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Minnesota Charter Schools are Lighting the Way

WA CHARTERS, Saturday, December 28, 2002

Dear Friends,

On the day before Christmas, the following editorial appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Please share it with your friends and family.

REMINDER: The first Charter School Hearing of the 2003 Legislative Session will take place at the state capitol in Olympia one month from today, on Tuesday, January 28, 2002, between 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM. Please join us if you can and testify or just "show the flag" in support of charter schools!

Thank you. Best Wishes for 2003!

Jim & Fawn Spady, CO-directors,
Education Excellence Coalition
4426 - 2nd Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98105-6191
Jim's office phone: 206/634-0589
Jim's cell phone: 206/949-8484
Jim's e-mail address:
Jim & Fawn's home phone: 206/275-2089
Editorial: Teaching, Learning -- Charter Schools Share Success.

The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, Dec. 24, 2002

When Minnesota became the first state to offer charter schools a decade ago, the idea was to encourage innovative alternatives to traditional public schools. Educators, parents and others were given the flexibility to use different teaching approaches -- especially to help children who were
failing in so-called "regular" schools.

But another important goal was to treat the programs as laboratories; to take the lessons learned and apply them in other schools. Now comes welcome evidence that at least two Minnesota charter models are fulfilling that promise.

Recent studies of models developed at New Visions school in Minneapolis and New Country School in Henderson have shown that they do indeed significantly improve academic achievement. And their methods are being used in a growing number of other schools.

The New Visions, Chance to Grow K-8 program uses a combination of neurofeedback, auditory stimulation and dyslexia treatment to help enhance brain performance, focus and hand-eye coordination, which in turn improves reading. Its approach is being replicated in 39 sites throughout Minnesota and at several schools across the country.

In a recent three-year, control-group study, youngsters in New Visions programs advanced far more rapidly than those not enrolled. Some hyperactive students, for example, were able to stop taking medication, and kindergarten and first-grade students were recognizing more words and beginning to read at faster rates.

With the help of a state grant, New Visions staff created the Minnesota Learning Resource Center to help train teachers at other schools and follow up with regular site visits. Now nearly 2,300 Minnesota children participate in the programs.

Another highly successful charter that is also exporting its model to other public school districts is the New Country School in Henderson. Serving secondary students in grades 7-12, the program was created in 1993 by a group of teachers and parents who believe in individualized, project-based learning. There are no step-by-step curriculums or traditional classes; under the direction of a teacher/adviser, each student has a computer and is on a personalized educational plan, often working on a project based on his or her interests.

In addition to a different learning model, New Country also has a nontraditional staff organization. Teachers are member/owners of the EdVisions Cooperative (rather than a large teacher union), which provides instructional services through contracts with New Country and six other schools.

New Country students who have been in the program at least three years improved their Stanford 9 test scores by an average of 18.5 percent in reading and 15.3 percent in math. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was so impressed with the early results that it recently awarded EdVisions a $4.5 million grant to serve 20 new schools.

During the past several years, a handful of Minnesota's 70-plus charter programs have gone out of business, largely due to mismanagement. But these two programs demonstrate the research and development potential of charter schools.

Not only are they improving learning at one school, they are spreading the success around.

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