Thursday, November 26, 2009
In an interesting and worthwhile guest commentary in the Denver Post, Spencer Weiler an assistant professor of education at the University of Northern Colorado, argues that charter schools are not laboratories for public schools as many have asserted.
Professor Weiler's arguments are interesting and worth taking note of, but because he does not define what a laboratory school is supposed to be, his arguments also raise many questions. I'll deal with a few.
First, he assumes that a laboratory school must have the same demographics as the average for the state of Colorado to be a laboratory. I hope that it's pretty obvious that this is not a valid argument. The fact is that very few districts mirror the state average. Using Weiler's logic, most districts in the state are not good laboratories for public education. An average is a mathematical calculation that says very little about the individual schools and districts all over Colorado. For, example, The Classical Academy in Academy School District 20 has very similar characteristics to the rest of the district. Many other charter schools are around the state mirror their districts, including those in areas with high non-Caucasian populations.
Second, he makes an assumption that appears to be racist (although I'm sure he does not intend it to be). He cites the percentage of white population as one piece of evidence that charter schools are not laboratories. Does that mean that non-whites learn differently or can't learn in the same way as whites? Certainly there are ELL students who need special consideration. What that consideration is must be thought out. I am not an expert in this area, but I do know five Russian teenagers who have been adopted to families in different areas of the U.S. I have not researched what their schools are doing for them, but they are (in some cases as short a period as six months) doing very well in English. I highly doubt that they have teachers and specialists who are fluent in Russian at their schools. Another issue with this comment is that simply because a school might only have a 5% non-English speaking population does not meant that school can't or is unlikely to develop a good ELL program. In fact, it might be easier for such a school.
Not directly related to Weiler's arguments is the issue that there are many reasons to have charter school beyond the laboratory argument. School choice is one of those. For many of us, there are inherent advantages to school choice that do not need further argument.
For now, it suffices to say that until someone can define what an adequate educational laboratory looks like, we can't say whether or not charter schools are adequate laboratories. In my mind, it makes much more sense to look at the methods of successful charter schools, try them in other schools (charter and otherwise), and see if they work in larger populations. Then we'll know whether charter schools are laboratory schools.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Just like Matthew Emmons lost his chance at a medal in the 3 position rifle event when he shot at the wrong target in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, is there a chance that the U.S. is missing it shot at being a world leader.
For years now, the U.S. has been pursuing standards based and test based achievement in schools. The problems with formulating these measures state by state has led to discussion of a national standard. Who knows the resources that have been spent and will be spent in the attempt to figure out these standards? However, I have a different perspective born out of my ten year old son's fascination with Bill Gates.
Bill Gates is an outlier, but certainly not possible to ignore. My son wants to be the next Bill Gates. I began to think "what is it about his school that would encourage him to be the next Bill Gates?" Then I broadened that question to schools, in general. Phrased another way, "What is it about standards based education that would encourage my son to be the next Bill Gates?" The answer I came to is: nothing. There is nothing about the current measures of education that encourage entrepreneurial, creative thinking.
So, what if we are shooting at the wrong target?
Monday, November 23, 2009
Boulder Valley school teachers refuse to believe that their district can't afford to give them big raises in one of the worst economic times ever. Next year is supposed to be worse. We are coming up to the end of the first semester in another month or so and they have again voted against the contract.
What will they do next year when budgets are cut approximately another 4.5% from this year's reduced funding? Will they still expect more money? Will they fight against layoffs?
These difficult economic times are testing the flexibility and allegiances of unions and union members. Are they really working for students or for themselves? What is their motivation? They want to be considered professionals, but do not want to submit themselves to market realities as do other professionals.
Having worked in for-profit, not-for-profit, and the government sectors as a financial leader, I can honestly say that this is the strangest set of issues I've faced. In all of those three sectors people are being laid off, taking furloughs, taking salary cuts or even closing businesses. In the education sector, employees are decrying any cuts to their precious livelihood. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not enjoying the current economic situation any more than anyone else. I don't enjoy seeing anyone lose a job or take a pay cut. I simply wonder why teachers do not seem to understand that what affects everyone else has to affect them. You can't fill a $1 billion hole in the Colorado budget without cuts to K-12 education.
