Sunday, August 30, 2009
"A recent 93-page report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, has a starchy academic title, but a most intriguing conclusion: 'On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.'"
Saturday, August 29, 2009
"Founders of University Preparatory Academy and Henry Ford Academy have formed a nonprofit to recruit some of the country's best urban charter operators to Detroit, nearly doubling the number of charter seats in the city. 'The idea is to go from a city that is widely considered the most dysfunctional urban area in the country, in terms of educational opportunities, and to turn it into a test bed of dozens of different kinds of high-performing schools,' said Steve Hamp, founder of Henry Ford Academy."And the union position?
"Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, strongly disagrees with the notion that 'charter schools are the answer, when nothing could be further from the truth.' He and other vocal DPS critics believe charters 'are capitalizing on some of the dysfunctions of Detroit Public Schools to promote their own agenda. They are using our children in DPS like they are commodities.'"Nice. In the absence of any real argument, you can always just accuse us of treating kids like cattle.
This ought to be earthquake-level news for the charter world, but it has gone largely uncovered nationally. A Google News search brings up stories from the LA Times and and radio stations in the area, but no mention in the national media at all.
See these quotes for admissions from the District that charters have the freedom and direct accountability to improve results where the District has failed:
"In a startling acknowledgment that the Los Angeles school system cannot improve enough schools on its own, the city Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that could turn over 250 campuses -- including 50 new multimillion-dollar facilities -- to charter groups and other outside operators."I continue to look forward to the day when an existing and struggling public school will also make the change and embrace the choice, freedom, and accountability that come with being a charter school. Unfortunately, Utah's conversion statute makes such an event so unlikely it's almost impossible.
"'The premise of the resolution is first and foremost to create choice and competition,' said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, who brought the resolution, 'and to really force and pressure the district to put forth a better educational plan.'"
"District officials and others have said their ability to achieve more than incremental progress is hindered by the powerful teachers union, whose contract makes it nearly impossible to fire ineffective tenured teachers."
"It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity: 50 new school buildings coming online at the exact same time that a cadre of charter operators has demonstrated that it can generate unprecedented levels of student learning."
But, glad to see students in Los Angeles getting more choice and the improved schools that come with it.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
That's really wonderful, particularly the statistics of huge increases in minority participation. While achievement gaps in other areas grow in the state, this one is shrinking. Kudos to the schools (all across the state--the highest pass rate was in Delta!) that help these students succeed.
A student educated in a charter school costs taxpayers less than a student educated in a district school. Significantly less.
Some of that is related to the fact that charters don't receive transportation funding, and often don't receive school lunch funding. But the larger impact on the funding disparity is local property taxes. Charters don't collect local funding, and for three years, while districts have experienced growth in tax rates and property occupancy, charters' local "replacement" funding has been reduced by $100 per student.
Well, charters have still been successful. Charters typically show higher student achievement levels than district schools in similar neighborhoods and with similar populations. Parents report extraordinary satisfaction with their children's charter schools.
For ten years, charters have been doing "more for less," which opponents of funding equalization say is what we should be doing. I'm so pleased that they recognize the higher results charters achieve with less money.
And what's the result of providing Utah with a higher return on a smaller investment? Calls for caps on charter growth and reductions on charter funding.
And there's the irony. Opponents of charters admit that we do more with less funding, the very definition of an efficient education, and then argue that we should cap charters, forbid new students to attend them, and spend taxpayers' money where we're getting less for more.
Parents for Choice in Education (on whose board I sit) quotes Bill Gates (the Microsoft Chairman) in their latest posting. "In my experience, when you find a stunning success - you let it grow. Unfortunately, states are putting caps on the number of these high-performing [charter] schools. Why do we want to put caps on the greatest success stories in American education?”
Why indeed? Either it's the ultimate in educational irony or it's the goal of system-centered educators to keep charters down because the strength and survival of the current system is more important than the success of the students.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
I'm always impressed at both the challenges that charter leaders face, and the effectiveness with which they do so. Today Vista has faced issues relating to how to effectively move 600 kids to and from lunch with everyone ending up in the right places, while at the same time transitioning out AM and in PM Kindergartners. Should kids keep lunch bags with them in class, or check them and pick them up in the cafeteria? Also, in a conference center, how to divvy up the restrooms between teachers and students?
Part of building a charter school is learning what works best by trying it. We, like the students, learn by doing, figuring out how to do it better, and then implementing improvements.
