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A Parentfs Voice for School Choice


Itfs a Celebration

This is National Charter Schools Week and there is much to celebrate as well as challenges to be overcome. Did you know (from www.publiccharters.org):

There are charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia
More than 1.4 million students are being educated in more than 4600 charter schools in the U.S.
60% of charter school students nationwide are minority students
26 states have caps on the number of allowed charter schools
Nationally, charter schools receive just 78% of per pupil funding as compared to the amount received by non-charter public schools
365,000 students are estimated to be on waiting lists for charter schools

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has a terrific video on their home page. The video celebrates the success of charter schools and educates about the challenges still facing the movement.

Do you have children attending a public charter school? If so, you are extremely fortunate. I, also, am one of the fortunate parents. If you and I have OUR children in a charter school and WE are happy, we might be tempted to simply enjoy our good fortune and forget that action and vigilance are required. What can we do during National Charter Schools Week, and beyond, to celebrate and support this wonderful school reform movement?

Send a letter to our national leaders, encouraging them to recognize and celebrate charter schools during this important week.
Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors about charter schools; be sure they know the facts; dispel the myths
Be involved locally and nationally to further the growth and success of the charter school movement
Sign up for the newsletter from A Parentfs Voice to stay informed about how you can better advocate on behalf of the charter school movement
Join the Colorado Charter Advocacy Network to be alerted when action is required at the state level
Last, but certainly not least, thank the wonderful faculty and staff in your charter school for their commitment to our childrenfs education. They are on the gfront linesh everyday and they have earned our deep appreciation.


WE are Committed

Back in August there was a terrific editorial in the Rocky Mountain News. This editorial hangs on my refrigerator, along with pictures, comic strips, childrenfs artwork, hot lunch menus, sports schedulesc In the midst of everything else, I love to look up there and see the headline, gWe are Committed.h This is a great reminder for me, as a parent, to be involved and take some ownership for the success of my childrenfs education and their school.

The author of the piece, Peter Huidekoper, refers to the very different use of the pronouns gtheyh and gweh. He began by talking about staff in Denver Public Schools who wanted more control over the decisions affecting their schools.

Manualfs principal, Rob Stein, explained his schoolfs interest in the waivers: gWe donft have enough control of our own decisions on-site - how and when we hire teachers, determining our own schedule and calendar. I could go on and on.h Montclair teacher Kyle Kimmal said, gWe want to have control of our building.h

Notice their use of the pronoun we.

Not they.

Pronouns are telling.

He contrasts with schools inside large districts who implement programs and curriculum because itfs what gtheyh want the schools to do. How different this is from how most charter schools operate.

Charter school founders have the freedom to establish their mission and their program. No one else imposes a mission or a system on them. So you hear charter schools using the pronoun, gweh. What better motivator for accountability, commitment and responsibility could any district or government entity place on them? The article goes on to say:

They equates to following and complying; surrendering to the authorities, even though they donft know your kids, or what has worked, or what you as a faculty are learning and what adjustments you are making to improve. Which then often leads to passive-aggressive behavior: gIfll sort of do what they told me to do, even if much of it doesnft make much sense to me.h Such resentment, of course, impairs any true commitment.

We equates to responsibility and accountability. The principal and faculty are responsible for both the intangibles - the culture and values honored at the school - and for the educational program. We is accountable when students arenft learning. We doesnft shake its head at what some outside force dictates. We shakes its head at its own mistakes, struggles with its failures of omission and commission, knows it always falls short of meeting each studentfs needs but tries hard to get better, tries never to lose sight of what we committed to do: to serve every young person in the school as well as possible.

They cripples.

We stands up. We takes ownership.

There is a terrific example of this type of accountability and ownership in Arizona. New accountability requirements are headed for charter schools in that state. Are those rules coming from the school districts? From the state? From the federal government? No! Theyfre coming from the Arizona Charter Schools Association. This is self-governance in action! Isnft that what charter schools are all about? Kudos to Arizona and best of luck in their endeavor.

