The most crucial aspect of any such bill must be the presence of a strong system of accountability that makes it undeniable that charter schools are indeed "public" and subject to the same accountability as other schools, with open records and open meetings provisions that assure a full public vetting.
The most dubious aspect of charter schools is that without such provisions it is not clear that charter schools are constitutional in Kentucky. The argument goes like this: As the Rose case (Rose v Council for Better Education, 1989) made clear, the legislature is solely responsible for maintaining an efficient system of schools that is both equitable, and adequate to meet the goals of the state. Without steadfast oversight, the legislature cannot truly know how its schools are performing. And the legislature cannot satisfy its constitutional mandate by delegating it.
Unlike most of my public school colleagues, I am not dead-set against charters. I think of myself as a supporter - although admittedly a very weak supporter. I am certainly proud of my son Travis who teaches AP Econ/World Civ and coaches at a Charter high school in Georgia. I suppose, any kind of school is a good school that serves its students well. But the legislature ought not content itself with the notion that charter legislation will create a few new schools. Their responsibility is to the entire system of schools.
Charter schools should not be thought of as a "treatment" for perceived social ills. All charters are not alike. Decidedly not. It tells me nothing when researchers suggest that the act of attending a charter school will somehow equate to any particular outcome. That's like telling a patient that taking a pill will cure them. It all depends on an appropriately efficacious pill. The wrong pill might just kill ya.
The best charter schools produce great outcomes for kids. The worst actually cause students to lose ground!? ...as if they would have been better off to stay home that year. Like all other classes of schools, public and private alike, most perform in the middle somewhere.
Besides, it takes a whole lot more than charter schools to close achievement gaps across the system. That starts with opportunity.
In its publication, "Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide," The Prichard Committee correctly summarized the national charter school data reporting:
- Early charters promised better, more accountable schools, but results are a mix
- Many very high performers, many poor ones, plenty in the middle
- On average, about average
- Data suggests strong authorizers and high standards, charters consistently perform well.
- A charter school can fail faster…they don’t have the support.
As I was reviewing the topic for this piece, I stumbled across a couple of items we posted here in 2009 and 2010. One of them ran in the Herald-Leader. They still hold up pretty well, in general, so I thought I'd rerun them as background for the upcoming debate. The first is mine, and the second was penned by former OEA honcho Penny Sanders. Please forgive the dated references.
This from the Herald-Leader:
Ky. coming late to battle for soul of charter schools movementBy Richard Day
Around the time charter schools first began to appear in Minnesota, Kentucky was neck-deep in the Kentucky Education Reform Act, the most sweeping set of school reforms undertaken by any state at any one time.
As a result, there was little interest on the part of the legislature, or the press for that matter, in allowing Kentucky schools to veer from the KERA's path.
Everybody's hands were full. The new law was already being attacked from the right and supporters worried there might not be enough votes to sustain KERA in 1996.
Meanwhile, the Patton administration took the position that "Kentucky is not ready for charter schools."
The idea for charters began around 1988 with Albert Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers. Shanker proposed that teachers who believed they had a better approach for helping the toughest students, ought to be able to get permission from their districts to try. Such experimental schools would directly target dropouts and likely dropouts.
The schools would be given a specific charter — a mission, if you will. Their successes would improve equity in the school system.
Since charter schools would experiment with new approaches, regulations governing curriculum and instruction would have to be waived. Any improvements that could be validated would be shared. Thus, charter schools were seen as an effort to strengthen the public schools, not to make losers of them. That idea came later, and from others who were much less interested in the public schools' success.
While the American economy soared in the early 1990s, Bill Gates was becoming the world's richest man. To his credit, he made retirement plans that included spending 90 percent of his personal wealth by supporting important causes, including education.
The $43 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent hundreds of millions on public schools. The foundation's first effort — to make inner city high schools excellent by making them smaller — was an admitted failure. But undaunted, Gates nimbly moved on to new ideas, one of which was promoting charter schools.
As more charters arose, a new and more opportunistic breed of charter operator began to shift attention away from the original mission of improving the public schools while helping the least among us, to providing parents with public funds they could use to escape them both. Charter schools were starting to resegregate as birds of a feather exercised school choice.
When Shanker first saw such developments, he renounced his own idea. He came to believe that charters, once established, turned into a form of privatization that was indistinguishable from vouchers and he began to fight against charters as a threat to public education.
Conservatives argued that charter schools provide "school choice." They claimed that the public schools were bad and — forgetting recent lessons from Wall Street — that deregulated competition was inherently good.
In Kentucky, the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions went further, promoting the addition of vouchers, and the subtraction of the Kentucky Education Association.
Interestingly, BIPPS found an unlikely ally in the Rev. Jerry Stephenson and the equity-minded Kentucky Education Restoration Alliance.
Apparently fed up with certain persistently low-performing schools in Jefferson County, and perhaps lacking faith in Superintendent Sheldon Berman — who in 2004 sued to stop charters in Massachusetts — the Alliance sought to create better schools for inner-city kids and locked arms with BIPPS to promote charter schools.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says that he is no great fan of charters, but supports them under the right circumstances and with sufficient community oversight. He has 175 million reasons to give them a try. But he wisely insists that all publicly supported schools, charter and otherwise, must be accountable for results.
Hoping to avoid the lax oversight that has existed in other states, Kentucky's HB 109 places primary oversight with the local school boards. But the bill fails to specify the conditions under which a charter might be granted. Gov. Steve Beshear is considering a special session to give the bill the public vetting it needs.
During a recent appearance at Eastern Kentucky University, Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, put the charter school issue into perspective. She told the audience that there are people in the charter world who want to make a difference for kids — and there are wonderful examples of charter schools.
But there are others in the charter movement who are just about freedom from regulations and whose results are worse than some of the worst traditional public schools.
"There is a battle going on for the soul of charter schools, she said. "It is very important who wins that battle."
Richard Day is a former elementary school principal who writes a blog on educational issues.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
By Penney Sanders
http://theprincipal.blogspot.com/2009/06/kentucky-should-consider-small-nimble.htmlThe lazy days of summer have started early for me. I have been in vacation mode for several weeks-so now I am catching up and there are some surprises!
Last week I noted that some of KY’s political leaders had finally discovered Charter schools. After years of refusing to discuss charters and excoriating any person or group who dared suggest that such a discussion might be appropriate, Charters are now on the state’s education policy agenda. KY is coming to the party late and only because the Feds are probably going to require that any state receiving Stimulus or other federal funding must have, at the very least, charter legislation.
Once again, the motivation is the money, not that it might be the right thing to do or that it could be beneficial for students.
Charter Schools are neither a panacea for all educational ills nor the undoing of public schools. In fact, they are simply a public school operated under a different accountability structure. Some entity other than the school district holds the “Charter” and thus, the responsibility and accountability for the school’s performance. Think of them as a “hybrid.”
In most instances, employees in a Charter work without tenure. The Principal reports to the entity that holds the Charter as well as to the State and the school district. However, his/her ultimate accountability rests with the chartering authority.
Charters may adopt a longer school day or year. Some Charters offer a Saturday program as part of their regular curriculum. They may adopt discipline codes and academic expectations which could be more stringent than those of the school district.
Additionally, Charter schools select their students. As a result, significant and meaningful parent participation is generally a requirement.
My introduction to Charter Schools was several years ago when I did some consulting work in Indianapolis. At that time the Mayor of Indy, Bart Peterson, was very concerned about persistently low performing schools that served minority populations.
As a result of his concern and those of the business community, he created 10 Charter schools for the purpose of serving areas of the city that had low performing schools. Each of the Charter principals reported directly to the Mayor’s office.
Generally, the schools were staffed by relatively young teachers who were willing to forego their contractual guarantees to teach in these schools. For purposes of pension and other benefits, they remained “in the system”. Furthermore, the school received additional funding based on student achievement/improvement as measured by the ISTEP (Indiana’s annual assessment) and other indicators as identified by the Charter holder.
The major difference I noted between a “regular” public school and the Charter was in the annual accountability review. There were significant consequences for the school if students failed to make annual progress.
Operationally, I found the schools very lean and very focused. Generally, they were small, fewer than 300 students and designed to be responsive to the needs of the students. Because of their small size, they were quick to turn and make needed adjustments i.e. staff changes, moving a student to another grade, adding instructional materials or programs.
There are now 18 Charter schools in Indy including a KIPP school (Knowledge is Power Program) as well as a different mayor who has maintained and expanded city government’s involvement. Each school’s accountability report is on the City website.
Should KY decide to enable Charter schools. I doubt that we will see a Charter in every district. Nonetheless, a mayor, a civic group or a university could undertake creating a school and holding a Charter. This could be particularly effective in districts where there are persistently low performing schools.
Since KY will be one of the last states to adopt Charter legislation, we can benefit from the experience and mistakes of others. Model Charter programs exist in several cities. Perhaps we will choose to learn from the best.
Support for Charters is just one policy direction from the new administration.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, formerly Chancellor of the Chicago Schools, is a strong Charter advocate. The early indicators are that he will link funding to the availability of alternatives, specifically Charters and thus, KY’s sudden interest.
As the summer progresses, a clearer picture of President Obama’s education agenda will emerge. I will be most interested in the administration’s plans for persistently failing schools as well as the accountability measures for all schools and the consequences for leadership in schools that fail to meet standards(to be defined at some point).