Wednesday, June 30, 2010
After failing to get support for a $23 billion infusion in school funding to states, Congressional Democrats attached $10 billion for that purpose to the supplemental funding bill that will fund the war effort in Afghanistan.
I did some quick calculations. If $10 billion passes and is distributed equally, Utah would get about $100 million (about one percent, as we have about one percent of the nation's population of school children.) That's about $173 per student, at 575,000 students. So, a 600-student charter school would likely see increased funding of about $100,000, if this passed and was distributed like that.
No word on strings or restrictions.
Look, this isn't news. Utah has been lowest in the nation in per student education spending as long as I can remember. We always will be because:
- We have the highest ration of school age children to working age adults
- Most of our land that would otherwise be revenue generating taxable property is owned by the federal government
So, I'm just using this annual news story as a chance to complain about the inequity in charter versus traditional public school student funding. As low as per student spending is statewide, it's even lower in charter schools, where we continue to get by with less money.
Charters operate on what most districts would consider "austerity budgets," but the results (including Karl Maeser's award for top high school in the state) are worth bragging about.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
I don't have a link that I can find anywhere, but yesterday at the capitol was a luncheon for Comcast Leaders and Achievers scholarship recipients.
Charter students won about a quarter of the scholarships, including students from Tuacahn, Open High, East Hollywood, SL SPA, AMES, NUAMES, and others. Charters have only about six percent of the students in the state, and the percentage of high school students is even lower, so this is a real accomplishment for the schools and their high achieving scholarship recipients.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Ryan Frazier is running in a swing district in Colorado for Congress as a Republican. Here's the intro to his bio from his website:
A husband and father of three, a military veteran, a small businessman, an elected representative, and co-founder of a pre-K through 8th grade public charter school – these are a few experiences that have so far shaped the life of Ryan Frazier.
Growing up, Ryan saw and experienced the opportunities afforded those with an education and the lack of opportunities for those without one. This is why he deeply understands the importance of every child having a good education and is a founding board member of Highpoint Academy, a Pre-K through 8th grade public charter school that will educate over 600 students per year. Ryan and Kathy put their children where “their mouths are at” by enrolling all three of their children into Highpoint.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
A great turnout for the charter conference at a great venue. The Marriott puts on a good show, and the UAPCS staff, especially Susan Soliel, manage the logistics incredibly well. Everything is in order and things are flowing smoothly.
The current drama in the Association is making its way into the media (with more to come), and has been a topic of conversation among attendees, but it shows the great strength of our Association that we can put aside differences of opinion and work together to strengthen individual schools and our entire movement.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Each year, NEWSWEEK picks the best high schools in the country based on how hard school staffs work to challenge students with advanced-placement college-level courses and tests. This year, Karl G. Maeser Preparatory Academy is ranked as the best high school in Utah.
Monday, June 14, 2010
In national political developments, there is a real trend against public employee unions, including teachers' unions, and their movement has taken some crushing defeats recently.
- Politico reports that politicians are portraying public employee unions--with their large compensation and benefit packages--as a culprit in large state budget deficits. "They're the whipping boys for a new generation of governors who, thanks to a tanking economy and an assist from editorial boards, feel freer than ever to make political targets out of what was once a protected liberal class of teachers, cops, and other public servants."
- In New Jersey, the new governor Chris Christie has been relentless in his criticism of the teachers' union specifically, calling them out for refusal to make any financial concessions in a state where the budget deficit was nearly 50 percent of revenue for the year.
- In Arkansas, labor unions spent big to try and oust Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, spending ten million dollars in the effort, only to lose and make the unions appear impotent in the current political environment. The White House and the Democratic establishment are put out that the labor movement "flushed" millions in such a failed effort.
- In Colorado, the state just passed sweeping changes to teacher tenure, for the first time tying teachers' job security to student performance. Teachers will now need to show that their students make academic gains for three years, instead of just showing up at work for three years, in order to qualify for tenure. Tenure can be revoked if a teachers' students don't show progress over multiple years.
