Charter schools are important option in education reform
By Kristin Trezise
Editor’s note: This is the third in The Daily Sentinel’s series of columns by local people involved with our schools on how to reform education.
So much attention today is focused on how to make education in America better. In the 2009 survey conducted by the Programme for International Student Assessment, statistics show that we lag well behind other countries in reading, math and science.
More students are graduating high school today, but are unprepared for college or university studies. School choice — allowing parents to choose a school other than the school in their local neighborhood — is essential for parents seeking the best option for their child. Increasingly today, in Colorado and across the country, charter schools are one of the most viable options.
Charter schools have captured national attention with the release of ”Waiting for Superman” and ”The Lottery,” two films that address issues in education. Also, the success of charter schools nationally is helping to close the achievement gap.
According to the National Alliance for Charter Schools, in the school year 2009-2010 there were almost 5,000 charter schools, which is 5.1 percent of all public schools in 39 states across the United States. There are nearly 72,000 students attending 170 charter schools in Colorado, which equals 8.8 percent of the total K-12 enrollment in the state, according to the Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Demographically, 42.8 percent of Colorado charter school students are minorities, compared to 44.5 percent of the state’s non-charter K-12 public school students.
In 2010, Colorado’s charter schools outperformed the state’s non-charter schools in the percentage of schools with strong enough academic performance to make adequate yearly progress. Specifically, 83 percent of charter elementary schools made adequate yearly progress, compared to 71 percent of non-charter elementary schools. Additionally, 83 percent of charter middle schools made adequate yearly progress, compared to 48 percent of non-charter middle schools. And 44 percent of charter high schools made reached the progress goal, compared to 42 percent of non-charter high schools. The Colorado League of Charter Schools tracks student achievement by both federal and state measures.
The academic success accomplished by charter schools is especially remarkable because of the financial challenges they encounter. For example, charter schools in Colorado spend $480 on average per student on facilities costs, from the designated per-pupil revenue.School districts mostly finance their facilities using property tax and taxpayer-backed bonds.
The statistics bear witness to the success of charter schools. However, within the charter school community, there are as many differences as there are students who attend them. For example, some charter schools have longer school days, while others implement special programs to meet the needs of their students.
Since there are only two charter schools in the Grand Valley — Independence Academy, chartered by Mesa County Valley School District 51, and Caprock Academy, chartered by the Colorado Charter School Institute — many people may not know what they are and how they operate. A charter school has a specific mission and vision as well as being a tuition-free, non-religious public school that is open to all students. Charter schools have independent governing boards, are held accountable for academic achievement and are primarily funded through public tax revenues, but they have to pay for their own facilities.
The founders of Caprock Academy had the vision to educate students by strengthening the community through the involvement of parents, educators and community leaders, working together to provide an environment that fosters academic excellence and develops strong character in students who become global citizens that set life goals and practice lives of service and virtue. This is accomplished through balancing academics, environment and accountability.
The educational philosophy of Caprock Academy is to teach classically using the “Core Knowledge” curriculum developed by Dr. E.D. Hirsch as the foundation,. It uses Socratic discussion from the study of the Ancients through the Modern Era in an interdisciplinary manner to prepare students for a rigorous classical curriculum in high school.
Students are encouraged to seek excellence in everything they do. This is accomplished through specifically chosen curriculum, using original text, that is scientifically and research based and is taught by highly qualified, passionate teachers. Flexible ability grouping, after-school classes for remedial and accelerated learning, extracurricular programs including clubs and sports, goal hour where students learn to set goals and explore topics of interest such as archery or photography, community service for all students, and parents who volunteer their time in a variety of ways also are key pieces to students’ effective progress. Parents, volunteers, educators and community members work together to make this program successful.
Parents may consider charter schools a viable choice for public education when they explore the waivers the governing board has petitioned from the state, when they review the academic focus of the school and when they examine how this public school choice fits with their family values.
Caprock Academy opened in the summer of 2007 as a K-7 school with approximately 250 students. Its current enrollment in grades K-10 is approximately 460 students. Due to strong demand from the local community, Caprock Academy will be adding an extra class of grades K-3 for the upcoming school year, while continuing the natural growth of adding a second seventh grade and 11th grade to the high school program.
Socrates said, “Wisdom begins in wonder” and, as students pursue excellence through their studies at Caprock, they will experience the wonder and beauty in the pursuit of truth.
Kristin Trezise is headmaster of Caprock Academy in Grand Junction.