Selected readings on US charter schools
COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) — From the outside, the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, built in two former commercial buildings in a non-descript industrial corner of town, hardly fits the prototype for a school that consistently ranks among the best in the state.
Started in 1999 in a converted plant nursery building, the school later expanded into a building that once served as a warehouse for a commercial cleaning service.
It’s what happens inside — and the academic rigors and expectations for the students — that matter most, according to principal Dan Nicklay. More than 700 students take courses that focus on college prep. Students wear uniforms, must take two years of Latin to graduate and spend more time reading the classics than exploring the nexus between technology and the classroom.
The curriculum is rigorous and not built for every student, Nicklay said.
“When these kids go to college, classes look like what we do here,'” said Nicklay.
As a public school, the academy receives tax dollars and must accept all types of students. But there is no big rush of applicants who want to challenge themselves academically, and the waiting list of about 100 is much smaller than at some of the other nearly 50 charter schools in the state.
The mission statement is one sentence: “Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy is dedicated to providing a rigorous, content-rich, college preparatory education for any students who are willing to accept the challenge.”
In 2011, Newsweek rated the academy No. 13 among the top 20 high schools in the West, and No. 59 among the top 100 high schools in the nation, the only Idaho high school on the lists. The Washington Post ranked it No. 59 in the High School Challenge in 1913. U.S. News and World Report ranked it among the top 100 high schools in the nation. Businessweek has dubbed it the best academic performer in Idaho.
While outside entities use measures like how many students take Advanced Placement courses in ranking the best schools, the Idaho Department of Education uses a more complex system for grading schools, said Melissa McGrath, spokeswoman for the agency in Boise, Idaho.
The Coeur d’Alene school is one of 91 so-called five-star schools in Idaho this year, McGrath said.
To achieve five stars, Idaho officials look at AP participation, SAT and ACT scores, standardized test results and other factors, McGrath said.
“We would consider them one of the top performing schools in the state,” she said of the Coeur d’Alene school.
But Nicklay cites other measures to judge the school’s success. For example, he said the 36 graduates in 2012 earned $3.5 million in college scholarships and four went to the U.S. Military Academy, Nicklay said. Nearly all the graduates go to college.
The school has 32 teachers offering instruction in grades 6-12. The school day runs from 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., and extracurricular activities are not allowed to cut into any of that time.
“We utilize every minute of every period,” Nicklay said.
The school was launched by a group of parents who wanted a college preparatory school with rigorous standards in a state that ranks near the bottom in sending high school graduates to college.
“Charter schools address the needs of an underserved population,” Nicklay said. “Bright, motivated students are often left to their own devices.”
Senior Jake Johnson said he was “forced here in the sixth grade by my Mom” after attending a religious school where academics failed to meet his standards
“I developed a passion for it and wanted to stay,” he said of the academy.
Johnson is planning to attend New York University next year.
The school does lose a fair number of students each year, Nicklay acknowledged.
About 20 percent of students leave each year for other schools in the district. The most attrition occurs between eighth and ninth grades, Nicklay said.
Unlike many modern schools, the Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy eschews the emphasis on technology. It does not offer laptops for every student. Nicklay would rather students read “The Iliad” than fiddle with an iPad.
“The emphasis on technology is a little bit wrong-minded,” Nicklay said of the push in Idaho and elsewhere to incorporate more technology in the classroom.
Students are required to wear polo shirts and slacks or skirts. Male teachers wear ties every day. Instead of casual Fridays, male students have started formal Fridays in which they wear suits and ties.
Senior Amanda Johnston started attending the academy in the ninth grade. “I felt comfortable with the uniforms and liked the academic rigor,” she said.
“The workload may be a lot, but I would rather have the workload than a bad environment,” said Johnston, who plans to attend Whitworth University in nearby Spokane, Wash.
Source: Seattle PI – by Nikholas K. Geranios, Associated Press