By Penney Sanders
Having been on the road for several weeks (unfortunately I don’t have pictures), I am just catching up with happenings in KY.
The news regarding Kentucky’s Race to the Top (RTTT) effort was not a surprise.
While Kentucky has made significant strides in education, other states have also made dramatic changes. Therefore, in a national competition, Kentucky is not a quaranteed winner.
While Kentucky did well in several categories, receiving a “0” in a category in such a high stakes completion proved deadly. As Kentucky prepares for the second round that will include more states and more competition, a serious review of the proposal’s shortcomings must be undertaken.
The obvious omission was Kentucky’s lack of charter schools. Going into the competition, many knowledgeable insiders, including Commissioner Holliday, knew that the lack of charters could be a problem. It is, was, and will continue to be one.
Now charters are back in the political meat grinder (the Kentucky legislature). Even Governor Beshear has weighed in. Regrettably, we are discussing charters for all the wrong reasons.
Creating charter schools should not be about competing for Phase 2 of Race to the Top funds, it should be about creating real options for students in low performing schools
Over 40 states have charter legislation. In each state, charters were created to offer alternatives to children relegated to failing schools. Currently four or five more states are discussing the feasibility of enacting charter legislation. In fact, Kentucky is very late to the discussion.
Based on various media, there seems to be a lot of misinformation about charters.
Simply, charter schools ARE public schools. Parents actually choose either to enroll their child in a charter or to participate in a lottery that allows their child to be considered for a charter. There is very little elite about a charter. In fact, a number of the charters I have visited have had limited facilities and cater to low income families.
I find it interesting that so many who are currently opposed to charters were quick to embrace magnet schools. There is little difference; both entities select their students through a variety of methods. Yet, magnets are great and charters a threat?????
In other states, oversight for a charter school may be held by entities other than the school board. For example, in Indianapolis, a number of charters are held by the Mayor‘s office. In a number of states, colleges and universities hold charters. The options are quite varied.
Sadly, it seems that Kentucky wants to constrain the creation of charters as much as possible. Keeping charters under local school board control is an option it is not and should not be the only option.
While legislating that staff at a charter should be credentialed (certified) seems to be a political “compromise”; staff should not be bound by union contracts. The purpose of charters is to allow as much flexibility as possible in both the hiring and dismissal of staff. Negotiated/union contracts do not give charter administrators the necessary flexibility to deal with poor performing staff.
One of the most successful charter programs in the country, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) hires teachers on an annual contract based on their classroom performance. The results in the KIPP schools have been most impressive.
Finally, I am amused as to the concerns expressed about the “quality” of charters. Because a charter can be altered or closed if they fail to meet their goals, these schools are very responsive and accountable. Why not hold “regular” public schools to the to the same standards as charters.
Yes, there are poor performing charters and surprise, there are poor performing public schools. So why not close any school that fails to ensure that every student makes academic progress every year
Why the desire to constrain one (charters) and not the other (publics)?
Kentucky should enact charter legislation, but only for the right reasons and with the proper legislative underpinnings. The Kentucky legislature should conduct a free and open discussion of both the promise and perils of charter schools.
The House and Senate must define the terms of the discussion not the educational establishment.
On a related note, my travel reading has included Paul Tough’s “Whatever It Takes” a description of Promise Academy and the development of the Harlem Children’s Zone. The book describes the work of Geoffrey Canada who began reclaiming the children and families of Harlem one block at a time. It is about the belief in possibilities.
The book details the creation of Promise Academy, a charter school, as one of the foundations for improving the academic performance of some of our country’s poorest children.
It should be required reading for everyone involved in Kentucky’s current discussion of charters.