K-12 education is just under half of the Colorado budget. A $1 billion deficit is approximately 13% of the Colorado General Fund. Assuming that the deficit would be made up only by cutting expenditures, that means that in order to leave K-12 education untouched, all other governmental expenditures would have to be cut about 26%. That includes higher education, which has already been hurt over the past few years.
It's time that K-12 educators (administrators as well as teachers) face the facts that they cannot be protected any longer. Times are tough. we are all feeling the pain. It time for teachers to learn to share.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Calvert has a long history in the education industry. The days schools began in 1897 in the Baltimore area. CES also offers home school program curriculum and has entered the online learning arena over the past few years. Laurie Duke, the steering committee chair told me, “CES has been a leader in home instruction for over 100 years serving families all around the globe. In the last decade CES has entered the on-line learning arena and has partnered with many public school districts across the country. This fall, South Carolina Calvert Academy Charter School opened its door using CES. It is our closest model.”
The Calvert application featured the Calvert curriculum as well as Calvert as the provider of most of the school’s services. This dependence on Calvert is one of the reasons that this application did not succeed in 2008. However, the hard work of the local board in recruiting additional members helped Calvert overcome last year’s issues. In addition, The CCA board hired Brad Miller, an attorney from Colorado Springs specializing in charter schools. Brad’s expert counsel helped our board make some pivotal changes to our service agreement with CES. I was also hired to review the budget that CES put together for the school. The Calvert school was approved with conditions that the board will meet between now and the end of the 45 day charter negotiation period between the Calvert board and the CSI board.
Laurie told me after the school was approved, “We are so elated to get the CSI board’s final approval. They challenged us on every facet of the application. But, we persevered and returned a stronger and more confident board that is ready for the next phase.”
Mountain Middle School’s team made a valiant effort toward a project based learning middle school modeled after High Tech High in San Diego. Nancy Heleno, the committee chair, presented support from the National Middle School Association for their model as well as a letter from the Durango City Council. It was clear that most of the CSI board had great passion for this project and the need for a charter middle school in Durango, but they also thought that the school was a year away from being ready. The Mountain Middle School team decided to withdraw its application and learn from this interaction with the board in order to make their application even stronger. In addition, Animas High School, the project based learning charter high school in Durango, will have a year under its belt from which the Mountain Middle School team glean information and support its future application.
Nancy Heleno told me, “This is bump in the road. We will proceed with vigor. Anytime an authorizer asks an applicant to refine an application to best meet the needs of students, it is the correct course of action. Though many families of 5th, 6th and 7th graders in Durango are disappointed, the revised plan will be better than the initial application."
The most pleasant aspect of observing these two hearings was seeing the quality of people involved in both steering committees. Calvert’s committee included a long time teacher, many graduates of Calvert’s day schools, as a former leader in the Pennsylvania state department of education. The Mountain Middle School committee includes successful business people, a long time teacher and an expert in brain development. While the two schools had different outcomes at this hearing, having witnessed the passion and credentials of the MMS team, I have no doubt that Mountain Middle School will become a reality.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
As we talked about the Governor’s budget cut proposal, it was clear that Jim thinks it’s too early to know for sure, but that the message for charters is that we have to prepare for the worst. While there has been some talk of legal challenges, there are a number of ways that the Governor could approach this to try to make it square with Amendment 23. For example, Jim said that some have talked about adjusting the factors for cost of living and district size. In addition, as Amendment 23 only affects the base, I asked Jim if he thought Charter School Capital Construction funding might be cut. He said, “Anything that’s not in the base is vulnerable.”
He also said that as charter schools tend to be more “nimble” financially, it’s going to be interesting to see how charter schools do with this reduced funding environment. There might be a real contrast in the way charter schools handle these cuts compared to the way districts handle them. His advice? “Be knowledgeable about your revenue line items and which will be directly affected by cuts and be prepared for the worst. It’s going to be awhile before we know the actual cuts, but schools should be prepared.”
I then turned to the Colorado League Annual Conference that has been moved from November to February 25th and 26th. I really enjoy the League conference. Being from outside of the greater Denver area, I don’t see a lot of other charter leaders very often. It’s a time to reconnect and also make new connections. I also get to hear a lot of good things about the way charters are going and hear the struggles of others. The charter usually has about three hundred people attending, and with the conference in February this year, The League hopes that the turn out will be even greater. Kelly Grable is leading the effort and you can contact her if you are interested in presenting (Kgrable@coloradoleague.org).
