Saturday, February 1, 2014

Overview of School Choice in Central California

With the expansion of open enrollment policies and the growth of the charter school movement, competition to get into public schools with good reputations has become fierce. This Blog is under development by Central California educators who are leaders and advocates in the School Choice Movement.  Our intention is to cover specific issues and events that are of importance to parents that are engaged in the process of choosing a school for their child. While the geographic focus for the blog will be Central California, the themes and topics are likely to be of interest to all parents considering their school choice options.  If you still have questions after reading this post, feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn:

Understanding some of the "School Choice" basics:

No matter of how simple or complicated, competitive or not, your district's system is, there are some basic strategies that can be applied to help your child get into the school that is best for him or her.

Avoid Herd Mentality
In California, it is a good idea for parents to look at a school's API scores as a measure of how well students achieve, but that is only part of the picture of a school. You need to visit the school and sit in on classes. Talk to the staff, ask specific questions such as:
  • What are the school’s goals? (this is where you probe beyond API score, yes achievement scores are good but what else does the school aim to achieve... Dual Language, Arts, Technology, Music, etc...)
  • Is the school meeting its goals? How do you know it is or isn't meeting its goals?
  • What does the school expect from every student?
  • Is the school doing better academically that the district school my child would attend?
  • How long has the school been open?
  • Do you think the school’s charter will be renewed? Why?
  • How do parents know if the school is doing well?
  • How will the charter school help my child to succeed?
  • What role do parents play at the school?
  • How long is the school day? The school year?
  • How many students are in each class?

Don't Miss Deadlines or "Mess Up"
Don't lose out because of missed deadlines or incomplete paper work. Bryan Hassel, author of The Picky Parent Guide, cautions, "If it truly is a purely mechanical system, such as a lottery, then the most important strategy is to make sure that you get things in on time. Don't mess up. Don't mess up is one of those basic technical requirements." Even after you've gotten your child into the school, complete all the steps.

New Schools
Public schools often create small academies within larger schools, or new public, charter or private schools are opened, after the regular enrollment process is over. These schools sometimes have seats available for months before word spreads. Check with your district for more information about new public and charter schools. Use caution when selecting new schools, you will have to do more homework.

Information From the Right Source
Make sure you get information from the correct source, which is the often a district office or the administrator of the charter school or private school you wish to attend.

Apply to More Than One Program at a School
"Some larger schools have several programs-such as one in art, or one in government," says Wheaton of "So if that's the school you want to go to, apply to all the programs, because once you get in you can transfer to the program you really want."

Connect directly with the School
"One tip, even for the public school system, is to write a cover letter to the school that really zeros in on what we call your child's fit with the school," says Hassel. While many schools have a lottery process, this type of connection with the school ensures that you will be a part of that process and in the event that there is room in the school you have already begun to build a relationship with the school.

Schools That Require Special Admissions Procedures
Some schools require auditions or portfolios of past work for admission. If you feel that your child has a special talent or a strong interest in a particular field, preparing for these schools will create more options for your child.

Review all Preferences that Apply
"Find out what kinds of preferences are built into the system," says Hassel, "and make sure that you're taking advantage of those that apply to you, such as sibling preferences and neighborhood preferences.

Interdistrict/Intradistrict Transfer
In California, you can legally apply for a transfer to a district in which you work, regardless of whether you live in that district. The district must consider your request, although they do not have to admit you if there are no seats available. Knowing the rules of district transfers might allow you to place your child in a school in a better district, however it probably won't help you land a spot in an oversubscribed school.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


For immediate release

Protégé aspires to follow mentor in SJCOE role

TRACY -- Dr. Jeff Tilton today announced his candidacy for San Joaquin County Office of Education Superintendent of Schools, currently held by Dr. Mick Founts, who announced last week that he will not seek re-election in 2014.

Tilton, Deputy Superintendent of Schools, New Jerusalem School District, is a former administrator with SJCOE and co-founded the nationally renowned “one.” program at SCJOE with Founts in the 1990s.