Another airplane is being built, as we speak, going down the runway in Dixie.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Some schools are authorized to enroll several hundred students, but don't get facilities to accommodate them. Some schools in rural areas take several years to reach full enrollment. For some, the current economy has hurt enrollment, leaving unused space.
While some schools have hundreds or even thousands of students on waiting lists and the ability to expand their building and capacity, but run into legislative caps on growth. "In fall 2008, a total of 32,877 charter school student slots were authorized, but only 27,369 seats were filled by students, data show. This is because some schools simply don't fill up while others continue to have students lining up for the opportunity to attend." (Quick math: that's 82%.)
The State Charter Board wants to use the remaining 18% that are allocated and funded, and so do the schools with healthy waiting lists. "The State Charter School Board is proposing a policy that would require charter schools to relinquish their vacant student slots after three years. The slots could then be used by charter schools that hadn't been authorized yet to accommodate more students but had the physical capacity and prospective students waiting to fill the seats."
It's long been charter advocates' theory that giving parents a choice in where to send their children to school, the children (and their state funding) would naturally flow to schools that provided better education. Schools that remained stagnant and didn't adjust to the new competitive reality would either improve or close. And that's what's happening in Detroit, where public school enrollment has dropped by more than half since 1993.
I'm sure this is hard for the Detroit Public School (DPS) system. Many teachers and administrators have lost their jobs (at least at the District), and many schools have closed.
I shed no tears, because poor schools should be closed, and districts that have demonstrated they cannot operate successful at such a scale should close their lowest performing schools and consolidate resources and efforts to improve the schools that remain open and serving students. The end result is that more students get a higher quality education.
Now, DPS is spending a half-million dollars on a marketing campaign "featuring celebrity help from the likes of comedian Bill Cosby."
If improved marketing was the only result we'd be wasting our time. But the increase in advertising is selling something real. "Since taking over in March, [DPS Emergency Finance Manager Robert] Bobb has revamped academics at 41 schools failing under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines; required about 2,500 teachers, aides and counselors at struggling schools to reapply for their jobs; and cut 72 administrative positions."
I sympathize for Bobb's position that he can't do more. One advantage that charters have is more flexibility in letting go educators that aren't performing adequately. But I applaud Bobb's efforts and progress.
There's nothing necessarily magic about any specific charter school, but there is magic in giving parents the ability to choose the best education for their child.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Some advice: ARRA funds, while given to states as one-time money, can actually be spent until September 2011. One way to guard your school against budget cuts next year is to make your ARRA money stretch for two years.
Also, the state has about $400 million in "rainy day" funds that it will likely use to protect education funding and to guard against tax increases.
While it's nice to be above average, that still means that only 25 percent of people who take the test are prepared for college-level work. Disaggregated data that tracks performance by groups shows that minorities fare even worse.
As with most school testing, Utah's results are skewed higher by a very "white" population. The gap between white and minority students is actually growing. So while overall performance is static, minority students are coming out of school performing worse than before.
"The gap between scores of white and Latino students grew for the fourth year in a row. Utah white seniors scored an average of 3.4 points higher on the exam than Latino students as a group.
"And overall, only 25 percent of all seniors who took the exam tested ready for college-level English composition, algebra, social studies and biology -- the same percentage as the year before. Though that's higher than the national average, almost all of Utah's ethnic groups, including white students, fared worse than their peers nationally when it came to college readiness in all four subjects together."
That's very interesting data placed under a very misleading headline.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
- The state retirement model does not provide the best benefit to the vast majority of school staff
- State retirement is significantly more expensive than other and better options
- Opting in to the state retirement system limits the schools flexibility in plan design and budget adjustments
- We need to participate in the system if we want to attract veteran teachers
- We are a public school, so we should use the public school system
- The stock market is going down, so we need state retirement because it’s less risky
The $3 billion shortfall in the system is worse because of a snafu in the law allowing people to be both retired and drawing benefits, and also working and drawing a state paycheck. "That mandate is now costing the state somewhere between $10 million and $17 million annually."
Just another example illustrating why URS is an inefficient system that provides lower benefits at a higher cost to all but a handful of those who participate in it.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Does its religious nature mean that it can't be used in public schools to teach history and culture? Idaho's Charter School Commission says, "Yes."
Can it be done adequately for less? Yes. Charters, which don't have the ability to pass tax increases to pay for school buildings (I know it has to be part of a bond, but those can be so gamed up that it's a joke--see Nebo District) have to look for ways to reduce the cost of their facilities. You end up with high schools like Rockwell Charter High School, which was built for less than a third of the per-student cost as Westlake in Saratoga Springs.
