- New York Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo's consultant floats the idea of a "public safety charter school" for children who aspire to a career in law enforcement, and to grow the number of those children, particularly minorities.
- More and more charter schools are targets for union organization, especially in New Jersey. "Now that charter schools are obviously here to stay, the unions have adopted a new strategy. Their goal is to aggressively recruit charter school teachers into their ranks, so that charters will be burdened by the same type of labor problems that plague so many traditional public schools."
Is that really so bad? Only if you like the idea of charter schools. "Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, was honest when he wrote the following in a recent union newsletter: 'It is reasonable to believe that as more charters are faced with having to be more like traditional public schools, many of them will dry up.'”
- There's a growing national trend for religious groups to sponsor or be affiliated with charter schools. "Church-charter partnerships are springing up across the country as private institutions lose funding and nontraditional education models grow in popularity." Good Foundations Academy in Utah is an example.
- Pennsylvania's Auditor General calls for a moratorium charter schools due to the current economic downturn, calling charters the "broken window" of the education system. This one is really relevant to our situation in Utah, where lawmakers have also called for freezing charter growth. What's really the broken window in Pennsylvania's funding? "The most wasteful component is the premium that the state pays to public schools that lose students to charter and cyber charter schools."
The same thing happens in Utah. Establishment-types claim that charters cost more to educate. That's not true, and the only reason anyone can make that claim without being laughed out of a room is because taxpayers fund "phantom students" in districts for every child that chooses a charter school.
In the meantime, Pennsylvania Cyber School hits enrollment of 10,000 students.
- Charter schools in Buffalo, New York are being illegally funded at lower rates. "This is simply unfair, as charters continue to send children to college, while the district defends a 54% graduation rate."
- In New Orleans, which after its school system was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been a model of how one would operate a school system based on choice and accountability, the Parrish school board is suing to regain control of the charters in its district.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Here's a sampling of what's happening in charters across the country:
Thursday, November 25, 2010
What do you get when you have a great program and a great marketing and public relations strategy? Lots of mentions in the media, including now by the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Online schools provide learning opportunities and expand access to Advanced Placement and other courses to thousands of students who otherwise wouldn't be able to take them. For example, the Open High School in Utah is offering students the chance to be learners anywhere and at anytime. Through the school, students are learning online through next-generation learning technology and one-on-one tutoring. Learning opportunities are accessible every day, 24/7. The students study as their schedules allow. They advance as quickly as they want to and are able to.
Teachers give extra time to students who need it--and they challenge those who are ready to move ahead. These are the types of individual attention and personalized instruction that are essential for their success.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
From the Trib:
Last year, the Utah Office of Education began honoring standout schools with two awards: the Closing the Achievement Gap Award for schools that narrow test score differences between white and ethnic minority students, and the High Performing Title I School Award. For the second year, the state has recognized schools that are making major headway.Congratulations to Guadalupe and Salt Lake Arts Academy.
Among Salt Lake City’s winners for 2009-10 are Guadalupe Schools and Salt Lake Arts Academy. The former was one of eight schools to win both awards, and the latter was among 58 named a High Performing Title I School. In 2008-09, 63 Utah Title I schools were considered “high-achieving.” That number dropped to 58 in 2009-10.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
No. But it almost always gets teachers more money. And because public (and often private education) ends up paying teachers for advanced degrees--even if it has no more value to students than scratch paper--it is a waste within the system. It's another example of how educational resources are inefficiently used, meaning taxpayers support more things that don't improve the education of kids.
Understand, I'm not saying that teachers with advanced degrees can't be better, or that further study and educational work doesn't provide teachers with tools they can use to improve. Just that the possession of a piece of paper from a graduate school doesn't mean the quality of instruction is any better, and that incentives should be paid based on teacher improvement measured by student achievement.
Leading economists and education officials agree.
