Thursday, May 06, 2010

Parents for Improving Kentucky Education

Responding to my piece "On Charter Schools" a version of which ran recently in the Herald Leader, a few KSN&C readers asked about a new group, Parents for Improving Kentucky Education (PIKE). An earlier Op Ed in H-L from PIKE member Lauren Morgan created interest.
A commenter named “Anonymous April 28, 2010 11:23 PM” sarcastically suggested,
Let's continue the "attack the parents" approach that has existed for years.Lauren Morgan is a concerned parent-that is all anyone needs to know-The size of PIKE is irrelevant. They actually have a right to lobby and write letters as citizens. You may find that surprising.Why not focus some of your anger on the failing schools and why those students have no alternatives. What do you suggest for more schools-more money? or real change?
Did that sound defensive to you? It did to me.

Anonymous was reacting to a suggestion that KSN&C should look into PIKE, a pro-charter group that has sprung up recently.

Inquiring about an advocacy group, I replied, is hardly an attack. And while it does not matter for the exercise of her rights, size does matter in terms of a group's potential to influence the process. It is also helpful to understand where a person is coming from.

But Anonymous also sounded frustrated. So, where to begin?

I hate that any parents would feel alienated from their local school. And being a veteran of Kentucky's Primary Program, I can identify with the frustrations. In that case, I thought that the Primary Program was an OK idea but it was not widely understood and the state left it largely unsupported. Plus, it diverted a lot of effort away from effective teaching and toward organizational concerns. Long on philosophy but short on engineering, it left too many teachers misdirected and the students no better off.

Over the years, I think I've learned there are no magical programs. It's always the dedication of effective teachers that makes the difference.

Despite their billing, the Primary Program was no magic bullet, and neither are charter schools. The schools that overcome the odds and produce excellence are on a mission. Some of them are traditional public. Some are charters.

But charter schools could go just as badly as the Primary Program if the General Assembly gives away the store. The Kentucky Supreme court has already ruled that education is every citizen's fundamental right and the legislature is solely responsible for assuring a constitutional system. The court has said they could not duck or delegate that responsibility.

As the Council for Better Education recently reminded Senate President David Williams and Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, the school system is becoming less adequately supported.

Back to the comment. Nobody had said anything that was the least bid angry or aimed at parents. Not me and not the two previous commenter.

One commenter April 27, 2010 1:17 PM said...

"Lauren Morgan of Louisville is a member of Parents for Improving Kentucky Education (PIKE), a bipartisan organization working to pass a strong charter school law in Kentucky." Would love to see one of those great KSN&C reports on who/what/where/how big this group is, and what other involvement its
members have had in education work.

On April 27, 2010 1:20 PM another KSN&C reader asked about PIKE:

What size is that group? Does it meet? Lobby? Take donations? Do its leaders do
other education-related work? What kind, and for whom?

Donate? Well heck, that didn't sound angry.

I was going to ignore PIKE as I had when Lauren Morgan's article originally ran. On a quick read, I thought the Op Ed was reasonable enough. But that anonymous commenter got me curious. So, I did a little checking. I also went back and reread the article. I had missed something big.

Among other things, Morgan espoused charters for "families who cannot afford private or parochial schools." Uh oh. That's a whole lot like vouchers for religious schools which are unconstitutional in Kentucky for very good reasons.

Over at Prichard, Susan had thought about the group too, but apparently didn't dig into their background, noting instead that, this state, strong political voices in favor of charters are remarkably hard to find.
Kentucky does have a few seedling groups (mentioned here and here, for example) that may someday become forceful charter advocates--but they haven't done it yet.
Now, I have no idea how many members PIKE actually has but so far (and using only web resources) I've only been able to identify two: A housewife, Lauren Morgan, from Louisville and Sara Hallermann.

According to the Empower Nepal Foundation, Sara Hallermann is from Louisville and holds undergraduate degrees in Elementary and Special Education. She worked as an elementary school teacher, Director of Special Education, Instructional Coordinator, Assistant Principal for Curriculum and Instruction, Elementary Principal and Regional Education Specialist. Sara co-founded Vallejo Charter School, a community-based education project in Vallejo, California, USA. In 2009, she donated 30 hours of time as a teacher trainer at the Krishna Primary School in Gamauli, Nepal.

