Friday, August 03, 2007

Clarity needed in any Kentucky Charter School discussion

The discussion of school choice can suffer from undefined terms. "Charter school" means different things to different people. Charter school advocates are not all the same.

For some, charter schools" are an escape; a way to leverage public funds in the construction of semi-private schools - free from oversight. Proponents tend to argue that choice and competition are enough. They want the state to fork over the money and then...leave them alone. If this is what Kentucky's charter school advocates want - the state should continue to resist.

For others, charters are a free-market idea, but one that focuses on a quality that will withstand the rigors of accountability.

For example, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers says they are "dedicated to achieving quality charter schools through high standards and clear accountability." They believe in the power of choice, autonomy and accountability and endeavor to ask the tough questions that lead to creative solutions.

Choice options may allow charterites the freedom to make decisions locally, thus avoiding bureaucratic red-tape, but must still require measurable results.

If that is what Kentucky's charter school advocates mean - it's a conversation that might be worth having.

[But, I like accountability across the board. If I had a magic wand, I'd go so far as to require all Kentucky students (public, private, home school, charter...) to take common exams at certain "grades."]

Charter school accountability advocates were heartened by a recent story out of Louisiana, which turned to charter schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. While the data look good on the surface, the underlying facts reveal a less-than-level playing field.

In any case, clarifying what we're talking about when we say charter school would help.

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Charter schools lead the way on LEAP"

In scores released this week, charter schools...posted higher scores at every grade level, with some showing vast improvement over their pre-Katrina, pre-charter performance under the Orleans Parish School Board...

...In the first test scores offering a meaningful comparison between charter and traditional public schools in New Orleans, charters clustered near the top of the rankings, while traditional schools -- particularly those run by the state-run Recovery School District -- in some cases had more than half their students fail the test. At many Recovery District schools, fewer than 20 percent of students scored basic or above.

Some of the difference in results, however, likely stems from the fact that the Recovery District schools faced obstacles charters did not. The charters, for instance, were allowed to limit their enrollments, while the Recovery District schools took in a steady stream of late-arriving students, many who experienced trauma associated with Katrina. Charters hired teachers much sooner as well, draining the talent pool. The Recovery District administration, by contrast, scrambled to fill classrooms at the last minute, creating start-of-school chaos...

No comments: