Today’s Herald-Leader opinion page contained a Pro and Con feature on charter schools. Did either argument win? The pro side was held down by WKU’s Gary Houchins who declared that if we want to see bigger gains in student learning, schools need “autonomy and accountability.” And for some reason he thinks Brad Montell’s charter school bill will get us there.
Writing in opposition JCTA President Brent McKim claims that charters would “divert critical funding from public schools” and complained about recent pro-charter “advertisements designed to make our public schools look worse and charter schools look better than they really are.”
Houchins’s imagined correlation between autonomy and student achievement is never established, mostly, one assumes, because it doesn’t exist in the literature. I do imagine there is some correlation between accountability and productivity, in general, and that may well hold true for schools - but broadly, accountability is antithetical to freedom, right?
Houchins erroneously claims that charter schools operate under “far more autonomy and accountability.” That’s a half-truth by definition. While charters do enjoy more autonomy, the accountability standards charter schools bravely claim they will meet are exactly the same as those required of every public school in the state. That traditional public schools are not routinely closed says more about the persistent educational needs of students in a given community. Closing a school does not cure the actual problem. It only makes victims of children.
McKim claims that Kentucky’s school-based councils already empower administrators to cut through red tape but we know that’s not true. SBDMs might nibble at the edges but no real departure from the state/district plan will occur there. Houchins correctly points out that charter schools are much freer to “innovate curriculum, teaching methods, and the length and structure of the school day.” But are we to believe that charter school operators will turn teachers loose? I doubt that. That’s not how it’s done at KIPP schools. There is a national program.
Both men acknowledge the lackluster results produced by charters, but McKim goes further pointing out other problems with charters such as the general lack of oversight, resistance to open records and their tendency to counsel (or throw) non-conforming students out.
Although charter schools are one centerpiece of the current NCLB corporate school reform movement, Houchins complains that “One-size-fits-all state and federal education mandates, while well intentioned, have caused a serious narrowing of curricula and a near-total focus on testing. Individualized student learning, long a goal of good teachers, is harder than ever.”
If Kentucky wants a charter school bill, we would be better off to return to the bill Commissioner Holliday promoted in the last term. It did not abandon oversight nor leave so much to chance.