Monday, February 18, 2013

Carpe Diem Schools in Fort Wayne

Carpe Diem Schools has applied to the Indiana Charter School Board to bring a school to Fort Wayne, IN. The school would serve students in grades 6-12 and be located on the former Taylor University Fort Wayne campus. The school uses a blended learning model of instruction in which students are taught via online learning and face-to-face learning with a teacher. There are several different types of blended learning models that use computer or online learning with varying degrees. Carpe Diem uses one of the most extreme blended learning models. You can access the Fort Wayne application HERE, but in order to read about the actual education model and plan that is used you will have to also view the Indianapolis application HERE.

There is a lot to sort through with this school. There is plenty of praise for this school's "success" in Arizona. They have posted very high standardized test scores in Arizona and have become a favorite of the education reformers. It would be hard not to get all caught up in the idea of this charter school as a great option. Their marketing and heartwarming videos make it seem like a wonderful idea. But I've been burned before by a corporate charter school's great marketing and false promises. So I am presenting a critical look into Carpe Diem Schools.

Let's start with a video of CEO Rick Ogston explaining what his schools are all about.

Carpe Diem Schools at the Washington Education Innovation Forum from CRPE on Vimeo.

Here are my some of my notes and thoughts after watching this video:

  1. The CEO did a great job convincing me that this is NOT a public school when he said, “The rigor is harder in our school. We have students that have left because it was just too hard. But it’s not because it wasn't right for them, it’s that they didn't want to step up to the plate and take responsibility and learn what it takes.” Public schools take all kids and work with them. 
  2. He contradicts himself. At the beginning of the video he says, “Teacher student ratio is really irrelevant to our scenario. We have like 1 teacher to 300 students, but our students and our teachers said they get more 1-on-1 time with students then they did in their traditional settings in which they came.” Near the end he then says, "They will see their content teacher in a group setting at least twice a week and individually about 3 or 4 times a week." Well, in traditional public schools you will see your teacher every day (unless you have a block scheduling), but I don't believe him about 1-on-1 time unless he counts when a teacher assigns a virtual assignment. Just think about the math for a minute. If the teacher was available for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, that would leave 6 minutes for each individual student per week. Not realistic. Over-exaggeration.
  3. He claims that they began with 15-20% of their students identified as learning disabled, but their program was able to advance those students enough to reclassify them. He believes they were improperly labeled/diagnosed (which is a possibility). Now they only have about 8% labeled as learning disabled. If this is true, it would be a pretty big deal. Someone needs to check on this.
  4.  Carpe Diem Schools hasn't received any philanthropy money (at least up until this video was taken in April 2011). They only rely on state funding.  

The Application

The online curriculum that Carpe Diem uses is called Education2020 or e2020. It has been around since it was first developed in 1998. It relies heavily on lectures by certified teachers as its presentation style (think Khan Academy 1.0). The teachers usually have between 3-5 years of experience. The program has complete traditional courses that include exercises, quizzes, and tests all aligned with Common Core and state standards. It has been widely and successfully used by schools for credit recovery and supplemental support. Carpe Diem is the only school using it as its core curriculum.

Carpe Diem also uses a virtual incentive program called uBoost to give achievement points that are redeemed through the Amazon Marketplace.

So a typical 8th grade daily schedule looks like this (the only example in either application):

7:50-8:00  Morning Announcements
8:00-8:30  Learning Center (e2020 instruction)
8:30-9:00  Learning Center (e2020 instruction)
9:00-9:30  PE (fitness center)
9:30-9:45  Morning Break
9:45-10:15 PE (fitness center)
10:15-10:45 Learning Center (e2020 instruction)
10:45-11:15  Learning Center (e2020 instruction)
11:15-12:00  Lunch
12:00-12:30 Science
12:30-1:00 L/A
1:00-1:15  Afternoon Break
1:15-1:45 Math
1:45-2:15 Learning Center (e2020 instruction)
2:45-3:15 Social Studies
3:15-3:45 Character Ed/Life Skills Instruction
3:30-3:45 Afternoon Announcements

If your view of a quality education is one where students have individualized instruction in order to develop only the basic core content knowledge to pass standardized tests, then this must be a great school. It is nice that students get immediate feedback after answering mostly multiple choice questions and can retake quizzes and tests constantly in order to pass. I wonder what their writing and composition courses are like.

