These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

4 Reasons Why the State Board Vote to Keep HOPE Set a Troubling Precedent

This post was updated 9/12/2016.

The State Board unanimously voted to keep the Aurora campuses of HOPE Online charter school open despite the local school board’s decision to close the schools.

Recently, A+ Colorado CEO Van Schoales compared HOPE Online campuses to the Ford Pinto.


For all of you who lack enthusiasm for vintage cars, or were born after 1990, the Ford Pinto was known for exploding if hit at low speeds–which meant that a simple fender-bender often lead to a full-out emergency. The car’s failure to keep its passengers safe led to Ford’s recall of the Pinto.

Similarly, Aurora Public Schools sought to close the failing HOPE schools within their district. With one simple vote, however, Colorado State Board has set in a motion a disturbing precedent; overturning the local school board’s decision raises several concerns for those interested in improving educational outcomes for all kids in our state.

1. The State Board Undermined Local Control

The Aurora Public Schools Board of locally elected officials voted to close HOPE Online campuses because of their chronically low performance, and the State Board overruled the local board’s decision.

Closing a school is very difficult decision. This is true of charter schools, online schools, and district-run schools alike. Aurora Public Schools made the difficult decision to close HOPE’s learning centers in the district because they weren’t supporting student learning. The State Board struck a serious blow to district-level control of school options. Despite the unanimous vote by local school board members, the State Board overturned the APS board’s decision and will force APS to maintain the HOPE campuses within their district.

2. Student Achievement Didn’t Seem to Factor into Their Decision

HOPE’s students are not receiving a high-quality education. Both the elementary and middle school are entering their fifth year on the state accountability clock, meaning that for the past 5 years, the schools have not met expectations for student achievement, student growth, or improving achievement gaps.

Only 13% of HOPE’s low-income elementary students reached proficiency in writing on the most recent TCAP (2014).  HOPE elementary students fell behind their peers, as 70% of Colorado students with the same standardized test scores in 2013, scored better than HOPE students in 2014.

The state board was presented with achievement data for the school through 2015. HOPE’s most recent scores on the 2015 PARCC state assessment were even worse; HOPE has scored in the 1st to 5th percentile in nearly every subject and grade-level from elementary through high school. That means at least 95% of Colorado’s students are outperforming HOPE’s students. And this year’s scores (PARCC 2016) that were just released show much of the same: 14% of elementary students at HOPE reached proficiency in English Language Arts (compared to 11% in 2015); 10% of middle school students reached proficiency in English Language Arts (nearly the same percent of students as 2015); HOPE high schoolers scored an average 15.2 on the ACT.

Furthermore, HOPE performs similarly  to Central High School, two of the lowest performing schools in Aurora. Aurora’s school board has tried to set a higher bar for all of their schools, but the State Board did not factor achievement into their decision. The State Board is responsible for ensuring that all of Colorado’s children receive a quality education, but this decision does not instill confidence that they will uphold that responsibility.

HOPE blog Infographic3. The Board Confused Choice with Quality

Aurora students and families choose HOPE Online campus and showed up in droves to oppose the decision to close the Aurora campuses. The fact that HOPE has enthusiastic support from families and students does not necessarily indicate that HOPE centers are providing an effective education. Families across the state are being misled about the quality of their schools. School choice can help improve school quality only if families are well informed about school quality. Families need high-quality options to choose from and that will not happen if districts are not allowed to eliminate schools that are failing kids. The State Board conflated school choice with school quality which serves the school without actually serving the kids.

4. Will the State Board Hold Failing Schools Accountable?

The State Board’s decision to keep failing schools open in Aurora does not bode well for its ability to make difficult decisions around school closures and school turnaround. Parental choice matters, but much like the Ford Pinto from Van’s tweet, just because it is available for sale, does not guarantee that it will not explode in the consumer’s face. More than 95% of the students that attend HOPE will not read at grade level which could deny them access to job options that provide a living wage. 

Next year, the State board will have to determine how to move forward with 30 schools approaching the end of the 5-year state accountability clock. Their options, include: hiring a turnaround partner, turning the school into an innovation or charter school, and school closure, among others.

If families and districts want the school-equivalent of a Ford Pinto, will the State Board be willing to change or close those schools? State board member Val Flores defended the decision to keep the failing schools open, saying “I think it takes much longer than five years to get any results, especially with hard-to-serve schools.” Val Flores suggests that school improvement could take up to 10 years, a timeline that is twice as long as the timeline set by the 2009 Education Accountability Act.

But a 10 year timeline has serious implications for students. Let’s take a 400 student elementary school. Ten classes, or nearly 700 students, would pass through that school before, according to Flores’ assumption, we could expect to see improved results. That is 700 kids (in one school) who the accountability system– the system aimed at ensuring schools provide high quality education to every student– accepts, and dare I say expects, failure.