Supporters and opponents of charter schools have all sponsored studies about charter school results. Supporters' studies usually show that charter students outperform traditional students, while opponents show that charters do no better or worse. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The chief explanation for the lack of consensus is that the prominent studies on charter schools rely on different methodologies—all of which have flaws.
Education researchers face a big challenge: how to separate the results of charter schools' educational techniques from the quality and motivation of the students themselves.
It's worth reading the whole article.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Read the article here.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
About $81 per student will get to school's this December. The Legislature, in a special session, accepted the money. For politicos, the most interesting part of the news is the outrage that many legislators have at the Obama administration for usurping the state's right to control its own budget and education program. If that's what you like, check the story in the Trib.
I'm just the finance guy, and I'm glad that my schools have more money in a tight budget year.
Utah doesn't have a "dual system" for public education. Rather, it has a single system with several models of schools. The charter model has some advantages when compared to district schools, and one of the most important is the charter exemption from the "Orderly Schools Termination Procedures Act."
That statute requires too-onerous procedures, documentation, hearings, and whatnot before a poor performing "career employee" can be terminated from a position. Unions argue this is less than tenure, and it is, but it still results in toleration and continued employment of some mediocre or worse teachers.
Senator Howard Stephenson will be running a bill this legislative session to make that process easier for school districts. If that's so, and districts can more easily remove their lowest performing teachers, replacing them with even average ones, students will benefit.
I always call for more flexibility and local decision-making in schools. This is a step in the right direction for the entire education system. One reason the charter model exists is to see how freedom from some bureaucratic rules affects education. Charters have demonstrated that all schools need the ability to improve the quality of their instruction by consistently upgrading the quality of their faculty. Let's give schools more freedom to do so.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Charters spend less per student than districts, yet have smaller classes. That fact is often lost on establishment-type politicians and bureaucrats, but the facts are getting out there and changing opinions. You should read this entire article in the Daily Herald, but here are some excerpts:
No one disputes charter schools spend fewer taxpayer dollars. And no one disputes charter schools have smaller class sizes. So with Utah clearly among the voices decrying big government spending in the recent national elections, the question must be asked: Could another property tax hike be avoided by opening more charter schools instead?
When it comes to taxpayer money, the difference between district and charter schools is summed up easily. "District schools can tax. Charter schools can't do that," said Cory Kanth of the Charter Schools Section of the Utah State Office of Education.
There is growing anger among the thousands of local parents who have placed their children in charters about the inequity in how schools are funded. That leaves many parents and charter officials fuming; if the district can require a property tax of every household, but spend that money almost exclusively on district children, the system is broken, officials and parents have said.
[Another] reason Alpine School District is a perfect test case when it comes to questioning the value of the school property tax can be summed up in three words: Maeser Preparatory Academy. Located in Lindon, this charter teaches 600 seventh- through 12-graders in a defunct bowling alley. But it's not just the school's frugal setting that has suddenly made it perhaps the most in-demand school in Utah Valley. Rather, it is because Maeser was ranked the best school in Utah by Newsweek magazine this year. This has resulted in a crush of parents attempting to enroll their kids. Not only did the school double its student population from 300 to 600 students after the announcement, but now has a waiting list of more than 250 students.
Justin Kennington, headmaster at Maeser, said the school's average class size is the highest its ever been this year, at 22.
"We try to keep it at 18 to 20," he said. "We are going to be deliberately small. Size is ironically a big part of why we are so successful. That doesn't mean that big schools can't be successful. We are a liberal arts school, which means that we are not interested in churning out a clone. We are interested in training students in how to think. It is more important that the kids know how to study, and size is absolutely crucial to the success of that kind of approach to education. You have to have the ability for students to be truly mentored."
How does the school keep its class sizes lower than district schools? "We have a board that is very, very financially conservative," said Kennington.
By any standard, American Preparatory Academy is one of the most successful charter schools in the state. Their academic results are very high, particularly the growth rates at their West Valley campus where a majority of students are at-risk. Their financial health is strong. Families clamor to win admission through the lottery.