Here are some of my major concerns:

  1. The school does NOT provide transportation for students. There are no buses. If you can't get there, too bad.
  2. They do NOT provide breakfast or lunch. You must bring your own lunch.
  3. They do NOT have a school nurse. The Indianapolis campus  tells students and parents that they can use IUHealth services in the school's handbook. If a student is ill, they go home. If they don't feel well, they can lay down for 10 minutes on a cot, but if they are not better they have to make arrangements to go home. I believe that this was a violation of Indiana law and they recently contracted with a health agency to provide an on-site nurse (I'm not able to pull that up again for some reason).
  4. This is bare bones coursework. No fine arts classes, science labs, computer classes (yes, they work on computers, but apparently they don't actually learn technology skills), and many other secondary electives and courses.
  5. They will NOT have extra curricular activities. 
  6. Students are NOT in classrooms. They sit at cubicles. CUBICLES! 
  7. It angers me that technology is being used in a way that limits student creativity through such a uniform and structured environment. This format is a misuse of online educational opportunities. You can't do any better than lectures, Carpe Diem? 
  8. The fact that Carpe Diem is looking for rapid expansion in order to remain economically sustainable implies company interests are more important than school quality. Remember that their version of school quality is solely test data. Read their Fort Wayne expansion plan HERE
  9. Will students really be prepared for college work and life with such limited experiences provided by this school?
Carpe Diem Schools are not high quality schools. They don't leverage technology in a way that is innovative. Innovation can't exist without creativity. This will not produce well-rounded citizens. This will not inspire and help students discover their unique talents. It will, however, produce higher test scores. Congratulations Carpe Diem! I think you may have discovered a cheaper way to produce results. Make schooling mostly about passing tests and the students will pass the tests. 

Clearly, I am opposed to this charter school in Fort Wayne. This is not the kind of education I envision for my children. This is not the kind of education I would want for my students. I don't agree that we should just let Carpe Diem try and then if they fail to produce results we wait for their charter to be revoked. If they produce good test-takers, they won't be shut down. Please use better critical thinking skills here! Opening and closing schools continuously hurts the community. If one believes this is an example of innovative education, you have been misled and your view of education is pretty dull. 

There will be a public hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 5:30 p.m. at The Summit (Dining Hall in Eicher Commons) 1025 West Rudisill Boulevard, Fort Wayne, IN 46807. The hearing is not a Q and A session, but provides a chance for the public to voice their approval or opposition to the charter school 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I Once Went Scuba Diving with My Class

I had some really incredible learning experiences with the sixth graders I taught in my first five years of being a classroom teacher. Sometimes I can't believe I was able to do some of these things. These experiences seem so foreign and unlikely in public education now (especially urban education).

  • During my first year, I went scuba diving with my class. Yep. In a pool. I can't remember the name of the organization that gave us this amazing opportunity. The funding for it was cut the year afterwards. It was part of a NASA sponsored space and engineering challenge. The class was split into two groups. One small group, including their adventurous teacher, would be responsible for building some unknown structure underwater. The rest of the class was responsible for communicating to the divers how to build this mystery structure. We were simulating the experiences of NASA's Mission Control and the astronauts in space. The amount of lessons and learning that came before, during, and after this experience was astronomical. 
  • I had a class that really struggled to read a play that took place in Ancient Greece. I could tell that they were a bit shocked that they had such a hard time reading it. I didn't want them to feel so deflated that they would just give up trying, so I suggested that we keep practicing it until everyone could read every line fluently. And if we were going to spend so much time practicing and perfecting it, shouldn't we perform it? In front of the whole school? That's what we did. We took a challenging reading selection and made sure it wouldn't get the best of us. 
  • I organized a trip to Purdue University for all the sixth graders. We visited Purdue's Black Cultural Center and heard inspirational and practical messages from African American students. The Latino Student Union spoke to students about how to begin planning for college and how to confront some traditional Latino beliefs some students may encounter in their own families. Finally, we visited Purdue's Nanotechnology Center. We explored the labs and the different ways nanotechnology was being used.
These are just a few of the great learning experiences we had. What great memories! I wonder if I will ever get the opportunity to plan great field trips and spend time on big projects again. Many of these experiences allowed me to open up my students' minds to explore beyond their community and allowed me to provide deep learning experiences. We learned so much from each other and felt so connected. I wanted my students feel inspired, be curious about the world, believe in themselves, and develop dreams and goals. I was able to do that.

Everything is now so standardized and scripted in education. The "big test" (and the multiple tests to get ready for the BIG test) is choking the creativity, joy, and inspiration out of schools. My hope is to be able to return the adventurous and spontaneous teacher that I once was. I must find a way!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy: Trouble Already

I wrote a blog post in April expressing my concerns about rushing the opening of the Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy (TMLA) in Fort Wayne. The summer of 2012 was a mad dash to find a location for the school, organize, and get ready for opening day in August. I had serious doubts that this school would be able to accomplish all the necessary steps for creating a quality learning environment. I hate to say this but, "I TOLD YOU SO!"

