Thursday, February 26, 2009

Digitally Connected PBL Charter School Within Multiple Schools Update

For most of the year I have been blogging about an idea for how small traditional independent school districts might weather the storm faced by disruptive innovation in education. If you have been following my blog you will have seen this idea grow into the presentation I posted a couple weeks ago outlining how schools could embrace disruption by allowing it to happen within their walls but on a very small scale. The idea basically is to take the ITV arrangement many small and rural schools have and use that structure to facilitate the creation of a partially virtual, high-tech, project-based, teacher run charter school that rents classroom space from local traditional schools. In this model the charter school and the traditional schools would form a symbiotic relationship where both working together would be able to offer high quality and diverse learning environments that neither would be able to offer on their own. The hope is that these two models working together would make public education attractive to more students and their families.

Well, the idea looks like it might be getting its wings. I have the green light to explore the idea seriously from the three local school districts. Now, this green light by no guarantees that this school will open by my target of 2010 but it does offer the opportunity to put some serious exploratory effort into it. I want to make clear to everyone that by no means will we submit our charter application this July unless we are relatively certain that this idea will improve our schools for all stakeholders.

We want to involve as many people as possible in this process. To do so I have set up a Ning. I invite anyone with an interest in progressive education, charter schools, project-based learning, education technology, alternative pedagogy, networked learning, or Minnesota schools to join this Ning and help us shape this charter. All feedback and contribution is needed and welcome.

Visit WETC Charter School Planners

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How is Education a Civil Rights Issue?

"Education is also the civil rights issue of our generation." -Sec. Education Arne Duncan

I have been thinking lately about this statement and how it might be applied. Traditional schools greatly favor a concrete-sequential learning modality. Most teachers are concrete-sequentialists. Most of our kids who do not do well in school are not concrete-sequential learners. Knowing about the kind of school Ariel is (the school in Chicago that Duncan founded), could this statement signal a new view of students with non concrete-sequential learning modalities as being repressed or underprivileged under traditional school systems?

There has been a lot of ire lately in the edublogosphere about the appointment of Duncan. Gary Stager and others, who I respect greatly, view Duncan's appointment as another four years of the Bush education policy. The argument centers around the support for charter schools like KIPP, the support for performance based pay, union busting, and standards based testing. I have to respectfully disagree.

Yes, the Obama administration supports charter schools. No, not all charter schools are KIPP. KIPP schools have come under the microscope lately and have been recognized as a scale ready solution for kids in poor neighborhoods. However, the attempt by KIPP teachers, who have reportedly been overworked, to unionize has met much Resistance and has gotten messy. The problem is the administration's support for these schools has to some been seen as the only type of charter school they support. There are three things that keep me cautiously optimistic and unconvinced that the writing on the wall spells "KIPP":

  1. Earlier this month the Obama's visited Capital City Public Charter School, a progressive charter school in the DC area. There the president said, "This kind of innovative an example of how all our schools should be."
  2. The Obamas send their girls to a private school that operates under a progressive philosophy.
  3. Ariel Community Academy, the school Arne Duncan founded in Chicago, follows the same progressive philosophy. The following are excerpts from the Principal's message on the school's website:
"The role of the teacher is to assist and advise the student, actively participating and contributing to their learning in order to expand and discover the society they live in and share experiences together."

"[S]tudents should be aware of their own multiple intelligences and utilize a wide variety of abilities to demonstrate what they have learned."

"The design of the curriculum is purposefully broad in order to provide the teacher with many options for planning and implementing individualized, small group, and whole group instruction."

So, could this kind of stated support for progressive education coupled with Duncan's statement about civil rights mean that students who learn differently will now be seen as being unnecessarily repressed? I surely hope so. This is a silent epidemic in our country and one that is being exposed by the largely unpopular No Child Left Behind and the increased spotlight on our nation's dropout rate (National Average is 33%).

