Friday, January 30, 2015

Early preparation translates to lifelong success

This from Helen Carroll in the Ledger Independent:
Recent headlines screamed: “only half of Kentucky’s children are prepared for kindergarten.”
Helen Carroll
The number is even worse in Mason County. A recent report shows only 48.7 percent of Mason County students are prepared.

So, now what?

What will it take to ensure our children are prepared for kindergarten, ready to learn?
Through public/private partnerships in the state of Kentucky, I believe we’ve found a way to give young children a stronger foundation, to get them ready for school, before they even enter kindergarten. We think a big part of the solution is United Way Born Learning Academies.

These academies – free to families – teach parents and caregivers of children from prenatal to 5 years of age how to turn everyday moments into learning opportunities through a series of six monthly workshops. In other words, as one parent participant and mother of two said: “It’s not about going to buy this book or getting this toy. It’s understanding there are learning opportunities with what your child is already doing -- like talking about patterns by having my daughter choose striped pants or polka-dot pants. It’s creating moments out of what’s already there ... It’s about not letting these opportunities pass you by.”

The academies were created through a unique partnership that includes Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, United Way of Northern Kentucky Success by Six, United Way of Kentucky and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. To date, Toyota’s $1 million investment through 2016 has resulted in Born Learning Academies operating in 33 elementary schools in the state — nearly halfway to their goal of 70 schools.

Our initial hope that this program would be emulated, duplicated, copied by others who see early childhood education as the important launching pad for a successful school experience is happening. Recently, Gov. Steve Beshear announced a nearly $1 million federal Race to the Top grant that will build upon the program’s success and be patterned after the United Way/Toyota model. The Governor’s Office of Early Childhood and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, both early supporters, now play an important role, along with the Division of Family Resource and Youth Services Centers, in expanding Born Learning Academies to 220 total schools over the next four years.

Helping us to get there are the “headlines” themselves. We have been waiting to find out just where we stand in regard to “kindergarten readiness.” Now, by way of the Kentucky Department of Education’s state findings we have a baseline — just half of students are prepared. Game on!
Speaking of data gathering, we do have strong indicators of success of the United Way Born Learning program. The first-ever Academy, held at Beechgrove Elementary in Independence, Ky., in 2010, found 92 percent of the students whose families attended at least one Born Learning Academy in the past four years received recognition for Proficient, Distinguished or Growth on their Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress assessment. This assessment measures skill level in various subjects (dependent on grade level) beginning in third grade. These 24 students (original Born Learning Academy participants) are now in third, fourth or fifth grade.

Now, I’m not saying that Born Learning is the sole reason these students hit these skill levels – many other factors are involved. However, as explained by the Family Research Council, “children with active, involved parents who help with their schooling will achieve the most success long-term.”

And, that is what the United Way Born Learning Academies are all about – focusing on parental involvement by engaging parents in hands-on workshops that teach them specific activities they can do with their children, allow them to try them out as a group, then, take them home to enjoy extended learning as a family. It may be as simple as taking a spaghetti strainer and testing different materials. What happens when we pour in flour? What about water? Do you want to pour some peas in here to see what happens? What do you think will occur? The child is using scientific inquiry and the caregiver can incorporate measurement, estimation and other math concepts.

Why is this important?

Studies show that 90 percent of a child’s brain development has occurred by age 5; also, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, “students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times less likely to graduate high school than those who read at a proficient level.”

Unfortunately, preschool programs where a child hones in on many of these skills are not an equal-opportunity educator. Private preschool programs cost money; and, many parents cannot afford to send their child. That’s why it’s so important for parents to know what they can do at home, at no cost, to help set their children up for success. And so it goes ...

More reason for employers like Toyota to get involved in this crucial shortcoming. More reason for additional non-profit organizations like United Way of Kentucky to jump on board and combat our lack of early childhood education. And, more reason for the Commonwealth to find more funding sources to provide programs that will lift our state — as it did with the Race to the Top funding.
If we prepare our children now, at a young age, we will raise successful students who become tomorrow’s equipped and competitive workforce. We can, and we must, turn the statistics around by creating a stronger learning environment for Kentucky’s children. We must partner with parents and caregivers and work as a community to foster early childhood development and help grow Kentucky’s future leaders.