I also got more information about The League’s strategic plan that is coming to completion. While not final, Jim told me that The League is working on a couple of interesting issues that should help charter schools. One effort involves a sustainable funding formula for expanded advocacy support – both at the state capitol and beyond. Another intriguing element will investigate the viability of alternative arrangements for delivering special education services to individual charter schools and groups of charters.
Jim had to run because he was off to a meeting in downtown New York, but those are a few things going on at The Colorado League of Charter Schools as they try to support charter schools across the state.
See more about the league at www.coloradoleague.org
For more about membership in the league go here.
John Fitzgerald wrote a very positive piece about the 25 schools in Minnesota that had perfect audits.
I don't have much else to say because I still think that receiving a perfect audit says nothing about whether or not a school is a good school. A friend of mine once said that some financial people act as if the organization is a finance department with a school wrapped around it rather than a school that needs a finance department.
As a financial person, it's hard for me to say sometimes, but I'll take a school with decent financial controls and accounting but with an excellent academic program aligned with its mission over a school with excellent financial management with a decent academic program any day.
That isn't to say that a school ought not try to achieve both. It is simply to make sure that we prioritize properly. Thanks, John, for your positive piece.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Let's look at the issue of not having proper segregation of duties, which was pointed out in the report. It is absolutely important that any organization, school or not, have good segregation of duties. This helps (but does not ensure) that funds are not misappropriated. In small organizations (such as charter schools) complete segregation of duties is almost impossible. (In a bit of self serving here, I'll mention that the company I work for assists charter schools in this regard by providing outsourced financial services at a reasonable cost so that schools don't get in this situation.).
The other thing that bothers me about the report and reduces the report's credibility in my eyes is the statement:
According to the report “Checking In on Charter Schools,” there were 154 charter schools in Minnesota in the 2007-08 school year, and nearly 30,000 students were enrolled in charter schools. They received about $10,500 per student from the state but are not required to publicly elect a school board. As a result, the public pays for the school but has no say in how it’s run or managed.Can it really be true that in Minnesota the public has no say in how the charter school is "run or managed?" That just can't be. Charter schools have to obey almost all of the same laws as do non-charter public schools. The charter school has to be authorized by some entity above the charter school board, and the school has to follow the terms of its charter. Are the charter laws and the charters written so poorly in Minnesota (where charter schools started) that the public has "no" say? That is just beyond belief.
In addition, the charter school's audit report is a public document and any findings are public as well. The authorizer should receive a copy of the audit and any findings. So, there is public say so. If the issues haven't risen to the level of public concern, then either the public doesn't understand or the issues are minor enough that the public doesn't care. There is, after all, more to education than compliance. Compliance means you follow the rules. It doesn't mean you do a good job. For example, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers follow the same rules as the Indianapolis Colts. That doesn't mean that their football team is as good.
Let's take another example of a library. A library can be kept in perfect order with all the books properly coded and on the right shelves. The catalog system can be completely up to date, but if no one uses the library or the books are not on topics relevant to the users, or if the library if filled with comic books, then the library is worthless.
On the other hand, a library might not have the best tracking system or some books might not get on the right shelves, but if the library has the books that people need and has a great librarian who makes sure the best books and relevant books are brought into the collection, you have a good library.
I'm not suggesting that schools out not strive for better policies and procedures in their financial record keeping. In fact, the reason I joined my company is to help smaller school avoid this issue all together. I am suggesting that technical difficulties in accounting does not normally rise to the level of an offense that should cause a school to be closed. In fact, what it probably should cause is for the authorizer to step in and coach the school or require them to get additional outside help. The level of offense also does not affect the main priority of the school, which is educating children.
The whole point of charters is to give them some freedom, but in most states, such as Colorado, charters cannot exempt themselves from any of the school finance laws. Because of this schools, especially young schools, do make mistakes on reports to the department of education or in getting documents ready for audit. It doesn't make them evil or a bad school.
MN2020 is a progressive think tank which in my language means that it stresses form and check boxes more than results. For example, they toot the familiar we don't spend enough per student line, when there is little research that shows a direct causal relationship between per pupil spending and academic achievement. They call themselves a"progressive, non-partisan" organization, which by itself is deceptive. They may not be associated with a party, but they are not unbiased.
