, the school leaders can decide if, or how, the President's address is provided. Some charter school governing boards may decide that academics will take precedence and not stop learning for the President's address. Others will use it as a learning opportunity and have discussions with students both before and after the address.
This is another situation where the uniqueness of charter schools can best address the local needs of the students and their families. There is no right or wrong way to handle the President's address. Charter schools are not compelled to follow decisions set forth by their authorizer. They're free to be make their own decisions.
Update: Check out what Ben is saying here.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Some of the hot topics include:
* How should a charter school be held accountable for improving academic achievement and how should that accountability be enforced?
* What constitutes a "material change" to the contract, or an issue that should be submitted to the authorizer for acceptance? Notice I didn't use the word "approval" and instead used "acceptance." The authorizer doesn't need to necessarily agree with everything the charter school does, but it should be informed.
* What is the proper level of oversight for an authorizer? How can the relationship between the charter school and authorizer be more transparent?
* What is a fair corrective action plan if the charter school fails to meet its stated outcomes or submit reports on time?
* When should a charter school be subject to revocation?
* How much should the authorizer be involved in the contract a charter board executes with an education service provider? Can the authorizer require certain provisions be included in that contract?
* How can an authorizer ensure diversity amongst the charter school's student population without weighting the lottery and therefore making the charter school ineligible for federal charter school startup funds?
* How can an authorizer fairly compare charter school academic performance to its other schools?
* Should an authorizer automatically waive some district policies without requiring a charter school to request them if the policies don't pertain to the charter school at all?
The contract template is predicated on the following four beliefs:
1. Transparency between the parties is key to a good relationship.
2. The relationship should be clearly established in the beginning.
3. The contract should promote success of the charter school.
4. The outcome is more important than the process.
We've also been continually reminding ourselves that "less is more" and the key issues need to receive priority. It's especially important for an authorizer to define their own philosophies and priorities about chartering schools. This guiding philosophy will permeate monitoring and oversight and also what ends up in the charter contract.