Tag Archive for: Orange County Classical Academy

Huge Waiting List for Orange County Classical Academy

In the 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, there is an unforgettable scene, where parents and children anxiously await the results of a lottery. A lucky few will be able to enroll their children in a charter school. These New York City schools only have capacity to admit one in twenty of the applicants.

Charter schools are public schools and receive public funds, but they have the freedom to design innovative curricula. As documented in Waiting for Superman, as well as in more recent studies, charter schools on average deliver better academic results for less money. And since every charter school attracts students based on parental choice, underperforming charter schools do not last.

Across California, where barely ten percent of K-12 public schools are charters, the Waiting for Superman scenario plays out year after year. A new charter school in Orange County, the Orange County Classical Academy, offers yet another example. The upcoming 2021-2022 academic year will only be this primary school’s second year of operation, but they have over 500 applicants on their waiting list with only 60 slots available.

The Orange County Classical Academy opened last fall with 360 students, comprised of two 30 student classes at each grade level from kindergarten through fifth grade. Their plan is to add a grade level each year in order for the existing students to advance all the way through 12th grade while staying at the school. Hence for 2021-2022 they will add two 6th grade classrooms and grow the student body to 420 students. Their retention rate is nearly 100 percent. While five students disenrolled, it was because their families moved out of state.

“Our curricula is something many parents are desiring,” said Semi Park, headmaster at OCCA, who acknowledged the need to open more schools to accommodate the demand. But doing that is a tough battle. Charter schools face a hostile political climate, due to unrelenting opposition from the teachers’ union.

When OCCA’s charter was approved, pro-charter members held a 4-3 majority on the board of the Orange County Unified School District. In a contentious meeting back in January 2020, opponents of the school chanted “we will remember in November.” They made good on their promise, since in November 2020 the union backed candidates, grossly outspending the pro-charter candidates, clawed one seat back. The district now has a 4-3 anti-charter board of directors.

According to the Orange County Register, opponents of OCCA on the school board claimed “the projected enrollment is overly optimistic.” That clearly wasn’t the case. But other objections made by opponents to OCCA reveal a teachers union – and progressive mentality in general – that may be sharply out of touch with what parents want.

One of the board members at Orange Unified who expressed concerns about OCCA was Kathryn Moffat. Her remarks might typify how opponents view charters in general, and OCCA in particular.

Quoting from the Orange County Register: “Kathryn Moffat, the school board’s vice president who voted against the petition, said she is concerned given the school’s curriculum is developed by Hillsdale College, a private Christian college in Michigan, it will have a religious and cultural bias. Given the school will be publicly funded, it’s inappropriate for the board to accept the petition.”

Echoing rhetoric that spews nonstop from California’s leftist teachers unions, Moffat went on to say that after researching the curriculum, she found “the focus to be on western civilization, and Judeo-Christian concepts, values and beliefs to the exclusion of others.”

But there is a difference between adopting a curriculum that emulates time-tested classical education techniques that were in common use until just a few decades ago, and putting an inordinate “focus on western civilization.” Similarly, there is a difference between teaching values based on Judeo-Christian concepts, and operating a religious school.

When headmaster Semi Park was reached for comments regarding the curricula at OCCA, the overall impression she conveyed was that “classical education,” which the teachers union attempts to stigmatize as “exclusionary” is actually a well rounded, practical course of study.

“Classical education has a different mission,” she said, “our goal isn’t just to get students into a great college, our goal is to raise them into virtuous citizens. Virtue is one of the most important aspects of classical education, and it isn’t just the religious aspect. Aristotle defined virtue as the highest form of happiness. Classical education teaches moral virtue and intellectual virtue. But you must teach moral virtue first. As our students learn to be honest and responsible, they are then able to develop their intellectual virtue.”

Park described the study of intellectual virtue as having two parts, human and nonhuman. “The human is when students learn about themselves and their relationship with others,” she said, “the nonhuman is learning about the world.” She described how the curriculum involves recitation and memorization, where the students are not only graded on memorization, but they are also graded on their posture, tone, confidence, and voice level.

