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School choice: Part 3

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, by 2012, 49.8 million students were enrolled in a public school. Of that total, 2.3 million students were enrolled in a public charter school and another 5.3 million students were enrolled in a private school.The National Charter School Resource Center defines a charter school as a public school that operates under a contract ñ- or charter ñ- entered into between the school and its authorizing agency. ìThe autonomy granted under the charter agreement allows the school considerable decision-making authority over key matters of curriculum, personnel, and budget,î the NCSRC website states.Andy Franko, iConnect zone superintendent in Falcon School District 49, said public charter schools differ from standard public schools in that they have their own governing board, which is the authority for that school. The charter school can waive certain state statutes and district policies, he said.ìThe misnomer about charter schools is that they can make up their own rules and do whatever they want,î Franko said. ìThat is not true because most waivers or opt-outs need a replacement option, rule or policy that meets a similar outcome. For example, a charter school could not waiver out of the number of student contact days in its year.îPrivate schools charge tuition and are often affiliated with a church or religion, which sets them apart from charter or public schools, Franco saidBoth public charter schools and standard public schools are held accountable to the same academic standards, Franko said. Private schools are not held to the same academic standards because they are private entities, he said.Peter Sherman, executive director of district and school performance for the Colorado Department of Education, said those academic standards are outlined in the CDEís performance frameworks.According to Senate Bill 09-163, the performance frameworks measure four indicators: academic achievement; academic longitudinal growth; academic gaps; and postsecondary and workforce readiness.According to the CDE website, an overall evaluation of a district or schoolís performance is conducted using the performance frameworks. ìFor school districts, the overall evaluation leads to their accreditation. For schools, the overall evaluation leads to the type of plan schools will implement.îBased on those evaluations, each school is placed into one of four plan categories. Sherman said schools that fall into the priority improvement or turnaround plan categories are placed on an accountability clock, which allows the school five years to improve its overall evaluation.If the district falls into the accredited with priority improvement plan or accredited with turnaround plan categories, it is likewise placed on an accountability clock.According to the Education Accountability Act of 2009, schools and districts cannot remain on the accountability clock for more than five consecutive years before the school has to be restructured or closed, or else the district loses its accreditation.Sherman said a state review panel facilitates site visits and documents reviews of schools that have reached year four or five on the accountability clock. The panel makes recommendations, which could range from closing the school to bringing in an outside management team to seeking innovation status, he said. The majority of the recommendations have called for the school to seek innovation status, Sherman said.The Innovation Schools Act, passed in 2008, allows schools and districts autonomy to develop new and innovative practices that better meet the needs of individual students.Under the Act, schools or entire districts can submit innovation plans to their local board of education, including any waiver requests from requirements on state statutes and regulations, district policies and negotiated collective bargaining agreement provisions.Another restructuring option for a public school would be changing to a charter school, Sherman said. With that, the school automatically has more flexibility to reach the needs of its students, he said.ìAt the Colorado Department of Education, we are not satisfied with just waiting until the clock counts down,î Sherman said. ìMy work is to support schools and find ways to support districts with low-performing schools. We try to figure out which conditions at the school level need adjustment. It could be either cultural conditions, academic conditions, talent conditions such as leadership, teachers, recruitment, hiring or operational conditions.îAccountability for public charter schools is similar to that of public schools, Sherman said. Based on the evaluation, a charter school could close, have its authorization removed or be restructured under a different governing board, he said.Franko said districts that maintain charter school authorizing status are accountable for the successes of their charter schools. ìIf a charter school is in a situation where they are struggling to provide the best opportunities to their students, the authorizers have the opportunity to step in and give them support,î he said. ìBut the authorizer can also look through the charter contract to make the tough decision about whether or not to keep the school open.îSherman said accountability for private schools is difficult in that private schools do not receive funding from the state; therefore, the state does not track the schoolsí effectiveness. There is no way to know if the private school is meeting the student achievement standards required of public and charter schools, he said.The motivation to succeed comes from the private school investors, namely the parents who pay tuition and any other stakeholders associated with the school, Franko said. ìPrivate schools have no real repercussions from the state for poor performance, so a turnaround plan is not really an option.îSherman said the CDE is continually looking for ways to support and manage low-performance schools. “We are working to get more detailed information about how they are doing and about their progress,” he said. “We know it is an ongoing process. It does take time, and you have to ensure you have the right leadership in place.î

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