This is a difficult problem to draw light to because most educators (most educators are concrete-sequential learners) don't see the problem as a civil rights issue. They can't from their current perspective. "The Color of Fear" is a documentary that brilliantly and effectively explains the problems of privilege and prejudice as they relate to race. Watch this excerpt of the film and every time you hear the word "White" replace it with the word "Concrete-Sequential."

What do you think? Is learning modality a civil rights issue?

Could it be that the writing on the wall is not "KIPP" but rather "Choice"?

Do you think I am way off base and Duncan's is viewing civil rights as it has historically been defined (that of Race, Gender, Ethnicity, Religion, etc)?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Project-Based Hybrid Charter School Within a School Interest Survey

For those of you who have been following my blog you will know that I have been exploring the possibility of starting a new charter school in Minnesota that is partially virtual but will exist as digitally connected classrooms within the walls of our existing public schools. If you are interested in this idea and want to be involved please fill out the interest form below:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gov't Support for Progressive Charter Schools

Quite often it is the rule rather than the exception in politics that the headlines you read in the paper don't really tell the whole story. That story is only revealed later. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of taking an education policy class from Dan Loritz in Hamline University's Graduate School of Education. Dan would often talk about the headlines and policy decisions repeating this mantra, "Only time will tell if this is good fortune or bad fortune." Such is the recent hullabaloo about the state of MN trying to pass policy that would tighten restrictions on Charter schools.

If you work for or are a stakeholder at any level in a charter school in MN this legislation looks on the surface as something that should cause alarm. It potentially could reduce funding for lease aid, clamp down on accountability that might or might not fit with the charter school's mission statement and educational philosophy, and could throw the proverbial monkey wrench in much of the operations charter schools currently face. Is this necessarily a bad thing? We need to be careful who we attack and who we lobby against. We just might be biting off the hand that feeds us.

This all became a bit more clear for me today. Curious about what might be in store specifically for education in the monster stimulus package slated to pass the senate later this week I found some interesting language that puts the current legislation regarding charter schools in MN in focus under a different light; a light that might paint tighter restrictions as good fortune rather than bad.

First, Tom Huffman wrote last week about President Obama's visit with children at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington D.C. more or less scolding the edublogosphere for not responding immediately to this trip in his piece, Is "No Comment" the Best We Can Do? Truth be told, I don't think most edubloggers had their eye on the ball on this one. Those of us who did have been slow in responding. However, this probably is not a bad thing. Carefully drafted posts require time for digestion and reflection. The reason this visit was important was because Capital City is a progressive charter school and the president's comments there reflect what I and many of my colleagues hope to be a statement that will set the tone for his education policy. As he visited the school he said, "This kind of innovative school…is an example of how all our schools should be."

This got me wondering what other evidence there is online that might shed light on the President's stance on progressive education and/or charter schools. That led me to this January 29th article in Teacher Magazine that gives a brief overview/preview of what elements of the economic stimulus package might be slated for education and how those funds are to be used. From that article:
The Obama administration is seeking to boost spending by nearly $500 million on reform-minded programs that fund teacher bonuses tied to student performance, and pay for charter school facilities and state data systems. The spending is in the stimulus plan approved Wednesday in the House, but it is not in the Senate version.

Also, on the White House website under the president's Education Agenda:

Support High-Quality Schools and Close Low-Performing Charter Schools: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will double funding for the Federal Charter School Program to support the creation of more successful charter schools. The Obama-Biden administration will provide this expanded charter school funding only to states that improve accountability for charter schools, allow for interventions in struggling charter schools and have a clear process for closing down chronically underperforming charter schools. Obama and Biden will also prioritize supporting states that help the most successful charter schools to expand to serve more students.

This brings us back to the state of MN clamping down on charter schools. Could it be that the drive behind this legislation is not to crush the charter movement but rather to open the door for more federal dollars to support successful MN Charter School programs? What I have seen of the legislation being passed around right now seems to take these last few lines in Obama's policy agenda almost verbatim.

And what charter schools are the best performing? Typically they are the ones that are the most progressive. However, this could all be for not if a two year moratorium on the formation of new charter schools passes in the state senate.