Plus, isn't it hard for the public to take seriously complaints about too little funding if schools can afford to build palaces as high schools? If public schools expect taxpayers to have sympathy for our financial plight, we shouldn't be building schools that create such a disconnect. As the Herald puts it, "What really counts is not smart boards but smart students, and the first doesn't necessarily lead to the second. Keep that in mind the next time a school district says it "needs" a mountain of money for new school construction."
Friday, August 14, 2009
Providence received its loan in 2008 during its startup phase, and used the funding as a bridge to allow it to hire a director and other staff (including me), procure the equipment and supplies to open the school, and to secure its cash flow until state funding had caught up with operating costs. Providence ended its first school year with full enrollment and a healthy surplus.
With the early repayment of the loan, startup schools coming up in the next cycle will have access to an additional $250,000 in loan funds. Providence wanted to be sure that every startup charter school had the same opportunity to start on solid financial footing.
I hope that this will be an example to other schools. This revolving loan is designed to strengthen school's cash flow in the startup phase. Without access to enough cash, schools would be unable to open, since state funding for students doesn't start until July 31--usually only three weeks before school opens.
Take two of the board's action regarding Monticello was a little softer than take one. Back in January, the state board presented Monticello with "required actions that must be corrected." Yesterday's actions instead were to "simply recommend" that the school director, Kim Coleman, not be allowed any leadership position at the school. (That comes from the linked DNews article. I was at the board meeting and my impression was that it was still a requirement, but I didn't actually see a written report of the board action.)
The board read three actions, one to require the school undergo an audit and submit findings by October 1, one that Monticello board member Joel Coleman be removed for violating state conflict-of-interest law (it's his wife Kim that's the director in question), and the final one that Kim be removed from leadership eligibility. The first passed unanimously, the second was tabled after board member Tim Beagley raised questions about the sufficiency of the evidence, and the third passed 6-1, with Beagley voting against. That action was based on an accusation that Kim had violated IDEA.
Monticello's attorney addressed the board afterwards. He said that in the ten months of this investigation, the state board had never met with the school's board, never presented the accused nor the school with the specific accusations against them, and didn't review evidence that the school had in its own defense. The attorney asked that the state board have such meetings, present the accusations, and review the school's evidence.
State Board Chair Brian Allen commented that they would, but that seemed a little late to me, since the Board had already taken the action.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
And it's working.
In recent weeks, seven states have lifted restrictions, a spokesman for the department says. Tennessee, for instance, passed a law that raises the state's limit on the number of charter schools to 90 from 50 and allows more students to qualify for entry. Illinois doubled its limit on the total number of charter schools to 120. Louisiana passed a law that simply eliminated the existing cap of 70. And several other states are moving in a similar direction. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick proposed legislation that more than triples slots for students in charter schools to over 37,000 from the 10,000. Rhode Island's Legislature, which had considered cutting $1.5 million from the budget for charter schools, restored that money in large part to compete for the federal funds.Here's hopin' that Obama can convince Utah Democrats to support expansion of charters here.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Well, that's fine. I disagree, but it's not an unreasonable position. There are some meritorious arguments for forced accreditation that charter supporters have. But, the Tribune is nothing like a charter supporter, and their piece gives it away early, as they make slanderous claims on charters and their purpose and history, all without the inconvenience of having any evidence.
Some of the dubious:
- "Charters are public schools operated on tax dollars but founded by private interests"--Well, if you consider quality education to be a "private interest." Seriously, what private interest in Utah is authorized to operate a charter school? Founding parents?
- "When the proposal to launch [charters] first came before the Legislature a dozen years ago, some saw them as an opportunity to flee public schools, which they saw as anti-religion and anti-family."--Really? The first charter schools were Pinnacle Canyon, Soldier Hollow, Success Academy (an alternative high school in Cedar City), Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts, and Uintah River (a high school on a Ute Indian Reservation). Which of those were founded to further religion?
- "In the early days, the Legislature gave charters too much autonomy."--What? In the early years, charters had to be authorized by a local school district and had no autonomy other than what the local district would grant them.