It is not a numbers game. It is one child, one family at a time.

Helen Carroll is interim president of the United Way of Kentucky. She is also a board member of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Anatomy of a Paper Class

As the News & Observer reported, the athletes at the University of North Carolina took to calling her “Professor Debby.”
She wasn’t a professor, of course. She was hired as a “student services manager,” a form of administrative assistant in the African and Afro-American Studies department. She worked there for three decades. 

But Crowder masterminded the 18-year bogus class scheme that was laid out in breathtaking detail [in October] by Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor whose team interviewed 126 people and plowed through 1.6 million electronic documents in search of the truth behind the scandal in Chapel Hill. 

People [are] still reeling...from what Wainstein had revealed. They wondered: How could one office manager perpetrate a fraud that has dealt this punishing blow to the reputation of the nation’s oldest public university? 

How could Crowder have set up hundreds of illegitimate independent studies and classes that never met? How could she have cultivated such a following that more than 3,100 students and athletes slipped into the fake classes? And how did she retire in 2009 without ever having been caught for such a spectacular scam?
Surely, part of the answer lies in a human dynamic we all know well. What does one do with information that could prove damaging to the institution one loves? In this case, a faculty leader at UNC-Chapel Hill watered down a 2012 report into academic fraud to lessen the chances the NCAA would come back to campus. According to university correspondence...

Faculty Council Chairman Jan Boxill sent...three faculty authors a last-minute email. It suggested they rewrite a sentence that painted a picture of a department manager creating bogus classes to protect athletes’ eligibility to play sports.
Jan Boxill

The authors grudgingly agreed to it, and some key information disappeared from the final version.

Boxill wrote that the request came from other faculty on the council’s executive committee. “The worry is that this could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention,” she said in the email.
One can identify with the external pressures and internal conflicts individuals must have felt at the time, but as the faculty's elected leader, knowingly obfuscating an athletic motive behind the scandal was totally inappropriate. As Faculty Council Chair, Boxill was one of UNC’s top academic officials. 

Boxill, 74, began teaching at UNC in 1985, but she had also been involved nearly as long in advising athletes. A former women’s basketball coach at the University of Tampa, Boxill became an academic counselor to UNC athletes in 1988 and has served as a broadcaster of the university’s women’s basketball games. She is senior lecturer in the philosophy department, and her expertise includes ethics in sports.

Because of the murky report, the offense would remain hidden for months and months. More facts are emerging as this week two former UNC athletes filed a lawsuit against their alma mater and the NCAA, seeking class-action status, and damages for academic fraud.
The suit alleges that ...
Julius Nyang' oro
From 1989 to 2011, NCAA member school UNC furnished academically unsound classes that provided deficient educational instruction to thousands of students—chief among them nearly 2,000 college athletes. UNC offered dozens of sham “paper classes” that were designed not to educate but rather to maintain UNC’s student-athletes’ academic eligibility—i.e., to keep them on the field. And over time these paper classes calcified into a “shadow curriculum” in which no course attendance was required and no faculty were involved. 
AFAM Student Services Manager Deborah Crowder, an administrator who was not a member of the faculty, first conceived of UNC’s paper classes, under the supervision of AFAM Chair Julius Nyang’oro. In or around 1989, Crowder initiated a series of independent studies courses and invited enrollment from student-athletes. Unlike traditional independent studies classes at UNC, no faculty member was involved in managing the courses or supervising students' research and writing. In fact, the student-athletes who enrolled in paper classes never had a single interaction with a faculty member; their only interaction was with Crowder. During much of the Class Period, Crowder managed these paper classes from beginning to end, but she provided the students with no actual instruction. She registered the selected students for the classes; she assigned them their paper topics; she received their completed papers at the end of the semester; she graded the papers; and she recorded the students’ final class grades on the grade rolls. 

In this September 2008 email exchange...Crowder and women's basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill discuss an essay grade for a women's basketball player:  
Crowder: As long as I am here I will try to accommodate as many favors as possible. Did you say a D will do for [basketball player]? I'm only asking that because 1. no sources, 2. it has absolutely nothing to do with the assignments for that class and 3. it seems to me to be a recycled paper. She took AFRI in spring of 2007 and that was likely for that class. 