- And on the series finale of Law & Order, the teachers' union was portrayed as the group that puts the interests of homicidal teachers above the safety of students. I wish I could have found a video to link to--instead, here's a blog post about it.
If that national trend plays out in Utah, where the teachers' union is particularly strong, it could bode well for charter schools in our effort to finally secure equity in funding for our students.
Once, a teacher working on her master's degree and writing a thesis on charter schools called me and asked me about the strengths and weaknesses of charters. Without a doubt, the greatest challenge that charter schools face as they get going is the lack of institutional knowledge about how schools operate efficiently.
Startup schools all face similar challenges, and as long as we have new groups opening new charters, these founders will have to learn the same lessons in the same way--trial and error.
That's a challenge for charters, but I wouldn't have it another way. The only way to find out if innovations will work to improve student learning is to try them. In trying new ideas and new approaches to education, sometimes the results aren't what we hope for, and so we recalibrate and try again.
Innovation and choice leads to both success and failure. The only other option is stagnation and mediocrity.
So, new charter schools, founded by a new set of parents in new communities, always face the same challenges. They are building a multi-million organization from scratch. They hire an entire staff and leadership who all figure out along the way how things will best work to achieve the school's mission and implement the charter.
When you have a 100 percent new staff, it's not uncommon that a high percentage of employees will be frustrated by the challenges of innovation, or will find that what they pictured the new charter school was, doesn't turn out the way they expected. The school leadership will also find that some of the staff aren't the right fit.
Parents find the same things. The school is sold to most parents based on what the school plans to be, and it seldom reaches that goal in year one. Parents tend to be frustrated by turnover, which is common in first year schools.
The parents and some faculty and staff are experiencing this frustration at Excelsior Academy. This article is a fair representation of the perspective of parents, school leadership, and the school's authorizer.
Because it's fair, the most frustrated and vocal parents, who want to go through another first year by replacing the school administration and board and starting from scratch, are mad. They let the world know they are mad in the comments section of the article, where they take the reporter to task for presenting the school's perspective. I guess they think the school director, the board, and the authorizer shouldn't be interviewed or quoted in an article about the school.
Comments in articles about charter schools are always a hoot to read, so enjoy them.
As you do, know that the only way for charter schools, and therefore the entire concept of school choice, to succeed is by allowing autonomy and innovation. That will almost always lead to failure, which is the necessary precursor of success.
We shouldn't be upset when things don't go as planned. Instead, we should see that challenge as the opportunity to improve, now armed with more knowledge and experience to make success more likely tomorrow.
Friday, June 11, 2010
In headlines that really surprised me this morning, the State Charter School Board has reversed its decision to close Beehive, granting it probationary status until July 15.
"I am ecstatic," said Mindy Nickell, a West Jordan mother whose son is in eighth grade at Beehive. "This school has worked miracles for my son. I don't know what I would do if we lost it."
Academics were never the reason for Beehive's troubles. Instead, deep debt, financial mismanagement, and low enrollment were the culprits.
"David Jordan, Beehive's attorney, said the school has "significantly improved" its financial situation. Cost-cutting measures and fundraising have "more than taken care of" Beehive's problems, he said. Administrators have renegotiated the school's lease. All of the school's personal loans — which total about $90,000 — have been forgiven.'
Here's hoping for a successful enrollment period and financial reports from Beehive.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
There have been many news stories in the last several weeks about federal attempts to spend more "stimulus"-type dollars on public education as a way to stave off layoffs. I haven't talked about it until now because all the proposals I read about seemed doomed to failure. The country and the Congress as a whole just isn't in the mood to go even deeper into debt.
So the approach to today's story about simply re-allocating some ARRA dollars from other projects into public education was worth blogging about. If something like this went through, Utah would likely see 9-figures of new federal dollars specifically designed to protect teacher jobs.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Schools face a conundrum--more than in previous years. Can we give raises to the teachers that stay with us?
