Monday, December 5, 2016

AV#155 - Good news: Colorado has moved away from a “one-size-fits-all” system

                                                                                                                                 December 6, 2016

Thanks in large part to the flexibility of charter schools AND (surprise!) Common Core

Colorado education board hears about how to get out of Common Core testing
(2015) “We are very pleased to have bi-partisan support from the State Board of Education of our bill,” (Rep. Paul) Lundeen said ….. “We believe it shows broad concern with the top down, one-size-fits-all approach to public education that is causing so much consternation today.”[1]

Colorado Springs' Durham pledges to work to 'empower parents' on state education board
(2016) [Steve Durham, chair, Colorado State Board of Education] “pledges to work to eliminate Common Core from Colorado's curriculum. ‘We must empower parents to maximize the potential of our youth rather than relying on one-size-fits-all, bureaucratic mandates.’”[2]

Three keys to education reform: Accountability, Choice, and Standards

Eliminate Common Core?  This question—the controversy over what we expect our students to know and do in reading, writing, and math—is energized by the false claim that Common Core hinders choice and  imposes a one-size-fits-all education on Colorado’s 1,850 schools.

In AV#154 I looked back to our plan of action (2009) on accountability: Senate Bill 163.  An even longer look back here, to argue that choice (charters, flexibility, freedom) and our Colorado Academic Standards—which include the Common Core State Standards—are compatible. 

Over 20 years ago, all of us involved with Agenda 21 (1993-95), a “statewide education project aimed at helping Coloradans make positive and productive changes in our public education system,” heard this same charge about K-12. Agenda 21’s Reality Check – A Big-Picture Look at Public Education in Colorado, listed three major “obstacles to reform,” including “a one-size-fits-all state policy approach that fails to recognize and accommodate Colorado’s geographic, economic and social diversity” (December 1993). Agenda 21 brought together 300 citizens in 1994 for a Search Conference.  A chief “barrier to success” for the K-12 system, they agreed, was that it “too often incorrectly assumes that one size fits all and … fails to celebrate differences.”[3] Reviewing Agenda 21’s documents, I see a consistent plea for greater flexibility.

That was then. The charter school movement was still nascent; the first charter school law passed, in Minnesota, in 1991; California followed in 1992; Colorado in 1993.  A new book, Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, points to the wide range of options now available to parents and educators across the country.

Charter schools have considerable freedom to vary in philosophy, pedagogy, and organization. Thus we find Montessori charters, Waldorf-style charters, STEM charters, outdoor-education charters, virtual charters, language-immersion charters, and special-education charters. There are teacher-governed schools, business-operated schools, startup schools, and conversion schools. The variety is impressive(From “Seven results of the Charter School Revolution,” adapted from the book, in Philanthropy Magazine, fall issue. –

A similar range of choice is found in our state’s 233 charters. Note the diversity of educational models welcomed and operating through the charter school law.  The Colorado Department of Education’s 2016 report on charters lists 26 program models; here are the most popular.[4]

Educational Program Number of Charter Schools under each category

To see CDE’s full list of the 233 charters operating in our state, see:
·         College Prep – 78                     
·         Core Knowledge – 73
·         Alternative Education Campus (AEC, includes Credit Recovery programs) – 22
One-size-fits-all? In 233 schools granted more freedom?
“A charter school generally has more flexibility than traditional public schools as regards curriculum, fiscal management, and overall school operations, and may offer an education program that is more innovative than traditional public schools.”
·         STEM / STEAM – 16                    
·         Classical - 14  
·         Montessori – 12                                 
·         Online - 11
·         Rural - 11
·         Experiential - 10
·         Expeditionary Learning (a Project based model) - 9

Has Common Core inhibited new charters, new models?

Blaming Common Core for a one-size-fits-all education system is due to the misunderstanding that standards equate to curriculum.  But I find no evidence that incorporating Common Core into the Colorado Academic Standards–approved by the state board in August 2010—has stopped new and creative charter applicants from winning approval by authorizers. 

I reviewed many charter applications for the Colorado League of Charter Schools before—and after—2010.  Reviewers are tasked with studying the strengths and weaknesses in applications, using the League’s Quality Standards for Developing Charter Schools[5]. Those guidelines invite a wide range of curriculum models, depending on the school’s mission, target population, etc.; at the same time, they require every charter applicant to show how their program will align to the state standards.  One size? Hardly.

Note how the guidelines make a clear distinction between standards and curriculum.

Education Program and Standards  (Bold mine)
This critical section of the application details an effective, well thought out, research-based educational program. This section should clearly align with the school’s mission, goals, and the student population to be served and the Colorado Academic Standards (CAS).

Educational Program & Standards: Curriculum
There should be a current research basis for selecting a particular curriculum for the target population. In addition to obtaining information from publishers, research is available online at ERIC ( ) and the What Works Clearinghouse ( ). The narrative in this subsection should describe the critical aspects of each component of the curriculum; lengthy research, full scope and sequence, a full-curriculum alignment with state standards, etc. should be included in the appendices rather than the application. The application should address curriculum alignment to state standards. (See the 10 subjects in the Colorado Academic Standards which can be found at:

If using an established school-wide program (e.g. Expeditionary Learning/Outward Bound, Core Knowledge, Montessori, etc.) or another successful school as a model (e.g. High Tech High, Big Picture School, etc.), the application provides detailed information and research about the program or model. When possible, this should include research, experience, and objective evidence about the academic success of the chosen program/model, and in particular why it was chosen for this specific population. …

When post-2010 applications showed a poor understanding of the new standards, my fellow reviewers and I would fault them for this.  In approving charters the past six years, authorizers, too, have surely demanded: show us how your curriculum—which differs in so many ways from that of the district—will address the standards? But here in 2016 can we see any evidence that these standards—to use CDE’s definition, the “broad goals articulating what students should know, understand, and be able to do over a given time period”—have been a roadblock for new charters?  (Addendum B: “Time line to challenge notion that including Common Core imposes a one-size-fits-all.” Note especially the 14 charters that opened in 2015.)