Boxill: Yes, a D will be fine; that's all she needs. I didn't look at the paper but figured it was a recycled one as well, but I couldn't figure from where! Thanks for whatever you can do.
If a D is freely given for plagiarism, one wonders what kind of work earns an A?

UNC learning-specialist-turned-whistleblower Mary Willingham detailed how these paper classes worked. The classes, which were listed as "independent studies" in the course book, had no attendance, and students got credit for writing papers that always got either A's or B's. 

Willingham, who called the paper classes "scam classes," showed ESPN a writing sample of work one UNC athlete drafted for an introductory class in African American studies. It's a one-paragraph, 146-word "final paper" on Rosa Parks. 

Here's the text:
On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. "Let me have those front seats" said the driver. She didn't get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. "I'm going to have you arrested," said the driver. "You may do that," Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them "why do you all push us around?" The police officer replied and said "I don't know, but the law is the law and you're under arrest.
Former former UNC football player Deunta Williams told ESPN...
Williams: I think the coaches knew enough to understand what was going on. I think they knew about the system itself. And if a guy was in trouble, the immediate response was why not put him in a paper class where he can receive help. Get an A or a B out of this class for writing a good paper.
[Camera cuts to Willingham holding out the one-paragraph paper]
Willingham: This is not even close to college work, yet this athlete was awarded an A-.
This week's suit alleges that "from 1999 to 2011—at the encouragement and instruction of UNC athletic staff, faculty, academic-support counselors, and administrators—UNC football players enrolled in 963 AFAM paper classes; UNC men’s basketball players enrolled in 226 AFAM paper classes; UNC women’s basketball players enrolled in 114 AFAM paper classes.; and numerous other UNC student-athletes took many more such courses—all with no class attendance or meaningful faculty involvement. Those statistics do not include the number of student-athletes who took AFAM paper classes designed by Crowder and designated as “independent studies” though they had no faculty involvement."

“The faculty committee should not anticipate the audience or implications, 
but rather fulfill the charge they undertook” 
--- John Thelin, UK Professor and author of Games Colleges Play

Is there a UofL connection to the UNC story? Stay tuned.

The Fraud of the Student-Athlete Claim

This from the New York Times:
Two former athletes at the University of North Carolina have filed a lawsuit against their alma mater and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, accusing them of academic fraud. College athletes who sue for compensation is an old story. But, in this instance, Rashanda McCants, a former women’s basketball player, and Devon Ramsay, who played football, are suing because, they say, they didn’t receive a meaningful education. They are seeking class-action status, damages for some athletes and changes in academic oversight.

They have a credible case. In October, the university released a report by Kenneth Wainstein, a former general counsel at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, finding that from 1993 to 2011 thousands of students, almost half of them athletes, took classes that did not require work or that didn’t really exist. Students signed up for “independent study” courses in which they never met their professors and for lecture classes that never took place.

The failure to treat “student-athletes” as actual students goes beyond North Carolina. The lawyers representing Ms. McCants and Mr. Ramsay know that and take a swipe at the whole collegiate-athletic system: “The N.C.A.A. and its member schools insist that their mission and purpose is to educate and to prevent the exploitation of college athletes,” the lawsuit states. “Yet it is the schools, the conferences, and the N.C.A.A. that are engaging in exploitation, subverting the educational mission in the service of the big business of college athletics.”

Though it has yet to comment, the N.C.A.A. is well aware that it has a problem: It is investigating 20 universities on suspicion of academic misconduct, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. At a convention this month, the N.C.A.A.’s president, Mark Emmert, said the association had to “emphasize the centrality of academic success as the touchstone for why we participate in collegiate athletics” and wondered whether it needed to “consider new approaches — bolder, broader approaches?”

That rhetoric sounds nice, but the N.C.A.A. has historically stood in the way of reform by perpetuating the myth that being a “student” is always compatible with being an “athlete.” A swimmer, for instance, might manage to split time between the library and the pool, but a quarterback at one of the Big Five conferences probably can’t pull that off. The latter is an unpaid professional: He generates money for his coach, his athletic director, his university’s administrators — everyone but himself — and is expected to practice up to 50 hours a week during the football season.