I'm sad that I was right.

We're not even halfway through the school year and the principal quit about a week ago and moved into a new administrative position at one of our traditional public high schools. Enrollment dropped from 129 students to around 100 students after Indiana's student count date. The interim principal cited discipline problems and families moving out of the area as reasons for the loss of students. 

What's the climate like at that school right now? 

My heart goes out to the teachers and students. What kind of message does it send when your leader just bails on you? Of course, I don't know the circumstances for the principal's departure, but why would the other school district want to hire someone who couldn't stay committed in their previous position? The move could be justified, and if it is, TMLA must be in some serious trouble. 

This has been one of my arguments against many charter school proposals: If you are not willing to take the time to properly develop a school that is going to have everything children need to be successful, just don't do it. I am upset and saddened that some of our most vulnerable children are being subjected to this instability and lackluster oversight. Good intentions and good ideas are not good enough. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Tony Bennett - Worse than I Thought

Here it is....

Indiana Department of Education Fails to Release Documents on Tony Bennett, Jeb Bush, and Other School Privatizers
By Doug Martin

On Friday afternoon, just days before the next state supt. of public education will be elected, Indiana’s Public Access Counselor, Joseph B. Hoage, quietly voiced his opinion on the Indiana Department of Education failing to release Freedom of Information Act documents that likely, when forced by law to be made public, will show the crony capitalism behind Tony Bennett and Jeb Bush’s school privatization plan for Indiana.

Here is the background.  On February 16th, the Washington D.C. nonprofit, In the Public Interest, requested private emails and other files from Tony Bennett, and the IDOE has failed to do comply with this in a timely matter.  Thus, ITPI, on October 4th, filed a formal complaint with Hoage’s Indiana PAC office, which reads in part:

In this request, the Indiana Department of Education has yet to produce documents despite acknowledgement of the request and the beginning of the review of responsive records on March 15, 2012.  Even after In the Public Interest limited the scope of the request in August 2012—a limitation within the records the Department claimed it had begun collecting over six months ago—the Department has yet to produce documents.  This failure to produce in such a long period of time is unreasonable. See Opinion of the Public Access Counselor 08-FC-162 (finding unreasonableness for a public records request dated January 2008 when the complaint was filed June 27, 2008 despite the public records request being “more involved than is standard”).

Undoubtedly, the original request was specific enough for the IDOE to take immediate action, even though they deny this.  In part, this earliest demand reads:

From January 1, 2010 to the date of this request, please provide a copy of all communication (including, but not limited to, email, fax, and written) “created, received, maintained, or filed with” Tony Bennett , Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction and/or his designees and the following people and organizations.

The request names Jeb Bush, as well as Joel Klein of Wireless Generation.

It continues with:

Additionally, please provide copies of any and all records of the Superintendent’s expenses that were paid for by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the Foundation for Florida’s Future, or the Alliance for Excellent Education from January 1, 2010 to the date of this request.

As Fort Wayne Journal Gazette’s Karen Francisco has noted, Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education paid for Bennett’s visit to D.C. on November 15, 2011, to commingle with Arne Duncan and chairman of the U.S. House Education Committee, John Kline. Besides charter schools and virtual learning outfits, the Foundation for Excellence in Education markets the fake parent trigger law, too, a hot button in Indiana.

To hint at what we might find when Bennett is finally forced to release his emails, let us look to a similar FOIA request from ITPI in Maine, which had no problem releasing the files.  In September, Portland Press Herald‘s Colin Woodard detailed over 1,000 FOIA documents concerning Jeb Bush’s role in promoting for-profit online learning schools with Maine’s educational commissioner, Steven Bowen, and Governor Paul LePage.  Essentially, Maine officials let Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education execute its Digital Learning Now! plan for the state, which includes, among other things, a requirement that all students take an online course in order to receive a high school diploma, as does the Indiana plan.  In this passage, Woodard connects the cronyism:

K12 was especially engaged in lobbying on the charter school bill and other legislation connected with digital learning. K12 has paid $33,074 to Augusta lobbyists since 2009, and contributed $19,000 to LePage’s election effort through the RGA Maine PAC. Connections paid Maine lobbyists $3,950 last year, all of it in connection with the charter bill, which allowed virtual schools but required that they be governed by local nonprofit organizations.

K12, Inc. and Connections Academy (now owned by Pearson) have been flooding campaign donations to Bennett and Indiana Republicans.  Contributions to Bennett go back to 2008, when K12 threw $2,000 his way and both online privatization outfits donated to Indiana corporate school representatives Brian Bosma, Theresa Lubbers, and Robert Behning, as they made their plans to privatize Indiana schools.  Last year, Bennett received $5,000 from K12. Both K12 and Connections Academy fund Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, as well.

