Selected readings on US charter schools
But as public schools here transition to common national curriculum standards, those highly-honed bootstrapping skills are proving critical as deadlines loom for getting teachers trained and students prepared for new assessments.
“Charter schools in general are probably further along in the implementation phase, because we have been forced to do this on our own,” said Alice Miller, director of knowledge management for the California Association of Charter Schools. “With freedom and flexibility comes that responsibility that we’ve always had to assume anyway.”
Although the California State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, the state fell well behind much of the nation in their implementation largely because of economic conditions. But while the common standards are being reevaluated in a number of other places – some of it due to politics – California is catching up quickly.
The Legislature appropriated more than $1 billion last summer to help schools make the transition while Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that calls for testing to begin based on the common standards in the spring of 2015.
There’s a lot of concern that many traditional public schools won’t be ready.
Charter schools face many of the same issues, but anecdotal evidence suggests a lot of them are well along.
Working in conjunction with the state board, Miller and her team at CCSA combed through input from more than 100 California charter schools this summer to gauge their progress in aligning to the Common Core and their readiness for online testing. “With maybe two or three exceptions, they’re on the mark,” she said. “There’s not an issue with the curricular development, implementing interim benchmark assessments or aligning their curriculum against the new standards.”
Casey Taylor, principal of Achieve Charter School of Paradise in Butte County, agreed that the transition to the new standards was not too much of a leap for her teachers. “The intent of charter law is for charter teachers to be directly involved in the program development and curriculum at the school level,” she said. “So charter school teachers are already used to this, using standards as the roadmap, then developing assessments and curriculum to align to those standards.”
Because charters have never received categorical funding earmarked for state-adopted textbooks, as traditional public schools do, they have always had to seek out and often piece together their instructional materials from a variety of sources. “We as charter schools have a lot of freedom to make instructional and program choices at the site based on what is best for the students and families we serve,” Taylor said.
Teachers at Achieve Charter School began the transition to the Common Core two years ago, Taylor said. “As a staff, we began unpacking the new common core standards, really looking at how they were similar and mostly how they were different from what we were already doing in English language arts and math,” she said.
Rather than looking first to a complete publisher-written curriculum, as a traditional public school might, Achieve’s teachers began by researching the standards, studying teaching practices from other schools both within and outside of California, and accessing online resources. They ended up piloting a new math curriculum that they eventually adopted in full, but for English language arts they supplemented and refined their existing curriculum to align it to the new standards.
Collaboration among the school’s teachers has been critical to revamping the curriculum, Taylor said. Students attend school just half a day every Friday to give teachers time to meet, plan instruction and share successes and challenges.
Like all of California’s public schools, charters received a one-time state grant of $200 per student to assist with the cost of implementing the new standards. The funds must be used for Common Core related expenditures such as curricular materials, professional development and technology needed to administer the online state test, which is set for field testing next spring.
According to Miller’s survey of charter schools, it’s the technology requirements that have proved to be a sticking point for a few specialized charter schools that base their teaching on brain development. Both Montessori and Waldorf method schools tend to delay the introduction of technology until between fifth and seventh grade. According to Miller, such schools feel that requiring them to introduce technology earlier violates their teaching methods and independence as charter schools. “It’s a very small number,” Miller said, “but it’s a charter specific issue that other traditional schools might not have.”
Otherwise, she said, the challenges that charters are encountering are exactly those that traditional schools are working through: the limited availability of text books aligned to the Common Core standards, the inclusion of students with special needs, the sequencing of math courses at the high school level, and the integration of technology.
Source: Cabinet Report – by Carrie Marovich