Prescott Elementary School in Dubuque is one of Iowa's three remaining charter schools
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -
A decade ago, charter schools were seen as a way to improve education in America, but the number of charter schools in Iowa has now dropped to just three.
That's down from the state's high of eight about six years ago.
Charter schools are public schools that any students in the district can attend. Educators there have the flexibility to teach Iowa's required core curriculum in creative ways.
One explanation for Iowa's low number of charter schools may be because only school districts can run a charter school. In states such as Minnesota that have more charter schools that Iowa does, other groups -- such as arts organizations -- can run charter schools.
Iowa Department of Education spokesperson Jim Flansburg said the Iowa Department of Education asked the Legislature in 2012 to allow entities beyond just school districts to open and operate charter schools.
The Legislature, however, declined to change the law.
This week, two of Iowa's three schools got their charters renewed for another four years.
One of those schools is Prescott Elementary in the Dubuque Community School District. It has been a charter school for eight years and is now Iowa's only remaining charter elementary school.
Second graders at Prescott read, wrote and drew quietly early Friday afternoon as part of their "readers and workshop time."
Instead of slots of time set aside specifically for just reading or just science, Prescott wraps up all the required core curriculum into something called "expeditionary learning."
Prescott's principal Chris McCarron said expeditionary learning is "where all of the curriculum is taught in an integrated style, and we have in-depth, project-based, authentic learning-kind of 'units' or 'learning expeditions.'"
Expeditionary learning also takes students out into the community on frequent field trips, "on purposeful investigations," McCarron said.
The school also brings "community experts into the classroom, because we want our kids to know learning is beyond a teacher giving information," McCarron said. "The world is filled with ways to access information."
Additionally, an infusion of the arts makes Prescott unique as a charter.
"We offer before-school, free arts programming," McCarron said. That's in addition to infusing each learning expedition with some art form as well.
Amanda McTague is a second grade teacher at Prescott and went to the Iowa State Board of Education's charter renewal hearing Thursday in Des Moines.
"The part that was really exciting was the affirmation that they gave us, that, 'Yes, this is the reason we have charter schools in the state of Iowa, to be innovative in how we are teaching students and assessing students in what they're learning,'" McTague said.
For all of Prescott's success as a charter, however, it's also considered a school in need of assistance, based on its state test scores -- and has been for the past eight years.
Iowa law states charter schools cannot have any geographic boundaries, so any elementary school-aged student in the Dubuque Community School District can enroll at Prescott, as long as there is space available.
As a charter school, Prescott also has class-size caps. For kindergarten and first grade, it's 20 students. For second and third grade, it's 22. And for fourth and fifth grade, it's 24 students.
Iowa's two other charter schools are Northeast Iowa Charter High School in Maynard and Storm Lake / Iowa Central / Buena Vista Early College Charter High School in Storm Lake.
Jim Flansburg said there is no limit to how many charter schools Iowa can have.