As for practical content, the students study a broad range of subjects, including literacy (learning how to read), literature (reading good classic novels), writing, grammar, math, history, geography, science, art, music, and Latin. As Park put it, “there is no time to get bored.”

Objective data on how OCCA’s student body will perform on standardized academic achievement tests will be available sometime this summer, although the tests being administered this May are less comprehensive than normal because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Which segues into the topic that no report on a K-12 public charter school can ignore; how did OCCA fare during the pandemic?

Schools that remained open in California for in-person classes, which would be most nonunionized schools (which are mostly charter and private schools) were required to offer distance learning to parents who preferred that option. At OCCA, according to Park, 98 percent of the parents wanted their children to attend in-person classes. OCCA followed all of the guidelines regarding cleaning and disinfecting, masks, etc., and there have been only 10 cases of COVID, five of them asymptomatic and the other five mild cases. This certainly compares favorably to rates in the general population, i.e., there is no evidence keeping OCCA open for in-person instruction resulted in any excess infections.

As OCCA prepares to enter its second year, and supporters of OCCA consider how to cope with a political environment that overwhelmingly favors the agenda of the teachers’ union, the fact that more than twice as many children want to attend OCCA than the number of slots available is the most telling variable. Classical education develops the whole person, preparing them to succeed in life. Unsurprisingly, that’s what parents want for their children.

As Semi Park put it, “We are very humbled and grateful to see such a high demand.”

Waiting For Superman has come to Southern California.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Globe.

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Orange County Classical Academy Excels Despite COVID

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck hard back in April 2020, California’s teachers’ unions went into overdrive. The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) released a lengthy document outlining what they believed to be “Safe and Equitable Conditions for Starting LAUSD in 2020-21.”

In a report published by the California Policy Center that same month, Larry Sand explained the deal struck between the school district and the UTLA:

“The deal engineered by UTLA boss Alex Caputo-Pearl requires teachers to provide instruction and student support for just four hours per day and also to ‘host three office hours for students’ every week. So instead of a 40-hour work week, teachers in L.A. only have to be available for 23 hours. Additionally, teachers can create their own work schedules ‘and not be required to teach classes using live video conferencing platforms.'”

The consequences of deals like this on the lives of California’s public school students, especially those in low income communities, has been disastrous. But there is an alternative.

The Orange County Classical Academy (OCCA), a new charter school that was approved to operate in a 4-3 vote by the board of the Orange County Unified School District back in January, opened its doors this fall to 360 elementary school students. As described in a report published by the California Policy Center in July, it was evident that this school was going to be no ordinary charter school. But how have things progressed, now that the school has been in session for three months?

To answer this, I recently spoke with the co-founder and board chairman of the Orange County Classical Academy, Dr. Jeff Barke, a practicing primary care physician and former 12-year elected school board member for the Los Alamitos Unified School District. He immediately confirmed that, unlike LAUSD, their school had opened on schedule with in-person instruction. Compliant with all COVID mandates including wearing masks, Barke said “the school is full with 360 kids and we still have a waiting list of another 200.” While the school offers distance learning as an option, only a few parents have made that choice for their children.

An immediate question with respect to in-class instruction is whether or not there were outbreaks of COVID infections. Barke was unequivocal on this, stating “out of 360 kids we only had one kid test positive and they had very mild symptoms. We have had zero teachers or staff test positive. All persons entering the school are asked about symptoms and temperature checked. Our classrooms and school are routinely and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Hand washing stations are located throughout the school. Testing is offered to all teachers and staff.”

As a charter school OCCA receives public funds, but their per student remittances are less than what traditional public schools receive. Parents of public school children enrolled in LAUSD and other closed or partially closed school districts should ask why OCCA can safely open for in-class instruction, but their schools cannot. But this distinction, while huge, is only one way OCCA is different from a typical public school in California.

What truly differentiates OCCA is their instructional approach. They have thrown away recent “innovations” such as Common Core and returned to traditional methods of teaching reading and math. For guidance they have licensed the curriculum and teacher training programs created for K-12 charter schools by Hillsdale College, a program that is used so far by 24 charter schools in ten states. The Hillsdale curriculum offers a fascinating alternative to progressive education, based on classical education techniques perfected over centuries.

