Pictured above is an existing Odyssey Preparatory Academy Charter School located in Buckeye, AZ. The to-be-constructed Odyssey School in Casa Grande will feature similar architecture and design.
October 22, 2011 - Scottsdale, AZ
Surge in Charter Schools - and Their Students
by Michelle Reese
When examining the percentage of public school students in charter schools, Arizona has led the nation for years.
This year, it may have taken a leap.
Based on estimates provided to the Arizona Department of Education by Arizona’s charter schools in September, an additional 14,000 students enrolled in their campuses over last year.
Last year’s 100-day average daily membership reported by schools was 119,253. Schools provided an estimate — conservative in most cases, said the department’s Lyle Friesen — of 135,155 around Sept. 15. Though most schools won’t hit their actual 100th day of school until January, they are required to make an estimate to receive payment from the state.
There were 508 charter schools in Arizona last year, comprising more than 23 percent of the state’s public schools. More than 11.5 percent of public school students were attending charter schools in Arizona, according to report released this month by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
The robust growth will continue, said Arizona Charter School Association’s CEO and president Eileen Sigmund, as parents seek out options and additional schools open.
“Are we at our saturation point? No, we’re not,” she said, pointing to a recent enrollment event for Great Hearts Academy in Scottsdale. “They filled it in 98 seconds at 6 a.m. for the 2012-13 school year. Ninety-eight seconds.”
According to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, 33 new charter schools opened this year, from Tucson to Flagstaff and from Peoria to San Tan Valley.
Legacy Traditional School opened three new facilities, including its Athlos campus in Chandler. Even though the school opened a week late because of construction, 405 students are there in grades kindergarten through seven, and 60 kindergartners are already enrolled for next year.
“There are more parents who want charter schools than there are spaces available,” said Bill Gregory, director and founder of Legacy Traditional Schools.
There’s also still some confusion about what charter schools are. Some parents still think they’re attached to local school districts (a possibility, but it doesn’t happen often) or are private schools.
For the record, charter schools are public schools that receive state funds. They were created by lawmakers in 1994.
“There are those who are savvy parents and know, but there’s still, ‘This looks good, but how much is it?’ ” Gregory said, referring to questions about tuition.
Charter schools cannot charge tuition. They receive funding based on the number of students attending the school. But unlike districts, they cannot ask taxpayers for additional funds to maintain or build campuses.
Legacy Traditional School Athlos was built with the help of investors and a partnership with Velocity Sports Performance. The new multipurpose building includes an indoor synthetic turf area, alongside a large weight room and basketball court. In the evenings, when school is not in session, Velocity will use the building.
Besides the school’s focus on back-to-basics education, there is a large physical education component. The school’s physical education teachers received instruction from Velocity’s trainers.
“Here, we are offering something the public schools and other charter schools aren’t offering,” Gregory said. “There are the academics and the athletics. With the facilities we have, it’s something parents are really excited about.”
Patty Colehour enrolled her two children, a kindergartner and fourth-grader, this year at Legacy Athlos. Her oldest was already getting a back-to-basics education through a district school, but Colehour was impressed with the commitment from Legacy to provide extra help through tutoring or to move students forward once they master a level.
“It’s not the same vibe,” Colehour said of the Legacy campus. “You want to be here. You want to be a part of it.”
While there are new charter schools opening each year, there’s also a strong group of charter schools with a history of success.
Mesa Arts Academy is one of them. The school serves 230 students near downtown Mesa. Though the school doesn’t advertise, there’s a waiting list at most grades, said principal Sue Douglas.
Alongside budget cuts from the state, it’s prompted Douglas to increase class size the last few years. Most classes have around 24 students with a teacher and an aide.
The school, which received an A from the state earlier this month, often sees 100 percent of its eighth-graders pass the math portion of the AIMS test, Douglas said.
“I have people who drive in from Queen Creek, Maricopa, all over, all because of our results,” she said.
While there are success stories, Sigmund said the state charter school board takes its charge to watch school performance.
“The main authorizer, the State Board for Charter Schools, is saying, ‘If you’re not moving students ahead academically and your students aren’t proficient, then we’re going to take steps to start closing you down,’ ” Sigmund said. “The charter movement is no longer about choice, but good choice for parents and students.”
Reposted from the East Valley Tribune
Lyndsey Layton - Washington Post
President Obama is poised to broaden federal influence in local schools by scrapping key elements of No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration’s signature education law, and substituting his own brand of school reform.
The move will bypass Congress, drawing fire from Republicans on Capitol Hill and some in the educational establishment but winning applause from governors across the country struggling to meet the demands of the nine-year-old law.
On Friday, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are scheduled to detail plans to waive some of the law’s toughest requirements, including that schools ensure that every student be proficient in math and reading by 2014 or risk escalating sanctions.
In exchange for relief, the administration will require a quid pro quo: States must adopt changes that could include the expansion of charter schools, linking teacher evaluation to student performance and upgrading academic standards. As many as 45 states are expected to seek waivers.
For many students, the most tangible impact could be what won’t happen. They won’t see half their teachers fired, their principal removed or school shut down because some students failed to test at grade level — all potential consequences under the law.