My children are fortunate to attend a school with a strong administrative and governance leadership team. So do I have a role in the gweh? Of course I do! I must perform the volunteer hours requested of me; I must communicate respectfully with my childrenfs teachers about their progress; I must attend leadership meetings in the school to stay informed; I must understand the relationship between my charter school and its authorizer. I must be a part of solutions and improvement. Then I become gweh. If I say, gtheyh, then I AND my children are victims. If I say, gweh, then I have an active part in the continued strength of gourh school.



Facts are Stubborn Things

I know I shouldnft do it, but I read all the comments posted at the end of online articles and editorials about charter schools. Itfs clearly bad for my health, as my blood pressure rises when I read so many ranting, hysterical, irrational arguments in opposition to charter schools. Jeanne Allen, President of the Center for Education Reform has written an article addressing at least one hysterical statement that we often hear about gbadh charter schools. She is actually able to back her statements up with facts, specifically addressing school closure and the reasons for them.



Charter School Supply and Demand

The Wall Street Journal carried an article this week that begins with a foreboding note:

The waiting lists for charter schools, already notoriously long, look like they are about to get longer.

The author of the piece points out the reality of what is happening in many states, in spite of President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncanfs enthusiasm for charter schools. The statistics demonstrating the growth of and demand for charters are impressive:

With 1.4 million students in 4,600 schools, charters are by far the most significant achievement of the gchoiceh movement that strives to promote educational gains through school competition. Enrollment in charter schools has more than doubled in the last six yearscan estimated 365,000 students are on waiting lists to get into charter schools, which many parents see as their only alternative to failing traditional schools.

Clearly parents are gvoting with their feeth. Why, then the assertion that the waiting lists are growing longer? Why not open more and more charter schools to meet the demand? The author highlights two main hurdles to charter school growth: the recession and the teachersf unions.

The first obstacle underlines one of the primary myths surrounding charter schools–they gdrainh money from the public school system. How can this be? The taxpayer dollars follow the student to the charter school, which is responsible for educating that student. The public neighborhood school no longer needs classroom space, materials, and instruction for those kids that leave the system for charters.

Incredibly, some districts are now looking to the states to recover glost revenueh for the students they are no longer educating. The article states,

Like a handful of other states, Massachusetts provides school districts with transition funds to make up for the money they lose when a student transfers to a charter school.

gI think charter schools are a great idea,h says state Sen. Robert OfLeary, a Democrat who chairs the state senatefs education committee. gThe problem is, they tend to be a more expensive idea.h

Do those districts also ask for and receive funds for every child they gloseh to home schools? Private schools? Letfs be on guard for similar tricks in Colorado.

The second obstacle detailed is the teachersf unions. The author mentions just one example from one state:

The Ohio Education Association, a teachers union that has been among the most outspoken critics of charter schools, has testified against them in the state legislature and supported litigation aimed at toughening oversight. In New York, Boston and other cities, unions have ramped up their efforts to organize charter school teachers.

(For more on the union angle, see my previous post.)

Here is the sad reality:

There is virtually no sign of the kind of expansion of charter schools that President Obama might be hoping for.

Ten states donft permit charter schools. Twenty-six others, along with the District of Columbia, restrict their growth with caps on the number of charters allowed, enrollment restrictions and funding limits.

Parents are being bulldozed on the issue of school choice by legislators, education bureaucrats, and teachersf unions. The unions and the districts are sometimes very vocal and active in their opposition to the growth of charter schools. Why do we, as parents, allow it to happen? No one has the right to tell you where YOUR children attend school. That right belongs to you as the one who knows your own children best.

The WSJ article tells the story of one school, Edward Brooke Charter School, south of Boston with a waiting list of more than 1000 children.

Among those on the waiting list is Ethan Clark, the son of Brooke executive director Jon Clark, who founded the school seven years ago. Mr. Clark supports Mr. Obamafs efforts to expand charters to make way for more students. gIfm tired of having conversations with emotional parents,h says Mr. Clark, a former teacher. gRealistically, they donft have a chance of getting in here, and there is nothing I can tell them but fsorry.fh

As sad as that fact is for the parents, who want only the best for their children, itfs far sadder for the students who will be forced to stay in underperforming schools.