After this morning's post, I read an article on the New York State Teachers Union site about a charter school that is operating successfully with union teachers. This is proof that unions and charter schools do not have to be at odds. It's a good blog and a good example.
As usual, I have to point out a negative in the blog. "Teacher unionists said the conference poignantly illustrated why charter school teachers need union representation," states the blog writer. The problem I have is perhaps nit-picking, but often the devil truly is in the details. The problem is the word "need." The other problem is the word "charter school teachers."
The emphasis in education can't be the teachers. It has to be the students. The teachers are extremely important, but the focus has to be what is good for the students.
The problem with the word "need" is that there are many charter schools functioning really well without unionized teachers. As I pointed out this morning, there is absolutely no guarantee from the union that they will provide quality teachers and certainly every indication that there are many factors that contribute to good teaching that do not necessitate either certification or union membership. In fact, a state or district could have non-union certified teachers and not lose a thing.
Again, what I see (and I realize that I'm looking for it) is unions making more of themselves than they are. Unions are not bad in and of themselves. I hope none of our regular readers hear us saying that. The point is that unions continue some of the bad habits of the past of self-protection and putting forward positive examples and ignoring their negative examples of union actions. I really like what happens when good union teachers provide good education, but the question is a causal one. Does the fact that these are union teachers make them better teachers? That fact has yet to be shown. Perhaps it is the case that these teachers are great teachers because they are the type that want to teach in a charter school where the demands are greater, where the principal is more supportive. We have to examine the variables before we can jump on the union band wagon.
I know most of you can't believe I'm doing this, but to be fair, I want you all to see what the American Federation of Teachers says about charter schools.
I have to admit that I like a lot of what is on the AFT web site on this issue. The AFT talks about innovation, empowering teachers in the classroom, accountability and transparency. These are all good things.
Not surprisingly, here is where I strongly disagree. The AFT says that charter schools should "Hire well-qualified teachers—either certified teachers or those on a pathway to certification." The problem is that there is absolutely no research that demonstrates that certification makes a teacher a better teacher. The charter school that I used to work for had great teachers. Most of the best teachers were not certified. One is a retired instructor from the US Air Force Academy. One is simply a great teacher with a long history of teaching in private schools and charter schools who is passionate and well educated in his subject. Another, my daughter's AP Chemistry teacher (Linda Cummings) who educated her students so well that my daughter who ended up as class salutatorian and is now at the Colorado School of Mines is breezing through chemistry while many of her classmates struggle.
What is it that keeps unions after the idea of charter schools as long as they don't hurt unions? Is it about the kids? Excuse me for being skeptical, but I'm glad that unions are beginning to recognize the strengths of charter schools. The problem is that they continue in self-protective mode.
In business we see that those who succeed are those who create value. It seems to me that if the unions really wanted to convince people like me that they are all about the kids and education rather than simply protecting themselves through legislation, they would do things that created value--that they'd be passionate about creating value. The reason I'm skeptical is that I don't see that happening. I don't see the unions saying, "Hey, the way we are going to justify our existence is to make sure that all of our teachers are as good as they can be. If a teacher wants to be in the union in good standing, he or she must demonstrate the skills that make students better. In fact, we'll self-police our union members and get rid of members that don't meet our high standards." Has anyone heard a union leader say any of those things? If you have, I haven't.
I urge you, AFT leaders, if you are reading this blog. Convince me. Show me. Demonstrate that you really want to create value in education. Then I'll get on your side. Thank you for writing so many positive things about charter schools. I hope that you are honest about wanting to partner with charter schools rather than destroy them. I hope that in your partnership, you strive to make them better by making your members be better. Don't let slackers maintain union membership. Encourage those who are not good teachers to find other professions. Public charter schools need great teachers just as public non-charter schools do. Help create those teachers. Can we be partners?
Monday, November 9, 2009
The program, "Alternatives to Violence" (AVP), is an initiative that began in 1975 as collaboration between inmates in Green Haven Prison and Quakers interested in working with youth gangs and teens at risk.
Students will learn how to communicate with compassion and how to show concern for others in this three day program. These middle school students will then mentor others in the spring. The program allows students to voice their concerns and to explore solutions.
The program is a refreshing change of pace to the academic day and given research that shows that good character promotes good academic habits, may actually improve academic education as well.