Last year, the federal stimulus package allowed schools to keep positions and give some raises. This year, as the stimulus dollars are gone and state budgets are reduced, that's a harder trick to pull. Jordan District, which has the added burden of a lower tax base after the district split, has not agreed with teachers on a plan that will allow for step (years of experience) and lane (education and advanced degrees) increases.
The above linked article rightly says that such a move may cause teachers to look elsewhere, as some neighboring districts will be giving increases to teachers.
What the article doesn't say, but that I say, is that this represents an opportunity for charter schools to recruit for experienced teachers from Jordan.
If charters were careful with stimulus dollars, carrying some forward, using dollars wisely, they can likely put together an attractive compensation package.
Von Hortin send me a clarifying email. MSP Stabilization dollars, one part of the stimulus, cannot be carried forward. That money must be spent by June 30. IDEA, Title I, and other ARRA dollars must be spent by September 30, 2011.
Friday, June 4, 2010
A great little piece on the first graduating of Utah's first virtual senior class is in today's DNews.
Nikki Burr put on a cap and gown, shook the principal's hand and accepted a diploma. It was a perfectly traditional high school graduation — except, of course, she had never set foot in a high school. "It can be hard to stay motivated without a teacher breathing down your neck," said Burr, who lives in Holladay. "Ultimately, I think it just made me a better person, though. It forced me to grow up and take responsibility for my own education."
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Unfortunately, the space in the DNews was devoted to the closure of Beehive Academy. Nine online pages detailing allegations, problems, quotes, and judgments about the school and why it closed.
Missing from the piece is the simple fact that the system worked. A school opened with an idea to focus on science and mathematics. By all educational measures, it achieved that part of its mission. But it did so while also making questionable financial decisions that ultimately proved the school, under the current leadership, could not operate successfully on the funding available to it.
Therefore, the school was closed.
Contrast this with Grand County School District. Financial mismanagement and errors there led to the loss of $2 million. In Davis District a few years ago, employee fraud and the lack of internal controls cost the district $4 million. If that happened to a charter school, it would rightly be shut down, as Beehive was.
Such action creates a PR situation for charter schools, as demonstrated in the DNews piece. It gives media an opportunity bring up all the things they hear about charters at once, airing allegations without merit or evidence, like this:
Critics point to Beehive as an illustration of a bigger problem within the Utah charter school system. While Beehive is the only charter school the government has forcefully shut down, it is not the only charter school to mismanage taxpayer dollars. Just this past month, Salt Lake parents picketed in front of Dual Immersion Academy, calling for a business administrator with no finance background to step down. The bank is so bare, administrators can't afford to buy toilet paper. Merit Academy in Springville poured money it didn't have into a big facility that now operates at half capacity. In Spanish Fork, administrators at American Leadership Academy have been accused of paying employees under the table and tampering with student transcripts.
The situation and solution, despite quotes to the contrary, should point out the obvious: Financial mismanagement in charters will lead to the state pulling a school's charter. It would be better for taxpayers if all public schools had that level of accountability.
"We can't really prevent charter schools from mishandling public funds," said Brian Allen, chairman of the State Charter School Board. "They're autonomous schools. If they make decisions that hurt themselves financially, we're powerless." Well, um, not powerless, since the board did pull the charter and therefore all public funding to the school.
Let's just be clear, and get this message out widely. Charter schools are about innovation, choice, and accountability. When a group, like the founders of Beehive, come together with a great new model for education, they deserve a shot to see if that model can provide a quality education to students. Families deserve the choice to attend such schools. And if the schools fail educationally or financially, there needs to be accountability for the use of public dollars.
And that's just what happened here. Utah authorized a new model of education. Hundreds of students chose that model, and were largely pleased with the academic results. (The school was ranked in the top 20 schools in Utah for academics.) Yet, the school could not make its budget balance, and therefore faced the ultimate in accountability.
The charter system worked exactly as it is supposed to.