Itfs up to parents to make our voices heard, affecting real reform in education. How can you become better informed and become an advocate on behalf of your childrenfs education?

Visit A Parentfs Voice to learn more about charter schools, parental choice in education, and advocacy. Sign up for the newsletter at the top of that home page. Join the Colorado League of Charter Schools advocacy network.



Charter Schools and Unions

Most of us think of charter schools and unions as being analogous to oil and water. The unions typically are not the biggest fans of the charter school movement, to put it mildly. Lately, however, I have read many reports of charter school teachers beginning to not only embrace, but join the unions, as well as unions running charter schools. According to a recent article in The New York Times: New York Cityfs teachersf union now runs two charter schools in Brooklyn and workers have organized at many more, including more than a dozen across New York State.

The same article goes on to tell the story of a woman who left her job as an assistant principal, in a traditional neighborhood school, to teach middle school students in a charter school. She was not favorable to the union, but due to problems she saw in the charter school,

cthis spring Ms. Nelson, 39, once skeptical about unions, helped lead an effort to unionize the teachers at the school, KIPP AMP, thinking that a contract would provide a clearer idea of expectations and consequences.

However,

Ms. Nelson has changed her mind again, withdrawing her support from a unionization drive that she says is proving to be a distraction and more about power than children. Interesting! As a union skeptic myself, this is one of my concerns about a teachersf union. The schools are in existence for the good of the students, not the good of the teachers.

Those who support the unions will point to abuse by administration as a reason for teachers to organize, in an effort to provide the highest quality education in the classroom. I am not a teacher, and I realize this is a very simple answer, but I have found in my life that most problems can be worked out simply by two people having a civil conversation. I have no control over the person Ifm talking to, who might NOT respond in a civil manner. But for the most part, I find that if I conduct myself well, the other party will also. And isnft this what we tell our kids when they have problems amongst themselves—hTalk about it; work it outh? This point is mentioned in The New York Times article: David Levin, a founder of the KIPP network and the superintendent for its four New York City schools, was caught off guard. Although Ms. Nelson and other teachers had gone to the school administrators to complain, none of their concerns had made it to Mr. Levin, who is working to open nine new KIPP schools in the city over the next several years.

gNobody reached out to me or pursued our own processes for how to address issues,h Mr. Levin said. gItfs clear to me that there was obviously a breakdown in communications at some point and the union proffered themselves as a way to address that.h How can a problem be resolved if one of the parties isnft aware there is a problem?

Ms. Nelson seems to have learned this lesson the hard way. Meanwhile, Ms. Nelson began to doubt her own decision, after spending what she estimated to be nearly 20 hours a week on union work. She asked to meet with Mr. Levin privately and told him all the troubles she had seen. gI felt like he really listened,h she said. gI should have done this sooner.h

A happy ending!

There is a lesson here for parents, as well, I believe. We are very supportive of our teachers and other staff. Particularly those of us parents in charter schools find we have greater access to administration and the governing body for the school than those in the neighborhood schools might find. We must stay involved in our schools, and we must know and support our teachers, administrators and governors. Let us be a party to open, honest communication in our schools. Let us be agents for solutions, not gossip and trouble. The unions have worked so hard in opposition to charter schools that I find it extremely difficult to trust their motives in approching charter teachers. Let us be wary and watchfulc



From the Commissioner

Everywhere we turn, we hear about the need for innovation in education. Four months ago, a Denver Post editorial proclaimed that gtinkering around the edges of reformh is insufficient to produce sustained improvements in public education. I could not agree more. So begins an editorial in the April 13, 2009 Denver Post by Dwight Jones, Colorado Commissioner of Education.

