Terry Marasco: What public education can learn from APA Charter Schools

(Photo courtesy of American Preparatory Academy) Pictured is American Preparatory Academy in Draper.

For some time, I have been a guest teacher in public and charter schools in Salt Lake County at the Granite, Jordan, Salt Lake City school districts and at the American Preparatory Academy charter school.

My college degrees are in elementary and early childhood education and I have done postgraduate work in public education administration. I taught first grade to college-level courses before leaving education to enter the business community. The experiences I have been accumulating as a guest teacher are primarily to develop a white paper that will call for additional funding for education in Utah.

The four items public education needs to cull from charters are: 1) a well-defined and consistent application of behavioral rules and regulations in the classroom; 2) consistent rewards for positive behaviors; 3) student learning plans and homework; and 4) intensive involvement of parents.

Public schools operate with a variety of behavior management policies varying across the state’s districts and within schools. There is much discretion left to teachers and administration. One telling example, a teacher in one class does not allow cellphones but another in the same school does.

APA has a well-defined approach to discipline. During the registration process, the parent signs a “contract” that states agreement with the behavioral processes, including a clear dress code. There are boards, composed of parents, formed for reviewing specific and exceptional behavioral violations at which the parent and child appear. The board can decide to expel the child.

Across the APA system, the positive behavior reinforcement is consistent in the five schools; it is in the DNA of the system. Students are rewarded constantly within a school and, if they transfer to another APA school, the policies follow.

I am not one who subscribes to the fluid behavior management in public schools defended by such statements that charter schools are “voluntary” but public schools are “required.” I would venture to say that if some public schools experiment by defining those characteristics of APA, enrollment would go through the roof.

Students are most likely to be in control of their own behavior when they know what is expected of them, particularly when the parent also knows and has agreed to what is expected.

Students in elementary school carry learning plans. Teachers check the lesson learned at the previous class as the students work through the day. The plan is taken home each day for the parent/guardian to initial. This home check process cements the thread from teacher to student to parent participation in the pupil’s progress. This process states to the student that the school and the home are a contiguous thread, predictable, and consistent room to room and school to school in the APA system.

In secondary school, students are required to carry planners that record their work for every day. This focus reinforces what the student has accomplished and what to anticipate.

Homework is required, which is agreed to by the parent at registration. A student may complete homework in school at times, but most is done at home with an hour per day requirement. Homework is a great reinforcer for what is taught during the day. I believe the homework/no homework debate is misguided: the massive content that needs to be taught in this technical age cannot be done by understaffed classrooms in a typical day; the reinforcement solidifies the day’s work; the parent is engaged in the teacher-student learning process; and all students are engaged in the same process at every school. When schools are understaffed, homework provides necessary reinforcement.

Additionally, internet access provides parents access to content with which they may not be familiar but can be instrumental by reinforcing the school/home learning process through homework. Translations for parents whose English is new can access free translations online; this paragraph was translated to Samoan in a tenth of a second. There are apps like Photomath in which one can have problems solved and state the process for the solution.

The charter school experience states to me that clear and consistent behavior management processes and communication channel engaging the home and the school provide continuity of the home experience and make known to the student that the home and the school are a continuous thread.

Terry Marasco

Terry Marasco, Salt Lake City, is a businessman and community activist.