Santa Barbara Charter School strives to give students experiences through which they construct their own learning. This is one way of developing good citizenship in our next generation.
In what appears to be another case of fighting for money versus what is right for kids, citizens demanded that a charter school have it's charter revoked. A school for the arts in downtown Gloucester, Massachusetts is being assailed by anti-charter school citizens. The citizens have a number of reasons they think the school should be closed, but apparently none of those reasons have anything to do with whether the school is effective or not.
In a telling quote, the mayor says, "In a way, this is a fight about money." Aha, who cares what happens to the kids, as long as we get our money. Of course, as I've argued before, the money deserves to follow the kids. If it's anyone's money, it's the kids' money. The money is provided by taxpayers to educate children. If the children are being educated, then there shouldn't be a problem.
See this also from Boston.com
Sunday, November 8, 2009
The Girls Athletic Leadership School was just recommended for approval in Denver Public Schools. I had an opportunity to chat with Liz Wolfson, founder and board chair, recently about this monumental step for this all girls’ charter school.
Liz said, “The GALS leadership team is thrilled that we are one giant step closer to full authorization as of Monday's night's recommendation by Superintendent Boasberg, Special Assistant Kristin Waters, and the OSRI staff.”
She also expressed great appreciation for the process and the preparation demanded of charter school applying in DPS. Her founding team along with Expeditionary Learning experts “left no stone unturned.” Liz also expressed appreciation for the encouragement they received from “strangers to parents to educators.”
So, close to making the first all girls charter school in Colorado a reality, GALS still need the Board of Education’s approval on the 30th, which will be followed by contract negotiations. Because the school wants to open in the fall, Wolfson and her staff will have to begin marketing and enrollment as soon as they receive final approval.
One way that GALS will begin their campaign is a series of community and parent meetings. The schools unique model has already spread. Wolfson’s inbox is filled with messages from people who want to join the staff. Parents are sending emails of support, telling Wolfson how excited they are that this program that started as a dream to support girls and their specific needs through high school is finally coming to fruition.
All of this and the web site doesn’t even go live until after the board vote on November 30th, but GALS’ staff is ready. The web site will go up immediately after the vote, and the staff anticipates “a swarm of families ready to explore the possibility of GALS educating and care-taking their daughters.”
GALS will be housed in central Denver, the facility has not yet been secured, but GALS has worked with others who have been through the facility search process and looks forward to publishing a physical address soon.
If you’d like to know more about GALS and the program, please either contact Elizabeth Wolfson at email@example.com, Nina Safane at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jessica Newman at email@example.com. Jessica is fluent in Spanish as well.
Liz said that as she was exiting Starbucks in Northeast Denver the other day a woman stopped her and her colleague and apologized for eavesdropping. The woman inquired if Liz was the person who was on Colorado Matters on Colorado Public Radio earlier in the week. When Liz said that she was, the woman explained that she is an anthropologist and is excited about what is happening with GALS.
After talking with Liz and having seen a video that the staff created for their final public comment session with the DPS Board of Education in which a diverse group of kids and adults screams ecstatically, “I believe in GALS,” I have to say that I am a believer too. I believe in GALS. I hope you do too.
"We are not just looking at one test score. We know that is not very reliable to just look at one piece of data. You have to look at multiple measures," Miles said.
Miles also expressed that good teachers need to be paid more. The District will assist teachers that struggle, but they will not receive the same pay increases. Over time those teachers will improve or "they will leave the system."
The nice thing about the plan as outlined is that the district seems to recognize that paying all teachers the same just for hanging on isn't fair to those who really excel. The other great thing is that they are incorporating a number of measures. It will be interesting to see how many measures are simply results and how many are measures of the traits that make up a good teacher.
I am excited that District 2 is pursuing this approach and will be watching to see how it gets implemented.
See Colorado Connections for more details. This was the source for the facts in this blog.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
This just in from The Classical Academy: "Colorado Springs, CO—Today, The Classical Academy (TCA) announced that Peter Hilts has accepted a new leadership challenge at TCA as Director of Strategic Programs. This position will provide focused leadership to College Pathways, The Cottage School, The Classical Institute and Great Starts Sports Camps."
Peter is my fellow blogger on this site and has won the great think off competition. He is a long time educator and has led TCA to be named on the best high schools in America list by U.S. News.