In Indiana, K12 runs three Hoosier Academies, two of which have been given an “F” grade and one a “D.” They also operate Indiana blending-learning schools. Rupert Murdoch and Joel Klein’s Wireless Generation is also active in the state, fundingBennett’s campaigns.

As I and others have extensively pointed out, Jeb Bush has hyped his anti-public school operations in Indiana for years now. In2009, he spoke at the Bill Gates-Fordham Foundation sponsored Indiana Education Roundtable, whose representatives include Carol D’Amico, a former George W. Bush-appointed National Board for Education Sciences board member. This year, Jeb picked Tony Bennett to boss his D.C.-based corporate school reform group, Chiefs for Change, alongside Maine’s Steven Bowen and former Edison Schools’ Chris Cerf (now New Jersey’s commissioner of education) who profited handsomely when the then-Florida governor bought out the company’s failing stock with teachers’ retirement funding, a maneuver sticking state pensioners to this day with a $182 million investment in a company out to destroy public education and unions. And Bush friends at Charter Schools USA have been given several so-called failing schools in Indiana, where parents have recently been protesting the corporate takeover.

Besides Jeb Bush, ITPI names Patricia Levesque and other school privatization/online learning marketers in Indiana, Florida, Maine. 

Earlier this year, when Bennett was supposedly being scrutinized by Indiana’s Select Committee on Education, Levesque and fellow Bush operatives Mary Laura Bragg and Jaryn Emholf, both also listed in the ITPI FOIA requests) blasted several emails to them, which were leaked to me. 

Levesque directs Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and his Foundation for Florida’s Future. Levesque is proud that as the current board of director of Bush’s corporate school organizations, she doesn’t take a paycheck, but this is deceptive. Levesque’s own consulting company, Meridian Strategies, raked in $100,000 in 2008 (page 8) and $123,000 in 2009 working for the Foundation for Excellence in Education (page 8). For work with Foundation for Florida’s Future, where Levesque is also executive director, her company made $276,000 in 2010 (page 8).

Levesque, who also lobbies on behalf of many virtual schools, outlined a new strategy in October 2010 at a school reform conference to privatize public schools. In an article entitled “How Outline Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools,” The Nation’s Lee Fang writes that:

Levesque noted that reform efforts had failed because the opposition had time to organize. Next year, Levesque advised, reformers should “spread” the unions thin “by playing offense” with decoy legislation. Levesque said she planned to sponsor a series of statewide reforms, like allowing taxpayer dollars to go to religious schools by overturning the so-called Blaine Amendment, “even if it doesn’t pass…to keep them busy on that front.” She also advised paycheck protection, a unionbusting scheme, as well as a state-provided insurance program to encourage teachers to leave the union and a transparency law to force teachers unions to show additional information to the public. Needling the labor unions with all these bills, Levesque said, allows certain charter bills to fly “under the radar.”


Here is the Indiana PAC’s conclusion, which is nowhere as harsh as it should be:

Based on the foregoing, it is my opinion that the Department has acted contrary to section 3(b) of the APRA by failing to provide all records in a reasonable period of time that were responsive to the reasonably particularized portions of Ms. Kaissal’s February 22, 2012 request. However, it is my opinion that at this time the Department has complied with section 3(b) in its efforts to provide all records in a reasonable period of time that were responsive to the reasonably particularized request that was received on August 29, 2012.

As I mentioned above, the original February request is “particularized” enough.  There is no legitimate reason for IDOE’s hold-up, even though it blames a small staff in the Office of Legal Affairs, among other things.  Perhaps more IDOE members who are spreading corporate-run charter school and school vouchers across the state should be switching to this office.  Having read over all the documents on the case, I believe the Department is stalling on releasing these potentially demaging emails and other written files from Bennett because it is waiting until after Tuesday’s election.  Public Access Counselor Hoage wants it both ways, claiming the IDOE was, in fact, holding up the request, but not really.

To make matters worse, IDOE’s Heather Neal is also named in the FOIA request.  Neal, if one remembers, was Indiana’s Public Access Counselor before she started working for Tony Bennett.

Bennett desires info on every Indiana teacher, so he can deem them “unaccountable” and replace them with Teach for America recruits on their temporary stop in the schools before they head off to Wall Street.  He wants data on all students, so that he can declare schools as “broken” and package them up for the privatizers. But when it comes to passing cash onto friends of Jeb Bush and others who have donated to Bennett’s campaigns, like K12, Inc., Indiana’s supt. of public instruction and the IDOE feel it is not in their best interest to be examined.   