PIKE says it is bipartisan but so far, I've only been able to confirm bipartisanship if you count Libertarian and Republican as two different groups - and maybe you can.

On Facebook, The Kentucky Libertarian Party hosted a meeting with PIKE.

The Libertarian Party of Louisville - KY District 3 This month Sara Hallermann with Parents for Improving Kentucky Education (PIKE) will be discussing charter school legislation. We'll be in the upstairs meeting room. Signs will be posted on the door. For more information on PIKE please visit

March Meeting: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at 7:00pm
Tumbleweed on the Riverfront (1201 River Rd, Louisville).

So what do Libertarians stand for? Other Libertarian Party meetings promoted the Tea Party movement, Rand Paul, ending the Federal Reserve Bank, and the Firearms Freedom Act .

The March Meeting also featured the culture warriors from the American Family Association of Kentucky - a group that supports taking public school money and spending it on private schools (vouchers). Page One Kentucky offers this perspective on Dr Frank Simon, the group's director.

So, PIKE draws support from the Libertarian Party. There's a small indication of affinity with the Republican Party as well. City Data reports that Lauren Morgan, housewife, 40207, contributed $225 to the Louisville & Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee.

No connections to the Democratic Party were found.

PIKE has a light web presence. Their website describes Parents for Improving Kentucky Education as a bi-partisan parent education group working to pass a strong charter school law in Kentucky.

PIKE's asserts that "school choice is every child's right" - a concept that cannot possibly work for everyone.

PIKE correctly cites broad data on charters:
Approximately 5,000 charter schools serve over 1.5 million students. All but 11 states allow for charter schools. I thnk it might be ten. Kentucky is one of these states without a charter law. True.

Then the PIKE propoganda begins:

• Charter schools are independent public schools (true) that must perform well and attract parents to stay in business. (This is true in theory only. There is a high tolerance for mediocracy among charter schools.)

• Research shows that parent and teacher satisfaction is higher at charter schools and demand is high. (These results are typical. When people chose they tend toward loyalty, even at the expense of excellence.) Sixty-five percent of the nation’s charter schools have waiting lists equal to or greater than their size.

• Charter schools provide freedom for educators, parents and school founders to use curricula or programs to set up the school day in a way that is not done by conventional schools. This freedom allows a school to address the special needs of its children directly. (And, speaking of special needs, charter schools tend to teach a lower percentage of special needs children.)

• A charter school is typically given five years to prove itself, but its charter can be pulled back at any time by the entity that authorized it if it is not performing as promised. (Except they don't. See above.)

• Eighteen years of research prove that charter school students nationwide are outscoring their counterparts in neighboring conventional public schools by as much as five percent. (Total malarkey.)

• Twenty-six percent of charter schools provide more instructional time by going beyond the typical school year or day. (I'm not sure of the percentage, but this seems true.)

• Seventy-eight percent of Americans support charter schools. (If that was true we'd already have charters.)

PIKE says they work with diverse groups and individuals around the state who are interested in passing a strong charter school law in Kentucky, but it is unclear what diverse means. They are an advocacy group and confess a one-sided approach that "works actively to raise awareness about the positive benefits" of public charters.

Membership in PIKE is free.

PIKE seems to follow the standard set of libertarian talking points with all of the same biases, overstatements and obfuscations.

My overall assessment is that PIKE advocates taking money from traditional public schools and allowing parents to chose where they send their children to school, either public or private, in the form of vouchers or charters.


Anonymous said...

Charters for "families who cannot afford private or parochial schools." is not a whole lot like vouchers for religious schools.

All that means is the only options now for getting your kids out of failing public school bureaucracies cost money. So charter give families without money a way out. Hope, if you will.

Richard Day said...

I received a lovely note from Sara Hallerman of PIKE inviting me to chat Tuesday or Wednesday. As luck would have it, I'll be in The Ville on Monday for a Prichard Committee Meeting. But I look forward to our phone chat. I am not posting her comment directly only because she included her cell phone number.

Anonymous: If public resources follow a child to a parochial school - that's exactly what a voucher is.

But a charter school formed to provide a better opportunity for children whose local public school has a track recrd of failure - that's precisely the option Kentucky should allow. It works toward the constitutionally required equity, not away from it.

Richard Day said...

Oops. My apology, it's Sara Hallermann.