Charter School Parent Responds to Journalist

charterThis article from a charter school parent ran in the Colorado Independent.

“The Colorado Independent’s website says their mission is to “produce the most important, most informative, most intelligent, most provocative, most entertaining and fairest journalism in Colorado.”

Marianne Goodland’s article “How charter schools are dodging Colorado laws” misses those goals by a mile.

The article is riddled with inaccuracies, and while it may be provocative, it does so at the expense of fair journalism. As a parent committed to seeing the local control of public education maintained in Colorado, I was disappointed to read her biased article.

The story perpetuates the myths that charter schools don’t follow federal, state and local laws and don’t serve all children. Goodland attacks the waivers given to charter schools but makes no mention of the waivers district-run schools can apply for. She attacks parents who govern and choose public charter schools, insinuating we are all uninformed. Goodland is sorely mistaken, and I would like to set the record straight.

First, her title suggests that charter schools are dodging Colorado laws, when those very laws allow charter schools to apply for and operate under waivers. District run schools can and often do apply for waivers, some state waivers and some waivers from district policies. Often those waivers give schools the ability to experiment with new learning strategies that schools without waivers can’t try.

What Goodland did not report is that charter schools must adhere to the same laws and regulations as all other public schools, and cannot waive-out of any laws covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee’s criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information and generally accepted accounting principles. The waivers charter schools get give them autonomy on issues surrounding staffing, curriculum, textbooks, facilities, governance and operations.

That means Colorado charter schools where parents choose the curriculum come the closest to fulfilling the Colorado constitution, which provides for local control of curriculum.

Colorado legislators, including Rep. Crisanta Duran, may wish the Colorado legislature could determine a statewide curriculum, as happens in Texas and most other states in the country — but not here in independent Colorado.

In fact, Article 9, section 2 of the Colorado constitution limits the legislature’s authority over public education to the “maintenance of a thorough and uniform system of free public school…” Section 15 of Article 9 of the Colorado Constitution states that local school boards “shall have control of instruction in public schools in their respective districts.”

The waivers grant more local authority to the parent run boards which govern charter schools. They in no way make that charter school any less accountable to the board which authorizes the school, or to the state.  Because charter school applications must be renewed and reviewed by local school boards, many believe charter schools are significantly more accountable than district run schools.

When was the last time any school board reviewed the curriculum choices for district run schools? Do parents of district run schools know 100 percent of their school’s curriculum and the internet resources brought into each classroom?

Goodland fails to mention all charter schools must give state assessments, meet state and federal laws and undergo financial audits. The school leaders are held accountable by the parents and school boards.

Charter schools are also subject to the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards set by the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) and must meet accreditation standards set by the State Board of Education.

Goodland says charters can “get out of laws regarding equal opportunity in hiring, equal education opportunity, and who can visit the school.” This is untrue. Every employer must comply with these laws.

Charter schools also cannot waive out of providing “equal education opportunities” for students.  Goodland insinuates charter schools don’t serve students with special needs.

According to the Charter Schools Act [C.R.S. 22-30.5-104 (3), charter schools are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of need for special education services. As a public school, a charter school must comply with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) rules and any state special education laws. And according to Colorado State Board Rule, 1 CCR 301-88, Sections 2.02(D) & (E) which prohibits discrimination based on academic ability, students whose academic needs can be met by a charter school must be accepted.

Goodland assails charter schools for obtaining waivers from having to hire “certified teachers.” She quotes Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman as saying, “Parents should be aware of the astounding number of teachers in charter school classrooms today who do not hold the basic state certification to teach. Waiving schools from this statute isn’t good for kids.”

Dallman fails to mention that there is no statewide certification for Montessori teachers and would lead you to believe that a rocket scientist teaching physics is a bad thing. She fails to mention the hundreds of district-run schools where certified teachers aren’t meeting the bare minimum statewide academic standards. In fact, all charter school teachers must be highly-qualified and have a bachelor’s degree. Many have graduate degrees, and at GVCA, which Goodland takes delight in assailing, most of the teachers are content-area experts.

Goodland takes a shot at Compass Montessori in Golden, stating that the school has a district low of 27 percent certified teachers, but she conveniently fails to include those teachers who have a Montessori certification.

