General Questions about Mosaica Education and the Charter Schools
Q. Why was Mosaica Education conceived?
A. Mosaica Education, a privately-sponsored Education Management Organization, was conceived to address the following concerns driving education reform including:
- Growing dissatisfaction among voters and employers with the quality of public education. Both taxpayers and employers recognize that the U.S. economy depends in large part upon the country’s global competitiveness, which in turn depends upon work force efficiency and productivity, one determinant of which is educational training.
- Existing educational resources inadequate to address future needs. The U.S. Department of Education recently estimated that the U.S. would need about 190,000 additional teachers and some 6,000 more schools over the next ten years to accommodate what demographers call the “baby boom echo.” These statistics do not take into account the need for improvement of existing teaching staff and infrastructure.
- Declining quality of education despite escalating costs. The emerging consensus across the political spectrum is that spending for public education is increasingly inefficient. Educational reform has become a highly visible political issue and politicians assume that declining public satisfaction demands new approaches. The Bush administration’s extensive focus on educational reform and the bipartisan support these and other innovative measures have garnered demonstrates the progressively urgent sociopolitical mandate driving these reforms.
- Significant increases in enrollment anticipated. In 1985, student enrollment in U.S. public and private schools was approximately 45 million. In fall, 1996, a record 51.3 million students were enrolled in U.S. public and private elementary and secondary schools. Comparable enrollment is expected to reach 54.6 million by 2005, due to birth rates and immigration levels.
Q. Are Mosaica schools more efficient than traditional public schools?
A. Mosaica Education manages public schools at current district spending levels, either under contract with local school districts or funded directly by states under charter school laws that permit private management. By reallocating funds to enhancements in teacher training, technology and curriculum materials, Mosaica directs more dollars to the classroom where they are needed most
Of the approximately 7.5% of GDP spent on kindergarten through post-secondary education, approximately 93% of the funding comes from state and local sources, with municipalities often spending more than 50% of their entire budgets on education. Despite significant funding, some startling statistics support the conclusions that the public is increasingly dissatisfied with the current system and is supportive of dramatic measures, such as privatization, charter schools and other curriculum and management reforms.
The U.S. seventh and eighth graders recently ranked 28th in science and 17th in math out of 41 nations on the 1996 International Mathematics and Science Study.
- In 1973, 60% of Americans thought their children were getting a better education than they had received, while 20% thought it was worse. By 1994, only 42% thought children were getting a better education, while 51% said it was worse.
- Nationally, all teachers – public and private – are 50% more likely than the general public to send their children to private schools. In the inner cities, 35-40% of public school teachers send their children to private schools, in contrast to a mere 13% of the general population.
- 71% of Americans grade U.S. schools below “C” and 54% give their own schools a low grade as well, according to a 1995 Gallup poll.
- The Wall Street Journal/NBC News December 1996 quarterly survey of 2,000 Americans reported that the top concern was improving public education, cited by 57% of respondents (tied with reducing crime and well ahead of such former front-runners as the federal deficit (40%) or protecting the environment (26%)).
- In terms of public elementary and secondary education, average real expenditures per student have risen for more than a century, to $5,825 in 1993 (the last year for which data is available from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics), and real aggregate spending levels have increased steadily at about 10% annually over the last 30 years, to $231.5 billion in 1993. In addition, over $24 billion is spent annually on private schools. Although funding per student and absolute spending is increasing, a smaller percentage of those funds are reaching the classroom.
Q. Is MEI a non-profit company?
A. Each charter school is a nonprofit school as required by law, with an independent board of trustees. That board of trustees of the nonprofit charter school is permitted to contract out with any for-profit or non-profit entity for goods or services. This proposed charter school has or will soon enter into a management agreement through which it will contract for educational and administrative services with Mosaica Education, Inc., a for-profit education management organization. In order for MEI to be successful, all of the schools managed by MEI must be successful.
Q. How do you decide what communities need a charter school?
A. Based on our meetings with school founders, and their discussions with friends and neighbors, we conclude that there is significant interest in the community for choice in public education. The Mosaica education model is unique and offers parents a distinct choice between public schools, private schools, and the charter school. A population analysis is done to indicate that should a charter school be established in the community, the school-age population is large enough to sustain its operations.
