Tag Archives: innovative

A Glimpse at New Schools: Math and Science Leadership Academy

After the Colorado Independent brought attention to Denver’s Math and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) on Friday, I decided it was turn to shine the light on a brick-and-mortar school that is unique for one reason: no principal. No principal, you say? That has to be good, right? When I throw spit wads at the kid next to me, whose office are they going to send me to? Right? Okay, okay, I can stop being goofy for a few minutes. MSLA is not a charter school but an innovation school. The school’s founders had to ask for waivers from state law that would allow it to operate with two “lead teachers” instead of a principal. Teachers evaluate each other through a peer review system. Located in southwest Denver, it’s a K-5 elementary school with a “primary focus” on “science, technology, and mathematics.” MSLA opened its doors this year to students in kindergarten through second grade. Parents who are interested can go to the school’s website for more information on admissions.

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Teachers as Entrepreneurs: A Refreshing Race to the Top Idea?

Knowing that teacher quality is so essential to successful student learning, Colorado’s lawmakers and education officials should be doing more to enact policies that promote teacher autonomy, excellence, and accountability. The Maryland Public Policy Institute does just that with its new report calling for “Teachers as Entrepreneurs” (PDF). The idea? Instead of placing all instructors under the terms of a centralized bargaining contract, allow for some individual teachers or teams of teachers to contract with a school district to perform instructional services. Either union or non-union, they could agree on setting terms regarding class size, basic working conditions, performance and differential pay, and retirement plans. This approach would give individual teachers greater freedom to determine whether they want to support and subsidize political activities. It would require state law to take a neutral position on the issue of unionization and exclusive representation.

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A Glimpse at New Schools: Animas High

Guess what? It’s that time again — time to highlight some of the exciting new educational options opening up for Colorado students and parents this fall. Last year we were able to give readers a glimpse at 10 new schools. My goal is to do at least that many for 2009. First on the list, we start at the far end of the state in Durango for the opening of a new public charter school for 9th graders. Authorized by the Charter School Institute, Animas High School. Animas, which is intentionally modeled after San Diego’s innovative High Tech High, is slated to add grades each year so the first class will graduate in 2013.

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Are More Teacher Licensure Alternatives on Their Way to Colorado?

Every student in Colorado deserves to have a top-notch teacher in the classroom — especially those kids who are “at-risk” because of poverty and related issues. We shouldn’t put unnecessary obstacles in the way of getting skilled and caring new teachers licensed and ready to go. Instead, we should be looking for high-quality alternative programs that serve the needs of those college-educated adults who want to change careers without going back to get an education degree. We need more content experts, especially in math and science, who have a firm footing in the basics of pedagogy and classroom management. This year Colorado passed Senate Bill 160 (PDF). By giving the state board of education greater flexibility to approve alternative licensure programs, this new law may enable the recruitment and preparation of more highly-qualified teachers to help fill needs in Colorado schools. This week David Saba, president of the American Board for Certification of Teaching Excellence (ABCTE), talked more about these issues on an iVoices podcast, which you can listen to by clicking the play button below:

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Rocky Mountain Deaf School Seeking to Build on Special Record of Success

Yesterday a couple of my Education Policy Center friends had the privilege of visiting a local charter school with a special program to serve a particular group of kids with special needs: Rocky Mountain Deaf School (RMDS). RMDS is located in Jefferson County, but about half of its 61 students live in surrounding districts. That’s a sign of a school having success connecting with deaf and hearing-impaired kids and improving their learning horizons. The RMDS vision statement highlights the clear focus and special status of the school: As a high performing, innovative educational program for students who are deaf, we are deeply committed to providing a rigorous, standards-based curriculum. We prepare each deaf student to be literate, academically successful, and technologically competent. We provide a linguistically rich learning environment through the acquisition of American Sign Language and English both inside and outside the classroom.