In case you havenft noticed, ginnovationh is the new buzz word. In this editorial the word appears ten times. Why the push for innovation? Well, call me cynic, but could it have anything to do with money? Yes, according to Commissioner Jones: As highlighted in a recent Post article, Colorado could soon receive several million dollars in federal stimulus money for public education. In addition to a fair share for programs that serve underprivileged students and those with disabilities, there is the prospect of additional funds earmarked for innovation. Known as gRace to the Toph funds, these funds will go to ga handful of states that devise the most innovative ways of improving educationh — to the potential tune of $500 million per state. Ah ha! Now we understand. But is this really what is needed to fix ailing schools? More taxpayer dollars? I am reminded of the early days of the charter school movement. Parents were so desiring of an alternative to the traditional public, neighborhood school that they were willing to sacrifice some of the funding in order to focus on a different academic choice. And with only some exceptions, the charter movement has been incredibly successful. They have produced better results with fewer dollars. We continue to flood the education system with more and more money. Results do not follow. What we need is true innovation without the heavy hand of government bureaucracy.



Do the Math

As a charter parent I am often frustrated by the arguments in opposition to charter schools. The one fact that is indisputable is the number of students on waiting lists in charters across the country (over 40,000 in Colorado). Perhaps not all parents are experts in education, but we are THE experts when it comes to our own children. The New York Post reports that nearly 40,000 students are competing for 8500 open seats in New York City this week. Parents know what they want for their children; why wonft city officials accommodate their desires and open more charter schools? We must be involved at a grassroots level as advocates on behalf of our childrenfs education. There are politicians, policy makers, and writers who advocate for reform. But if we, the parents, stand up with a loud and unified voice, we will not be ignored.

Are you a public school, non charter parent? Are you satisfied with your school? Could it be higher quality? Do you desire to have a choice for your child, but none exist (or the wait lists are impossibly long)? Are you a charter parent? Is the relationship between your school and your district a healthy one? Is the legislation at the state level favorable to charter schools and parental choice in education? There is so much that we can do as individual voters. To find out more about grassroots advocacy, visit A Parentfs Voice website and continue watching this blog for ideas about how you can get more involved. To start, educate yourself. Visit the websites and blogs listed on A Parentfs Voice to become more familiar with issues involving education in Colorado. We can learn together and take steps to better education for ALL children!



School ReformcFor the Kids!

gWefre finally at a place where the debate over schools and teacher contracts has morphed from whatfs good for the adults in the schools to what works for the kids.h Dan Haley, Denver Post Indeed! These words were written in an editorial in todayfs Denver Post by Dan Haley.

I am not a big fan of the teachersf union. It seems that when discussions arise in defense of the unions, I hear the focus shift from the students to the employees. We all love our teachers! But the school was not created for the teachers; it was created to educate students. I recently posted a comment on a blog regarding the idea of competency in schools. I asked the question, what school would ever fire a teacher who is performing to high standards? Another individual responded to my comment by saying: gPrincipals would never fire a good , experienced teacher to hire a new teacher who they would have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars less per year. Nooo. that NEVER happensc THAT is why there should be due process.h

I then asked: what about due process for the KIDS? In a charter school, the organizational structure is quite simple. The school is authorized by a district or the state Charter School Institute. Then the parent community elects a governing board, often including parents. The governing board hires and supervises the administrator, who hires the teachers and staff. A principal in a charter school who pulled a trick mentioned above would be very sorry very quickly! Itfs a small community and parents would speak out forcefully and demand the retention of the experienced teacher. As Mr. Haley rightfully points out, the only meaningful school reform is focused on students!



Colorado Charter Schools Rally

Last Thursday, April 2, was a beautiful, bright, warm day, in between spring snow storms in Denver. Students, teachers, parents, and supporters gathered to celebrate National Charter Schools Week, at a rally on the west steps of the Capitol. This rally was extra special, as this year marks the 15th year since the opening of the first charter school in Colorado.

I really enjoyed watching the students chant (hCharter Schools Matterh) and cheer for their schools. It was wonderful to see the pride they feel about their own school and all charter schools.

