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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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)
1:00-1:15 Afternoon Break
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:
- The school does NOT provide transportation for students. There are no buses. If you can't get there, too bad.
- They do NOT provide breakfast or lunch. You must bring your own lunch.
- 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).
- 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.
- They will NOT have extra curricular activities.
- Students are NOT in classrooms. They sit at cubicles. CUBICLES!
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.