For example, the curriculum architecture is defined by the “Trivium,” which consists of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the “Quadrivium,” which consists of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.

How these concepts translate into practical instruction is not all that complicated. The Trivium encompasses subjects in the human sphere such as history, where the grammar phase emphasizes memorization, the logic phase teaches how memorized facts fit together, and the rhetoric phase teaches students how to express and evaluate facts and logic.

The Quadrivium focuses on subjects in the natural world, where arithmetic teaches about numbers, geometry teaches about numbers in space, music teaches about numbers in time, and astronomy teaches about numbers in time and space. These unifying concepts, which date to teaching methods employed in ancient Greece, offer students a way to consider in a very early and very profound way who they are in relation to the world.

The advantages of memorization should be obvious, despite being deemphasized in modern progressive curriculums. OCCA students learn the multiplication tables by heart, something all students used to do, a skill that will benefit them for the rest of their lives, and a process that naturally leads to students developing the numerical intuition that Common Core so clumsily leapfrogs to without requiring traditional memorization.

It is a few months too early to see how the OCCA students perform on standardized achievement tests, but parent feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. For example, and again dodging Common Core for more time-tested approaches, students learn to read by memorizing the phonetics of the most common syllables. Parents have reportedly been astonished at the sudden rapid progress in the reading ability of their children.

Establishing OCCA wasn’t easy. It was approved in a narrow vote by the local school board, over the strenuous objections of the teachers’ union. The fact that OCCA is non unionized, with a generous 401K plan instead of belonging to CalSTRS, represents a threat to the union grip on public education in California. The school’s rejection of progressive education in favor of a classical education also represents a threat to the teachers’ union, a threat that will greatly increase if the school delivers academic outcomes that surpass the performance of traditional public schools.

Once OCCA began operations, Barke said various types of intimidation began, although to-date it is impossible to prove who is behind it. “We have people driving by our school raising their middle finger out the window during pickup and dropoff,” he said, “we had someone on a motorcycle without a license plate on it stopping by and video taping our school, trying to find evidence of a COVID violation.”

The question everyone interested in the welfare of California’s children should be asking, however, is not what the impact of a truly innovative, non-unionized public charter school might have on the future of the teachers’ union. The relevant question is do the practices being pioneered at OCCA work? In terms of educational outcomes, do they offer a significant improvement over traditional public schools? The beauty of charter schools, or, in a perfect world, school vouchers, is that parents can choose from an assortment of educational options, and the ones that are successful can be replicated and the ones that fail go out of business.

To the future of OCCA and classical education, Barke only had this to say: “We now have our eye on opening additional schools.”

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

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The Orange County Classical Academy Will Transform Education in California

In barely one month, 360 elementary school students will begin attending a new charter school that offers a dramatic departure from the failed public education model in California. The Orange County Classical Academy (OCCA) will open its doors to kindergarten through 5th grade students, and apart from the student demographics, nothing about this school fits the conventional mode.

Despite being one of the most encouraging developments in California’s public education in, say, the last 50 years, it is a sad testament to the times we live in that what OCCA is doing is considered revolutionary. Here is a brief summary of how OCCA differs from literally every traditional public elementary school in California:

First of all, they are scrapping the Common Core approach to teaching English and math, and they are making the sex education curriculum “non-pornographic, age appropriate, and medically accurate.” Since Common Core and the recently revised state sex education guidelines have been unpopular with parents and are of dubious value if not actually harmful to students, these are both big changes. Moreover, the sex education curricula being used at OCCA will be made transparent to parents and will facilitate a simple opt out should parents desire that for their children.

Second, OCCA is a licensed operator to use the K-12 curriculum developed by Hillsdale College. Currently there are 20 charter schools in ten U.S. states that already use the Hillsdale model, which is patterned according to their approach to college education. This format is based on the traditions of Western Civilization. Specifically, the lessons acknowledge America’s important role in the world, embracing the Judeo-Christian principles as expressed by the founders of America. These lessons do not apologize for Western traditions, and will allow all of the students early exposure to the greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Homer, and so on.

