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Free to Learn Chapters 5-8
James Jennings
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 10:39 AM
Joined: 10/5/2011
Posts: 49

Some of our cohorts really took time to analyze Chapters 1-4.  Let's do the same for Chapters 5-8, with emphasis on strategies that helped to increase academic achievement.
Kathi Sweere
Posted: Sunday, November 4, 2007 2:42 AM
Joined: 10/7/2007
Posts: 4

Chapters 5-8 were similar to the first four chapters in stressing what makes a good charter school.  I again, saw the strong academic curriculum with rigorous standards and time put into teaching these standards to the students.  Fenton's use of The Four Domains of Good TEaching was impressive to me.  It closely modeled standards for National Boards and Pathwise training.  The domains included planning and preparation, the classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities.  I think this reflective type of teaching enables a teacher to see what is working and if the teacher is honest, what is not working for the students.  This will enable teachers to adjust and monitor to help all students learn.  I would love to get a copy of their teacher evaluation form to use. 

Vaughn Next Century Learning Center's use of the six R's also impressed me.  It concisely summed up everything you  need to make a program, where students can learn well.  The idea of performance pay is interesting to me.  I also liked the evaluation of this school, where the teacher got a score from a peer, an administrator and then a self-reflection score.  It made me wonder, on average, whose score was lowest for the teachers.  I know I am always harder on myself than others are on me. 

The Bolwing Green school's idea of teachers being in charge was interesting.  It made me wonder about too many chiefs, though.  I do believe that a teacher can select curriculum better than administrators in most cases.  They are with the students daily and see what they need.


All of these schools used the instructional strategies of individualized instruction, when students needed it for intervention.  Test data drives all of these schools, along with standards based instruction.  Bowling Green uses Outcome Matrice to drive instruction. 

The last chapter was interesting to see what the principals of the good charter schools thought of the bad ones.  All emphasized that the charter schools failed because of a lack of strong academic curriculum and the vision to achieve that. 

Posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 2:59 PM
Joined: 10/24/2007
Posts: 1

Carol Hauk 11-29-07


One thing about all of the charter  schools mentioned in these chapters is the necessity of "teacher buy-in".  I believe that this is the primary key to the success of  the schools.  By that I mean that all teachers are on the same page with the administrators.  If they are not, they are strongly encouraged to improve and are mentored.  If this doesn't remedy the situation, they are dismissed.  This is in strong  contrast to what we see in typical public education where we have teachers, who have lost their desire to teach, just filling up a space in the classroom.

The Bowling Green school really took trust in teachers to a high level.  They have a great deal of autonomy in the way they teach and the materials they long as they get results.  "RESULTS" is the key word.  All of these schools emphasized that student achievement is paramount.  Even though the models for achieving that may vary, the goal is the same.  Models should vary.  There is no "one size fits all" model for a successful school, because each school has unique characteristics, needs, and cultures.  Regardless of this fact, a strong  leader with knowledge of both best practices in education and business is necessary for success.

I found it interesting Ben Chavis cited "liberalism" as one of the reasons for the failure of  some charter schools.  I think that he has a point.  Sometimes in people's quest to be "politically correct" and not damage self-esteem, these schools have lost their educate their students to be successful in today and tomorrow's world.  The biggest damage to self-esteem is to not have the tools necessary to earn a living and achieve your dreams.

James Jennings
Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007 2:51 PM
Joined: 10/5/2011
Posts: 49

Monica Kuhlman


The case studies in Ch. 5-7 read very similarly to the previous chapters. I’m convinced that focus on leadership, teacher quality, parental involvement and data driven decisions are what ultimately makes a charter schools successful.


The Bowling Green school model was very interesting. Mr. Mah’s commitment to his teachers and allowing them to make important “high level” decisions was impressive, as the principals of the schools in the previous chapters certainly didn’t share this view. I found it refreshing that Mr. Mah turned to his teachers when it came to improving the achievement or culture of the school. Teachers need to be expected to act as professionals but must also, in turn, be treated with the respect of professionals. I feel that, in many situations, if teachers were treated more professionally and as professionals performance and school culture would greatly improve.


I also found it interesting that the Bowling Green school has a bilingual program where other schools like Fenton dissolved theirs (both schools having achieved excellent results with the English language learners through different methods). Mr. Mah doesn’t offer a rationale for retention of the bilingual program while the principal at Fenton makes a strong case for getting rid of theirs. I’m interested in the reasoning behind keeping the program at BG.


Ivory Daniels
Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007 4:50 PM
Joined: 10/23/2007
Posts: 3

I appreciate reading about the different strategies each Charter school leader use to help academic achievement.  I was impressed on how they were able to get their teachers to work so well together.  At Fenton, faltering teacher weren't immediately fired if a teacher failed to improve, he or she recieved resources and peer assistance to assist in the areas he or she needed help.  In fenton there were consequences for failure to improve.  Like Kathi, I enjoyed reading the use of Danielson's, "The Four Domains of Good Teaching.  Chan's Full-Service school I discovered to be interesting. I thought it was good strategy to promote community involvement..  Vaughn Next Century Learning Center was interesting as she allowed her teachers to select their method of teaching.  I thought it was a good idea that teacher evaluations was aligned with students' learning standard. 

With all of the success stories of the charter schools, I thought it was good to have a chapter concerning the failures of some charter schools.  It confirms that it is critical to have a strong academic curriculum and a stong visionary leader..  I thought Chavis brought up a good point, he believes that a problem with low-performing charters is that there is little to distinguish them from the regular public schools.  I am curious to know how often is this the reason why some Charter School are unsuccessful. 

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007 7:01 PM
Joined: 10/11/2007
Posts: 2

Chapters five through eight of Free To Learn provides the reader with an array of views on

leadership styles and practical insights on how effective charter schools operate.  I found the

leadership structure at Fenton Avenue Elementary interesting and unique. Having an executive

director and a director of instruction rather than a single principal managing all aspects of the

school appeared to be instructionally effective and efficient.  Also intriguing to me was how the

teacher's union was displaced by the school's governing councils.  Without guaranteed tenure,

teacher performance becomes the central component in student achievement.  The emphasis

on teacher leaders at each grade level promotes collaboration and instructional cohesion.  The

business acumen needed to successfully manage and operate a charter school the size of

Fenton was quite remarkable.  The out-sourcing of certain contract jobs to the lowest bidder

rather than using the district as the vendor was enlightening.

The Vaughn Next Century Learning Center has an organizational configuration that serves 2, 200

students. The academic progress attain between 2001 and 2004 is remarkable.  The use of

rigorous learning standards along with targeted staff development were among the array of tools

used to produce the high levels of student achievement.  Vaughn's Instructional Matrix coupled with

its method of selecting staff are two components that has contributed to its success.  

It appears that the successful schools discussed thus far have had leaders with vision and a dedication to

succeed despite the status of the institution upon their approval.  Mr. Ben Chavis' assessment of poor

performing charter schools is  quite provocative.  





James Jennings
Posted: Friday, November 30, 2007 4:31 PM
Joined: 10/5/2011
Posts: 49



  1. I love the model on page 92. Especially the six R’s. “Rigorous standards, Results-focused, resource deployment, Resiliency, Relationships and Responsibilities”

This sums up what a charter school is all about in my mind.


  1. As an administrator of a charter school I love the pleasure to be able to think outside of the box, energy, drive, and leadership are the main inspiration behind the school’s success.  I side with Chain, I am not

      afraid to step out and take a risk. When ever we go against the norm or the traditional public school way my administrative team motto is “ We’re Doing it the Charter Way.”


  1. This chapter sounds like Academics Plus Charter School in the way that we have put into place a focus on teaching the states standards ~ then teaching above the standards, team teaching approach across the school and across curriculum. We utilize the flexibility of the charter school regulations.


  1. I agree with many of the school administrators in these chapters, that it is a team effort not a one person show. It takes an administration team with a background in traditional public school education, in business, private school education and non-profit accountability.  

Joyce Dunn
Posted: Friday, November 30, 2007 5:53 PM
Joined: 10/8/2007
Posts: 3

Chapter 5

Teacher transformation is exactly what is taking place at Fenton.  You have a caliber of quality teachers who are subject to rigorous teacher evaluations.  If a teacher receives a poor evaluation, improvement is required or the teacher will face termination.  There is no union, no tenure, no seniority, which is good.  Teachers are assigned based on student needs.  Use of standard consultants ensures that all grades are performing as they should.  I like the fact that if teachers deliver the proper instructions, students will be prepared for the test. Full immersion allows students to take honor and Advanced Placement classes in middle school.  The flexibility of being able to allow for extended school semester will help students having learning difficulties.

State test scores are used by the teachers and some set specific goals.  This keeps the students competitive.  Tracking the student’s progress from year to year reinforces expectations. Good leadership and management skills are visible here.


Chapter 6

A full-service success story or a one stop shop is what Vaughn is about.  The flexibility that charter schools offer has allowed Vaughn to have smaller schools within a larger school, with each having their on administration and budget.  This unique structure allows Vaughn to receive double grants and remain personal and close knit.  A detailed teacher evaluation matrix is utilized to determine a teacher’s pay.  This matrix determines a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses which determines their ability to perform in the classroom.  Student achievement is closely monitored through various printouts to determine if after-school programs are working.  The results are used to implement intervention and prevention.  Flexibility to manage the budget according to their school needs has allowed for 20 additional instructional days.  Teachers get extra pay for extra work.  Vaughn has managed to still have $8 million in surplus.  The two-fold background of the principal makes her knowledgeable in both operation and business aspects of running a charter school and instruction.


Chapter 7

Like Vaughn, Green has smaller schools within a larger school.  Green has 6 smaller schools.  The campus is cozy and personal with focus on state standards and student achievement.  Accountability of teachers is verified through classroom visits.  Mah walks the campus proudly showing his love for his school.  He is visible and available to students.  Teachers and administrators work together when making decisions, even right down to spending of the budget. Student data is collected and turned into useful strategies.  Responsible professional teachers work with their colleagues to make decisions that will improve student achievement.  The six departments selected the curriculum---it is not the state adopted curriculum.  This was allowed as long as the teachers can show results.  Efficacy is practiced here to deliver a data collection feedback system.  Mah believes in giving his teachers as much support and training as possible.  The better teachers train the new teachers.  It’s like a mentorship structure.  You pair new hires with experienced teachers.  Teachers must be accountable here as well as team players.  They must be able to manage a classroom.  Mah believes if you stay put in one school long enough, you can change things and make difference.  Mah’s dedication is visible not only on campus but in the community too.  He is even known at the neighborhood store.



Chapter 8

Ben Chavis  

Some charter schools fail because they misplace the value of  cultural heritage over academic excellence and they do not use the freedom of the flexibility to think outside the box when managing a charter school. 


Linda Mikels

Some charter schools fail because people get stuck on unrealistic and or unproven philosophy of teaching or learning.  Teachers fall in love with an instructional method for the wrong reason, because it feels warm and fuzzy to them, not student achievement.


Linda Blair

All students need to be tested, regardless if the tests are skewed to upper-class whites.  Low income students should be pushed to meet state academic standards.  Knowledge of business administration is very valuable to the success of a charter school’s fiscal freedom. 


Irene Sumida

Charter schools founded by inexperienced educators are bound to fail.  Low performance schools continue to be funded simply because the district receives money for them.  Student achievement goes lacking.  The charter school does not realize this as a critical problem until it is too late. 


Howard Lappin

You must have a vision for your charter school along with an implementation process.  Leadership lacks business or education skills.  Failed charter schools usually have one or the other. 

Sloan Powell
Posted: Friday, November 30, 2007 6:19 PM
Joined: 10/16/2007
Posts: 2

I continue to be impressed by the achievement of these schools.  A continuing theme in chapters 5 – 8 is the importance of rigorous learning standards and the entire school being focused on student achievement.  Each of these schools also has had the continuity of a strong leader over many years as well.  I was surprised that only Fenton had two administrators, an executive director and a director of instruction and curriculum.  The importance of a strong leader at each school and the need for that leader to have educational and business experience was mentioned often.   I keep wondering how one person is able to do everything needed.   


All of the schools use testing and the resulting data to drive future instruction.   Who is collecting and analyzing all the data?  Dennis Mah from Bowling Green brought in an expert from the Efficacy Institute in Boston to train his staff how to identify and collect data and how to then convert the data into useful information.  Does that mean that the teachers are doing this, or administrative staff?  How are the other schools doing this?


The importance of teachers shows up in each of these chapters as well.  Their support and dedication are crucial to the success of the schools and the students.  I noted that although teachers are dismissed if they do not perform up to standards, they are many support systems in place for them to try to improve, from mentoring and collaborating with other teachers, to specific guidance on areas needed for improvement.  Fenton’s director of instruction stated that she usually gives a teacher a 5 – 6 page evaluation based on the four domains.  Bowling Green teachers create a Stop-Start-Continue chart to help them reflect on their teaching practice.  

Kent Estes
Posted: Friday, November 30, 2007 11:18 PM
Joined: 10/31/2007
Posts: 3

I chose to comment on Chapter Five, Teacher Transformation, because it reflects some of my concerns at the present time.  The ability to shift teacher focus to the students and to their success is impressive but the flow of dollars is also impressive.   This chapter illustrates that good teachers, excellent administration support, parent imvolment and a supply of money are all important in the success of a school.  Teachers at Fenton are paid a higher salary than the teachers of Los Angles Public School System and National Board Certified Teachers are paid a $10, 000 bonus (twice the Arkansas rate).  Grant money was available and tax money was kept at the school with a reduced overhead to run the school.  The administration was free to bid maintenance jobs which cost less as well; all difficult to do with a multilevel administration of large public school districts.


I noted that the administration of Fenton Avenue Charter School was divided into businesses management and academic achievement and run by two people with separate backgrounds.  Each of these administrators trust the other in their area of expertise. Money never seems to be a problem – what a refreshing change from the reality of Arkansas education.  Bad teachers were replaced with good teachers, and in a few cases, poor teachers were trained and developed into good teachers.  At the heart of all of this was the support of good teaching practices by energetic and well-trained professionals in the classroom who are evaluated and rewarded for their results-oriented professional performance.


The teachers at Fenton also involved the family in the child’s education by bringing family into the school and the school into the family.  It is interesting to note that instruction is English only. Most school districts accommodate students in bilingual education where necessary and even encourage bilingual education in the IBO schools (International Baccalaureate Schools)


Additionally, I noticed that the Four Domain evaluation system closely resembles that Pathwise Praxis III evaluation used in Arkansas.  Additionally, like the teacher-to-teacher system used in many public districts, successful classroom teachers are used to peer teach other to develop them into competent and results oriented we see in successful schools (as measured by the norm and criterion reference national exams). Faculty evaluation is strict and used to improve teaching practices.  Fenton was an interesting school to read about because of the successful effort to turn a bad school into a good school by letting educational professionals work in an effective and supportive environment.
Hallie Leicht
Posted: Saturday, December 1, 2007 1:38 AM
Joined: 10/17/2007
Posts: 3

   In Chapters 5-7 I noticed a greater sense of the professionalism of teachers.  Most of these administrators did not talk about the need to "train" the teachers or avoid those with teaching credentials; however, they maintained high expectations for teacher performance and used frequent and rigorous evaluations of teachers.  

   I love the sense of community and the holistic approach at Vaughn.  Yvonne Chan is bold and successful in addressing not only academics, but also the mental and social well-being of the child, the family, and the neighborhood.  The continuity of the school's influence from K-12 enables Vaughn to see success all the way through. The use of three sets of standards shows a sense of the wider world that Vaughn's graduates will inhabit.

   Expert business management is another characteristic of these successful schools.  Fenton's administrative structure includes both a business expert and an instructional expert.  This enables a tight focus on academics and teacher development by Sumida, and the efficient use of funds by Lucente.  This efficiency enables Fenton to attract highly qualified teachers and to extend the instructional day and year for students.  The structure of standards consultants, lead teachers, and peer assistance and review is appealing.

   I found the variety of the six departments at Bowling Green very interesting.  I love the five simple rules and the shared vision that every child can learn.  I have long shared the vision that "each [teacher] is a professional and an expert."  If teachers are held to high performance standards, there is no need for the principal to be the only expert in the school.

   The schools that failed seem to lack the same things.  They lack a strong focus on academics, and they do not assess or use assessment appropriately to drive instruction.  They are poorly managed; they lack strong leadership and shared philosophy, or they lack sound, research based techniques.

James Jennings
Posted: Tuesday, December 4, 2007 12:16 PM
Joined: 10/5/2011
Posts: 49


I enjoy the perspective of the lack of necessity of a union with charters schools and the balance that brings. And the detailed description of "The Four Domains of Good Teaching" by Sumida is impressive. Below is the mission statement. (haven't had a chance to attempt to sign in on the site as of yet.)