Why is school choice so important? First, it respects the parental role in the upbringing of children; it allows for parental involvement. Second, it fosters competition. When schools compete, innovation is the result. In sum, it fosters experimentation and creativity in the instruction of our children. Third, it embodies the notion that “one size does not fit all.” Children are not widgets; each is unique. School choice recognizes that uniqueness and allows for flexibility.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Dave Thomas of the State Board of Education writes a good piece on the history of school choice in Utah and the importance of charter schools.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
A few weeks ago I visited American Academy near Denver. It's a suburban school, a lot like the ones we see cropping up all over Utah. They have a new building (that's too expensive) a core knowledge focus, and a philosophy that believes instruction in classical education and mounds of data to measure progress.
The school has some fun things going on, and a very robust program, including drama, music, art, and a mount of other electives. And their data is incredible. I saw tables and results that showed amazing growth. When sixth graders transfer into the school at that age, they are typically a grade or more below grade level, but by the time those same students leave the school in eight grade, those same students are a grade level above their peers at other schools.
In Colorado, it's common to call the official state test the "autopsy" because it's really only good to find out what happened after its too late to save the "patient." Like Utah, the test is given in the Spring, but results aren't available until August. Well, that's much too late to make changes to curriculum or to provide development teachers--or change them out if necessary. (Unlike Utah, their assessment model is based on growth, not just a snapshot of achievement.)
So, American Academy tests its students several times a year with private tests that provide practically instant results that the school uses to change student placement, teacher development plans, and teacher evaluations, assignments, and retention.
Charters in Colorado aren't LEAs--they are subordinate to districts. That removes some autonomy, but also means that they don't need to provide the full scope of services to special education students because they are part of a larger whole. So, the local school district runs a formula based on the cost of high-cost special education students, levies that on all schools in the district (charter and district), and uses the funds to provide services to high-cost special education students.
American Academy also faces a challenge that many schools in Utah do, namely how to grow and expand while keeping the focus and direction pure, so to speak. Before expanding, the school wants to find the kind of leadership that can allow for satellites and expansions. With the kind of academic and growth results their students achieve, they are well positioned for success if they can find the internal capacity to grow.
Also, check out this fun sign on a popular Language Arts teacher's door:
Thursday, May 26, 2011
I'm in Connecticut today. When I travel, (Yankees yesterday, Mets tomorrow) I try to visit charter schools, state charter associations, and other education reform groups. I like to learn what they do to be successful and share best practices. I'm especially interested in how other states organize the chartering environment and how politics plays a role in how autonomous, equitably funded, and innovative charters are allowed to be. In the last month, I've visited groups in California, Colorado, and now Connecticut. I'll be posting about all of them, beginning with the most recent.
When I planned this trip, I Googled "Connecticut Charter Schools." That comes up with the state education department, a group called Achievement First (a non-profit that runs several successful schools), a handful of other schools, and an education reform group called ConnCAN, a local education reform group that was also recommended to me by a Yale professor who studies ed reform. No Association came up, even when I added "Association" to my search terms. So, I visited ConnCan. (I tried to visit some Achievement First schools, but they didn't return my calls until today! when I'm already here with plans. Apparently, they thought I was coming out next week.)
ConnCan stands for Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, or something like that. The acronym actually isn't placed very conveniently on their website. Anyway, I'd put them in the category of Utah's Parents for Choice in Education, in that they are a charter supporting group, but are more broadly focused on education reform more generally--and Connecticut needs a lot of it.
Connecticut has 18 charter schools after 14 years of allowing them, and only 6,000 students attend them. The story goes like this: When the state had a Republican governor in the mid '90s and some Republicans in the state legislature who combined forces with reform-minded Democrats, the state came a single vote short of passing a voucher law. That scared the establishment enough to come to the table on Charters. The governor considered the concept a victory, and didn't pay much attention to the details, so the union ended up writing the bill.
So, this long after, charter growth is completely stymied because every new charter school student and piece of funding has to be specifically authorized by legislation. There's only a single authorizer, the State Board of Education, but all money to fund charter students (70 percent of what district students get) has to be paid by the state on top of what the state pays to districts. Every charter student is literally funded by taxpayers twice, once to the charter school, where she is educated, and once to the district where she isn't.
So, one of the top policy priorities for ConnCan is to fix education funding and enrollment in the state so that choice exists within the entire public system and so funding follows students to the school they choose. In this area, they can learn a lot from Utah, which has an equitable funding structure based largely on enrollment and attendance, and very open public school choice laws.
I asked about a Charter School Association, and there is one, the Connecticut Charter School Network (don't get me started on the name). Even googling the exact name of the group puts their link at number six on the list. Hard to find these people. One reason for that is that the group has been moribund for several years. ConnCan has essentially been filling that role as the Charter Association had no money and no organization. Recently, ConnCan helped the Association with new funding and grants, standing it up so it can fill its role.
Since Utah has had some controversy surrounding PCE and UAPCS and how nicely the groups should play together, I asked about that specifically. There is no such conflict or controversy in Connecticut. Both groups rely on each other for support, and both work to improve educational choice and outcomes for families and children. It's symbiotic, just like it is (or should be) in Utah.
The political dynamic here is about the mirror image of Utah. Democrats control every statewide elected office. This year, Republicans won enough seats (in a very strong GOP year across the country) so that the Democrats don't have a veto-proof majority in the legislature, but that doesn't matter this year since a Democrat was elected governor.
Just like Utah, there are three political parties; the minority party that has almost no influence (GOP in CT, Dems in UT) and then the majority party is split in wings, with the further out wing (right in UT, left in CT) holding the leadership and momentum. That makes education reform a real challenge, though there's some hope here that there will be enough "children first" (my phrasing) Democrats who are willing to challenge the establishment and pass some needed reforms in combination with some Republicans.
A very interesting visit.
BTW, I'm writing this from Yale's campus. The internet is awesome.
Utah has a part time legislature. Every lawmaker has conflicts of interest. For one, they all pay taxes. Almost all are employed by someone, own a business or have investments in some industry that is regulated by the state, which regulates almost everything.
Are those conflicts necessarily bad? When Jim Dunnigan (an insurance broker) runs a bill regulating the kinds of services and practices allowed by insurance brokers when competing for business, is that bad because it impacts his industry, or is it good because he knows the industry well and can craft legislation with the benefit a solid background? Steve Sandstrom, an architect, does architecture work for school districts. Is he conflicted when he runs a bill to reduce impact fees that school districts pay to cities when schools are built?
Charters for years have been the "conflict" that keeps getting brought up, and that generates lots of comments on news websites. So, here comes this story from Fox 13 saying that Rep. Mike Morley (R-Spanish Fork) still "profits" from charters. He hasn't built or invested in one in years, but the ones he helped cobble together four years ago are still running, and still making lease payments.
Look, I'm not here to defend Mike Morley. He owns a family construction company, and that company competes for work in lots of industries. Charter schools and other parts of the government are a growth industry at a time when private construction work is lagging. I make no judgment about his ethics. There's certainly not evidence of anything nefarious. But I certainly don't begrudge him the ability to make a living by competing for the jobs available to his company.
North Star Academy in Riverton is number eight on a list of the top ten best schools, according to the DNews. They've always been a high performing school.
The news isn't all rosy, however, as Gateway Preparatory Academy in Ceder City was ranked fourth from the bottom in the opposite list.
Unfortunately, these rankings tell almost nothing about the quality of a school because there is no measure of growth. If students are performing low but are improving, then a school is doing tremendous work. If students perform high on specific tests, but just at a normally expected pace as children grow older, then the school has nothing to brag about. And it's impossible to know in these cases because there's just no data.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
So, I am in Citizens Bank Park tonight for the Phillies v Reds. Before the game the team recognized several students from a local charter high school. I wish I had been paying closer attention so I could share some more details or link to the school. At any rate, it was really sweet to arrange such an event for me on the day I'm here.
Friday, May 20, 2011
From the AP:
The long-awaited comprehensive overhaul of the No Child Left Behind law may not get off the ground in Congress this year..
The chairman of the House Education Committee, Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, says there is no chance of meeting the August deadline set by President Barack Obama.
Republicans and Democrats agree the law is broken, but there is division within each party on just how it should be fixed. The House is proceeding with a series of small, targeted bills, and the Senate is aiming for more comprehensive legislation
I got an iPad 2, and it's awesome. It's obviously not as convenient for lengthy writing as a laptop. So, wondered why my posting frequency has gone down? I spend more travel time on the iPad, always figuring "I'll post about this when I have my laptop" and then never crack the laptop out. Also, I've played a lot of Angry Birds and Glass Tower.
Also, some personal matters have kept me focused elsewhere.
But, today is the first of a series of meetings regarding school quality metrics. I have asked for such collaboration on this matter for a long time, and am glad that the Charter Board and Office are ready to meet with stakeholders and work together to come up with standards. I'll write more about it after today's meeting. (I'll be sure to bring my laptop.)
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Utah is the only state in the country that issues charter agreements that do not expire and require renewal. NACSA believes that limited terms (five years) increase accountability on school performance. Having no charter term and no set process for accountability is not a good way to go because it totally wipes out the second half of the accountability/autonomy bargain. (The bargain is that charters get more autonomy to operate in innovative ways because they are more accountable for results.)
That's got to be the most unexpected and ultimately controversial statement from NACSA (National Association of Charter School Authorizers) in its presentation to the State Charter School board today.
In a discussion about how authorizers could ensure quality and appropriateness in schools working with Education Service Providers and other experts, John Pingree said, "We don't have the resources for that. We have to work with what the legislature gives us."
Well, NACSA has the solution. Charge the schools a fee of between one and five percent of state revenue to oversee them and hold them accountable. Charters spend $185 million in the 2010 school year, which would give the charter board $1.85 million in additional operating revenue if they could put in such an authorizer fee.
I'm not sure what else to say. But, Ouch!
CREDO is presenting at the state Charter Board meeting about the survey they sent out regarding the metrics they are recommending for Utah's charter schools and authorizers. CREDO continues to call what they're working on a Performance Management Framework, missing the memo that the State Board of Education specifically removed the word "Management" for what appeared to be aesthetic reasons.
After way too long talking about methodology, who they were, and what they agreed to do many meetings ago, we get great insights like "Elementary schools showed very low interest in high school and secondary educational measurements."
Hopefully, that's enough snark and we can get to more usable information, since the state is paying CREDO for this data. Hopefully we'll get better insight than "School-appropriate metrics valued." It took a while, but at least here we go.
People think that Academic Performance is the most important thing to measure. That's really the only finding. She recommends going through a consensus process, which the Board had already decided to do. Still, glad to hear it.
It took a long time to get to where everyone should have been all along, but it now looks like the State Board will establish a representative body of stakeholders that can craft reasonable standards that the movement will support.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
With a hat tip to Utah Public Education, City Academy will represent Utah at the National Mock Trial Championship in Phoenix.