“Ever since Mick and (former SJCOE Superintendent) Dr. Rick Wentworth hired me in 1992, I wanted to one day be the SJCOE superintendent,” said Tilton, who was raised in Manteca and attended Manteca schools. “Those two, especially Mick, molded me into the professional that I am today. It is truly a “pay-it-forward” moment for those two and all of the educators who made a difference in my life.”

Tilton has a long history of creating innovative programs for students, including authoring and founding three charter schools while serving at the Stanislaus County Office of Education. He also founded Delhi High School. His career started at his alma mater, Manteca High School, as an English teacher and football, wrestling, and baseball coach. He then joined the SJCOE soon after Wentworth was elected. After a stint in building the Delhi Educational Park – a 7-adult joint county-school district project, working as an administrator in Sonoma County’s largest high school, and then joining the Stanislaus COE, Tilton worked nearly 10 years with schools throughout nation via the non-profit Northwest Evaluation Association. He returned to San Joaquin County in 2012 to join Superintendent David Thoming and New Jerusalem School District, the fastest growing district in San Joaquin County.

“One of my principles is to make a difference for kids – directly,” said Tilton, “not by sitting in an office and chasing grants and writing policy. A true educational leader, as I learned from Dr. Founts, is one who is active, one who is student-centered, and one who cares.”

-- 30 --

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Comprehensive Assessment: A Short History

Comprehensive assessment embraces the whole system of assessing student understanding as a mechanism to improve teaching and learning.

Comprehensive assessment embraces the whole system of assessing student understanding as a mechanism to improve teaching and learning.
In the early 20th century, public education embraced a number of innovations that were grounded in the best thinking of the day. Many of these newfangled ideas focused on efficiency, with the goal of mass-producing students who could read, write, and compute at a basic level. As the book How

People Learn explains:
This approach attempted to sort the raw materials (the children) so that they could be treated somewhat as an assembly line. Teachers were viewed as workers whose job was to carry out directives from their superiors -- the efficiency experts of schooling (administrators and researchers).
Boy at whiteboard leading class discussion
Credit: Tom LeGoff

It was only logical to develop standardized tests that could scientifically measure the “product” rolling off this educational assembly line.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and basic literacy, numeracy, and content knowledge are no longer enough. According to the editors of How People Learn, and many other experts, if students are going to be able to negotiate the complexities of contemporary life, they need to be able to think and read critically, express themselves using digital tools, and solve complex problems. It’s not enough for students to be able to recall what they have memorized; they need to be able to transfer what they have learned to new situations. This calls for applying the best thinking of today -- from fields such as cognitive science and educational technology -- to update our approaches for teaching and assessing what students know and are able to do.

Comprehensive Means Everything

Assessment is an umbrella term. Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, authors of Understanding by Design, explain that it includes many methods of gathering evidence about student learning. These include observations and dialogues, traditional quizzes and tests, performance tasks and projects, as well as students’ reflections on their own learning.

Some methods of evidence-gathering happen while learning is still unfolding (formative assessment), helping to inform and adjust instruction. Other methods occur at the end of a course or unit of study (summative assessment) and assess whether students have reached the intended learning goals. Some methods are informal while others come with high stakes. Yet all kinds of assessment play a role in shaping understanding. Indeed, in Understanding by Design, Wiggins and McTighe state: “Understanding can be developed and evoked only through multiple methods of ongoing assessment, with far greater attention paid to formative (and performance) assessment than is typical.”

When used effectively, assessment can facilitate high levels of student achievement, according to the authors of Knowing What Students Know. Assessment helps students learn and succeed in school “by making as clear as possible to them, their teachers, and other education stakeholders the nature of their accomplishments and the progress of their learning.”

Comprehensive assessment entails the whole system of assessing student understanding as a mechanism to improve teaching and learning. Teachers use multiple strategies to gather and share information about what students understand and to identify where they may be struggling. Well-designed assessments help students chart their own progress toward learning goals and help teachers modify instruction as needed.

Authentic assessment (or performance assessment) asks students to demonstrate their learning by making a product or by doing a task, performance, or exhibition to show what they know and can do. Authentic assessment mirrors what happens in the real world when scientists, architects, musicians, and others apply their discipline-based knowledge to solve authentic challenges. In project-based learning, projects typically conclude with an authentic performance or presentation. Typically, teachers score authentic assessments according to rubrics that define quality work or proficiency according to various categories (such as mastery of key content, communication skills, teamwork, and so forth).