We were treated to short talks by several legislators, voicing their support for the charter school moment, including Rep. Frank McNulty, Sen. Scott Renfroe, Sen. Mike Kopp, Rep. Cory Gardner, Rep. Amy Stephens, Rep. Ken Summers, Rep. Joe Rice, Rep. Kent Lambert, Sen. Chris Romer, Rep. Cindy Acree, Rep. Karen Middleton and Senate President Peter Groff.

The highlight of the event was the presentation of the essay contest winners and runners up by Lt. Governor Barbara OfBrien. Additionally, Deborah Mintor, the Principal of Omar D. Blair Charter School in Montbello, spoke to the crowd and provided a sobering message regarding the funding crisis that all government is suffering, including charter schools. She told us that she had been told by DPS that their school needed to return $27.43 per student to the district, to be sent back to the state, to comply with a rescission approved by the legislature.

We also heard from Chris Behnke, a parent from Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins. Mrs. Behnke spoke with pride and gratitude about the way Ridgeview has helped her special needs child to succeed in school. Many thanks to our wonderful friends at the Colorado League of Charter Schools for hosting this wonderful event.



Senate Bill 09-176

Yesterday, February 27, I had the opportunity to testify before the Colorado Senate Education Committee in support of SB 09-176. This bill will allow charter schools easier access to local taxpayer bond dollars. Following are the comments I read to the Committee: Mr. Chairman and Members of the Senate Education Committee:

Good afternoon. My name is Donnell Rosenberg and it is an honor and a privilege to speak before you today in favor of Senate Bill 176. When I listen to citizens debate politics and policy, I like to hear arguments based on fact, not emotion. As I was preparing my comments for you today, I intended to keep emotion out of my text. I realized, however, the difficulty of the task. I am not a teacher or a principal or a governing board member; Ifm not a district official or a lawyer. I am a Mom. And this topic is a very personal one to me.

I have two children who attend a successful Douglas County charter school. I have been a very involved volunteer parent for the six and a half years since my oldest son began kindergarten. In the last two years I have become more involved as an advocate for charter schools and parental choice in education. In that capacity, I closely followed the negotiations between Douglas County School District and the charter schools regarding the mill levy and bond election for 2008. I attended many Board of Education meetings during the spring, summer, and early fall. As I said, I am not a lawyer and I found this to be a complex issue as I followed the discussions. I cannot tell you today that I understand the issue fully, however I learned much and would like to speak briefly as a parent regarding a little of what I observed and learned over the course of several months.

I watched my school principal spend many hours negotiating for an equitable share of taxpayer funding for the charter schools. I asked him about the time he spent and he estimated close to 30 hours in preparation and meetings—I believe he is vastly underestimating the number of hours! I appreciated his leadership and effort on this issue; however, I feel his time would have been better spent directly benefitting the children in our charter school. It seems to me far too many hours were dedicated on the part of all involved—school administrators, governing board members, district administration, district board of education members, as well as interested parents, like myself. Why do I say gfar too many hoursh? One of the things I learned is each district appears to interpret the existing law differently. Some Colorado school districts found a way to share bond dollars with charter schools, while others did not. In my district—I wonder—if they started with a desired end result and then looked for support through a legal decision, where other districts looked for a legal interpretation first and then found a way to support that interpretation.It was frustrating to me, as a community member of such a high achieving school, to listen to district officials and board members, meeting after meeting, present arguments in opposition to equitable funding for charter schools. It seemed that our charter schools were continually on the defensive, when all we were asking for was an equitable share of taxpayer dollars.

I was further frustrated, personally, as a taxpayer. I was being asked to support a large tax increase to benefit the schools, with none of the bond dollars being dedicated to the school my children attend. I believe this bill brings balance to the issue. It makes it easier for districts to say gyesh to the charters, yet leaves control at the local level. I urge you to support Senate Bill 176. In addition to bringing equitable funding to charters, it will allow our administrators to spend more time where they are needed—in the schools, directly supporting the education of our students.

Thank you for your time. I will continue to follow this bill closely. Stay tunedc