The students will even be taught Latin as their foreign language, with all the benefits and insights early instruction in Latin facilitates: Ease in learning any Romance language, and familiarity with the roots of most medical, scientific, and professional terms in common use in the English language.

Third, the way OCCA intends to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic is based on expert medical advice and is unaffected by the opportunistic demands of the teachers unions. OCCA intends to open with no requirement for face coverings for either students or teachers, although all will be free to wear them if they wish. They will be having normal classroom instruction without social distancing or distance learning. This policy is based on virtually all medical data so far indicating that COVID-19 is not dangerous to children, and is almost never spread by asymptomatic children, combined with the fact that wearing face masks and enforcing social distancing is harmful to the the psyche and the social and intellectual development of children.

None of these revolutionary intentions of OCCA would be within weeks of realization were it not for a long, bitter fight the organizers had to wage with the teachers union and the politicians they control. Charter schools, along with home schooling, religious schools, and private schools, all constitute a mortal threat to the teachers union monopoly. The impact of the teachers union is felt throughout public K-12 education, but especially in low income communities.

This was proven during the Vergara case, which attempted to reform union work rules that were crippling public education in California, but was dismissed on a technicality back in 2016. In the closing arguments, the attorney for the plaintiffs – often using testimony from expert witnesses for opposing counsel – demonstrated that inadequate wait time for tenure, layoff policies favoring seniority over merit, and almost impossible criteria to justify termination, had a disproportionate negative impact on low income communities.

What OCCA intends to do, promoting Western values instead of claiming the West is the scourge of human history and the scapegoat upon which to blame all travails of “disadvantaged” communities, is equally anathema to the teachers union. OCCA’s focus on classical education is an audacious, uncompromising challenge to the leftist indoctrination that sadly informs nearly everything taught these days in California’s traditional public schools. In an overt slap to the unions, OCCA even intends to include in their instructional materials videos from Prager University, an institution that is loathed by the Left. How on earth was OCCA approved to begin operations?

The Political Fight to Establish the Orange County Classical Academy

For years, parents upset with the state of California’s unionized public schools have fielded candidates for school district boards and county boards of education. In Orange County, after years of effort, they have logged some victories. In the Orange County Unified School District, of which OCCA is a part, pro-charter reformers currently hold a 4-3 governing majority. The meeting when OCCA was approved to open as a charter school was an epic moment.

In support of OCCA, over 200 parents and pro-charter advocates showed up, outnumbering the large contingent of union backers. During the contentious meeting, unable to voice arguments that matched the facts and logic put forth by supporters of OCCA, the union crowd repetitively chanted “we will remember in November.” This is not an empty threat. California’s teachers unions are among the most powerful political players in California. To retake control of the Orange County Unified School District school board, they will spend millions to support the campaigns of their candidates this November.

Fortunately, in California it is still possible for charter schools that are denied a permit to operate by their local school district to appeal to their county board of education. And on the Orange County Board of Education, pro-charter reformers hold a 4-1 majority, which will be much harder for the unions to overcome. Moreover, these unions are racing against time.

Already, as abundantly clear during the initial canvassing for students to enroll in OCCA, parents overwhelmingly support charter schools. They are especially enthusiastic about OCCA’s avowed stance on providing a classical education that promotes traditional moral values and delivers a patriotic perspective on American history. Dumping common core, getting the extremist filth out of sex education, and focusing on education fundamentals is something most parents prefer. This is repeatedly demonstrated in the perpetual waiting lists for admission to charter schools, including OCCA.

Only about ten percent of California’s students have the opportunity to attend charter schools, thanks to years of opposition from union backed school board candidates on school boards and a state legislature that is dominated by union backed politicians. Obviously some charter schools are more excellent than others, and there are cases where the local public schools are themselves very excellent. But allowing parents a choice, especially in the communities most victimized by the union monopoly on public education, means charter schools are always held to a high standard.

The success of OCCA, as a charter school with an instructional model perhaps further removed from the traditional unionized public school than any to-date, means its success will reverberate around the state, awakening voters, energizing parents, inspiring similar ventures, empowering students, transforming education, and eventually, realigning California politics. CTA, CFT, watch out. Reformers are fighting back harder than ever, and at last, they’re starting to win.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

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