What happened at North Carolina is shameful but not surprising. Until the N.C.A.A. recognizes that some players are essentially professionals, universities will continue to treat their education like the fig leaf it is. Young people enticed by the fantasy that they can play and learn at a high level will continue to suffer the consequences.

Lawsuit filed against NCAA, University of North Carolina in ‘paper class’ athletics scandal

This from the Washington Post:
UNC Pres. Tom Ross, and Chancellor Carol Folt
Two former University of North Carolina athletes have filed a lawsuit against the school and the NCAA in the wake of a far-reaching athletics scandal, alleging that they were deprived of a high-class education because of substandard courses.

Basketball player Rashanda McCants and football player Devon Ramsay are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which seeks to become a class action, which lawyers from Hausfeld LLP filed in Durham County Superior Court on Thursday. The former student athletes argue that so-called “paper classes” at the university, which apparently were designed for students to pass easily, deprived athletes of the education they were promised.
“This case arises out of the NCAA and UNC’s abject failure to safeguard and provide a meaningful education to the scholarship athletes who agreed to attend UNC — and take the field — in exchange for academically sound instruction,” the lawsuit begins.

For years at the university, according to a comprehensive report commissioned by UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt, who took office in 2013, more than 3,000 students took “paper classes” which apparently had minimal or no teaching and extremely generous grading for assignments that took little effort. Many of the students were student athletes at the Division I school.

The lawsuit accuses the NCAA of negligence, claiming that the organization knew of instances of academic fraud in member schools’ athletic programs yet failed to provide adequate monitoring. It alleges breach of contract against the university for not providing “academically sound classes with legitimate educational instruction.”

“The NCAA and UNC broke these promises and breached their duties to student-athletes in spectacular fashion,” according to the lawsuit. “From 1989 to 2011, under the supervision and regulation of the NCAA, UNC steered hundreds of college athletes into sham “paper classes” that they were not required to attend, that required little to no work, that were not taught by a faculty member, and that involved no interaction with a faculty member. … This academic debacle, at one of the nation’s finest public universities, could not have come as a surprise to the NCAA.”
2009, North Carolina’s Devon Ramsay

The former athletes also take a swipe at the NCAA in general, arguing that the UNC case is an example of how college athletics is more about money than higher education.

“UNC’s bogus classes once again reveal the great hypocrisy of college athletics in America,” the lawsuit said. “The NCAA and its member schools insist that their mission and purpose is to educate and to prevent the exploitation of college athletes. Yet it is the schools, the conferences, and the NCAA that are engaging in exploitation, subverting the educational mission in the service of the big business of college athletics — and then washing their hands of college athletes once they have served their purpose.”

Donald Remy, chief legal officer for the NCAA, declined to comment.

“We have not yet been notified of the lawsuit filed in North Carolina court today,” Remy said in a statement. “Because we have not seen the filing, we have no comment.”

Rick White, associate vice chancellor of communications and public affairs at UNC, also declined to comment: “We have not seen the lawsuit, therefore we have no comment at this time.”

Read the complaint here: UNC Complaint (Filed Copy 1-22-15)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chief Holliday Chats Up the Senate on NCLB Reauthorization

"I am more certain today than ever before that the success of public education is directly related to the quality of teachers in every classroom and leaders in every school building."
---Terry Holliday

Testimony of Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday 
U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions 
January 27, 2015 

Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for inviting me to testify about the importance of Supporting Teachers and School Leaders through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) .

First, I express my thanks to the Chairman, Ranking Member and Committee Members for their work on reauthorization. Please continue this important work. We must have a stable federal law to support our states and our schools. It is critical for us to have that certainty to move forward and make
continued progress in our schools.

As a former teacher, principal, local superintendent, state superintendent and past president of the Council of Chief State School Officers, I am more certain today than ever before that the success of public education is directly related to the quality of teachers in every classroom and leaders in every school building. Over the last 43 years of doing this work, I offer three fundamental points for your consideration as you look to reauthorize ESEA.

