School Closures Heighten Opinions on School Choice

All of the blogs have been talking about school closures for the past couple of weeks. There are opinions, theories, conspiracies, options off the table, and options on the table. While I have attended meetings and read the reports I am not sure this blog has much to add to that process. However, while discussing school closures there has been a great deal of discussion about school choice. Back in August I posted about Flex Academy Public High School. Flex is a charter high school and had applied for a charter from MDUSD, only to be turned down. In October however, the Contra Costa County Board of Education approved the charter. Flex Academy now plans to open a high school in the MDUSD attendance area next fall that provides parents with students in grades 9-12, living in the county or surrounding counties, a choice for high school.
If you are interested there are two informational meetings planned this coming week: RSVP HERE
Monday, January 24
7:00 PM
2001 Salvio Street
Concord, CA 94520

Wednesday, January 26
7:00 PM
2909 Ygnacio Valley Road
Walnut Creek, CA 94598
S.F. Flex Academy Brochure - Same program as Mt. Diablo Flex
For more information about the high school and a list of courses offered please see the two page brochure attached: S.F. Flex Academy Public High School The Mt. Diablo Flex Academy will be very similar to the S.F. Flex Academy.


Engaging Students – Michael Wesch, Kansas State University

Gary Eberhart responded to the last blog post and made the following comment:

I think the idea to discuss what’s going on in our district relative to what other districts are doing is a great idea. I would eagerly participate in doing so.

I like that idea and would like to expand the discussion to include college campuses where the trends seem to be a bit ahead of K-12.

Michael Wesch, a Professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University, along with the collaboration of 200 students created this video:

Should we change the way we teach our children in order to not only engage them, but provide them relevant skills for careers in the 21st century?
Skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
The use of digital media/internet can transform teaching from the dissemination of information to coaching, facilitating, and mentoring students. Information is everywhere. Students must learn to qualify the information they find. They need to know how to recognize bias and credible sources. Do they need to memorize massive amounts of information and historical dates? Or instead do they need to understand why what happened on those dates is relevant.
Yesterday a teacher, inspired by Michael Wesch, wrote on his blog Ten Simple Strategies for Re-engaging Students. Can you guess what his 10 strategies were?

More from Michael Wesch:

Of utmost concern to me, was the nature of questions I was hearing from students, which tended to be administrative and procedural rather than penetrative, critical, and insightful. My least favorite question was also the most common: “What do we need to know for this test?” Something had to be done, so I set to work creating the World Simulation.

The World Simulation itself only takes 75-100 minutes and moves through 650 metaphorical years, 1450-2100. It all takes place in large room where all of the “cultures” interact with one another with props for currencies, natural resources, and other elements that recreate the world system. They simulate world history in an attempt to understand the underlying social and cultural processes that interconnect us all. The ultimate goal is to allow students to actually experience how the world system works and explore some of the most important questions now facing humanity such as those of global inequality, globalization, culture loss, environmental degradation, and in the worst case scenario, genocide.

How can we engage high school students and make their experience in the classroom as content rich as their interactions outside the classroom?
How do we keep the curriculum relevant and rigorous?
With the entire world a click away how can we expand the school experience and make it a global experience?

A Manifesto on how to fix our schools

Yesterday the Contra Costa Times printed a single manifesto written by today’s top leaders in education in this country.  This group of Chancellors, Superindentents, Chief Executives, and Educators represent the interests of over 2.5 million school children in our country. The title: A Manifesto on how to fix our schools. I am going to reprint it in its entirity below.  It is compelling.

A manifesto by:

Joel Klein, chancellor, New York City Department of Education; Michelle Rhee, chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools; Peter C. Gorman, superintendent, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (N.C.); Ron Huberman, chief executive, Chicago Public Schools; Carol R. Johnson, superintendent, Boston Public Schools; Andris A. Alonso, chief executive, Baltimore City Public Schools; Tom Boasberg, superintendent, Denver Public Schools; Arlene C. Ackerman, superintendent of schools, the School District of Philadelphia; William R. Hite Jr., superintendent, Prince George’s County Public Schools; Jean-Claude Brizard, superintendent of schools, Rochester City School District (N.Y.); Josi M. Torres, superintendent, Illinois School District U-46; J. Wm. Covington, superintendent, Kansas City, Missouri School District; Terry B. Grier, superintendent of schools, Houston Independent School District; Paul Vallas, superintendent, New Orleans Recovery School District; Eugene White, superintendent, Indianapolis Public Schools; LaVonne Sheffield, superintendent of Rockford Public Schools (Illinois)

AS EDUCATORS, superintendents, chief executives and chancellors responsible for educating nearly 21/2 million students in America, we know that the task of reforming the country’s public schools begins with us.

It is our obligation to enhance the personal growth and academic achievement of our students, and we must be accountable for how our schools perform.