The flexibility that public charter schools have to make personnel decisions allows them to draw from a wider candidate pool—including content area experts who may not have followed a traditional teacher certification path. It also allows charter schools to recognize and reward highly effective teachers, which many district-run schools cannot do because their collective bargaining agreements provide the same compensation for partially effective and highly effective teachers, and base compensation solely on education and experience.

Goodland takes particular umbrage with GVCA’s curriculum waivers from the state statute of how to teach the sex-ed curriculum. Her source is a reference from before our charter was approved. If Goodland had honoredThe Independent’s mission to provide unbiased journalism, she might have mentioned that the GVCA’s handbook states, “We will teach the Core Knowledge Sequence in the fifth grade, which includes a discussion on the reproductive organs and reproduction,” and “…as mandated by the state, sex education must be taught in the high school in the context of human health. Just as in the elementary school, sex education will be taught in a gender-separated environment.”

Finally Goodland assails charter schools ability to educate students. Again, she quotes the Colorado teacher’s union president, Dallman in saying, “In fact, there’s not any research that waiving out of any of these laws improves student achievement.”

Goodland again misses the mark of providing good unbiased journalism. There is research that shows that charter schools, which are governed by local parents and YES operate with waivers, get waivers, do improve student achievement.

Between 2010 and 2013, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending charter schools do better academically than their peers in district run schools. Goodland does not mention in her article that Liberty Common School, a classical charter school in Ft Collins, recently set the all-time ACT record in Colorado, and does not have a single “licensed” teacher. Nor does she mention the great work of hundreds of charter schools around the state.

From New America which serves new immigrants, English Language Learners and academically underserved; to Denver School of Science and Technology; to Montessori schools and those which offer a classical education, Colorado charter schools provide parents and students opportunities not available in district run schools.

The public charter school model gives teachers the flexibility to use their talents and abilities to design programs which meet the needs of their students. They provide parents an alternative to the curriculum which should be chosen by local school boards but is often directed from Denver or other centralized groups. They provide the ultimate in local control, granting governance to the parents at the school, and yes, in fact many, many Colorado charter schools provide great academic alternatives to district run schools.

We should all be grateful for the lawmakers and State Board of Education members who have set up a system which gives students, parents and teachers choices.”

Floyd Borakove 

Golden View Classical Academy parent


Jeffco School Board Votes Against Funding Students Equitably

broken promisesAt their study session last night the Jeffco school board voted (watch at 4:33:00) to oppose legislation that would require all students be funded equitably no matter which public school they attend. Saying the board policy allowed them to vote if time was of the essence, board president Ron Mitchell called for a vote to support a Colorado Association of School Boards position to continue treating charter school students like second class citizens. Mr. Mitchell should have read his policies (GP02) as they only allow for votes the first time an item is on an agenda in exigent circumstances.

Exigent is defined in Webster’s as “requiring immediate aid or action”. How does expressing an opinion on potential legislation rise to the level of exigent? If the board had before it an item that would significantly improve student achievement or safety, which required immediate attention, then breaking their promise of transparency would be appropriate. However, weighing in on potential legislation hardly seems to rise to the level of exigent.

How do  Jeffco’s charter school parents feel about the board voting to oppose legislation which promised to treat charter students equitably? Amanda Stevens and Brad Rupert both commented that  ‘…being in the middle of facility conversations they wanted more flexibility.” What does that mean exactly? Will charter parents find themselves blackmailed into supporting facility plans not fair for their students or risk losing funding?

The board also seems to have broken their commitment to listen to the community before making decisions, as they voted on this the first time the item was on the agenda. The board allowed no public comments at this meeting, despite the previous board writing policy that required public comment at all meetings at which a vote would be taken. Will we hear the public outcry expressed over the last two years when it was perceived the previous board did not allow for public input before making a decision? There was certainly no public outcry in February when the board changed their policy from requiring public comment at all meetings with votes to only having public comment at regular meetings. It certainly seems as if we are returning to the years of charter schools being treated as second class citizens and a school board making decisions with no public input. Recall fans are you ready?

PS:  Might we have heard how the new school board really feels about charter schools in the words of Senator Merrifield who said at a hearing on these bills: “I want to get personal. … What’s frustrating [to me] is the concept that charter schools are superior. … The smugness, the superiority …”