Point 1: To adequately address teacher and leader development in our public schools, we must look at a systemic approach. We cannot look at trying to “fix” one part of the system without looking at addressing the entire system. This means we must address teacher and leader preparation programs, recruitment of teachers and leaders into the profession, professional development, evaluation, retention and working conditions. Here are just a few examples of how states are taking leadership in this systemic work: 
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers ’ board has recently developed priorities for ESEA reauthorization that include the following measures of a quality system for supporting teachers and school leaders: 
  • Multiple measures of teacher and leader performance;
  • Meaningful differentiation of performance ; and 
  • Actionable information to inform professional development and support. 
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers recently published a report titled “ Our Responsibility: Our Promise,” which provided key recommendations to states on how to improve teacher and leader preparation programs. Kentucky and several other states are now working to implement those recommendations that focus on program approval, licensure, and data systems.
  • As co-chair of the task force that developed the standards for the Commission on Accreditation of Educator Preparation Programs (CAEP), I can assure you that these national accreditation standards are very rigorous and will require significant improvements in teacher and leader preparation. Kentucky and other states are requiring preparation programs to gain national accreditation through CAEP.
  • Several states, including Kentucky, require one- to two-year internships prior to teaching candidates receiving their teaching license. 
  •  Kentucky worked with Learning Forward and five other states to establish best practice guidelines for professional development. These guidelines focus on customizing  professional development that moves toward professional learning to meet the needs of teachers. Also, these guidelines focus on measuring the impact of professional learning on student outcomes.
  • Kentucky provide s 24/7 online access to all teachers and leaders in Kentucky to thousands of hours of high-quality professional development. This access ensures teachers and leaders in our rural and poverty communities have equal access and opportunity to high-quality professional development.
  • Kentucky has implemented a teacher and leader evaluation system that focuses on continuous professional growth and improving student learning. This evaluation system is housed electronically so the school, district and state can analyze and identify areas for improvement which in turn inform preparation programs on areas of improvement.
  • Kentucky borrowed heavily from the great work in North Carolina with regard to National Board Certification and the Working Conditions Survey. We have learned that teacher retention is strongly correlated with the strength of leadership in the school building.
  • Kentucky, like many other states, has been working to improve its low-performing schools and close achievement gaps. We have found a model that seems to work well in these schools. The model is an intensive diagnostic review of the instructional program in the school to identify areas for improvement. We then provide on - site math, literacy and principal coaches to provide just-in-time support and coaching to improve instruction. We have seen Kentucky schools move from the bottom 5% to the top 10% in the state using this model.
  • Kentucky has worked with the Harvard Strategic Data Project to analyze current distribution of teachers across schools. Through this work, we have identified improvement areas and measures that we will use to hold schools and districts accountable for equitable distribution of effective teachers.
  • Finally, Kentucky is working to develop specific career pathways to provide multiple pathways for teachers to become leaders. Many teachers want to gain leadership roles without giving up the ability to teach. Kentucky is working to model what the most successful systems in the world provide to teacher s for career pathways. 

Point 2: This systemic work must be done WITH teachers and leaders and not done TO teachers and leaders. In Kentucky, we have developed strong relationships with teacher s’ unions, leadership associations, and other key stakeholders. Our teacher and leader effectiveness systems took years to develop and we are continuing to improve the systems. As a former teacher, I am concerned that teachers across the country feel that they are under attack due to the current education reform efforts around teacher evaluation.

Point 3: In order to create a system of support for teachers and school leaders, we as state leaders in education, do not need review or approval from the U.S. Department of Education. In Kentucky, we have built a successful system because it was done by Kentuckians. It was our teachers, our school leaders and our community that decided what worked best for us. I want the same for my fellow state Chiefs.

If the federal government does play a role in evaluations, it should be to ensure these systems are strong and effective. Congress should reauthorize ESEA to give states the ability to use ESEA funds, such as Title IIA, more effectively to develop and implement state systems.

Through a state - led approach, we can accomplish several things:

First, we will remain committed to ensuring that all students are taught by -- and all schools are led by -- excellent educators. But , we can do this in a way that makes the most sense for each state. Every state has a different timeline and method for implementation. It cannot be dictated by a federal timeline, but must be decided by stakeholders working together within a state.

Second, we will remain committed to using information about teacher performance to determine how to support educators and ensure that disadvantaged students receive high - quality instruction. If this data remains in the control of states, and efforts to act on the data is led by states, we can better use this information to support teachers and principals. If we find it is not working well, we can quickly make mid-course corrections to better assist those in the field. If this is a part of federal law, I fear we will be working to meet reporting deadlines, rather than working to support teachers.