If we are serious about improving education, policy makers would celebrate such success, expand the school, and copy the practices and philosophy that get such results and implement them more widely. Thankfully, the first to on that list are happening. APA is expanding, opening its third campus next fall. Unfortunately, for entirely political reasons, their potential fourth campus is on hold.
Why? Because the successful team that has achieved these results includes relatives, specifically, the chair of the board is the brother of the owner of the organization that administers the program at the two--soon to be three--campuses. This is unacceptable to Denis Morrill, who doesn't care as much about the achievement and education of the students as he does about making sure he can regulate which parties are allowed to work together.
To be clear, Howard Headlee, the board chair at APA is an education visionary, who, with his sisters as partners, established one of the state's most academically successful schools, and then replicated that program to serve economically disadvantaged students and refugees. APA can document that they followed all applicable laws regarding regulated relationships (there are rules that public schools must follow so that nepotism can't happen), and there's never even been an allegation that the school violated such laws. Their annual independent audits have never shown any financial impropriety.
With all this success going on, why keep it from expanding? Denis Morrill doesn't like the law, and is using APA's program to stick the eyes of Headlee, the school's administrative team, and the legislature. As for the kids who currently attend mediocre schools and who would jump at the chance to attend APA? The success and education of those kids just isn't as important.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Pacific Heritage Academy and North Peak Academy were recommended for approval today by the State Charter School Board. North Peak will be the first charter school in Box Elder School District, which is the state's largest district without a charter school. Pacific Heritage will be on the west side of Salt Lake City.
Also at the meeting Utah Virtual Academy was recommended to expand by 750 students with the goal to serve special populations like hospitalized students and youth-in-custody.
but nothing specific to charters. That's fine, because charter schools aren't an end, but a tool used to achieve an end. It would have been nice if the commission would have recognized something radical like investing more money in your most efficient and effective models of school, but they focused on other topics.
The governor’s education commission is recommending that state leaders continue extended-day kindergarten, fund colleges and universities according to their missions and plan for an online system to allow high school students to earn college credit. The commission recommended Tuesday that the state work with the state school board to support research-based programs as a first step toward those proficiency goals.
Other steps adopted Tuesday include implementing Common Core State Standards, which will change what students are expected to learn in each grade; expanding certain assessments; and urging higher- and public-education leaders, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Department of Workforce Services to expand partnerships between public education and private industry and work on aligning certain programs with work force needs.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Several charter expansion and amendment requests passed through the State Board's Law and Policy committee and the full board yesterday, and angry, outgoing member Denis Morrill voted against all of them. You could sense his resentment as he brought up red herring after diversionary topic in an effort to derail even simple and non-controversial amendments. He truly is an opponent of the very idea of charter schools.
Utah Virtual Academy (on whose board I sit) had an amendment to change their parent "advisory" group into a more traditional parent organization that could be involved in more school activities and management decisions. Morrill used the amendment as a soap box to blast all the charters that get their charter approved, and then come back over and over to get rid of any parental involvement. That's the opposite of what UTVA was doing (and not true in any case), but no matter. Then it was on to why a virtual school would cost money at all, anyway, since they don't pay for a school building. In the discussion about expanding the role of parents in the school, UTVA staff was answering questions about teacher compensation, development costs, and curriculum expenses. Board Member Carol Murphy had to bring everyone around more than once. "Well, back to the issue at hand..."
Morrill ignored the law when discussing American Preparatory Academy's expansion request. He used that as a soapbox to rail against conflicts of interest (even though the school followed all the laws and regulations about regulated relationships) and the cost of the school's management (even though it's not more than districts or other charters spend.) He wasn't interested in data, just in finding an excuse to vote against every charter school proposal before his committee.
He voted against Entheos's expansion because the school didn't have as many minority students as the school where his daughter used to teach.
