Several years ago, during the Paul Patton administration, I went to the governor's office in Frankfort and sat down with Executive Cabinet Secretary Ed Ford to discuss charter schools in Kentucky. I was very interested in getting Cassidy School out from under the kinds of bureaucratic constraints that were big hearted, but too frequently empty headed.
Typically, some desperate middle manager at the district level would read the executive summary of a research report and then hustle out to the schools to try to convince principals to abandon their council's plans and jump on the new bandwagon. This kind of unplanned unilateral action kept the younger principals spinning. Few felt comfortable bucking their bosses. Some may not have known what to do themselves making them willing to grasp straws.
Today, it's apparently much worse. I am told by principals and teachers alike that a top down neo-authoritarianism has overwhelmed school councils, principals and teachers. Marching orders are issued from the district level and everyone is expected to comply. Thinking is apparently optional. Teams of administrators, sometimes called "hit squads" by those in the trenches, decend on a school, conduct walk-through observations and issue orders. Some even suggest (based on these brief visists) which teachers ought to be fired.
In an inadequate system - school administrators have few choices. If a principal can't provide extra time for instruction for kids who are behind, or additional professional development, or appropriate classroom supports for difficult students, or smaller class sizes, ...the only option left is the motivation of employees. Motivation can mean different things to different people. What it has apparently come to mean in many of our schools is - do what you're told, or get out.
The problem goes beyond low morale, which is approaching a crescendo. But it also limits the capacity of the professional staff, limits a sense of ownership in the success of our students and in the worst cases, threatens the overall mental well-being of a school.
My meager effort to maintain independence was not without some sympathy from FCPS Deputy Superintendent Edythe Hayes, who told me that if she was a principal, she would also want to "secede from the union."
I must confess that my motivation was selfish. I was focused only on my own situation - not any impact to the state-wide system. Taken as a whole, the results on charter schools are mixed. But where such public/private programs have worked (KIPP was showing positive results in places) it has required massive commitments of time and effort from a professional staff that was invested emotionally, physically - even spiritually in the success of their students and the programs of their schools. There was a lot of ownership. That is what seems to be erroding in too many schools today.
After a polite conversation, Secretary Ford rejected the idea saying Kentucky was not ready for charter schools.
Kentucky is still not ready. But the results in Indiana don't add much fuel to any flame that may exist.
This from the Indianapolis Star.
Charter school performance unclear in Indiana
Five years after Indiana's publicly funded charter schools first opened, there's no consensus on how well they are educating students.
Some of the schools are making "incredible progress" and have demonstrated they can significantly improve the performance of students from low-income families, said David Harris, a charter supporter in Indianapolis.
State Rep. Bob Behning (R-Indianapolis), who also favors charters, agreed although he said it's "still too early" to draw broad conclusions.
But some observers say charter schools have not lived up to their expectations for improving student achievement.
"They do not perform as well" as public schools, said Lowell Rose, a consultant for the Indiana Urban Schools Association who has conducted a statistical analysis of 28 of Indiana's 37 charter schools. The study concluded that they trail comparable public schools in the percentage of students passing statewide exams.
Charter schools receive public funding but operate outside the rules of traditional public schools, and they are independent of local school boards. According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 3,500 charter schools operate in 40 states, serving more than a million students.
Charters have not caught on in some states, including Kentucky, where a charter school law has not been passed.
Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said there has been little interest in charter schools among state legislators. One reason, she said, is that most Kentucky public schools have decision-making councils that include parents and teachers, and permit "a sense of ownership" and control similar to what charter school supporters say they want.