Third, we will maintain state control in developing evaluation and support systems and in determining how it coordinates across districts. These systems will be designed by educators in each state, for educators in each state. We will determine the best systems to meet the needs of our educators and roll them out o n a timeline that meets the needs of our teachers, principals and students. 

I appreciate the opportunity to speak with the committee today and look forward to your questions.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Davis takes on Charters

H-L's Merlene Davis recently tackled the charter schools issue and concluded...we have to hurry up and do something. But she's still not sure what.

"For me, the status quo is not an option. I'm going back and forth between charter schools and Silberman's turnaround model. "We know one thing," Silberman said. "We can't wait any longer." Surely we all feel the urgency in those words."
I don't mean this to sound overly critical of Davis, whose job it is to have an opinion. Her conclusion matches most opinions I hear. Folks are just not sure charters, in and of themselves, provide the solution people are hoping for. My own support for very limited and tightly controlled charters is so weak that if Kentucky once again rejects charters, I'm OK with it. But the feeling that we must do "something" keeps the issue alive; that along with a strong belief in choices - even bad ones - which Americans have come to embrace.

Charter schools and what they might mean for Kentucky


After successfully avoiding the debate on charter schools for many years, I've decided it is time to find out what all the fuss is about.

I plan to talk with proponents and opponents of charter schools as well as an unbiased third party. My goal is to gather enough information to form an opinion. I'll share it with you in upcoming columns.

This week I spoke with Wayne D. Lewis, board chairman of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association, author, and former school teacher who is now an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky.

I know Lewis and his wife, but neither of them has allowed me near their newborn daughter, so I don't know how much of a friend I am.

I chose to speak with Lewis, a proponent, first, because the legislature is once again looking at the possibilities of allowing some form of charter schools to be set up in Kentucky. We are only one of eight states that hasn't gone down that road. Charters would be a change from the status quo that we are familiar with.

With the help of Lewis and "Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide," published by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence in November, let me try to define charter schools.

A charter school is a public school, funded by taxpayers, and independently operated by a group of teachers, parents, non-profit organizations, or businesses that is contractually obligated to meet student achievement goals. The difference between them and what we have now is that charter schools are allowed more freedom to be innovative. Charter schools have control of their staffing, curriculum and budgets. The amount of freedom varies from state to state.

No tuition is charged and there are no special entrance requirements. The only restriction might be a waiting list or admissions lottery if the school proves successful, Lewis said.

OK. That is what charter schools are. Why do we need them?

"I believe that parents in Kentucky want additional public school options," Lewis said. "I have never talked with a parent yet who told me, 'I don't want additional options for my kids.' Who would say that?"

A charter school could fill the need for a curriculum option that fits a child's special learning needs or aspirations, Lewis explained. Some charters specialize in technology, some in the arts, some in teaching at-risk children. Some have extended hours, and some develop special themes.

A charter school is not necessarily a successful learning institution. The 2013 National Charter School Study from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes indicates charters tend to benefit economically disadvantaged students more than those not living in poverty. Special education students improved in math, but not in reading; and white students overall showed a significant loss of performance.

Seemingly, that indicates charter schools could close the achievement gap for poor and minorities students.

"There is no magic," Lewis said. "If anyone says there is, they are full of themselves."

But the assumption is with greater autonomy and governance structure, students in some schools could show improvement. And with the added freedom to be flexible, the schools should have no excuse to fail students.

If a charter school does not hold up its end of the bargain, does not show improved academic achievement after a set period of time, it should be closed, Lewis said.

That should be mandatory.

"A traditional public school can fail until the cows come home and no one will shut it down," he said.
Wayne D. Lewis
Charter school parents could remove their child at will because it is the parent who chooses the school and not vice versa. Accordingly, high standards should be in place for those seeking to open a charter school, he said. Many should be denied. And there has to be adequate monitoring to ensure quality.
That sounds like a win-win.

So why is there such great opposition to charter schools?
Lewis said it comes down to politics and money. In Kentucky, Democrats, who are the majority party in the state House of Representatives, oppose the charter school concept. Republicans, who are the majority in the state Senate, support it. Legislation allowing charter schools has been approved in the Senate, but blocked in the House education committee.