When these files are finally released by law, I will gladly connect all the dots and expose Tony Bennett for the corporate school reform flunky that he truly is.  In the meantime, I suggest we all file FOIA requests with the IDOE.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Every Hoosier Needs to Know

Vic’s Election Notes on Education #7– October 23, 2012

Dear Friends,

Tony Bennett’s policies have narrowed the curriculum to Math and English/Language Arts. 

His focus on high stakes testing has put a huge priority on the two subjects schools must score well in for a high grade. Even survival as a school is at stake under the threat of state closure or takeover. Going further in this campaign, Tony Bennett has proposed state takeovers of whole school districts based on math and English/Language Arts scores.

The tremendous impact of this pressure on schools is not well understood by the public. Nor is it well understood by Tony Bennett, whose IDOE recently defended testing in the schools (“The Truth about Testing” posted 10/9/12 on the IDOE website) by saying that students only spend 6.5 hours per year taking ISTEP+ and that requirement only applies to seven grade levels. Tony Bennett apparently has not been in enough schools lately to know that the obsession to drive test scores higher, even if they are high already, is palpable in the life of our schools. It has undermined support for every other subject and elective. 

We no longer have a balanced curriculum as we did up through the 1980’s. We used to a have state curriculum rule requiring a balanced curriculum, but this rule was repealed as the accountability movement picked up steam in the 1990’s. Now, school success is defined as success on math and language arts tests. 

This is dangerous for the long term development of our democracy and our culture. Consider the areas of our curriculum and community life that are being left to atrophy as we push for higher math and English scores:

Music and Art

Specialists in music and art have suffered under the current priorities. They are grieving the decline of what they know is a vital portion of our curriculum. When Gov. Daniels and Dr. Bennett cut the already appropriated school budget by $300 million in December 2009 and never restored it as revenues improved, the consequences didn’t fall on reading and math teachers. They fell first on music and art teachers and on other “optional” specialists listed in areas below. Of course, state officials mandated the cuts, but local officials got blamed for the choices made for the cuts. It’s been tough to be a local school official in recent years, while Gov. Daniels and Dr. Bennett got praised for cutting the budget.

The irony is that research has well established that the arts can promote the brain development that unleashes reading and math development. That research is validated in my own experience as I look back to the 5th grade when I started playing cello in Elkhart’s outstanding music program. Looking back, it is clear now that my academic and intellectual development paralleled my intense interest and participation in music starting in the 5th grade. We need the arts in our schools.

Health and Physical Education

The Indianapolis Star proclaimed in a front page story in September (9/19/12) that Indiana is now tied for 8th among all states in the highest rate of obesity. Clearly health and physical education in our schools deserves a high priority. 

Tony Bennett thinks otherwise. In the 2012 session of the General Assembly, he tried to repeal a long standing law that required a state health education curriculum and a state health education consultant. Years ago, health educators worked hard to pass a law that they thought would institutionalize a state role in health education. Tony Bennett didn’t want a health education consultant and three years into his term tried to repeal the law. Health and obesity issues apparently didn’t concern him. The heart association fought the repeal and in the end, Tony Bennett’s repeal bill failed. The law is still on the books, but there is obviously no priority on this program within IDOE.

Social Studies

Public schools have from their beginnings nearly 200 years ago been charged with building skilled citizens to protect and defend our democracy. This arena is often called the civic mission of schools, a mission which includes helping young people become informed voters, active participants in community concerns, and protectors of our Constitution.

Tony Bennett has ignored the civic mission of our schools.

Here is the record:
1. A new strategic plan for the Indiana Department of Education, developed internally without public input, was issued in the opening weeks of the new administration, setting high goals for math and language arts test scores, for Advanced Placement tests, and for graduation rates. Dubbed the “90-25-90” plan, it omits any mention of developing the skills of responsible citizens.
2. The two social studies consultants serving Indiana were fired in the first two weeks of the new administration and not replaced. Questions about geography, economics, civics and history were answered by staff not experienced in these areas. This was the first time IDOE had functioned without a social studies consultant since the position was first established in the 1960’s. I held the position for 2 years in the 1980’s and I know it plays a crucial role in citizenship education in Indiana. About a year and a half later, a part time social studies consultant was added because the new common core curriculum had a social studies strand. When I last asked the president of the Indiana Council for the Social Studies about social studies staff in IDOE, I was told there was a new part-time person but he wasn’t sure who it was. Tony Bennett has ended the long tradition of providing IDOE staff leadership for the civic mission.
3. Funding for the extremely successful “Economic Education Mini-Grant” program which had planted seeds of entrepreneurial skills in students across Indiana for 30 years was cut off, as was the funding for staff to direct it. One would think that in the Great Recession, Tony Bennett would want to prominently support any program with a great track record of developing entrepreneurs. Not so.

