As part of its “Get Educated” summer series Direction 38 sponsored its second public school education forum for parents, teachers, and board of education members from Lewis-Palmer School District 38 and Academy District 20 and the town of Monument board of trustees.
The town hall style forum took place July 18 at Monument Academy and focused on “School Choice and Building Community Relations.” The discussion was led by Colorado Rep. Amy Stephens and Sen. Mark Scheffel and included a panel of experts on the different forms of education.
Scheffel — who discussed home schooling;
School District 38 Superintendent John Borman — traditional public school;
Charter School Institute Executive Director Mark Hyatt — charter schools;
Former board member of the Colorado State Board of Education Randy DeHoff — online schools;
Sen. Keith King — concurrent enrollment;
Colorado Advocacy Director Kayla McGannon — school reform, and
Stand for Children;
Senior policy analyst for the Education Policy Center Ben DeGrow — vouchers.
“My own personal philosophy is (that) I support all forms of education,” Stephens said, adding that she has experienced both public and private school.
Scheffel and his wife home-schooled all four of their children. “I see the home education avenue as another tool in the box that people can use,” he said.
One audience member voiced a concern about home-schooled children being involved in extracurricular activities and Scheffel responded that they are able to participate in their local neighborhood school’s activities. He also said that there are different curriculums available for parents to use.
In addition, he stated that even though it worked for his family home schooling is not for everyone.
Turning to online and charter options, DeHoff once served as the executive director for CSI in which he oversaw 18 charter schools. He resigned, however, to seek new and innovative challenges in public education and is now the director of strategic growth for Goal Academy, an online charter school for at-risk youth.
“Online is the fastest growing option,” DeHoff said. “It continues to challenge traditional schools. (It) is redefining the role of the teacher.”
DeHoff said online schooling is reaching those students who can’t or won’t ever go back to a traditional school. He told audience members that it is funded at the average per pupil revenue but the funds are used differently.
Issues of Remediation
King, a former school teacher, shared with the audience that in 2010, 28 percent of students entering college required at least one remediation course and that at the two-year community college level alone the overall remediation rate was 53 percent. He added that Colorado tax payers spent $19 million on remediation that year.
“Colorado Springs Early College is the first in Colorado to graduate students’ remediation free,” King said.
King is currently administrator of CSEC and said this past school year 123 seniors earned a total of 5,265 college credits at the school. One student graduated high school with a bachelor’s degree from Colorado Technical Institute and 22 students at the school graduated with associate’s degrees.
King said that the reason for such a high remediation rate in the state of Colorado is because, “We don’t focus on the academic issues. They (students) don’t master the curriculum.”
He added that the high remediation rate has a lot to do with demographics as well as a lack of parental involvement and that it is a more severe problem in online schools due to the fact that students aren’t getting all of the tools necessary to prepare them for the next level of education.
“We have too low of expectations for our kids,” he said.
Despite the remediation rates, DeHoff said that online schools benefit those students who have been bullied and don’t want to go back to public school, they benefit the extremely gifted student who gets bored easily and even the special needs students who have severe allergies and can’t attend school. DeHoff said students are thriving at their own pace where in the traditional school they were failing.
Working Together for the Betterment of All
King also said where public schools are concerned, principals are required to be teachers first so they think like a manager instead of an entrepreneur. King said entrepreneurs have new and different ideas and that is what charter schools offer.
King said that all public schools have the ability to offer students what CSEC offers but they don’t.
In February, D-38 was named one of the school districts with the lowest remediation rates for 2010 graduates. And out of 384 advanced placement students, 78 percent of them scored high enough on exams to receive college credit.
At the time Borman was principal of Lewis-Palmer High School and said, “This success is because our staff keeps the focus on the kids. We don’t let them coast their senior year and we are taking them to levels that challenge their comfort zone.”
On July 18 Borman said that families should have every available option to choose what’s best for them when it comes to schooling. “Choice (provides) a great opportunity,” he said, adding that he is very passionate, however, about public schools. “We will take them all and get them to the finish line with every available option they possibly need,” he said of D-38’s students.
Hyatt, who was president of The Classical Academy for eight years, said that when charter schools and school districts work together it is a “good thing.”
Hyatt said while at TCA the board worked closely together with the D-20 board of education on issues and told the audience that he recommends charter school board members to get educated on school finance.
DeGrow explained that a school voucher is essentially a certificate that is issued by the government, using taxpayer money to apply toward private school tuition.
According to DeGrow, the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program has allowed Nate Oakley, who was diagnosed with autism, to attend a private school that better suits his needs.
The pilot program was approved by the Douglas County Board of Education to offer close to $5,000 of taxpayer money to be used for tuition at private schools. There are currently around 500 students in line to receive these benefits if it is allowed.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing the district because they believe that taxpayer money should not be used to fund private schools that are considered religious and the program would harm public schools. Three other organizations have filed lawsuits as well, all stating that what Douglas County is doing is unconstitutional.
DeGrow said in nine out of 10 academic studies it showed that granting vouchers actually improved public schools in the area of study.
The case will be heard beginning Aug. 2.
Standing for the Children
McGannon said that the quality of public schools overall needs to be improved and that is the mission of Stand for Children.
The organization aims to help all children in the state get an excellent public education. They have been instrumental in getting Senate Bill 191 — the great teachers and leaders bill — passed. The bill ends forced placement of teachers and requires that all teachers receive annual evaluations starting in 2012. For more information on this bill and Stand for Children visit www.stand.org.
Direction 38 is a grass roots effort formed by citizens to inform others of what is going on in their school district. For more information and future schedules for forums go to www.lpd38.org. The next forum is scheduled for Aug. 16 and will be “Building Community Relations.”