All of us have taken steps to move our students forward, and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program has been the catalyst for more reforms than we have seen in decades. But those reforms are still outpaced and outsized by the crisis in public education.

Fortunately, the public, and our leaders in government, are finally paying attention. The “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” documentary, the defeat of D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to Newark’s public schools, and a tidal wave of media attention have helped spark a national debate and presented us with an extraordinary opportunity.

But the transformative changes needed to truly prepare our kids for the 21st-century global economy simply will not happen unless we first shed some of the entrenched practices that have held back our education system, practices that have long favored adults, not children.

These practices are wrong, and they have to end now.

It’s time for all of the adults — superintendents, educators, elected officials, labor unions and parents alike — to start acting like we are responsible for the future of our children. Because right now, across the country, kids are stuck in failing schools, just waiting for us to do something.

So, where do we start? With the basics. As President Barack Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.

Yet, for too long, we have let teacher hiring and retention be determined by archaic rules involving seniority and academic credentials. The widespread policy of “last in, first out” (the teacher with the least seniority is the first to go when cuts have to be made) makes it harder to hold on to new, enthusiastic educators and ignores the one thing that should matter most: performance.

A 7-year-old girl won’t make it to college someday because her teacher has two decades of experience or a master’s degree — she will make it to college if her teacher is effective and engaging and compels her to reach for success.

By contrast, a poorly performing teacher can hold back hundreds, maybe thousands, of students over the course of a career. Each day that we ignore this reality is precious time lost for children preparing for the challenges of adulthood.

The glacial process for removing an incompetent teacher — and our discomfort as a society with criticizing anyone who chooses this noble and difficult profession — has left our school districts impotent and, worse, has robbed millions of children of a real future.

There isn’t a business in America that would survive if it couldn’t make personnel decisions based on performance. That is why everything we use in assessing teachers must be linked to their effectiveness in the classroom and focused on increasing student achievement.

District leaders also need the authority to use financial incentives to attract and retain the best teachers. When teachers are highly effective — measured in significant part by how well students are doing academically — or are willing to take a job in a tough school or in a hard-to-staff subject area such as advanced math or science, we should be able to pay them more.

Important initiatives, such as the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, are helping bring great educators to struggling communities, but we have to change the rules to professionalize teaching.

Let’s stop ignoring basic economic principles of supply and demand and focus on how we can establish a performance-driven culture in every American school — a culture that rewards excellence, elevates the status of teachers and is positioned to help as many students as possible beat the odds.

We need the best teacher for every child, and the best principal for every school. Of course, we must also do a better job of providing meaningful training for teachers who seek to improve, but let’s stop pretending that everyone who goes into the classroom has the ability and temperament to lift our children to excellence.

Even the best teachers — those who possess such skills — face stiff challenges in meeting the diverse needs of their students. A single elementary- or middle-school classroom can contain, for instance, students who read on two or three different grade levels, and that range grows even wider as students move into high school.

Is it reasonable to expect a teacher to address all the needs of 25 or 30 students when some are reading on a fourth-grade level and others are ready for Tolstoy? We must equip educators with the best technology available to make instruction more effective and efficient. By better using technology to collect data on student learning and shape individualized instruction, we can help transform our classrooms and lessen the burden on teachers’ time.

To make this transformation work, we must also eliminate arcane rules such as “seat time,” which requires a student to spend a specific amount of time in a classroom with a teacher rather than taking advantage of online lessons and other programs.

Just as we must give teachers and schools the capability and flexibility to meet the needs of students, we must give parents a better portfolio of school choices. That starts with having the courage to replace or substantially restructure persistently low-performing schools that continuously fail our students.

Closing a neighborhood school — whether it’s in Washington, Harlem, Denver or Chicago — is a difficult decision that can be very emotional for a community. But no one ever said leadership is easy.

We also must make charter schools a truly viable option. If all of our neighborhood schools were great, we wouldn’t be facing this crisis. But our children need great schools now — whether district-run public schools or public charter schools serving all students — and we shouldn’t limit the numbers of one form at the expense of the other. Excellence must be our only criteria for evaluating our schools.

For the wealthiest among us, the crisis in public education may still seem like someone else’s problem, because those families can afford to choose something better for their kids. But it’s a problem for all of us — until we fix our schools, we will never fix the nation’s broader economic problems.

Until we fix our schools, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will only grow wider and the United States will fall further behind the rest of the industrialized world in education, rendering the American dream a distant, elusive memory.

<What do you think?

High School – Looking for a New Option?

Award-winning curriculum, state-of-the–art school facilities, individualized attention, small group learning environments, consistent course content… Interested?

New Charter High SchoolWith future state budget cuts we will continue to see an impact on our children’s education. The loss of class-size reduction in 9th grade has hurt our incoming freshman class and left them without the individual attention given to classes that have preceded them.  Some district high schools are facing the possibility of losing AP classes and electives.  Our teachers are struggling to accommodate larger classes with less time.