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All Eyes (Including Mine) on Radical Westminster School Innovation

I’ve told you before about Westminster School District’s program to move from seat time to standards — re-thinking the whole traditional grade system that has dominated American education for decades — and the Doogie Howser-like potential such a system could offer me. Well, earlier this week, Rebecca Jones at Ed News Colorado chronicled the fact that the moment of truth has arrived for Westminster (aka Adams 50): It’s the last day of the 2008-09 school year in the district. The last day of life as most students and teachers there have always known it. The last day that categories like “third grade” or “sixth grade” – or A or B+ or C- — will exist in most of Westminster. The district is scrapping traditional notions of grade level and doing away with letter grades. Students will instead progress through academic levels 1-10 based on their mastery of subjects, not on the length of time they’ve been in school. This concept, known as standards-based education, has been tried in individual schools and in some small districts in Alaska, but never before in a large, urban district such as Westminster. The bold step is bringing national attention to the district.

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More High-Quality Choices? Denver May Be on Verge of Major Breakthrough

Today’s big education story in the Denver Post suggests we may be on the verge of some major innovative developments that promote consumer choices and academic excellence: This morning, the Denver School of Science and Technology charter school will announce that it plans to open four new schools over the next five years. And this evening, Denver’s school board will vote on whether to allow Manual High and Montclair Elementary to become the state’s first “innovation schools.” The designation would give them charterlike freedoms to hire and fire and set their own calendars…. High-performing West Denver Preparatory Charter School hopes to add two middle schools in northwest Denver; the Cesar Chavez Academy organization based in Pueblo will try to open its first Denver school; and Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, wants a middle school on the west side that will feed its high school opening this August. Organizations also are forming to help support the creation of new schools in DPS. The Walton Family Foundation — a K-12 education-reform charity established by Wal-Mart magnate Sam Walton — is focusing on Denver. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers chose Denver as the first district it will help with more […]

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Charter School Institute Legal Victory A Win for Families Seeking Opportunity

Yesterday provided great news for Colorado families who live in school districts unfriendly to certain public education options. The Charter School Institute, a state body created by the legislature in 2004 as another way to authorize charter schools, secured an important legal victory. From a press release in the Attorney General’s office: Colorado Attorney General John Suthers praised a decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals today that upheld the constitutionality of the Colorado Charter Schools Act. The case centers on Boulder Valley School District’s claim that the General Assembly does not have constitutional authority to create and fund charter schools that are not controlled by local school boards.

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New Opportunity for Colorado's Autistic Students a Little Closer

The challenge of being able to help all kids shouldn’t be a reason not to help some kids. That’s why I’m excited that Colorado is one step closer to having legislation that will provide new options for students with autism. Senator Nancy Spence, truly one of the legislature’s champions for educational choice and opportunity, has sponsored Senate Bill 130. In its original form (PDF), the bill would have created a new scholarship program so parents of autistic kids could choose to enroll them in a private school to meet their special needs. If you look in the Alliance for School Choice’s brand-new School Choice Yearbook 2008-09 (PDF), you will learn – among many other things – that five different states have some sort of special-needs scholarship program. In fact, Ohio has an existing Autism Scholarship Program that in its fifth year (2007-08) had more than 1,000 students and 200 schools participating. Bills that include private school choice tend not to do so well these days at the Colorado State Capitol, though there is some support among members of both parties. At the hearing Senator Chris Romer came up with an amendment so the bill would create a special pilot program […]

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State Gives Douglas County Green Light to Continue Teacher Licensure Program

I recently told you that Douglas County’s innovative new teacher training and licensure program would be up for review by the State Board of Education soon. Well, the good news is that today the Board unanimously agreed to extend the waiver so the program can continue to operate. In cheering what the program has accomplished thus far, State Board member Peggy Littleton even cited the report Douglas County’s Homegrown Teachers (PDF) written by my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow. It’s good to see successful local innovation encouraged rather than stymied. More effective and streamlined paths are needed to get high-quality teachers into classrooms. Kudos to Mike Lynch and the staff at Douglas County’s Learning Center. We hope to see the vision for their program grow and inspire action from other school districts in Colorado and across the country.

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