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Charter Schools in 2005

Minnesota charter schools in 2005 A quick snapshot of charter schools and chartering in Minnesota

Except for the law that allows them to be created, each Minnesota charter school is unique and different. However, to gain a necessary composite picture, here’s a quick series of snapshots that describe Minnesota’s charter sector and trace its growth and impact over time:

Jump around within this section:

Total of 104 charters now operating, with at more than 30 approved to open

As of the spring of 2005, Minnesota has 104 operating charter schools with more than 30 approved so far to open as early as the fall of 2005. The current schools serve approximately 17,800 students, or about 2.2 percent of Minnesota’s public school enrollment. Of the 135+ schools now open or approved, about 70 percent are in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, including 32 charters in St. Paul, 34 in Minneapolis and 26 in the Twin Cities suburbs. The remaining 45 Minnesota charter schools are located in the balance of the state. For a list and other information on Minnesota charter schools operating in the 2004-2005 school year, click here. And, for a list of schools approved, but scheduled to open in 2005 or 2006, click here.

Enrollment is concentrated in several key cities

While charter schools serve fewer than two percent of the state’s overall public school students, there are districts where the market share for charter schools is much greater and clearly being felt. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, for example, charters now serve approximately 11.0 percent of the districts’ public school enrollments. Minneapolis district leaders have been particularly conscious of the growing competition from charters (for more information on chartering public schools, click here), as well as other public school choice options available to its students.Other Minnesota districts with high concentrations of charter students include Duluth, with four charters and about 9.3 percent of the district’s public school enrollment; Bemidji, with three charters and about seven percent of district public school enrollment; and Northfield, with three charters and 6.5 percent of district public school enrollment.

Low income students and students with disabilities

Minnesota’s charter schools disproportionately serve lower-income students. Statewide, approximately 54.1 percent of charter school students in 2004 were low income, compared to an overall statewide average of 27.5 percent. Sixty-nine of Minnesota’s then 88 charters were above that statewide average. The concentration of low income students in charters is particularly evident in Minneapolis and St. Paul (click here).Minnesota charters appear to be serving a comparable share of students with disabilities relative to the 12.2 percent of district school enrollment. More than half of Minnesota’s charters serve a higher percentage of special ed students than do district schools as a whole. And about 20 percent serve more than double the statewide average.

Several Minnesota charter schools consider serving students with disabilities a primary part of their mission, including the Metro Deaf School in St. Paul and New Visions School in Minneapolis. Metro Deaf, a PreK-8 school which opened a sister high school, Minnesota North Star Academy, in 2004. Founders of New Visions, also a K-8 school, are also now in the early stages of planning a charter high school. The Fraser School — a well-established private school that has served generations of students with disabilities — opened a new K-4 charter school, the Fraser Academy, in 2004.

Students of color and English Language Learners (ELL)

Minnesota’s charters also serve a disproportionate share of students of color. Statewide, in 2004, approximately 52.9 percent of charter enrollees were students of color, compared to an overall statewide average of 18.9 percent. Almost half the charters located in Minneapolis and St. Paul are what might be called “culturally-centered.” They include charters created by and predominantly serving students in the Twin Cities’ African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Hmong, American-Indian and East African communities.

Many of these schools have a high percentage of English Language Learners (ELL). In fact about 20 percent of Minnesota’s charters are above the statewide average of 6.2 percent of their students who are ELL. And more than half the students in 10 Minnesota charter schools are English Language Learners. For more on Minnesota’s growing diversity and how charter schools are responding,

Diverse grade configurations

The 135+ charters now open or approved have at least 14 different grade configurations, although there’s an overall tendency to include more grades in a single school than is common in most larger school districts. For example, ten of Minnesota’s operating or approved charters are K-12 schools. And there are more K-7, 8 or 9 schools than either lower elementary or middle school configurations. About half of Minnesota’s non-K-12 charters are elementary, K-8 or middle schools and half are senior high schools or combined junior/senior high schools.

The most common grade configuration is the grade 9-12 high school (36 charters), although there are also twenty grade 6-12 or 7-12 combined junior/senior high schools. The fact that Minnesota has as many charter high schools as it does is partly a function of need and demand for alternatives to large, traditional district high schools. It also reflects the relatively generous funding for charter operations and facilities, compared to many other states.

The growing number of charter high schools is also creating demand for sports and other extra-curricular programs. In some cases, charters are creating extra-curricular programs of their own. And a few charters have agreements with school districts to allow students to play on teams in the high school in whose attendance area they live. However, other districts deny charter students the opportunity to participate in their extra-curricular activities. The lack of uniform opportunities has helped make the case for proposed legislation to require districts to allow charter school students to participate in district-sponsored extra-curricular activities, but also require the students’ charter school to pay the direct and indirect costs of that participation.

Most charter elementary schools are either K-6/7 (21 schools) or K-8/9 (24 schools). In a number of cases, Minnesota charter schools have started smaller and added grades over time, sometimes beginning with as few as two or three grades. Several charters that started as K-6 or K-8 schools have added middle or high school grades under strong pressure from parents who like the smaller environment or other attributes of the school their students have been attending.

Finally, some Minnesota charters are emerging that extend beyond the traditional K-12 grade range. For example, Volunteers of America/Minnesota has granted a charter to the Early Literacy Academy in Minneapolis, which will serve students age three to grade three. This school will draw on both pre-school and K-12 funding streams to provide a more seamless literacy and school readiness curriculum to pre-school students, who will then attend the same school through the third grade.

At the other end of the grade range, the Saint Paul College — a community/technical college — has sponsored the Minnesota Academy for Technology. Located near the College’s campus in downtown St. Paul, the charter makes it possible for students to have a more seamless learning opportunity that extends beyond high school to eventually include a two-year associate degree.