“It’s a momentous development,” said Jack Jennings, president of the nonpartisan Center on Education Policy. The White House is essentially rewriting the law, he said.
Duncan said the administration has no other choice, driven by mounting pressures on schools caused by the law and no clear sign that Congress will fix its flaws. Lawmakers have been trying for four years.
“I feel compelled to do this,” Duncan said as he rode a bus two weeks ago to tour schools in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, among other states. “My absolute preference is for Congress to fix it for the entire country. But there’s a level of dysfunction in Congress that’s paralyzing. And we’re getting to the point that this law is holding back innovation, holding back progress. We need to unleash that. We need to get out of the way.”
For Duncan, one of the most visible members of Obama’s Cabinet, the move is likely to cement his reputation as arguably the most powerful education secretary in the department’s history.
Duncan already has propelled school systems across the country to make far-reaching changes by awarding a record $8 billion, provided by the economic stimulus package, to states and districts that embraced Obama’s agenda.
Even states that didn’t win money through the best-known of those programs, called Race to the Top, changed policies and laws to compete for the funds.
Duncan “walked into office and was handed a big pot of money and very few congressional restrictions,” Jennings said. “Congress went off and got into health reform, the budget, all these other issues that sucked up their attention. He was left alone with his money and took advantage of the opportunity. Now he’s got another opportunity.”
Some say the administration is reaching too far.
“This is all top-down stuff,” said Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the Committee on Education and the Workforce. His own state is likely to seek a waiver. Duncan, he said, is “using the simple power to grant waivers and expanding it to say, ‘I will grant you waivers in exchange for changing public school policies to something that I would like.’ And there’s a growing sense that he really doesn’t have the authority to do this.”
No Child Left Behind allows the education secretary to waive “any statutory or regulatory requirement” of the law. It says nothing about the authority to set conditions for those waivers.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has accused the White House of violating the constitutional separation of powers. And Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former education secretary, filed a bill to restrict Duncan’s ability to issue waivers.
“He’s acting as the superintendent for the country,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, which wants Duncan to issue waivers to every state without strings attached.
While the conditions for waivers won’t be spelled out until Friday, Duncan has said he wants states to adopt academic standards that will prepare high school graduates for jobs and college; measure teacher performance in part by how much students grow during the year; and make “robust” use of data to track learning, among other things. Historically, the federal government has left such decisions to states and local communities.
“It’s a very clever way to manage a political crisis that is not of his or the president’s making,” said Chris Cerf, acting schools commissioner under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). His state intends to apply for a waiver.
A number of states are already in sync with the administration’s goals.
“I support the idea of waivers, because we think the way to assess a school is not solely through testing and proficiency,” said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who met with Duncan at a Milwaukee school two weeks ago. “Overall, the reforms [Duncan] is looking at are really similar to what I’m looking at. What he’s saying makes sense. We would be moving toward these changes even if the waivers came without conditions.”
In the Washington area, Virginia intends to seek a waiver, while officials in Maryland and the District want to see the conditions first.
When Congress passed No Child Left Behind in 2001, it marked a bipartisan effort to hold schools accountable to parents and taxpayers and a federal commitment to attack student achievement gaps.
For the first time, the law required schools to test all children in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school and report results by subgroups — including race, English learners and students with disabilities — so it was clear how every student was faring.
The law required states to set goals for improvement and make steady progress toward them, including the expectation that all students tested show proficiency in math and reading by 2014. Advocates of the law say it provides plenty of leeway for schools to meet annual goals.
Still, No Child Left Behind places a premium on test results. If a student enters fourth grade reading at a first-grade level and improves during the year to read at a third-grade level, her score counts as failure under the law because she is not reading at a fourth-grade level. “Instead of getting rewarded for helping that child leap two grade levels, the school gets punished,” Duncan said.
Schools that fall short year after year can face significant penalties, such as requirements to provide free tutoring, replace staff or even shut down to reopen as a charter school. Duncan has warned that more than 80 percent of schools could be labeled as failing next year, although some experts question that figure.
Many educators say the pressure of trying to reach full proficiency has created an unhealthy focus on standardized tests, with continual drilling in the classroom and a narrowing of curriculum to focus on math and reading.
“Teachers see courses in arts disappearing, courses in civic education, science, history — all those things have been diminished,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union.
The law’s weaknesses have undermined education reform, Duncan said. Because No Child Left Behind allows states to create their own standards and measures of proficiency, nearly one-third “dummied down” standards to inflate test scores, according to a 2009 Education Department study.
Tennessee, for example, was posting scores that showed 91 percent of its students were proficient in math. After it recently raised standards, that figure fell to 34 percent, Duncan said.
On Capitol Hill, talks between Republicans and Democrats on rewriting the law have floundered. It appears unlikely Congress will pass comprehensive reform any time soon.
Kline plans five bills to revise the law. One, promoting expansion of quality charter schools, passed last week with bipartisan support in the House.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said that he expects to file a bill by October but that progress has been bogged down by “leadership on the Republican side that doesn’t want to give anything to Obama to sign.”
Rep. George Miller (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on Kline’s committee, said: “When you look at the congressional timetable, the presidential timetable and the political divisions that now exist, it’s getting very late to navigate that minefield.”
Reprinted from the Washington Post.