Peter has presented many topics at national and state conferences on topics such as strategic teacher compensation, Asperger's Syndrome, and organizational lifecycles in charter schools. He is currently working on this Ph.D. through University of Phoenix.
Congratulations to my friend and fellow blogger on this new role. Also, check out College Pathways, a program recently implemented at TCA that Peter created.
From the TCA Press Release:
TCA, the largest brick and mortar K-12 charter school in Colorado, has over 2,800 students on three campuses in North Colorado Springs with another 7700 students on the waiting list. The school is larger than 75% of the public school districts in Colorado. TCA is a multiple recipient of the prestigious John J. Irwin Award for Academic Excellence. In addition, the school has received national acclaim as the National K-12 School for its outstanding character education as well as received recognition as a National School of Distinction by the Kennedy Center—one of only seven schools in the nation to receive this honor.
In a wonderful article in The Crimson, the authors make an interesting point about President Obama. Most of the article is pretty standard defense of charter schools. It's well done, but not a lot new.
The part that I found interesting was the analysis of Obama's approach to education compared to criticisms that Obama is a socialist. Obama has set aside a record amount of money in the R2T effort and it will only be given to those states who show real strides toward innovation and very market type activities such as charter schools and merit pay.
While I still advocate for a more wholistic approach to teacher salaries and merit pay that I call strategic compensation, it is interesting that a president who is often rightly criticized for having socialistic leanings also has such a market driven approach to education. It makes me wonder if this president is an eclectic who tries to make his decisions based on what is best for the problem at hand.
At any rate, it's an interesting thought. I won't argue with a president who puts money where his mouth is, especially when that mouth is supporting charter schools.
Friday, November 6, 2009
The Socialist Worker reports that there are further attacks on unions, especially teacher unions. The funny thing is that they say it as if that's a bad thing. Huh?
We've written some pretty honest (mostly negative) views about unions and the actions they take that are self-serving and not helpful to the educational system. We've also talked about how many union actions subvert the notion that teachers are professionals. I won't recreate that list here.
The new item that I'd like to pick out is that most of the examples used in this article are cuts to unions because of budget crises faced by governments due to the worst economy in decades. Now, I don't know what you all think, but it seems to me that a lot of people are taking hits these days. The unemployment rate today was higher than expected at 10.2%. Instead of attributing these teacher layoffs to a bad economy, they attribute it to a conspiracy against unions. I don't have facts to back this up, but I'd be willing to bet that teacher layoffs are far fewer than the general work population. In fact, I'd be shocked if that weren't the case. Even if it isn't, that doesn't mean there is a conspiracy against teacher unions. The fact is that K-12 education is the largest sector of most state budgets. In Colorado, the budget shortfall, if not for budget cuts and other actions, would be $2 billion over a two year period. Why shouldn't teachers be hit by their fair share of layoffs.
Of course, another part of this conspiracy is the charter school movement. It's pretty obvious to the Socialist Worker that charter schools were not created to help students who are failing because of union schools run by the iron fist. Charter schools, according to the Socialist Worker are merely an attempt by anti-union forces to kill unions. Never mind that some charter schools hire union teachers.
The article also implies that unions somehow are good in and of themselves--that they need no justification. Good or bad, unions simply must exist to assist the proletariat. This is, of course, fallacious. A union is a contingent entity that only exists to serve a higher purpose. If it doesn't serve that higher purpose, then it doesn't need to exist.
The reporting at the Socialist Worker is just as you'd suspect, completely protective of their own and completely oblivious to what is happening in the real world. They look under ever cover to find an attack on unions. If there is an attack, maybe there should be. Maybe it's time for a revolution.
Note: Just because I like Russian history, I've been listening to a series of lectures on the Russian revolution and the tyranny of Stalin. There is a reason that Lenin couldn't make his dream work without great oppression of dissenters. There is a reason that Lenin and Stalin are no longer heroes in Russia.
Other blogs we've written on unions:
I agree with unions.
Plenty of reasons to find fault with unions
A district that doesn't bow
Why are teachers unions so confused
NEA going the way of Lenin?
Which direction will teachers unions go?
When will unions be honest?
Why are unions so crabby?
According to the Huffington Post, the final proposal from Governor Ritter announced today was a 4.6% cut or approximately $260 million. Colorado has had to fill an estimated $2 billion hole in its budget over the current year and next year's projected operations.