Blended assessment is a combination of traditional and technology-based assessments, for instance, combining paper-and-pencil tasks, online tasks, and peer assessment.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Virtual Charter Schools are likely here to stay, regardless of what you think... so what do you think?

Michigan Cyber Schools give Parents a Choice Outside the District Box

Michigan has two cyber public charter schools, and the demand by parents for these schools is incredible. Under current law, each of the schools will never be able to accept more than 1,000 students. Both schools have already reached that limit. Combined, the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy and Michigan Connections Academy currently have a waiting list of approximately 10,000 students. These students are now waiting on the lottery, hoping their number gets called.
Currently, a legislative effort is taking place in Michigan to lift the cap on cyber charters, and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) strongly supports this effort. We support the expansion of parent choice, believing that every child matters and every parent should have a variety of high-quality options. Public charter schools, and public cyber charter schools are quality options. As it stands now, only a small percentage of parents in Michigan have that option. And that’s not right.

The traditional school community in Michigan has been fighting this legislation tooth and nail, simply because they don’t want to lose market share. They’ve tried to advance the false argument that a cyber education lacks quality safeguards and results. This is a curious argument for them to be making, considering that 90 percent of more than 500 traditional school districts offer these very same online learning programs, using the very same online education providers they’ve been criticizing.
As a cyber charter school, these schools are held to a higher standard of accountability. Each school has a separate school board of public officials, an authorizer with a contract that audits and monitors academic performance, fiscal stewardship, and sound and appropriate governance. Charter schools in Michigan must also comply with most rules and regulations that apply to all public schools, certified teachers, reporting, testing, etc. Most importantly though, charter schools are held accountable by parents, through their choice to attend or leave.

The cyber charter school legislation, SB 619, has passed the State Senate, come out of the State House Education Committee and is expected to be taken up in the full House next week. If passed there, some modifications would need to be approved by the Senate before moving to Governor Rick Snyder who is expected to sign the bill when it reaches him.

Ultimately, MAPSA supports lifting the cap on cyber charter schools for Michigan’s future, the students. Students like Steve Slisko. He’s a boy I met who lives in a suburb of Detroit, and has cognitive impairments that prevent him from speaking or holding a pencil. He’s extremely bright, but has struggled in a traditional school setting. Thankfully, his family found the Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, and he was able to win a coveted spot in the school. Now he is thriving. He can type his assignments; communicate with his teachers via e-mail, which has resulted in his grades skyrocketing. His grandfather says the school is a “miracle.”

Steve is just one example from the many students in Michigan who have found success by attending a cyber charter school. There are thousands of other students, each with their own story, and their own reason why a cyber education is the best option for them. Our job is to provide sound policy and a quality opportunity for them, then let them decide. Our job is to ensure a quality education for each child in Michigan.

Originally Posted by: Daniel L. Quisenberry, President, Michigan Association of Public School Academies at Friday, 17 February, 2012 12:00 AM

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Shift to Personalized Learning

Note:  This was written by Progressive Public School Superintendent David Britten (of Lansing, Michigan), I continue to look for bold education leaders that aren't afraid to stand up for school choice for our nation's families.  Stay tuned for more posts regarding the shift to personalized learning, the shift away from cookie cutter schools and our need to embrace different school structures and teaching pedagogy than that which we are currently familiar with.  More than ever, I've come to realize that I am a "trouble maker" in my field that is just getting started!