Each fall from 2005 to 2010, I taught a social studies methods course for elementary teachers-in-training as an adjunct professor at IUPUI. The courses were always taught in a school building and had frequent observation and classroom participation time built in. Increasingly as the years went on, my students would report that the classes they were observing were too busy working on reading and math to do anything with social studies. This corroborates many studies and surveys showing that the accountability movement of the last decade is squeezing social studies out of elementary classrooms. 

The laser focus on raising English and math scores is increasingly taking time and resources from the civic mission and, indeed, from any mission other than literacy and numeracy.


Science is part of the STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) emphasis that gets much attention at the national level. Despite that status, science is suffering the same neglect as social studies in the elementary schools, and the lack of a strong foundation at the elementary level leaves science educators very concerned. Indiana gives science tests at 4th and 6th, just as they give social studies tests at the 5th and 7th grade. Everyone knows, however, that these subject matter tests do not count toward the letter grade system of the school which carries life or death consequences for the school, and potentially if Tony Bennett is re-elected, for the school district. Given the stakes, it is not surprising that all the attention is flowing to math and English. Science, for all of its importance for our future, is suffering.

Vocational programs

Seemingly every candidate is talking about a revival of vocational education in this year’s campaign. As I see it, candidates are responding to frustrated advocates for vocational education who have seen vocational electives erode in the face of other mandated courses. Why are there fewer electives available in a student’s schedule for vocational courses? When a high school student fails the math or English end-of-course assessment, they are generally placed in another math or English course to make up the deficiencies in order to qualify for graduation. Taking additional math or English means taking fewer electives, and vocational courses are among those that take the hit.

World Language programs 

In today’s global economy, we need more people who are fluent in the languages of other nations. In Tony Bennett’s reforms, this need is ignored. At the high school, electives in foreign language are being squeezed out for the same reasons described above for vocational programs. Additional math and English courses have to replace something, and foreign languages classes have been hit hard. Research shows that the younger the student is, the easier they will learn another language, which would suggest more such programs at the elementary level. Budget cuts have prevented additional elementary programs to blossom, along with the relentless pressure elementary and middle schools face to raise math and English scores. The entire school letter grade in elementary and middle schools is entirely based on math and English scores, and this puts everything else such as foreign languages in a second class status.

Priorities: Taking a Broader View

Tony Bennett has pushed Indiana to focus nearly exclusively on reading and math.
In defending the 2010 3rd grade reading retention bill and contradicting Gov. Daniels claim that the bill “needn’t, shouldn’t, won’t cost one extra cent,” Dr. Bennett “acknowledged the reality of potential expenses but said none of the funding would have to come from new state dollars. All of it, he said, is funding that is already available to local schools; it would simply need to be redirected. ‘I was thinking that this is about us focusing local resources on this initiative.’ Bennett said it’s a question of priorities.” (Indpls Star, 1/22/10, p. A23) 

Going on, the article reported that Dr. Bennett “suggested the cost of an extra 90 minutes a day of reading intervention could be mitigated by embedding it within the normal school day, perhaps at the expense of recess or an arts class, which students would have to give up to focus on reading.”

English and math scores have dominated schools since PL221 (1999) and No Child Left Behind (2002) made scores in both subjects the determinants of whether a school lived or died under accountability rules. Now in 2011 legislation, Tony Bennett brought a quantum leap in the same direction. Now teacher evaluations and merit pay will be based on reading and math scores. When jobs are on the line, everything else will be put on the back burner.

Reading and math are indeed crucial priorities, but should they be the only priorities? Our democracy cannot survive without instruction in basic civics, geography, economics and history. At the elementary level, these subjects are disappearing and at the secondary level, IDOE leadership to promote vibrant programs like We the People, Project Citizen, History Day, Geography Bee and the Indiana Kids Election is missing. Our economy cannot survive without instruction in science, foreign language and economics to give us more inventors, exporters and entrepreneurs. Our culture cannot survive without instruction in music and art. Does anyone doubt that the loss of public and private support for the world renown Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is rooted in part in the loss of music and arts programs in the last decade, since the accountability movement began crowding them out of the curriculum in the late 1990’s. These vitally important programs struggle for attention in a test-driven curriculum.