Many state employees are required to take furlough days and many school districts are set to make cuts in preparation for next year.
Colorado charter schools, start your budgeting now. Be careful.
Legislative challenges will be made, but in the end, I believe, these will stand.
Governor Ritter will outline his proposed 2010-2011 budget today. The Denver Post reports that Ritter plans to cut K-12 education $250 million and had considered a cut of up to $350 million. This would amount to an approximately 4.4% to 6% cut in funding. With an estimated $1.3 billion shortfall looming and major cuts already affecting other areas of the state budget, it appears Ritter is hitting the only place left to cut.
The only impediment appears to be figuring out a way to make the cut and conform to Amendment 23. Amendment 23 guarantees K-12 education a 1% increase over the annual inflation rate. With inflation estimated to be a negative .4% by the Colorado Legislative Council, that would give schools a .6% increase in funding. So, there is a 5% to 6.6% discrepancy depending on what the governor actually proposes.
While there will likely be legal challenges to this proposal, it's clear the governor believe he can make this stick, and when there is a $1.3 billion dollar hole to fill, you can bet that he will pull out all the stops. Charters schools in Colorado need to be careful as they plan for 2010-11.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
"We think some of the students are going to charters," Lara said. "We've got to improve our educational program and prove to the community that we're doing a good job as well.""
CO blogger agrees.
After reading about Texas' failure to implement a successful teacher incentive pay system, I'm encouraged about what I'm hearing from Oklahoma. I'm looking find out more, but according to one article, the Oklahoma Governor is proposing a system that includes a "variety of data" and has the "teacher union's blessing."
I've always said that a good merit pay system must be strategic and include a number of factors that demonstrate teaching ability, not necessarily test scores. In addition, I've often argued that the best systems will incorporate the ideas of all constituents, including teachers.
If I had any suggestions for Governor Keith Ballard, I'd suggest that he poll parents and see what factors they think ought to be rewarded. He might even benefit by polling some students, especially at the high school level. The last suggestion is that the system pay teachers strategically--based on the concept that the overall value that a teacher brings to students and the mission of Oklahoma schools is important. That's why I'm a little concerned that the system mentions only variety of data. I hope that they mean that they are looking at a variety of traits of teachers as well as data.
What makes a great teacher is not an exact science, but as Aristotle said, "It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits." So, while we may not obtain complete precision, we also fail if we throw up our hands and say that we can't do it. Aristotle also said, "The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." To act as if all teachers are equal is not equality. It is an injustice.
I applaud Governor Ballard in his efforts and hope that the system they create rewards teachers in a just way, not an equal way.
OK. It doesn't happen often, but when someone tries something that doesn't make sense, I am willing to admit it.
There are two things that we've written a lot about on this blog. The first is that unions are generally off base on their demands. The second is that strategic compensation for teachers is necessary to eliminate the problems with both traditional step and lane pay scales and merit pay systems.
Now we see another failed merit pay system in Texas. The system had two problems. First, the bonuses given to teachers were not given strategically enough. The evidence suggests that money was spread around rather than giving exceptional teachers large bonuses. This is often a problem as it doesn't give enough incentive to great teachers and it tells mediocre teachers that they are great. The other problem with the system is that is largely driven by test scores. Unions and I agree that test scores cannot be the measure that determines teacher pay.
This is why we've developed a relatively complex and yet simple strategic compensation system that advocates the recognition of multiple values that make a good teacher. So, while it may be surprising, I do agree with the unions on this one. If you are going to have a bad incentive system, you might as well have no incentive system. Money does not make a good teacher. A good teacher should be rewarded with money and teachers who improve their abilities should be rewarded. Those who don't strive to be better should either be terminated or receive minimal raises, perhaps a cost of living or smaller--no steps, no lanes. Of course, none of this is important if principals do not hold teachers to the same high standards that they expect of their students. Principals and districts and unions must not be afraid to tell teachers who do not demonstrate teaching capability that they ought to seek another field of employment. This is what happens in every other professional field. If teaching is a profession, then the standards must be the same.
In the mean time, I agree with the unions. Throw out ideas that somehow tying compensation to test scores will have any affect on either teachers or test scores. It's an idea that's doomed.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
It's funny that so many people seem to enjoy criticizing charter schools and charter school leaders. Having been in charter school leadership, it's funny to me that critics act as if there is some huge benefit to starting or leading a charter school.