Morrill began the committee meeting by reminding everyone that the committee didn't want to hear from any of the 20 or so charter representatives that were there to help the board understand their requests. When he made went on one of his rants and the school representatives asked if he could respond, Morrill said no, before other board members then insisted that the school's be given a chance to answer.
Morrill has become angry and desperate. His lawsuit isn't going anywhere, and he's angry that the process for elections deprived him of a seat that he acts is his by right. And the veneer has come off. The nominating committee that recommended candidates for the State Board left him out of the mix. Now they must be watching his behavior and thinking, "Thank you for proving our point."
Saying it's stupid for the state board to try and do something stupid just to stop the legislature from doing something more stupid, State Board of Education Member Carol Murphy expressed her discontent with Superintendent Shumway's announcement.
Dr. Shumway said that his staff was working on a rule for the board that would create a system that would grade schools (with traditional letter grades) based on student achievement--at least partly. Other factors are unknown because the rule is being worked on by staff.
The move is an effort to get out in front of a bill that will be carried in the next legislative session by Senator Wayne Niederhauser (my Senator) modeled after Florida's successful grading system. Shumway, and some members of the board, expressed a desire to write the rules themselves, rather than have the more disconnected legislature impose one.
Friday, November 5, 2010
...Chris Bleak, who has served for several years as the Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the House for both former Speaker Greg Curtis and soon-to-be-former Speaker Dave Clark.
Chris is the perfect person for the job. He has the experience working with policy makers, opinion leaders, and the media. He knows all the players in shaping public opinion, and knows the budget and policy issues surrounding charter schools and public education in general.
When the Association started looking for a new director several months ago, I asked some people in the advocacy game the following: "If we could hire anyone in Utah, who would be the best for this job?" The answer every time was, "Chris Bleak, but you'll never get him."
This is a coup for the Association and for our movement, and the timing is perfect. We now have a friendlier legislature than we've ever had before, and the best person we could hope for to carry our message.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Two big surprises in the elections for leadership of the state House and Senate today--one for what happened, and one for what didn't.
First, the upset in the House, where Becky Lockhart (Orem) upset Speaker Dave Clark (St. George). I heard from some in the legislature that Lockhart had a chance, but from most everyone that she didn't. Her victory caught a lot of people by surprise. Here's how the Tribune put it:
Upset • Clark’s defeat comes after a summer of grumbling from conservative lawmakers, who felt they were forced to vote for tax and fee increases and with Clark’s end-of-session handling of news of a hot-tubbing scandal involving former House Majority Leader Kevin Garn.
In the face of brewing conservative discontent, Clark confidently predicted on repeated occasions that he would be re-elected as speaker. Leading up to the closed-door vote Thursday, few insiders believed that Lockhart had the votes to defeat Clark.
On the other hand, every Senator and political insider I spoke two since Tuesday was confident that Dan Liljenquist would upset Senate President Michael Waddoups. But, that didn't happen. Senate Republican Leadership is unchanged from last session.
See the rest of the leadership offices for the minority party and other offices for the majority in the Tribune article linked above.
Today Mountainville held its Handing Down a Legacy of Leadership breakfast. The event was intended to assist with development in financial, political, and community resources. And what a success it was.
About 200 parents, dignitaries, community members, and others (including me) came and were presented with the school's vision. Board members and the school director talked about their goals, showed a video highlighting several student success stories, and then some alumni spoke about what they gained from Mountainville.
This was the first event resulting from the school's training in the Benevon model. Many Utah charters will remember going to a meeting with Benevon where they outlined their model, and invited schools to attend a full training program at about $15,000 a pop. Two Utah schools (Renaissance and Mountainville) made the investment. (Renaissance hasn't yet held an event.)