Out of adversity, often comes innovation.

Flex Academy is a charter school organization with proposed plans to open Mt. Diablo Flex Academy here in the Mt. Diablo School District attendance area in fall 2011 and in San Francisco in fall 2010. The San Francisco location is in downtown San Francisco, close to BART, open to students throughout the Bay Area and is currently accepting enrollment applications. Student can attend Flex Academy in San Francisco this year and transfer to Mt. Diablo Flex at a later time. Flex Academy is tuition free and offers the following:

  • California’s first full-time, five-days-a-week “hybrid” high school, serving students in grades 9-12 from anywhere in the Bay Area
  • Engaging and personalized learning that truly maximizes each student’s full potential
  • Award-winning curriculum that meets University of California “a-g” requirements
  • State-of-the-art digital tools and online courses and resources
  • A robust catalog of 130 core and elective courses, many of which aren’t offered in other high schools  – Course List
  • Classes and small group instruction with highly qualified, California-credentialed teachers
  • Books, materials, and laptops for each student to help facilitate the learning process
  • Tuition-free public education
  • Small class sizes for more personalized schooling, plus after-school clubs, tutoring, and sports

This new charter school option is being called a “hybrid” due to the fact that it will provide the best attributes of a traditional school, a sense of community, academic supports, clubs and activities and the best attributes of online schools, with their differentiated learning, broad course offerings and continuous feedback through assessments built into the curriculum.   At Flex Academy the majority of classroom instruction is delivered online at a new state-of-the-art school facility. On-site and online credentialed teachers will have the ability to spend more individual time with students and facilitate small group discussions and projects. In addition, students will have the opportunity to individualize the pace of the course content by spending extra time where needed and moving ahead if ready.  Flex Academy offers a wide breadth of electives and AP courses including; Computer Programming, Introduction to Entrepreneurship, and Anthropology, just to name a few.  Online curriculum provides consistency of content for all students and offers students the ability for meaningful review of lectures and materials at anytime.

If you would like to attend an informal get-together where you can ask questions of the Flex Academy Founder/Superintendent and the  San Francisco Flex Academy Principal, please contact me for more information.

Flex Academy

Chat with Mark Kushner, Superintendent/Founder of Flex Academy

Alan Frishman, Principal S.F. Flex Academy

August 10, 2010

7:00 pm

Walnut Creek

For Information and RSVP

Mt. Diablo Flex Academy is proceeding through the charter process for approval of the new school in this area.  Flex Academy has already obtained approval to open one school in San Francisco (receiving unanimous approval at the state level) and three in Santa Clara County (receiving unanimous approval at the county level). After being turned down by MDUSD, Flex Academy is in the appeal process and is confident that they will be successful either through the County or State approval process. There is currently a great deal of pressure both at a national and state level to provide parents school choice by approving new state charter schools that meet high quality standards.  Provided below are bios for both Mr. Kushner and Mr. Frishman.

About Mark Kushner

Mark Kushner is one of the country’s leading charter experts as a charter school founder, state charter commissioner, and instructor on charter schools at Stanford University. In 1995, he founded and led Leadership High School in San Francisco, one of the pioneering charter high schools dedicated to equity and excellence. In 2001, Mr. Kushner next founded, and led as CEO, Leadership Public Schools (LPS), a prominent charter management organization dedicated to serving low-income students in California. LPS is now ably led by the former chief academic officer of Oakland Unified School District and Mr. Kushner serves on the board. In 2008 he joined K¹² Inc., the country’s leading provider of online courses.

A former high school English teacher, coach, school administrator, and attorney, Mr. Kushner also serves on the board of trustees of San Francisco University High School and the Town School for Boys. Selected honors include the Harvard Club of San Francisco’s Secondary School Educator of the Year, and the Hart Vision Award, the highest award given to charter school educators in California.

Mr. Kushner earned a B.A. from Wesleyan University, a J.D. from University of San Francisco and an Ed.M from Harvard University. He also completed graduate work in literature at The Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Oxford University. He is married to Dr. Mimi Winsberg and has two children. Recent honors include the Hart Vision Award for School Site Administrator, the highest award given to charter school educators in California, and the Harvard Club of San Francisco’s Secondary School Educator of the Year.

About Alan Frishman

Mr. Frishman has a long and distinguished career in school leadership, most recently with New Leaders for New Schools where he served as support to ten area schools (seven high, one middle, and  two elementary schools), and coach for nine principals, six assistant principals, and five teacher leaders. He worked with two schools and two principals in partnership with Partners in School Innovation and was a presenter to resident principals-in-training.  He has extensive experience as a High School Principal, leading innovative programs and driving school reform. He founded, led, and maintained groups whose primary focus is school reform at both the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute and the Anneberg Institute of School Reform. He holds a B.A. and a M.A.T. from Yale University.

San Francisco Flex Academy website