Some think charter schools would siphon money from the existing school systems. But, Lewis said, state, federal and local dollars that are designated per child should follow the child, just as they would if the child were to move to a new district in a new county. Each school system would have to adjust.
I will explore the opposition to charter schools more thoroughly next Sunday.

But for now, let me say I think the whole point of schools should be to educate our children. Some of our schools are failing that benchmark and some of our children are paying dearly. We cannot continue to tolerate failing schools.

And, if we are saying more flexibility and freedom from the restrictive rules of school boards would allow all teachers to blossom into exceptional educators, why can't we simply change the governance of all traditional public schools to bring that about now?

I have no school-age children, thank the Lord. When I did, they attended both public and private schools. A lot of people don't have that freedom. If charter schools, as Lewis thinks, will bring more choice, more options for parents, I can go along with that. 


Charter schools a drain on public schools

Charter schools would be an option for parents seeking the best educational fit for their children, most proponents believe. But those who oppose charters believe the schools will suck money from an already financially strapped public school system.

Last week I spoke with Wayne D. Lewis, board chairman of the Kentucky Charter Schools Association who wants Kentucky to become the 43rd state to welcome charter schools.
This week, I spoke with Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, the local teachers union, who opposes charter schools.

"Charter schools have not lived up to (the promise of) higher achievement for our kids," Hiler said.
Instead, because federal, state and local money follows the student, a child enrolling in a charter school would take money from the existing system, she said.

Jessica Hiler
Charters are public schools, but independently managed. So, buses to traditional schools would still have to roll even while carrying fewer students, Hiler said. Buildings would still need maintenance and upkeep even though the pool of money to operate them would shrink.

But isn't that same scenario true for students going to private schools in Fayette County? Aren't those students siphoning money from the system? Didn't they leave because the traditional public school lacked something they wanted or needed?

Black and poor kids tend to do better academically in charter schools. In traditional public schools, the achievement gap for black, Hispanic and poor kids is growing. Clearly those kids are not receiving the same education as others in the system. Are they just supposed to stay with the system, undereducated, in order for a building to have a nice roof?
Public school teachers are doing the best they can with limited resources, Hiler said.

"As public school educators, it is our responsibility" to teach all children, she said. "It is every teacher's want and hope that we close those achievement gaps sooner rather than later."
Well, it looks as though later is winning.

"I sure don't know what the magic wand or magic pill is," she said.

I don't either.

Some charters are better than traditional schools and some are worse. The rest are about the same.
Besides, Hiler said, Fayette County public schools have already come up with innovative programs to attract students and parents who are seeking a different education model.

"We already do much of the same things that charter schools want to do," Hiler said.

Students can apply for a variety of magnet schools and special programs such as the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Academy; the Locust Trace AgriScience Center; The Learning Center at Linlee; and the Carter G. Woodson Academy.

Each of those has a special appeal and many have waiting lists, indicating a student or parental desire for something new.

And if parents want more autonomy for their schools, Hiler said, they could join the site-based councils or advisory councils which are set up to decide the schools' direction.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of councils that still choose to meet when most parents are at work. I don't think that is a viable alternative to the autonomy of charters and their governing councils which would be designed to follow a specific path.

Another reason charter schools are a bad idea, Hiler said, is that they sometimes hire inexperienced teachers, or teachers with alternative certifications. And the turnover of teachers in charters is worse than the turnover in traditional public schools.

"It's really hard to get any momentum with that type of turnover," she said.

But couldn't all those requirements be put in the legislation that would allow Kentucky to establish charter schools? Couldn't the mistakes that have occurred in the 42 states that have already created charter schools be avoided in our state with a well-thought-out and worded law?

Another problem, Hiler said, is that charters can kick out difficult students and send them back to the traditional system. Don't we have a special school for children who have behavior problems? Isn't that kicking the kids to the curb?

If the traditional public school has failed to close the achievement gap, if poor and minority students are being underserved in the current system, why should we force them to stay?

If they left, say, and went to a charter school that focused on their needs, that taught them in a different style that clicked, wouldn't we all benefit? Teachers in traditional settings wouldn't have to blame the child's circumstances for his or her failure, and the child might find a place where learning is fun again.