Was the investment worth it? Well, even if the event had raised no money, I think so. The training forced the school's board and administration to really focus on what differentiated Mountainville from other schools, and what it could do better than anyone else. That developed a school culture and vision that permeates everything the school does. If anyone wants to see this first-hand, visit the school any Wednesday morning for Leadership Hour. Seeing the school focus like a laser on that vision has improved the quality of its instruction, leadership, governance, and academic achievement.
Was it worth the investment? Yes. Plus, in contributions and pledges, the school raised more than $100,000.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Very well, thank you. Actually, incredibly well. Our position was strengthened where we needed the most help, and shored (is that right? the computer tells me "shorn" isn't in the dictionary) up where we were strongest. All around, Tuesday was a good day for Utah charter schools.
Let's start where the news was the least good, and that's the State Board of Education. Mostly establishment candidates won. However, the pickup for charters came in District 9, where Joel Coleman (a founder at Monticello--not without controversy) beat Milton Witt (a founder at Navigator Pointe) for the seat vacated by professed charter opponent Denis Morrill. (I believe that Morrill's lawsuit has no chance, Coleman will get to be the bull in the establishment's china shop.)
The news gets better. In the Senate, which was already strongly supportive of charters, Democrat Brent Goodfellow lost to Republican Dan Thatcher. When Thatcher announced his run, he reached out to UAPCS to let charters know of his support for the movement and to educate him on issues that are important to improving education. He will be a strong supporter of charters, and a big step forward from Goodfellow.
The House is where the biggest gains were made. Really big gains. In 2008, our bill to equalize charter funding over a period of four years lost by eight votes. A turnaround of five votes would have changed the outcome. This year, we have swapped out at least seven, and probably more, no votes for strong supporters of choice in education.
- Republican Doug Aagard did not run for re-election. His no vote will be replaced with Republican Brad Wilson--a pickup.
- Republican Sheryl Allen did not run for re-election. (She did run for Lieutenant Governor--more on that below). Her no vote will be replaced by Republican Jim Nielsen--a pickup.
- Democrat Niel Hansen lost to Republican Jeremy Peterson--a pickup.
- Republican Kory Holdaway resigned to become the chief lobbyist for the UEA. The UEA supported his replacement, Johnny Anderson for the remainder of Holdaway's term, but in the general election, supported Anderson's opponent. That ought to be a pickup.
- Republican Steve Mascaro did not run for re-election. His no vote will be replaced with Republican Ken Ivory--a pickup.
- Democrat Jim Gowans lost to Republican Douglas Sagers. I don't know a lot about Sagers, but he ought to be a big improvement on our issues over Gowans.
- Democrats Laura Black, Jay Seegmiller, and Trisha Beck, all in districts on the East Bench of Salt Lake County, and all elected in 2008, lost to their Republican opponents. The UEA backed the Democrat in each case, and the victors will be much better for charter school students.
And finally, Governor Herbert won re-election by a 2 to 1 margin. That lopsided victory should make him very confident of his ability to win his own full term in 2012, if he can get the Republican nomination. In order for that to happen, Herbert will have to be willing to buck the UEA. If he doesn't, he won't come out of a GOP convention.
In all four bodies that make education policy in Utah, charters ended Tuesday stronger than we started, and we should be well-positioned to make real progress on key legislative priorities, and to stop the inevitable and concerted efforts to undermine our funding and autonomy.
Monday, November 1, 2010
In Massachusetts, charter enrollment doubles in the last decade.
The National Alliance highlights the top ten school districts that are served by charters. New Orleans is number one, with 61 percent of students in charters, which are the new foundation of the city's post-Katrina education system.
District officials successfully kill approval of new charter because "it would not offer more benefits" than their own schools.
Charter schools (called "free" schools) and education reform is taking hold in Britain.
Former Governor Olene Walker is part of a group called Citizens for Educational Excellence, and they issued a news release calling for "more education funding and innovation." (I couldn't find a website for CEE, though there's a group out of Texas with the same name.)
Unfortunately, the news article about the group and its release mentions nothing about charter schools. How innovative do they really want schools to be?