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Successful Innovations Fuel State Charter School Success

By   /   October 30, 2012  /   Comments

 By Dr. Danielle LeSure,

New report highlights academic programs improving student achievement in three of Georgia’s state charter schools 

ATLANTA (October 30, 2012)— Georgia’s state public charter schools are using their flexibility to implement innovative programs to raise student achievement, according to a new report released by the Center for an Educated Georgia. Titled “Freedom to Innovate, Freedom to Educate,” the report highlights academic programs that are improving student achievement at three state charter schools and explains innovative approaches that could be adopted by traditional public schools.

 “The flexibility received by state charter schools allows for the development of innovative academic programs, but other schools can apply many of these effective concepts,” says Dr. Danielle LeSure, Education Policy and Research Manager at the Center for an Educated Georgia and author of the report. “It is our hope that this report helps to open a door to further share innovations making a difference for students in all school types.” 

The high-performing charter schools in this report were originally approved by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court last year. Georgians will soon decide whether to reinstate the commission and its approval of more quality charter schools when they vote on a constitutional amendment on November 6th 

The report explains three academic innovations: learning expeditions, intensive learning program, and double math blocks. Pataula Charter Academy is using learning expeditions to encourage critical thinking and character development. Students at the southwest Georgia charter school design their own intensive research projects that they complete over six to twelve weeks. The school credits the learning expeditions for its significant improvement in social studies scores. 

Atlanta Heights Charter School uses a student-centered approach to develop small group learning sessions. Called an intensive learning program, students meet in groups of three to six students with a subject area specialist to go over concepts challenging to each student. The added small group instructional time tied to class lessons has led to improvement in the school’s reading and math performance.  

In Gwinnett County, students at Ivy Preparatory Academy have two math periods with different teachers. The first class focuses on math operations while the second analysis class allows the students to apply math concepts and develop critical thinking skills. The school’s high math performance reflects the success of using double-blocks of math.  

The education innovations were identified through school site visits and interviews with principals, board members, parents, and teachers at over 10 state charter schools across Georgia. Each interviewee was asked to identify a program or practice in their school that can be shared to enhance teaching and learning in traditional public schools, particularly those serving at-risk student populations. 

To view the full report, visit http://www.educatedgeorgia.org/pdf/ceg_innovate_report.pdf.

The Center for an Educated Georgia is a research, education, and grassroots organization working to ensure that all Georgia students receive a quality education. Visit www.educatedgeorgia.org for more information.

 

REPORT HIGHLIGHTS

One of the original arguments used to support the creation of public charter schools was to allow flexibility to help identify practices that can inform education efforts in traditional public schools, particularly for low-performing student populations. This report highlights innovative practices that improve student academic achievement in three state-chartered public schools.

State Public Charter School Innovative Program/Practice Academic Achievement
Pataula Charter Academy Learning Expeditions—project-based learning where students design their own intensive research projects that they complete over 6/12 weeks. Teachers develop students’ curiosity by asking broad questions that are thought-provoking and open-ended assuring all related assignments are tied to state standards. Pataula used this approach since opening in 2010-11. The number of students who have met or exceeded standards on the Social Studies CRCT increased by 10 percentage points between 2010-11 (78%) and 2011-12 (88%).
Atlanta Heights Charter School Intensive Learning Program—a student-centered approach to developing small group remedial learning sessions that are referred to as “workshops.” They are led by subject area specialists who are often certified teachers in a core area (i.e. reading or math) that understand how to work with students so that concepts are retaught in a way that matches each student’s learning style and culture. Since implementing the program for reading its first year (2010-11), Atlanta Heights has seen over an eight percent increase in the number of students who have met or exceeded standards on the Reading CRCT in 2011-12.

 

Because of reading gains, Atlanta Heights decided to use the program for math as well in 2011-12 and saw an increase of nine percentage points on the Math CRCT.

Ivy Preparatory Academy Double-Blocks of Math—students have two math classes a day, math operations and math analysis, both taught by different teachers who co-plan lessons. In math operations students learn basic concepts and develop problem solving skills.In math analysis students “do” math through project-based activities aligned to their math operations class. Ivy Prep has used this approach since 2008-09. In 2010-11, 94 percent of their students met or exceeded standards on the Math CRCT. When they stopped using the approach in 2011-12 due to unfortunate budget cuts the number of students who met or exceeded expectations in math decreased for the first time by over two percent.

 

School districts must begin to develop a supportive environment to help replicate and tailor education initiatives making a difference for students in other schools, including traditional public schools. Starting this dialog has the potential to ignite the sharing of best practices in all school types to benefit Georgia’s students.

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