Wednesday, September 23, 2009


One of the problems with being a moderate is that one tends to take flack from both sides. Another problem is that from time to time, the wrong people agree with you.

Such is the case with this week's misinformation from the Bluegrass Institute.

A post by Tabbitha Waggoner at BIPPS asserts on scant evidence that charter schools are needed and would thrive in Kentucky.

Her evidence: People like choice.
Granted. So what?

Her argument: WKU's Gatton School exists. EKU's Model Lab school exists. She wheedles, saying they operate "essentially as charters" - and therefore they are? The Gatton School's students do well on the holy ACT. Wouldn't it be nice to have a Gatton School in your neighborhood? All you have to do is push for choice. Along the way, she attacks strawmen and uses a few magic words: "teacher-union policies," "bureaucratic practices"... you know the list.

Yes, the Gatton School exists - by specific legislation. But No, it does not have a state charter.

The Model Lab School is a much older design, is funded jointly by EKU and the Madison County BOE and follows state policies. It is not now and never has been a charter school. This has been pointed out to the Bluegrass Institute several times before, but one assumes that since the facts don't support their narrative, they continue to deliberately misinform the public. What this think tank mostly thinks about is politics.

If BIPPS's idea of charter schools is Gatton, then Kentuckians should be prepared to oppose a right-wing charter law that will cream off the best students and send them to schools mirroring Gatton's model of a highly selective, and inherently disequalizing series of offerings. All the rhetoric is about choice for poor families. But the realities are much more suburban.

What Waggoner really does is underscore the powerful impact of adequate funding and a select student population on a school's student achievement scores. But she comes nowhere close to describing how charters would thrive or produce the worthy goal that "all Kentucky students should have equal opportunity to a quality education."

KSN&C is evoked as support for this notion. Waggoner sees my disagreement with Helen Mountjoy's assessment, that Kentucky doesn’t need charter schools because Kentucky offers school based decision making councils, as some kind of admission.
Kentucky education blogger Richard Day admits he’s “been having a hard time seeing how (the SBDM argument is) likely to help.”

In a recent blog on the issue, Day reported that he spoke with John White, U.S. Department of Education press secretary, who indicated that SBDMs would not be an acceptable substitute for charter schools, especially if the commonwealth wants to compete for the education stimulus funds tabbed for release later this fall.

“If Kentucky was not open to welcoming these educational entrepreneurs, that would certainly hurt your chances,” White was quoted as saying on Day’s blog, Kentucky School News and Commentary. “It’s a competitive grant, and other states are welcoming them.”
There is no moral high ground in seeking charter schools for middle and upper class Kentuckians. There is federal money and Kentucky should not be so entrenched as to be shut out. But once the department of education issued its guidelines for Race to the Top grants and it became clear that Kentucky would only lose a few points in the application process, some of the steam came out of the issue.

When I was still a principal, I wanted to convert my school to a charter, to off load some state regulations that I saw as counterproductive to our school's success. But my motivation was selfish. I was only concerned with my 500 kids. What we are discussing now is a state law and that has to work for every neighborhood.

The evidence strongly suggests that charter schools perform roughly as well as public schools. They comprise a highly localized set of good schools and bad schools. Their best feature is also their worst - if a charter school fails, it can be closed quickly. That's good, but it also reinforces the appetite for quick change artists who marginalize the importance of high quality instruction in favor of this year's game plan, and perhaps gaming the accountability system.

Kentucky should discuss a charter school law, but it must be done with a lot deeper thought than we find in BIPPS's argument. Allowing charter schools to tailor their student populations, as some have proposed, would do a great disservice to Kentucky students as a whole. But a charter law that allowed private efforts to improve the education of students in areas where the public schools have failed repeatedly over time ought to be given a good look.


Anonymous said...

It appears to me that Kentucky education does have challenges. BIPPS must be a real thorn. From what you said all BIPPS proposed was an alternative to status quo. If you take more money off the table, what are your solutions to improving education in public schools given your vast experience? Do you feel everything is as good as it can be? Or do you think opportunities exist in better accountability, the site based decision council, union rules, passing students that can't perform the work at grade level, improving the graduation percentage, decreasing the percentage of kids needing remediation classes when entering college, closing the learning gap for kids in the same classroom, all dollars spent outside the classroom, teacher incentives, etc.? Why don't you lead with solutions given your experience? It appears that the KDE is content with small incremental improvements over many years. Surely you aren't happy with that. The KDE is given over half the state's revenues to solve the problems - not point fingers at not enough money, too many kids on special programs, the economic background of the kids, etc.

Anonymous said...

If BIPPS's idea of charter schools is Gatton, then Kentuckians should be prepared to oppose a right-wing charter law that will cream off the best students... mean similiar to what FCPS has been doing for years with SCAPA and Maxwell?

Richard Day said...

9:27 - BIPPS's torns don't bother me nearly so much as their willful inaccuracies. All kinds of folks oppose the status quo. But if it's not done honestly whatever effect it has will lead to bad decision making. It makes us as likley to throw out the good as it does the bad. That may be fine as anti-whatever rhetoric. But it's not so hot for kids.

If you'll forgive me, I won't try to tackle every problem in a blog comment. But in the end we ought to end up with high quality teachers and good schools in every neighborhood.

Also, KDE does not have half of the state's revenue. Look at the 2009 budget at and you'll see it's closer to 20%. Higher is another 20%. Of course, that doesn't stop some politically-minded groups from stating otherwise.

2:37 - ...well...yes....kinda like that.

Anonymous said...

...well...yes....kinda like that.

Yea, I thought so...publicly funded, exclusive, private schools...nasty little thing no one wants to talk about while they bash charter schools ;-)