Q. How does your student population reflect the community?
A. Because we have an open enrollment plan to encourage all parents to consider enrolling their children, the population of students served is the same as the general population of the local school district and nearby communities. Any child who is qualified under State laws for admission to a public school is qualified for admission to the charter school.
Q. What are you offering that the school districts normally do not?
A. MEI charter schools offer numerous elements including the Paragon curriculum, longer school day/school year, foreign language, full day kindergarten, technology, etc.
Q. What convinces local school founders that Mosaica has the knowledge and experience to do its assigned tasks effectively?
A. Founders usually draw up a list of potential partners and management companies. They evaluate them according to the following criteria:
- Comprehensiveness. Mosaica’s model includes an innovative and rigorous educational approach (including personalized instruction and continuous assessment); strategies for community and parent involvement; on-going professional development and teacher support; and, most importantly, a well-conceived and successfully executed educational philosophy.
- Adaptability. MEI has an adaptable and flexible model, a model responsive to the community’s unique needs.Innovative and Rigorous Curriculum. MEI’s model reflects the educational philosophy of “deep and broad” child-centered instruction: to focus on the basics and also encompass a rich range of subjects. In particular, a curriculum that: emphasizes strong basic skills; introduces foreign language in kindergarten; integrates a variety of pedagogical approaches in a flexible manner; builds in continuous professional development; keeps class size small; and includes a quality arts program.
- Proven Track Record. Mosaica Education currently contracts with 22 charter school programs in six states and the District of Columbia.
- Scope of Resources Available. MEI is a seasoned company with extensive in-house expertise on management, operations, curriculum development, and other charter school related matters.
After several initial interviews, founders tour the existing MEI schools. There, they see unique schools each with the individual mark of the community and principal. The Paragon Curriculum comes to life in the classrooms. They meet teachers who are creative, excited and ever-honing their skills. After the tour, they agree that the Mosaica school model fits the community’s needs best.
Q. What is the role of the School District in your charter school?
A. We like to work in partnership with the School District. For example, having our students participate in extracurricular activities offered by the School District. We believe that our proposed Charter School will encourage innovation and serve as a model for traditional public schools. Through expanded community and parental involvement, our public Charter School will increase support for public education.
Q. Will you be hiring certified teachers?
A. All instructional staff hired by this charter school will be exceptionally qualified. Although state law allows a small percentage of staff to be not technically certified, they do require all teaching staff to be qualified through other career paths, certifications, and experience. In fact, some of our greatest teachers are not technically certified teachers but come with demonstrated experiences, content knowledge, and excellent teaching abilities.
Special Education/Gifted Students
Q. Isn’t it true that charter schools discourage special education students from enrolling?
A. No, it is not true. MEI is committed to full adherence to the rights of special education students as provided for in federal law. We are absolutely committed to meeting the needs of each and every special education student who would enroll in this charter school.
In fact, the power of the Paragon curriculum to engage students through their unique talents—whether that be art, drama, music, exploration—can provide a vehicle for re-capturing a special education student through a visible demonstration of those talents and, once again, ignite the enthusiasm of learning. For example, a fifth grade student in a Mosaica school who came to the program severely dyslexic, was able to learn to decode language through explicit phonics instruction and benefited from the personalized software tutorial program to help accelerate him up to grade level. Additionally, that same student proved to be a brilliant painter who took a leadership role in his classroom during the afternoon Paragon Curriculum program. He was able to provide a wonderful synopsis to the plot of Shakespeare’s MacBeth as he was designing the set. The student not only began to master decoding skills that enabled him to break through and begin to read, he also provided a very accurate rendering of the story because he connected to Shakespeare through his paintbrush.
Q. Do you offer gifted education?
A. In Mosaica’s philosophy, every child is gifted. We believe that Mosaica’s curriculum is engaging for most students who otherwise would be categorized as gifted in the public schools. If a student shows exceptional needs, those needs will be addressed through the personalized learning plan developed by the teacher and parent. Personal Learning Plans target individual skills within each discipline using computer software that assesses individual skills within each discipline and develops a tutorial path particularly designed to target areas of vulnerability, while challenging the student in his/her of strength.
The depth and breadth of knowledge that is delivered through Paragon surpasses that of most gifted programs and private prep programs. In a sense, we took what would be a gifted program in the public schools, added more enriching materials, and deliver it as part of the regular education program.
While not a separate class offering, art is an integral tool in the delivery of the Paragon Curriculum. Students construct their own understanding of the daily learning objectives through a variety of activities that utilize fine arts, visual arts, and performance art. Extensions are built into every Paragon lesson to provide additional learning opportunities for accelerated and highly motivated students. Moreover, teachers will send home a letter to parents at the beginning of each new Paragon unit, with suggestions for parents to reinforce and build upon the content at home.
Q. How do you plan to deal with students performing below grade level?
A. We realize that children have varying abilities and will accommodate their differences through personalized learning plans, use of tutorials, adaptive curriculum-based software, and best teaching practices. We will use an Integrated Learning System (“ISL”) to supplement teacher instruction and track student progress in math and language arts. The ISL will align with State standards and national standardized tests including the ITBS. It will provide detailed reports to help evaluate individual students’ needs, provide information for use in parent conferences, guide instructional decisions, and assess progress toward critical goals. The software’s “adaptive” features will allow struggling students to experience successes while motivating able learners to extend their reach.
Q. Describe how you will involve parents in the day-to-day work of the school to ensure their active support of the school and its efforts to help their children achieve high standards.
A. Parents will take an active role in decision-making with regard to the education of their individual child(ren) through contracts to be designed by teacher, parent(s) and student. Parents will be able to contribute to policy-making decisions by participating on various subcommittees of the Board and through the input derived from an annual Parent Satisfaction Survey Concerning Classroom Instruction and School Climate. In addition, parents will see their students perform at the Paragon performance nights, held 8 times a year.
Q. Will parent participation/volunteering be mandatory?
A. Each school incorporates into its prospectus that parents are expected to select from a variety of voluntary service options and to be actively involved in their child’s education both at home and at school. Service options will be designed to engage parents directly in some aspect of their child’s education, at least one or more times per month. We will use a wide range of opportunities for parents to participate. Within that range most parents will be able to find a way to contribute. This can range from calling other parents regarding meetings, to assisting with clerical work, to simply attending school programs.
Q. What is the overriding educational philosophy for the school’s educational program, both the core curriculum (morning) and Paragon (afternoon)?
A. The overriding philosophical approach to the educational program, both the core curriculum (morning program) and Paragon (afternoon program), revolve around individual student needs, as assessed by the educational team, to determine appropriate educational strategies and personalized learning plans.
Q. How do teachers give input?
A. Paragon offers teachers numerous options to help their students understand the daily learning objectives. Teachers are trained extensively in how to work with the Paragon lesson plans to customize them for their individual students. Paragon tends to revitalize teachers’ passion for the profession, and gives them a great head start to do what many have always longed to do in the classroom for their students. As one of our Regional Vice Presidents put it, “Paragon training and implementation transforms a first year teacher into a third year teacher because the program is all about effective teaching strategies married to rich content.”
Q. Give a description of how students will utilize computer technology; particularly, how much time does the average student spend in front of a PC?
A. Students will be on the computer applying technology directly to the curriculum, personalizing student learning and concepts, using multimedia that is relevant, provides depth, and makes concepts alive. In addition, teachers will use the computer for Internet research and writing. The amount of time varies from student to student. Students will have the option to use technology at almost any time as applied to the curriculum for research and writing. There will be content and open-ended educational software for an array of subjects. The technology is seamlessly integrated into throughout the curriculum, both core and Paragon.
Q. How have you have designed your proposed charter school’s educational program so that it will enable students to achieve the knowledge and skills actually tested by the State Assessments?
A. Our core curriculum standards (Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science) as well as the Paragon Program, are aligned to State and ASCD (nationally recognized) standards that will enable the students to achieve the knowledge and skills tested in both State and national standardized assessments.
Q. Will you offer extra-curricular activities?
A. The board of trustees will determine what extra-curricular activities the charter
school will offer, based on demand and available resources. We are an
academically focused program and most likely will not have a marching band
or competitive football team. It will most likely offer a more focused range of
extra-curricular options than are currently available in the school district but
will make sure that its students will have access to the other activities offered
by the school district in accordance with state law.
Q. Will the middle school have subject area teachers?
A. The middle school classes will be taught by content specialists, for example a Language Arts specialists, math specialist, science specialist, and social studies/history specialist. The teachers will stay in rooms and the students will move from class to class in a team area.
Q. Why is the Paragon curriculum appropriate for meeting the needs of the population you expect to serve?
A. The afternoon Paragon curriculum provides a global, multi-cultural education with hands-on, interdisciplinary instructional strategies supported by research. Paragon operates under the assumption that all students have unique talents. The School will focus its resources to address the academic needs of its students, while parents and community supporters will be able to provide for the additional needs of students critical to their educational success.
Q. Why should there be confidence that the Paragon curriculum will enable students to meet the State content standards?
A. The Paragon curriculum (in the afternoon) has been aligned with the State’s History, Geography, Social Studies, Economics standards (K-8), and supporting lesson plans. The school will teach core Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science using nationally recognized curricular programs with alignments to ITBS and to State Content Standards. Our software tutorial program is aligned with the State’s specific content standards. We are confident, based on the in-depth research on standards and alignment provide by our curriculum consultants, that the Paragon curriculum and the core curriculum will enable students to meet State content standards.
Q. Why have you chosen the ITBS over other nationally recognized assessments?
A. The ITBS is rigorous, norm referenced, aligns with ASCD, and more closely
aligns with the curriculum.
Q. What do you mean by “effective teaching strategies”?
A. Effective Teaching Strategies are research-based methods or techniques a
teacher can use to deliver a lesson or a part of a lesson that will help his or
her students succeed. Some of these include:
- In cooperative learning, learning occurs as a result of interactions between members of a group (meaning two or more individuals). Cooperative learning promotes all students’ high achievement through sharing their strengths and helping each other to overcome their weaknesses.
- Graphic Organizers are tools that help students to sort, organize, summarize, retain, and recall important information. Since most learners are visual, graphic organizers provide a great alternative to print for a more conceptual, big picture. These tools also foster effective group brainstorming techniques.
- In role-plays students have the opportunity to “step into the shoes” of another person or historical period. It allows students to understand another point-of-view experientially, kinesthetically, and affectively. It gives them the chance to work out challenges and construct knowledge creatively. Students in the “audience” of a role-play learn from the performance of their peers.
- When activating prior knowledge, students use knowledge they already possess in order to construct and build further knowledge. When using prior knowledge, students are more likely to make connections and draw analogies. Students feel confident in learning because they feel that they already possess some of the knowledge. Using prior knowledge empowers students to learn more.
- With personal connection journaling, students are led into a topic by connecting to their personal experiences. You guide them to share family histories, personal and current experiences, and anecdotal stories to make the content relevant. It may be used as a lead-in to a lesson, as a means of activating prior knowledge, or as a comprehension activity, for students to understand on a personal level an idea or historical event.
- In a Socratic Discussion, the teacher uses logical, incremental questions to arouse interest and guide students in using their own insights to explore or decipher a complex idea or topic. Socratic Discussion can elicit excitement in the whole class and help all students to feel empowered so that they can discover the answers themselves.
Demonstration of Socratic Method
In the Socratic method, the teacher uses no other instructional tool other than question asking. The teacher skillfully guides her students through making observations, connections, analysis, and discoveries. Through the Socratic method, for example, students learn about the reasons for European exploration of North America, the quest for furs and wood, without the teacher ever explicitly saying so. When students answer questions for themselves, instead of passively relying on the teacher as a source of information, they construct the knowledge themselves. Students are more likely to remember and apply knowledge they construct themselves.
(A teacher shows his students an image of a map drawn of North America circa 1600. He is teaching a lesson on the first Europeans in this continent.)
Teacher: What do you see here?
Students: It looks like an old map.
Teacher: What does it look like a map of?
Students: I don’t know. I’ve never seen that country.
Teacher: Do you recognize any landforms on this map that look familiar?
Students: Hm. Oh! Is that Cape Cod?
Teacher: What else do you recognize now?
Students: That must be the St. Lawrence River, and that’s got to be Hudson Bay.
Teacher: So what is this map supposed to show?
Students: North America.
Teacher: What else do you see on this map?
Students: There are pictures of trees and animals.
Teacher: Why do you think they drew pictures of trees and animals on this map?
Students: There must have been a lot of trees and animals there.
Teacher: Why do you think someone would have drawn a map of North America in the first place?
Students: Probably because people wanted to go there and they needed to know how to get around.
Teacher: What could they possibly have wanted from North America?
Students: The trees and the animals?
Teacher: What good are trees and animals? Why would people want them?
Students: You can build things out of wood from trees.
Teacher: Like what?
Students: Houses, boats, furniture. Lots of things!
Teacher: Well what would someone want animals for?
Students: For pets?
Teacher: What animals are drawn on this map?
Students: Is that a beaver?
Teacher: Would you want a beaver as a pet?
Teacher: What do you think people wanted the beaver for?
Students: Maybe for its fur?
Teacher: What do you see on this part of the map?
Students: It looks like a group of men talking.
Teacher: How do they look?
Students: They look rich, and they look like they’re making a decision.
Teacher: How do you think they got rich? Standing there in the middle of North America?
Students: Maybe by selling the wood from the trees and the fur from the beaver.
Almost every Paragon lesson makes use of the Socratic method. Teachers are trained how to ask these chains of questions, guiding students toward discovery, and students become very familiar with it.
Q. Is your curriculum validated by research?
A. The key elements of our educational model are validated by research, for example:
- Extended day and year (almost 4 more years). Research shows that many students need additional time to master academic skills and knowledge. Commentators have noted that:
Today’s practices—different standards for different students and promotion by age and grade according to the calendar—are a hoax, cruel deceptions of both the students and society. Time, the missing element in the school reform debate, is also the overlooked solution to the standards problem. Holding all students to the same high standards means that some students will need more time, just as some may require less. Standards are then not a barrier to success but a mark of accomplishment. Used wisely and well, time can be the academic equalizer.
The extended school day and school year will enable our students to graduate with the equivalent of nearly four years more schooling than other children.
- Small School and Class Size. A 1998 U.S. Department of Education report Reducing Class Size: What Do We Know?, points to research showing that reducing class size is related to increased student learning. Studies have shown that smaller class sizes result in increased student achievement, reduction in discipline problems, increased instructional time for teachers, and more individualized attention. Although all students benefit from smaller classes, research shows that effects are greatest for disadvantaged and minority students. At the elementary level, experts recommend class sizes of no more than 25 children. Each Charter School class will contain no more than 25 students.
- Teachers and Students Stay Together for Two to Three Years. Experience with the Mosaica “Primary Care” model as well as research indicates that children benefit from remaining with the same teacher over two to three grades—a practice commonly called looping. The research on looping is replete with its benefits, including children feeling more secure and less anxious moving to the next grade level, and teachers being able to develop stronger relationships with students and parents.
- Rigorous Morning Curriculum Devoted to Basics. Continuous and challenging instruction in core subjects improves student performance. Teachers will instruct students in reading (including phonics for K-2), writing, arithmetic and science everyday in the morning, without exception. The reading will be literature-based and drawn from classical and multi-cultural works. Teachers will teach math and science as discrete subjects.
- Integrated Social Studies/Humanities Program. In addition to the rigorous core curriculum, we use the Paragon curriculum, an integrated humanities/social studies curriculum that combines Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Core Knowledge, and international content standards with constructivist teaching practices and the philosophy of Dr. Howard Gardner.
- Teaching to Multiple Intelligences. We recognize different domains of ability, or “intelligences,” as described by Dr. Howard Gardner. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences provides a foundation for recognizing the different abilities and talents of students. Approaching and assessing learning in this manner allows a wider range of students to successfully participate in classroom learning. Our program seeks to capitalize on children’s various skills, experiences, and talents to provide them with multiple opportunities to learn and succeed.
- Personalized Learning Plans. MEI is committed to providing all students with a first-rate education and believes that, for whatever reasons, early tracking too often polarizes students into winners and losers and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A substantial body of research suggests that tracking generally fails to increase learning and has the unfortunate consequence of widening the achievement gaps between students judged to be more able from those judged less able. We realize that children have varying abilities and will accommodate their differences through personalized learning plans, use of tutorials, adaptive curriculum-based software, and constructivist teaching practices.
- Use of Technology. Mosaica Charter Schools have a ratio of three students to one multimedia computer. In addition, every teacher and administrative staff member is given a laptop computer. All of the computers will be networked and have Internet access. Each Charter School features rich multimedia to supplement all facets of learning – Math, Science, Language Arts, and the Paragon curriculum. In-class computer usage improves student learning in two main ways. First, computer software allows frequent monitoring of student progress at individual and class levels. Second, it enables students of different abilities work at levels that challenge them.