We don't know because the legislation has been supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, causing it to be bogged down in the General Assembly.

"Instead of dividing," Hiler said, "we need to get on the same page and move toward the same goal."


We all agree the gap needs to be closed, so let's do it. Not in a few years. Now.

I'm not married to the charter school concept, but if the gap doesn't shrink soon, then the doors ought to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. If that is charter schools, then fine. If there is some other model, then let's go with that.

What we have, despite the wants and desires of teachers, is not working. Something has to change.
I'll speak with a third, unbiased party next week.

Read more here:

Instead of charter schools we improve the ones we have

Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, remains neutral in the debate on whether charter schools should be allowed a foothold in Kentucky.
Stu Silberman

"If you say, 'Stu, do me a paper on why we should do charters,' I can do that," Silberman said last week. "If you said, 'Stu, do me a paper on why we shouldn't do charters,' I can do that."

But charter schools, pro or con, should not be the focus, he said. In fact, it's asking the wrong questions to wonder about charter schools, he said.

"The right question, we believe, is, 'What do we need to be doing to raise achievement and close the achievement gap?'" he said. "I have never run into anyone who said they don't want to close the achievement gap. People want to do it. The intent is there."

Talk of closing the gap has been around for decades. If everybody knows it exists and the gap between what poor and minority students learn and what more affluent students learn continues to grow, why shouldn't we just try charters?

After all, some research has shown charters benefit poor and minority children more than their richer counterparts, black or white. Why not make charter schools available to those underserved students and close the gap?

There are four things that must be in place to close the gap, Silberman said. They include: extra time, support, strong leadership and intervention.

Children who are academically behind should be given more class time to catch up. Additional support should be available in those schools so that, "it doesn't matter who walks through that door; it matters what we as adults do when they get there," said Silberman, who is a former superintendent for Fayette County Public Schools.

The school's principal has to be a strong leader who develops a strong culture in his school that staff and educators buy into. And there should be a means of helping teachers to understand cultures or other populations they have never worked with so they can be more effective educators.

"I don't believe we have given teachers the right tools," he said. "That is our next step, to provide a tool box."

There are schools that have embraced those four ingredients and have successfully closed the gap. Harrison and Yates elementary schools are examples.

"We are doing it in some places," he said. "We should be doing it everywhere."

Charter schools would draw some students out of a particular school and leave the rest of the students to flounder. That's not fair. But neither is leaving the schools as they are, failing to educate all the kids.

Instead, Silberman proposes leaving students where they are and turning the whole school around.
That turnaround model, which he calls Districts of Innovation II, would entail having an outside group — with a track record of closing the achievement gap — take charge of the school. The school board would select that group and then hand over the reins, letting the management group decide the length of the school day, the principal, and the direction the school would follow. The group would seek waivers for some state regulations so that creative programs could be developed.

That turnaround scenario would be started when the school had failed to meet goals for a certain period of time, he explained. The superintendent could then step in and start the process.

"If we focus on what's best for students achievement-wise, then we need to do it for all the kids," Silberman said. "It would work. It has worked."

The difference between charter schools and the Districts of Innovation II, he said, is that students don't leave the system, taking money away from a school and leaving the school or system struggling financially.

"The beauty is that it is all done under the current funding system," he said, adding that the management group could also solicit more money from the community. No money would be taken out of the school system.

"There are alternatives out there that can work in the current environment if the focus is specifically on kids," he said. "What do you have to lose here?"

There is some interest in the turnaround model on both sides of the aisle in Frankfort, Silberman said. If everything rolls smoothly, and a bill passes, the proposal could be in place by this fall. But politics seldom allows anything to run smoothly.

"Pro-charter people don't like it and anti-charter people don't like it, but people who really want to go in and impact what is happening to our kids do like it," he said.

"If we go in and try some of the Districts of Innovation II, my gut reaction is that it is going to work," Silberman said.

For Silberman, the answer is not charter schools or the status quo. It is fixing problems we have through proven gap-closing management groups, strong leadership, better training for teachers and enough wiggle room to try new ideas.

For me, the status quo is not an option. I'm going back and forth between charter schools and Silberman's turnaround model.

"We know one thing," Silberman said. "We can't wait any longer."

Surely we all feel the urgency in those words.