Only about half of all Americans of voting age cast votes in Presidential elections. Even with all the interest shown in the 2008 elections, participation only rose to 57%, the highest in 40 years. In crucial Congressional elections in non-Presidential years, less than 40% vote. Citizen participation needs an upgrade. Participation in our representative government is based on knowledge that for many students is gained only through the civic mission of our public schools. We must not ignore the mission of building responsible citizens with breadth in their knowledge and balance in their perspectives. Extending to the next generation our priceless heritage of freedom under the Constitution depends on it.

Glenda Ritz Needs Your Support

For the sake of our democracy, our economy and our culture, we must broaden our priorities. Glenda Ritz has called for the restoration of common sense in pulling back from the overemphasis on high stakes testing and for restoration of the balance in our curriculum. I hope you will support Glenda Ritz by participating in the grassroots campaign to elect her as State Superintendent of Public Instruction. We must have a new direction.
The November 6th election is now two weeks away and will have huge consequences for education in Indiana. I urge you to support Glenda Ritz in any way you can by talking with family members, neighbors and friends, especially those with no connection to education issues. Her name recognition is rising but is still low. The Wabash College debate tomorrow night will help. Tony Bennett’s expensive TV commercials are everywhere. Glenda Ritz needs your involvement and your support at the grassroots level. Please do what you can to speak up for her before Election Day.

Best wishes,

Vic Smith 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Notes from the Indiana Charter School Board Meeting

The Indiana Charter School Board (ICSB) held a meeting on October 15, 2012 to vote on the authorization of three charter schools: Nexus Academy, The Excel Center, and Premier High School. (The other charter schools that submitted applications withdrew their applications for some reason.) The ICSB has developed their own website now and you can access more information about their charter schools, the application process, board meetings, etc.

I did not attend the meeting or view it live, but the ICSB website does provide an audio recording of the meeting. I listened to the entire meeting and took notes so that I could share it with those of you who would like to know what happened, but do not have the time to listen to a meeting that extends over an hour.

Each charter school had a representative make a final pitch for their school and answer questions from the Board. Most of the questions from the board involved concerns about the governance and structure of the schools. This is just a quick overview.

Nexus Academy (Grades 9-12; Dropout Prevention/Recovery)- Represented by Jeff Reed, Board Chairman for Better Blended Learning 

  • Asked how and why they chose Connections Education as their charter school service provider - Mr. Reed explains that their decision was made based on the track record of their full-time virtual academies (Connections Academy) and excellent experience working with them. The blended learning model is new for Connections. Connections has launched 3 new blended learning schools in Ohio and 2 or 3 in Michigan this school year. Nexus plans on learning from the start-up and opening year experiences of those schools. 
  • Mr. Reed provided a general description of what a school day may be like for a student. Students are grouped into 3 different categories based on testing data. Those who need more support will receive more time in English and/or Math with an on-site teacher. Students will rotate through different learning sessions (amount of time in each session will be dependent upon individual needs). Some students will be able to attend school in the morning, leave to go work in the afternoon, and then finish up learning at home. (The on-site teachers will only teach English or Math. All other instruction is taught via Connections Education - computer-based/online learning). 
  • The Board questioned Mr. Reed about whether limiting Nexus to only one school, as opposed to the three schools requested in the application, would affect their economic viability. Mr. Reed explained that they would absolutely be willing to go with only one school and their chief intent is to make sure they are high-quality. 
I do want to point out that William Shrewsberry, Indiana Charter School Board member, questioned Mr. Reed about the credentials of Nexus' board members. When another ICSB member mentioned that all the resumes and credentials of each board member are included in the charter school application, Mr. Shrewsberry admitted, "I did not read all the applications." Can we please get someone else on the ICSB that will take this responsibility seriously? 

(Nexus Academy was approved to open 1 campus in Indianapolis.)

Premier High School (Grades 9-12; Dropout Prevention/Recovery)- Represented by Chuck Cook, CEO of ResponsiveEd

  • Mr. Cook gave a general overview of their success in Texas. He explained that they chose to apply in Indiana because they feel more students should have access to more options. Since the charter provider is not located in Indiana, a local committee will be formed in Indiana to manage the schools. There will be a grievance process for parents who have concerns. 
  • One Board member questioned how this charter school will be able to reconcile working with a tough population of students and Indiana's A-F accountability grading system. Mr. Cook explained that Texas has gone through 3-4 changes in accountability since they have been operating (since 1998) and they have adapted to the changes. At this point, one ICSB member interrupts to explain that during the second half of this board meeting, they are going to lay the framework for developing an alternative accountability rating for dropout recovery that they will vote on at their November meeting.
  • Mr. Cook emphasizes that the primary focus of these schools is to find out how to help kids. Most students are potential dropouts with about 10% of students attending because they want individualized instruction. 
(Premier High School was approved to open 1 campus in Indianapolis.)