April 8, 2011

Don't Stand in the Way of Personalizing Learning

Ronald A. Wolk, founder and former editor of Education Week, hits a homerun in his new book, Wasting Minds: Why our education system is failing and what we can do about it (ASCD, 2011). Of particular note is Chapter 11, titled One Student at a Time, where he describes in the opening paragraph what personalized education should look like -- not standardized systems bent primarily on higher "abstract test scores," but real work demonstrated in a variety of real-world applications. He goes on to prescribe in simple terms how to create personalized learning schools:
Today's students come from different socioeconomic situations and cultural backgrounds, learn in different ways and at different speeds, and have different talents, problems, and aspirations. To accommodate this enormous student diversity, the strategy should encourage the creation of new schools that are different from conventional schools and from each other, and they should offer a variety of educational opportunities. - pages 101-2

I contend that we once had this system of education, until the "great industrialization" and subsequent grading of schools came along, only to be followed later by the "great high-stakes testing era" we find ourselves in currently. Once upon a time, the classroom teacher was master of his or her domain and the students were of all ages where personalization of learning was the only successful avenue. Now, teachers are expected to spend all their time conforming to a one-size-fits-all curriculum, using the same strategies from classroom to classroom, and working in lock-step to prepare students for state and national tests. Failing to do so dooms the teacher by saddling her with the label of "ineffective."  For learning is no longer the true measure, just progress of her charges towards proficiency on some abstract multiple-choice test.

Wolk suggests that new schools for personalized learning be created alongside so-called conventional schools, but why would we want to keep the latter? Why not unbridle all of our public schools -- traditional as well as charter -- and allow for the complete personalization of learning from top to bottom? Eliminate unreasonable laws and regulations that only serve to corral public schools in yesteryear methods and restrict their ability to readily transform into the personalized schools of tomorrow. Provide for a stable funding base (not asking for more money, just stable funding) that allows schools to plan long-term the improvement strategies necessary to support this transformation. Take public education out of the political arena and allow local communities to push for the types of schools they feel serve their kids best. 

NCLB-ESEA in its current incarnation based on standardization of public education stands in the way of true educational reform and personalizing learning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Learning 100 Years from now; something for school choice advocates, policy makers and practitioners to think about!

Learning in Year 2111

TALK OF TOMORROW | by Ted Fujimoto

Imagine how kids might be learning 100 years from now. This exercise is not easy. To put this in perspective, 40 years ago, consumers didn’t have cell phones, smart phones, personal computers, internet, social networking, digital cameras, email, GPS, tablets, laptops, Skype, YouTube—and the list goes on and on. In fact, many of these items came into existence just in the past 10 years. It’s hard to imagine living today without these technologies. It’s also quite amazing how much these technologies have changed how we live our lives and society. I look back on my own experience hearing about the “world wide web” or about “Facebook” or “Twitter” and how long it took for me to understand what it was, why would anyone care, and why I would even care. Projecting what learning could look like 100 years from now will, in hindsight, probably be ridiculous—like flying cars that we were supposed to have in 2000—but it’s worth the exercise to stretch the imagination and dream! Here are some possibilities for a high school and college student:

1. No such thing as plagiarism in learning. All knowledge is open source—anyone can use and copy it. What students are evaluated on is being able to come up with the right solution to a problem in the most efficient way using all tools, resources, and knowledge available.

2. No standardized tests just demonstrations. There are standards, but students can decide how they want to show the world what they know and submit the evidence online. This evidence is rated on a five star scale by a combination of automated artificial intelligence systems as well as panels of content experts around the world. Kids earn badges, scholarships, special opportunities, and unlock access advanced tools when they earn more stars.

3. Anyone can be a teacher. No special training, just support for kids. However, there are content specialists, advisors, coaches from around the world who are available anytime 24×7 to help a kid out when they need information. Each specialist/advisory/coach gets star ratings from students about how helpful they were.  Kids get tokens that they can spend on a single session with a specialist, advisor, coach—and the government pays that person based on the number of tokens that were collected.

4. No classes—face-to-face time only for advisory with social media. Three times a week, kids get together as a support group…sharing what’s going on in their lives and providing support for each other. A facilitator helps them with their discussion and provides them motivation to dream big and succeed. Everyone stays connected through social media.

5. No classrooms—learning centers have opened up all across towns in old school buildings, libraries, business conference rooms—all available for kids to use. There is an adult host at each site that helps kids when needed, connects them to resources, inspires them, and chaperones.