Curriculum—thanks to charters in Colorado, more and more a SCHOOL’s decision
State Statute 22-32-109(1)(t), C.R.S. Determine educational program and prescribe textbooks

The automatic waivers for charter schools, including 22-32-109, means that curriculum is no longer the district’s role for 233 charter schools. To be specific, in Denver Public Schools, its 50 charters control their curriculum. I believe the success of so many charters has encouraged DPS to enable all district schools to determine their curriculum (see “Equity and Empowerment: The School as the Unit of Change,” Oct. 2016-DPS). Other districts, too, by welcoming innovation zones, show they, too, see the wisdom of letting principals and teachers choose the curriculum.

Common Core - Standards without standardization

Of course state policy can find new ways to increase local control.  We should always be willing to review those laws that stymie flexibility and decision-making by the educators working in our schools.  And yes, I see why some believe the PARCC tests are the real cause of standardization—that their tie to Common Core leads some to say: get rid of both.

I have no doubt that we will continue to struggle to find the right balance of accountability, choice, and standards.  But Common Core as a straightjacket?  As the cause of a one-size-fits-all education in Colorado? Where’s the evidence of that?

Another View is a newsletter by Peter Huidekoper.  Comments are welcome. 303-757-1225 -

Addendum A

 We all agree!!! No one wants a “one-size-fits-all” system.  (Bold mine)

April 2007 – Superintendent Michael Bennett and the board responded to a critique of DPS from the Piton Foundation and the Rocky Mountain News: “It is hard to admit,” they wrote, “but it is abundantly clear that we will fail the vast majority of children in Denver if we try to run our schools the same old way.” The district should “no longer function as a one-size-fits-all, centralized, industrial age enterprise making choices that schools, principals, teachers, and most, most important, parents are in a much better position to make for themselves.” Instead, it should “function more like a partner, building capacity and leadership at the school level and serving as an incubator for innovation.”

April 2009 - “We must move away from the monopoly model of education of the last century . . . ,” (Superintendent Tom) Boasberg declared. “We must move away from a centralized, top-down, one-size-fits-all model to a more flexible, decentralized approach that empowers our educators, rewards them for driving student growth, and holds all of us accountable for performance.”

March 2014 – “Students Hold ‘State Of The Student’ Address For Education Reform”
DENVER (CBS4) – “Students on Monday took to the state Capitol to share their frustrations with Colorado’s education system.  ... They want big changes for Colorado schools where they say a one size fits all education is failing in classrooms.”

Oct. 2014 – Bob Beauprez: “Funding is only part of the equation, and we are not maximizing our existing K-12 funding - i.e., school trust lands, and return of federal tax dollars. In the meantime, the current governor has allowed federal bureaucrats to impose a one-size-fits-all standard that reduces opportunity in education. As governor, I will improve the quality of education by returning control to local boards and ending Common Core.”,170772?

Dec. 2014 – “In 2014, One Size Didn't Fit All - Kids were fed an alphabet soup of uniform standards and tests, and no one was happy about it.”
“The resentment clearly isn’t limited to teachers. And it essentially boils down to this premise: Education is suffering because schools are becoming homogenized at the hands of policymakers who don’t have a real clue about or genuine interest in the realities of classrooms, an epidemic exacerbated by over-testing. Hence, the increased movement among parents for greater choice when it comes to their kids’ schooling and this year’s across-the-board backlash against one-size-fits-all education.”

Oct. 2016 – “Durham has been a critic of Colorado's participation in Common Core State Standards for English and math curriculum and related testing under the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. …
“While states involved in the consortium developed and adopted the academic standards, Durham believes the federal government enforces them through unfair mandates, including testing requirements. Durham pledges to work to eliminate Common Core from Colorado's curriculum.
“‘We must empower parents to maximize the potential of our youth rather than relying on one-size-fits-all, bureaucratic mandates,’ he said.”

Addendum B

Time line to challenge notion that including Common Core imposes a one-size-fits-all

On August 2, 2010, the Colorado State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards, and requested the integration of the Common Core State Standards and the Colorado Academic Standards.

August 2010 – 170 charters are open in Colorado.

Between 2011 and 2016, over 10 new charter schools open each year.

August 2016 – 233 charters are open in Colorado.


The variety of educational models among Colorado’s charter schools remains strong.  See the 14 new charter public schools that opened in 2015:


CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOL                             CITY

Compass Academy                                          Denver
Global Village Academy – Douglas County   Parker
Golden View Classical Academy                    Golden
KIPP Montbello Elementary                           Denver
KIPP Montbello Collegiate High School        Denver
New Legacy Charter School                           Aurora
REACH Charter School                                  Denver
RiseUp Community School                             Denver
Rocky Mountain Prep: Southwest                   Denver
Roots Elementary                                            Denver
Salida Montessori Charter School                   Salida
The Career Building Academy – Peyton         Peyton
Windsor Charter Academy – High School      Windsor
World Compass Academy                               Castle Rock

[2] See Addendum A for full quote and for a series of statements (2007-2016) on the need to oppose a one-size-fits-all system.
[3] Summary Report, July 1994; Agenda 21 Search Conference, June 23-25, 1994, “Charting Education’s Course.”
[4] TABLE 3 uses 2014-2015 self-reported data from charter schools collected by the Colorado League of Charter Schools regarding elements of their educational program to show the diversity of educational models in use across the charter school sector. The number of charter schools reporting use of each of the 26 program models is identified in the table.

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