Excel Center by Goodwill Industries (serves older youth and adults who want a high school diploma)  

  • The current campuses in Indianapolis and Anderson have a median age of 23 years old with the biggest population of students falling in the 19-27 age range. They have learned some valuable lessons with their first year of operation. They started by giving students total independence and freedom to finish work and quickly discovered that students needed deadlines for work. More students were successful and stayed with the program when they gave students deadlines. They were able to graduate approximately 120 students at the Indianapolis campus. They have a strong partnership with community colleges and students are able to complete some credits towards college. (It should be noted that there are 4 campuses in Indianapolis and 1 in Anderson, IN)
(Excel Center was approved to open 2 more schools in Lafayette and Kokomo for next school year. Though their charter application also included a total of 6 schools to open up for the next few years, the Board said those campuses will be sort of "conditional" based on the need and success of the current schools in operation. They will write into the charter, like they did with Carpe Diem, that the charter school must send a written request to the ICSB for the opening of the additional schools the year before the new schools are to open. If they are not meeting expectations then the Board can halt the new schools. It means that new charter school applications will not have to be submitted.)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

WARNING: The Other Corporate Charter Application

My last post described my concerns about one charter school application, Nexus Academy of Indianapolis, that seems to be more about profits and expansion than meeting educational needs of a community. Another similar charter school type is also being proposed during this Fall 2012 charter application cycle called Premier High School by Responsive Education Solutions, Inc.

Premier High Schools are identified as virtual charter schools, but according to their application, the schools wouldn't qualify as a virtual charter school under Indiana law. Indiana identifies a virtual charter school as being a school with more than 50% of a student's instruction through virtual distance learning, online technologies, or computer based instruction. Their education plan is very similar to Nexus Academy, but students seem to have less face time with a teacher at Premier.

Apparently, Responsive Education Solutions, Inc. (also know as ResponsiveEd) has been given the authority to open an unlimited number of schools in Texas. They have a pretty aggressive expansion plan for Indiana as well which includes expanding to include middle and elementary schools.

ResponsiveEd has developed a general five-year growth plan for developing schools in Indiana, anticipating the establishment of 36 successful campuses by the academic year 2017-18. Utilizing a proven system of school organization and operation, these campuses will function as part of ResponsiveEd’s family of schools, whose growth is anticipated to reach 500 schools nationwide by the fall of 2020.
They claim to consistently exceed state averages (in Texas) by approximately ten percentage points on state assessment  performance. That's sounds promising, right? Then I looked at their education plan...

A typical 10th grade PHS student starts each day working on a beginning of the day warm-up activity and then moves into a Knowledge Unit as prescribed by their Individual Graduation Plan and Daily Goal Card. The student uses their daily Goal Card to determine the day’s activities in all subjects, including when they plan to take the Knowledge Unit test. 
Each student’s day is broken up by one to two pullouts – one for science and one for math – during which time the student receives direct instruction in core content and state assessment preparation material.  In the student’s homeroom, the student will work on math, science, social studies, English and elective classes. The student may use technology in the learning center to work on state preparation software programs, online curriculum, network based computer curriculum, or uses the Internet to research or differentiate coursework. 
PHS is supposed to be a drop-out recovery program. This typical day for a student doesn't sound like the sort of environment meant to inspire students. It's sounds quite cold and robotic. But I guess if the test scores are good then it must be great for kids? (Please note the sarcasm) The Knowledge Units and software used will of course be ResponsiveEd's own design, so they will be using state funding to pay themselves for their own instructional materials and software.

Their plan is to start with enrollment of 120 students and expand to 200 students by year 4. The way they figure staffing is a little strange. Instead of listing the number of teachers in whole numbers, they have the number of teachers for the year listed as 3.79. I'm not quite sure what that means, but check out their staffing for year 1: there will be 3-4 teachers, 2-3 aides, 1 special education teacher, 1 spec. ed aide, 1 Title 1 teacher, 1 director, and 1 campus assistant. Now logistically speaking, how in the world will a student actually get help or be able to ask questions with only 4 or 5 adults around and possibly 119 other students? I hope these kids will be REALLY independent learners. This leads me to wonder what their education plan is for those middle and elementary schools?

I'm praying that this charter school application and the one for Nexus isn't approved today. I'm not very hopeful after checking the Indiana Charter School Board website. Three charter schools have withdrawn their applications, but three have not. The three remaining charter school applications still up for approval today are: Nexus Academy, Premier High School, and The Excel Center.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Nexus and Premier don't have ANY specific locations or properties yet (according to the applications). How will that play out?