6. Kids learn through challenges. Challenges are created by specialists and communities around the world to solve real world problems—mapped to learning standards. Kids can select which challenge they want to take on based on interest as well as what standards and badges they are working toward. Tokens are given to each challenge that gets used—so the most popular ones will earn the most money. All challenges come linked to advisors, mentors, and other resources that could be helpful.

7. Regional simulation centers—industries have made available simulators and simulation scenarios to kids to experiment hands-on.

8. Advanced programs (we call them Universities) have programs that performs nightly scans of  student portfolios, stars, badges and lets them know precisely what they need to qualify to work with them and how much scholarships and tokens they qualify for. Kids know exactly what they need to do at all times to advance to the next level.

9. Companies also have programs that perform nightly scans of student portfolios, stars, badges, and lets them know precisely what types of careers and jobs they could qualify for and what they could be earning.

10. Kids who are struggling are assigned a mentor coach who works with them virtually and face-to-face to connect them to resources, helps them stay on track, and doesn’t let them drown.

Today, we are seeing glimpses of the future with the emergence of hybrid learning and Khan Academy. What are the barriers in the way that need to be removed to let the learning environment of the future take place?
What can you do as an educator to remove a barrier and create an innovation that will take us toward the future of learning?

Ted Fujimoto helps communities and school districts create and support 21st-century schools. As an entrepreneur and consultant, he has helped develop business strategies for Bay Area Coalition of Essential Schools, Big Picture Learning, Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Partnership for Uplifting Communities, Linking Education & Economic Development, California Charter Schools Association and the New York Charter Schools Association. His work represents more than $150 million in funding. He was instrumental in designing and founding Napa New Technology High School and the New Technology Foundation that now comprises 62 schools nationwide, with dozens of new schools opening by Fall 2010. Contact him through Landmark Consulting Group, Inc.

Friday, February 11, 2011

'Ridiculous' and Unfruitful Polarizing (By Dr. Cindy Petersen)

(Repost of Blog entry By Dr. Cindy Petersen of Gateway Community Charters, a fellow PUBLIC school choice advocate!  Great post and an accurate assessment of what is going on today.)

On Thursday of this week while attending the ACSA Leadership Summit in San Diego, I had the opportunity to listen to research professor and writer Diane Ravitch. While I can admire her intellect and her willingness to stand up for what she believes, I must say it was a difficult listen. Speakers, researchers and writers are often theorists and observers, not practitioners. They have a motivation to be sensational and to over dramatize in order to create overboard generalizations and to accentuate their point. I was disappointed that Dr. Ravitch fit into this category. Tallying up her over emphasized use of the words ‘this is ridiculous’ kept me busy though not entertained. When will we learn that polarization will not provide answers? When have ‘us’ vs. ‘they’ helped create anything valuable? As a charter school operator I agree that Waiting for Superman is entertaining and mostly one-sided, but I think that was their stated intent – to show a view of the parents and students wanting the best possible chance at success through a quality education program – and the fact that in some areas not all children have that choice. (Note: they had tried to include at least one high achieving traditional public school but were denied access). Is it then any less one-sided for Dr. Ravitch to then badmouth all charters as being the downfall of the public school system? To have her suggest that all charter schools ‘skim or cream’ students? To use extreme cases such as a story of a charter school where the education cost per child is $35,000 annually? To speak only in terms of privatization - the destruction of the public school system and corporations taking over school systems? These examples don’t in any way speak to the breadth of what is happening in charter schools across the United States.

Parents in communities like Harlem can’t wait for the traditional public school system to find a way to create quality school choice. Their children’s time to be educated is now and their chance to gain the academic outcomes that predicate life success is slowly passing by - one public school school day at a time. Parents everywhere, Harlem or Sacramento, want better schools for their children, better opportunities. Charter schools can be part of the answer and help create a portfolio of options that ensure that all students have access to a quality education. Charter schools are not the demise of the public school system. But they are and continue to be a leveraging point to create dialogue, reform, choice, impetus to initiate change and the ability to provide a quality education for many.

My opinion and I welcome yours as well is that regardless whether a school is labeled a charter school or a traditional district school, I suggest that we focus on creating solutions rather than polarizing speeches. Each moment that goes by more and more children are losing their time/their chance to have a quality education while adults create arguments and dissent.