Archive for January, 2011

Are better schools worth felony charges?

An Ohio mother, Kelley Williams-Bolar, falsified school registration documents, so that her children could attend school in the (better) neighboring Copley-Fairlawn school district. Williams-Bolar stated that her two children lived with her father in the neighboring town; he was also charged.

The Akron City school district only met 4 of 26 standards on the Ohio state report card and has a 76% graduation rate. In comparison, Copley-Fairlawn City Schools met 26 of 26 standards and has a 97.5% graduation rate. (

After a $6,000 investigation, charges were pressed and the mother was convicted on a felony charge for grand theft (for the cost of tuition), sentenced to 5 years in jail (suspended to 10 days with 3 years of probation), and 80 hours of community service.

Williams-Bolar is a teaching assistant and in the process of completing the education requirements to become a teacher. With the felony charges, Williams-Bolar will not be able to teach in the state of Ohio.

Should this woman have broken the law? Not necessarily. Should all schools provide equitable educational opportunities? Yes. Should admission to a good school depend on the zip code of your residence? No. Should a mother who recognizes that her children deserve a better education be forced to choose between her future and theirs? No.

“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Read more:, CNN,


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Charter schools turning around charter schools

A recent Wall Street Journal story highlights a unique turnaround strategy for underperforming charter schools. The model is essentially a charter takeover of a current charter school, meaning that the current charter management rescinds their charter and a new Charter Management Organization takes over the school, establishes a new board, and possibly restaff the school and administration.

Charter schools are often cited as a solution for low-performing “traditional” public schools, but there are many low-performing charter schools that should be closed. Charter schools are public schools and should be just as accountable for their performance as any other public school.

While an active debate about charter vs “traditional” public schools [how they’re funded, how they’re approved (it varies by state), how their monitored, and if they’re eligible for state and federal grants (i.e. RTTT, Title I, TIF)] continues, it is clear that most policymakers and educators agree on one thing: low-performing schools (charter or traditional) should not be allowed to continue to “educate” children.

Charter Management Organizations are often used to taking over low-performing district schools (Mastery in Philadelphia, AUSL in Chicago, etc), but with the exception of some interesting work being done in New Orleans, charter schools taking over existing low-performing charter schools is still a relatively new concept. While there are more schools that need help than there are high-performing Charter Management Organizations who are willing and able to do this work, it is promising to see 1) existing charter school leaders recognize that they are not successful and that the students deserve better and 2) CMO’s taking on the responsibility to turn those schools around.

To read the article, click here.

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Is a school that turned around a “turnaround”?

The quick answer in my mind is no. A school that makes rapid improvements (academics, leadership, environment & climate), but that doesn’t serve the same demographic of students that it served before is not a “turnaround.” It may be a good school now, but it’s not a turnaround.

Chicago Magazine’s January issue includes a story about a neighborhood school (Nettelhorst Elementary in Lakeview) that served mostly low-income students and had abysmal test scores. Most of the students were bussed in from other areas of the city; most of the neighborhood students attended other charter, magnet and private schools. A group of active parents took on the cause and transformed the school by gathering thousands of dollars of donations to renovate the building, the school climate, and eventually the overall school operations (many of the naysayer teachers left). In effect, neighborhood students now choose to enroll in the school, test scores have increased, and the school is generally performing well.

Transforming a low-performing neighborhood school into a good (or better) school is commended and is the result of a tremendous amount of work and money, but it doesn’t change the reality for the former Nettelhorst students: Now that the school is better, why can’t they attend? Will they get to go to a good school? Who will transform their schools if their parents don’t have the time, skills, or social and professional networks to fundraise thousands of dollars in cash and donations?

The parents that took on the cause of saving their community school should be recognized for their work, and the corporations that provided donations should be appreciated. That said, Nettelhorst may have transformed into a high(er) performing school, but I would not classify it as a “turnaround” because the demographics of the student population has changed so much.

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