I have relatives who have been in non-charter public education, so I know that it's not easy being an educator in K-12, especially if you care and really try to do your best for students. But if I look at those friends of mine and compare their efforts to those who have founded and run charter schools, it's clear to me that there are far more headaches and usually hours involved in running a charter school.
It begins with the effort of the application process and not even knowing if all of your effort will pay off. So, a community group puts hours in for a year or more conceptualizing and then putting some bones to that conceptual spirit or mission. Then they begin to put flesh on the bones, and yet they have not been approved.
Once they get approved, they have to then put organs into this bag of flesh and bones. They have to hire a principal. They have to help that principal hire teachers and aids. They have to decide how the administrative work should be done. Should we outsource? Should we being hiring administration? Should we have our district provide administrative services?
Oh yes, and in the midst of all of that, they have to become experts on state law and find facilities. If you don't have a facility, you can't get approved, so founders end up calling around and have to make financial determinations about remodeling costs and rent. Most facilities available aren't existing schools. Usually the founders choose between abandoned grocery stores, office space, or vacant warehouse space.
Once the school is open it has to operate on approximately 20% less per pupil revenue because it is paying for its facility from the per pupil revenue. This normally means that it pays its teachers less than the surrounding school districts. The principal then has to be a master of inspiration, finding ways to motivate teachers other than with pay. This means that the principals, founders, and parents have to keep the atmosphere invigorating.
Because these are schools of choice, it usually means that parents are more demanding than in a non-charter setting. Board members and leaders have to be on their toes, often anticipating parent "suggestions." It's not that non-charter counterparts don't have to deal with well-meaning, but difficult parents. It just means that the charter leader usually has a larger, more vocal contingent and has less ability to deflect these "suggestions" or "recommendations."
Charter leaders also have to respond to the almost incessant criticism and skepticism from media, teachers' unions, and non-charter supporting legislators.
All in all, it's tough to be a charter school leader. The work is hard, hours long, and there is normally little financial reward.
What could possibly be the motivation for leading a charter school? From leaders I've known, the only benefit is knowing that you are trying your best and dedicating your life to improving the educational opportunity for students. It's a sacrifice of love. For that reason, this difficult, almost unbearable job becomes a job that is fun. Fun in a way that most people wouldn't understand, because for most people being a charter leader is no fun.
The stagnation stage is difficult to write about. Like a stagnant pond that might have been beautiful, but now is covered with muck, a stagnate charter school begins to show the signs of muck that hasn't been cleaned up. Quite often all of the processes and procedures that make a charter school stable are also those that lead to stagnation. School leaders work so hard to get past the growth stage and begin to hire professionals and to appropriately delegate. Often this goes against their deepest sense of who they are because they are entrepreneurs at heart. They allow others to have input. They delegate to subordinates. Many of the teachers are trained and operate without their day to day assistance.
This all seems so nice. Everything is operating smoothly. If someone asks about a rule or procedure, the answer is “we have a policy for that.” This is great. However, if that’s all it is, if there is no continuous improvement or re-infusion of ideas, the school will stagnate. In fact, stagnation is hard to detect for that very reason. The beginning of this stage is very comfortable. It feels as if all is OK. It’s not until things become stale that people begin to notice.
Following procedures and processes becomes rote. Board members and other leaders begin to answer questions with “that’s not our policy.” The problem is that no one really remembers why the policy was created and no one wants to think about changing policies. Many of the entrepreneurial types have left or are bored and thinking about leaving. Many of the people who have stayed are those who like routine.
As stagnation becomes worse, students often cease to be excited about their school because leadership is no longer excited about the school. Often the process becomes more important than the results, and even the definition of high quality results becomes defined by the process rather than the process by the goals. This is what I call the crisis of red tape. When the crisis of red tape hits, organizations need to take note and make corrections fast because this is the sign that the school has lost its heart. It may have its head, but as we all know, without passion, no one does anything.
A school that reaches stagnation has two options because staying in stagnation is not an option for a charter school. The school must either reinvent itself and restore its passion and reconsider policies and find ways to “restart” or it will enter decline. I’ve never seen anyone choose decline. It’s really a stage that arrives because no one recognizes or people deny that they are in stagnation.
To start at the beginning see: