A Peek into the Classrooms of Indiana's Best-Performing Charter Schools

By Quick, Marilynn "Marks"; Conrad, Amy L. | Childhood Education, March-April 2013 | Go to article overview

A Peek into the Classrooms of Indiana's Best-Performing Charter Schools


Quick, Marilynn "Marks", Conrad, Amy L., Childhood Education


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The education landscape is changing in the United States. No longer are traditional public schools the single option for families. Hype about charter schools abounds as families who are disenfranchised with their local public schools choose a charter school for their children. We invite you to peek into the classrooms of Indiana's best-performing charter schools with us to discover what we can learn from these schools.

Barr, Sadovnik, and Visconti (2006) advised, "charter schools are not simply a magic bullet, but rather they warrant further investigation to sec which practices work and which don't" (p. 1). When I was first charged to form an evaluation team to observe all of Ball State University's charter schools, I concluded in that report, "The challenge for many of these charter schools will be to fully implement their planned goals using sound, research-based instructional strategies" (Quick, 2004, p. 8). in 2012, we were interested in learning how well the schools in this study met that challenge.

This study focused on how successful charter schools implemented their planned goals and how their instructional strategies supported sound, research-based practices for improving student achievement. After identifying the three charter schools that consistently earned Indiana's academic designation of "exemplary progress" (1) over a three-year period, we then conducted classroom walk-throughs in each of the schools. We adapted the classroom walk-through model created by Downey, Steffy, English, Frase, and Poston (2004) to focus our observations. The walk-through model consists of two- to five-minute observations in classrooms, focusing primarily on three key components for improving student achievement: student engagement, the curriculum or content being taught (and the level at which it is being taught), along with the instructional practices employed in the classroom. When observers use this model as a formative assessment, it is possible for them to detect emerging patterns after several visits to classrooms. For the purposes of this research, patterns in each school were sought, not only patterns within an individual classroom. The analysis of that observational data illuminated the factors that most contributed to these schools' effectiveness.

The Context of Indiana Charter Schools

Although 41 states and the District of Columbia have enacted charter school laws, Indiana's method of authorizing charter schools is somewhat atypical. According to the 2011 survey report from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA, 2012), there were an estimated 957 charter school authorizers nationally as of fall 2011. These authorizers oversee more than 5,600 schools serving more than two million students. Most of these authorizers (859, or 89.8%) were categorized as school districts or local education agencies. According to the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE, 2012) website, the 2001 Indiana charter school statute (2) included local education agencies as possible charter school authorizers. However, only two Indiana school districts currently charter a total of three schools.

Nationally, only two authorizers are categorized as "Mayor/Municipalities" (NACSA, 2012). One of these is the Indianapolis Mayor's Office in Indiana. The Mayor's Office currently oversees 23 of Indiana's 65 charter schools. Nationally, only 46 (4.6%) of the authorizers are categorized as "Higher Education Institutions." In Indiana, the largest authorizer is Ball State University, which has chartered 39 of Indiana's charter schools (IDOE, 2012).

In addition, Indiana's charter school context varies from the national picture (IDOE, 2012; NACSA, 2012) in terms of the portfolio size of its authorizers. Nationally, 86% of the authorizers oversee 5 or fewer schools, 5% oversee 6-9 schools, and 9% oversee 10 or more schools. Both of the major players in Indiana's process oversee 20 or more schools. …

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