The Great Charter School Debate: Part 1

In November, Georgians will have an opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to approve Charter schools any where in the state of Georgia. Currently, local school systems in Georgia control the creation and operation of charter schools. Over the next two months leading up to the November vote, I will chronicle my views as well as the facts of the case over the Charter school debate. To be clear, I am not anti-charter; I am anti-state implemented charter. We have a handful of good charters in the state now, but they are locally controlled and are held to the same standards as all schools in their particular county. The video below is a scary example of a reality we may face here in Georgia if our state becomes the final say on charter school approval. In my next post, I’ll layout what a charter school is by definition, and what makes them work and what makes them no better than our current public schools.


Reality Check

AP results are in and they are what you might call sobering.

I’ll preface that word choice by also stating that the scores were by no means terrible, but they didn’t meet my or my colleagues expectations for The Studio PBL classroom. Like a business strives to improve profits, we were hoping to make strides forward in our AP scores (our bottom line if you will) proceeding our inaugural year. Alas, we just didn’t quite make those strides; however, we did see one particular area of improvement in the scores that we certainly take heart about; I’ll speak more to that shortly.

AP (advanced placement) is a different animal than anything else in our high schools. Controlled by the College Board (the developers of the SAT and PSAT), AP courses and tests are meant to be much tougher classes and tests than what most see in our first few years of college. The tests that are developed all have different protocols for grading and recently, several tests have been revamped or changed significantly including the AP World History exam. Not to make excuses, but no matter the classroom context, these tests are extremely difficult to prepare for whether teacher or student. With each new year of The Studio, we continue to draw closer to what we believe are solutions to see more success in our students’ AP exams. The truth is we are almost the only ones implementing not only clearly defined standards in a PBL classroom, but AP course work and standards as well. It is exciting to be on the forefront of something so game changing; however, the reality still remains that we are still balancing how our classroom meets the needs of both a 21st century learner and a testing system that still needs great amounts of testing practice to be successful.

What we are working on going into this new school year is a more regimented time for students to practice both multiple choice and writing tasks involved in the tests. The idea is to give more context to the test, while also still striving for great, relevant projects. The goal is not to simply give students test practice, but to also evaluate the quality of writing responses and giving feedback to the student, which in turn should give greater context to the point of a correct answer or response. It will be a tough road to hoe this year, but it is essential to us seeing our AP exams reflect the learning happening the classroom. (Bear in mind that our state test scores as well as county are still top notch across the PBL curriculum!) If we manage to develop the right balancing act, then The Studio will take the next step forward in its quest to help innovate the current public school model.

So what did see happen this year? Our tenth graders partaking of the AP World History exam this year didn’t fair as well as we had hoped. The average score was below anticipated, but we did see students who had not been successful the previous year increase their score and in some cases pass the exam. The best news came with the ninth grade group who took the AP Human Geography exam. Half the class (mostly honors and on-level students) passed the exam! This was a great improvement from last years ninth grade group. We’re taking the good with the bad and figuring out how we can grow and improve. Only time will tell, but we’re focused and ready to march forward towards new goals. With school starting in just a week and half, the third year of the PBL experience is about to begin!

Things to Come

This upcoming school year will bring new challenges and some exciting new puzzle pieces along with it. I’m always thankful for a transitional summer to re-steady my mind and take a deep breath before diving into another year, but I can’t help but be energized already about this upcoming year. I try to stay thankful that in a time when many teachers feel less rewarded by their efforts that I am doing something that I love and feel is making a critical difference in public schools.

Here are few updates coming down the pipeline this upcoming fall:

– It has been a long wait, but my first time contributing to a collegiate textbook will be realized in October. (Originally, it was supposed to be this summer. Gotta love publisher speed.) It is a minor portion but it thrills me that a few former professors of mine think highly enough of me to contribute.

– After an awesome two days powwowing with some fellow PBLers along with Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss, I’m excited to announce that I plan on applying to speak at next year’s ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in San Antonio! Jane will be helping me through the process, so I stay hopeful that what I’ve been so excited about the last two years will be shared with a wider audience next summer.

– BYOD or BYOT… With our communities awesome support this next year may very well be the year that my school opens up wifi for students use this year ensuring that students can bring their own devices/technology to our classrooms. This is a revolutionary step for my system and for our school. Specifically it is a game changer for the Studio classroom, but if embraced, the entire school could really benefit from getting students logged into our system. Like any new technology introduced there are hazards and precautions to consider, but overall this will allow for high productivity for most students.

– Year 3 of The Studio… It is a victory in itself that we are moving into our third year of the PBL experience. I’m most excited about bringing more teachers into the fold and adding the collaboration effort. With the blessings of our administration, we’re taking PBL a step further in our community and school. That is certainly something to celebrate and be excited about.

There is much to be excited about, but I know that there are still great challenges ahead. I look forward to meeting them.

EdCamp Gwinnett

Just a reminder to join us starting tomorrow through this Tuesday at Lanier High School for workshops, talks, and discussions on PBLs roll in the modern classroom.

It should be a great gathering of like-minded and searching people. Be sure to register before hand if you’re going to be stopping by–click here.


When: June 4-5 from 9:00am to 4:00pm
Where: Lanier High School 918 Buford Highway Sugar Hill, Georgia 30518
Cost: Free
Parking: Free


PS – Sorry for the posting hiatus. I’ll have a lot of great stuff posted here starting next week!

PBL: Success from Start to Finish

Another great edutopia article was recently released with both a great review of an entirely PBL school out in Manor, Texas as well as some great resources on how to get PBL started and be a success in your school.

Click here for the article and resources.

Check out the article for yourself and hopefully find yourself inspired.