Charters adding new types of schools and learning programs

A high percentage of Minnesota’s earlier charters were intended to serve the diverse and often at-risk student populations in Minneapolis and St. Paul. And, as noted above, many of these urban charters predominately serve low-income students and students of color and have higher than average concentrations of English Language Learners and special ed students.

At the same time, there is a more recent trend toward opening more charters in the Twin Cities suburbs and elsewhere in the state that are intended to serve a broader cross-section of students. Of the schools currently that opened in 2004, almost 40 percent were in suburban communities — compared to only 15 percent of the schools operating in the 2003-04 school year. Smaller high schools serving a broad cross section of students with a rigorous, college bound curriculum have also opened in the last several years in several communities outside the Twin Cities, including Northfield, Hutchinson, Bemidji and Duluth.

Along with this broader focus, Minnesota’s charter schools have a growing diversity of missions and learning programs. A dozen charters have adapted the project-based learning model first used at the Minnesota New Country School in Henderson. Several other schools, including the Minnesota Internship Center and Liberty High Schools that opened in 2003, also require extensive hands-on and community-based learning.

Although Minnesota has lagged behind other states in opening on-line schools, it does have several charters that make extensive use of technology, including Cyber Village Academy (CVA) in St. Paul. CVA’s students are at home three days a week — taking their courses on-line — and physically at the school two days each week. Other on-line schools chartered so far have included Blue Sky Academy, which opened in 2003, and Hopkins On-line Academy, which reverted to a smaller district program because of problems in qualifying for an adequate level of state funding.

Another school district, Chisago Lakes, has also converted a pre-existing distance learning program into a district-sponsored charter, the TRIO Wolf Creek Distance Learning Charter School. Minnesota Transitions School in Minneapolis has created an on-line high school program for its highly diverse student population. And EdVisions Schools will open a new project-based on-line high school in the fall of 2005. No national on-line models have been chartered yet in Minnesota, although William Bennett’s K-12 has a contract to run a state-wide online program with the tiny Houston School District in the Southeastern corner of the state.

All of these on-line schools face regulatory barriers and current state funding limitations on the number of previous private and home schooled students who may enroll. Several charter schools that use project-based learning or other hands-on learning experiences in the community have also run into problems documenting their students’ attendance to the satisfaction of audits done by the state Department of Education.

At the other end of the spectrum, Minnesota has a growing number of traditional-looking “back to basics” schools, including a half-dozen chartered by a new non-profit sponsor — Friends of Ascension — that opened in the fall off 2004. A majority of these schools use the Core Knowledge curriculum and are located in suburban communities that previously have not had charter options. Several other urban charters — serving high populations of students who are predominantly low income or recent immigrants — also make use of Direct Instruction, Core Knowledge and other similar learning models. Core Knowledge schools in Minnesota benefit from the availability of a national partnership and technical assistance resource center for the Core Knowledge program that is run by the Minnesota Humanities Commission.

Relatively small, home-grown schools–not affiliated with EMOs

Minnesota charters are relatively small in enrollment, even relative to charter schools nationally, with an average about 160 students in each school. Enrollments range from 26 to just under 1,000 students, with 42 percent of the schools enrolling fewer than 100 students and only 19 percent having more than 200 students. Only three Minnesota charter schools have more than 500 students.

Not surprisingly, a number of operational challenges have arisen because of the relatively small size of most Minnesota charter schools. They include special education funding and regulations, pupil transportation, facilities financing and teacher licensure rules that are generally designed around larger schools and districts.

Virtually all of Minnesota’s charters are founded and run by teachers, parents or other community members and do not make use of outside for- or non-profit management companies. One exception is the state’s second largest charter, the multi-campus Duluth Public School Academy, which is managed by Edison Schools. Other contracts between Edison Schools and two Twin Cities charters — originally managed by Learn Now — were subsequently terminated by the boards of the schools, who decided to hire their own school leadership. Designs for Learning, a Minnesota-based firm that did whole-school management for several years, now has more limited contracts with charters to provide a menu of administrative services such as accounting, payroll and fringe benefits management.

New professional and leadership opportunities for teachers

Minnesota charters have created new and expanded opportunities for school leadership for teachers and administrators, including a disproportionate number of women school leaders and school leaders of color. Approximately 56 percent of the directors or principals of Minnesota charter schools are women and about 24 percent of charter schools are led by persons of color, including 60 percent of the charters in Minneapolis and 35 percent in St. Paul. Approximately 350 Minnesota charter school teachers are now serving on charter school boards and over half the boards have a teacher majority.

The strong role of teachers in the management and governance of charters in Minnesota reflects a unique provision in the state’s charter law that — absent a state waiver — requires that licensed teachers in the school constitute a majority of the members of their charter school board by the end of the school’s third year of operation. About a dozen Minnesota charters are also affiliated with EdVisions Schools. The EdVisions model includes teacher cooperatives or other ways of establishing a teacher professional practice, like those traditionally owned and run by lawyers, doctors, accountants and other professionals. For more on EdVisions schools and teachers in professional practice,

click here.Minnesota’s charter law requires that all charter school teachers be certified. But, in smaller high schools and schools using interdisciplinary learning methods, concerns have arisen about the ability of teachers to meet the “highly qualified teacher” requirements of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law. These requirements appear to insist that all teachers demonstrate competencies in specific subject areas that they presumably teach one at a time. In response to these concerns, charter advocates — and allies in alternative programs and smaller rural districts — have proposed legislation in 2005 directing the State Board of Teaching to create a new type of teacher license. This license would recognize competencies that are required to teach across subject areas and/or make extensive use of technology, project-based or other non-traditional teaching/learning methods.