- "That caused all kinds of problems, including financial failures, unscrupulous management and sub-standard academics."--The Trib doesn't bother to point to any examples of this, but let's take a look at the early years and see. Of any of the above early schools, or even expanding to include City Academy (2000), John Hancock (2002), Timpanogos (2002), and Thomas Edison (2002), which of those had financial failures, unscrupulous management, or sub-standard academics? Sub-standard compared to what? More accurate would be to say that public education as a whole has experienced all of these problems. But none of that is related to "too much autonomy." Charters, while imperfect, have never had an example of money laundering and theft of millions of dollars, nor failing schools that remain open for generations.
- "There still is no objective evaluation of how well charter schools are educating all of their students."--That's true, but only to the degree that the same is true of public education as a whole. And even if it were true only of charters, it's no reason to force on them a new requirement that does nothing to measure how well schools are educating students!
The sad and real fact is that every secondary school in the state is accredited, from top to bottom. Does that tell you anything about the quality of education the children receive or how well prepared for the future they are when they graduate? No. It tells you how many books they have in the library and how often teachers are evaluated, among other measures of what goes in a school, instead of what comes out.
All that said, I'm glad to read the Trib call charter schools "an integral part of Utah's public education system." Kudos for that, at least.
Instead of a 40 percent tax increase, the district will seek only 20 percent. And their superintendent, who last week was immune from a salary cut ("8:20-Asked point blank if the superintendent of the sch dist would take a paycut, he said no." and "9:23-"Mr. Newbold: has your salary changed since the split" "No." "Why not, since you are over a much smaller district." Lots of applause."), now is volunteering to take a 10 percent cut.
In the meantime, a new group threatens a referendum to repeal the tax increase.
It's mostly pretty nice to be a charter that lacks the power to tax. We are always forced first to be more efficient, while those with taxing authority can first look to make it easier on themselves by making it hard on others.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Happily, those innovations include performance pay for teachers and expansion of charter schools. "For example, Obama wants to see more high-quality charter schools, and states that have laws capping the growth of charter schools might be at a disadvantage when applying for the money. Utah doesn't exactly have a cap on charter-school growth, but the state does limit how many additional students can enroll each year."
Unfortunately, State Board of Education Chair Debra Roberts thinks charters are growing as fast as can be allowed. "In my mind, we really can't grow any faster than we're growing with charters, fundingwise," Roberts said. "It would actually hurt the charters in place to grow the charters any faster than we're growing them."
She's wrong on both counts. The only reason charter growth impacts funding at all is because school districts keep local funding for students who choose to attend charters, forcing taxpayers to pay twice for those kids' educations. If Race to the Top finally provided the incentive and political will to fix that problem, growth in charters would cost taxpayers less than growth in traditional schools.
And there's no way growth of charters would hurt the charters already in place. That's crazy. A strong and growing charter movement is good for all charter schools, and more quality charter schools are better for students and families. If we place the focus properly, by seeking what is good for students, and not schools or systems, the innovations and changes we need are clear.
Sunday, August 9, 2009
The story comes from the New York Times news service, so lacks a local angle, but that's what local blogs are for, right?
Higher ed has had distance and virtual learning for some time, but they operate in more of a marketplace where change is more embraced than in K-12, which is generally more set in its ways and resistant to innovation.
Charter schools are leading the way in integrating technology in new ways into Utah classrooms. Utah has, this fall, two operating virtual charter schools. Half of the new charter applicants for 2012 have at least virtual components. And several brick and mortar charters are setting the pace for classroom technology.
Here's a sampling.
- C.S. Lewis Academy in Santaquin has interactive white boards in every classroom and presents all core subject lessons using K12's online curriculum. You should visit and see how this technology captures the students' attention.
- Vista Charter School, starting this fall in Ivins will have a laptop for every student with electronic "texts" and enhanced curriculum. Vista is partnering with Apple, Waterford, and other technology companies in developing its curriculum and delivery.
- Aspire Online Charter School, a prospective school whose charter I helped write, will target low-income and at-risk populations. It will, if approved, use technology not only to enhance the curriculum, but also to reduce the cost of labor, having one teacher to every 150 or so students, and supplementing that instruction with trained mentors who work with students individually to help them understand concepts.
One way to make technology affordable is to use it to reduce the cost of labor. In most industries technology is used to make the workforce more efficient and cost effective. Robots make assembly of widgets more efficient, computers make communication and records management easier, reducing the number of workers needed or making each worker capable of completing more work.
In education, that model would mean using technology to make the instruction so enhanced and effective that fewer teachers can reach more students. If getting new technology can replace the costs of labor in classrooms, public schools will be able to afford them. As long as technology is treated as just a replacement for textbooks, they probably will be used about as much as textbooks.
As a former teacher, however, I believe that no computer can replace the motivation and individual connection that a teacher can provide, especially for younger students. But, I do look forward to watching how charters can further innovate and demonstrate how to effectively use technology to improve education.
Friday, August 7, 2009
"I think that fixating on money (in input) is no way to improve student acheivement (an outcome). However, without sufficient resources, including enough to offer attractive and competitive salaries to the best teachers, we won't get the achievement we want." Whole post.
"Lack of funding makes it hard to operate the kinds of schools we can all envision...But, the fact remains that the money spent is an input, not an outcome. If we want excellent schools, we must focus on the outcomes for students." Whole post.
In today's Utah Taxpayers' Association newsletter, Senator Howard Stephenson and Superintendent Larry Shumway make the same point.
"We agree* that the discussion should not be whether we spend more or less than other states; rather the discussion must focus on what we want for Utah kids in the classroom, how we will go about getting it, and what resources are re-quired to accomplish that. And we agree to work toward that end with respect, civility, and honesty."
YES! Money is a tool that we use to achieve things. Money is not a goal in itself. We must focus on outcomes.
Money matters in public education. But if money is the goal, achievement and innovation won't be the result. Let's focus on the outcomes we expect for our students and then ensure we have the funding necessary to get there.
*To be clear, they agree with each other and weren't indicating agreement with me.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Senator Bell has been a strong charter school supporter in the Senate, earning an "A" in both 2008 and 2009 legislative sessions.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
More interesting is the live blogging of a colleague of mine:
7:42-Jordan school district tax increase meeting
7:44-200 people want to make their views known to the jordan school board. At 3 minutes a pop we'll be here all night!
7:51-This is amazing. People here are LIT UP.
8:10-Wow, it's getting ugly.
8:16-Accounting geek now giving his .02. Has some decent ideas.
8:20-Asked point blank if the superintendent of the sch dist would take a paycut, he said no.
8:26-Trying to redirect blame to those "horrible" eastsiders for the revenue shortfall. Calling for a boycott of east side businesses.
8:34-Someone just asked everyone who is making less now than last year to stand up. At least 2/3 of the auditorium stood up.
8:37-Barry Newbold (superintendent of jordan school district) not representing himself very well here.
8:40-Wow, looks like my old stake president is on the board. Probably wishes he didn't run for the school board now.
9:08-New drinking game: "live within your means"
9:17-The board would do well to just listen and not try to defend at this point. Just gets people riled up.
9:18-The majority of people here appear to be older and might be on fixed income. Will be tough for them to find an additional 40%.
9:20-Tri semesters have been mentioned at least four times.
9:23-"Mr. Newbold: has your salary changed since the split" "No." "Why not, since you are over a much smaller district." Lots of applause.
9:25-"The amount of my property tax increase was 3 times more than Santa's budget this year for my kids."
9:31-Question: do "board members" represent us I think we vote them in, but do they rlly represent us ive hrd that sevrl times 2nite.
9:36-House bill 77 is now being discussed. Folks are blaming the legislature for the split.
9:55-Battery on the phone is dying.
9:58-"If U wnt 2 make 230,000 a year sir, then leave education & go 2 the private sector. " wld not wnt 2 B ths newbold guy 2nite.
10:04-"We're all human beings, let's B curteous." Lol
10:05-"Open source the expenses."
10:24-"The masses will rise up" uh-oh.
10:26-More blaming of the legislature. "From the beginning, 'for the children' has always been about the children on the east side."
10:30-I'm guessing that the lady reading this note probably went to an east side district school.
End-vote to table for a week. Lame.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
"Canyons spokesman Jeff Haney said the decision came after much public input on the district's proposed tax increase." DNews.
"After hearing from irate taxpayers, the board changed course and will weigh a new budget proposal tonight -- one with no new taxes." Trib
Salt Lake School District is raising taxes to fund its portion. "At a news conference Monday, Salt Lake Superintendent McKell Withers called the redistribution 'regrettable.'"
"If you're going to do it [equalization], do it statewide." That's interesting, in that charters are equalized statewide, but districts (if not necessarily Mr. Withers) continually complain about that, too.
We really need to move to a paradigm where we are funding the education of students, rather than the system that provides it.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
I hope to be able to equally praise Utah Democrats for their strong support for unlimited charters.