Friday, March 01, 2013

Charter Schools for Jefferson County: No law, No Problem

The combination of the recent KDE report damning 16 persistently low-performing schools in Jefferson County (and Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday's claim that the Jefferson County School Board is maintaining a system of educational apartheid, and have even committed 'academic genocide') along with the current legislative session, has served as a starting gun for the Jefferson County Teacher's Association and pro-charter school groups in Kentucky.

At the Commissioner's prompting in mid February, the Black Alliance for Educational Options rallied in Louisville in support of Holliday's proposal (or was it a threat?) to take control of some number of low performing schools in the Jefferson County Public School district.

Holliday told WHAS that day, "Only six out of a hundred kids in Shawnee or Iroquois [high schools] graduate college/career ready. Out of the hundred that enter the 9th grade, only six graduate four years later." 
Holliday said the state could take over and orchestrate a turnaround at some constantly low achieving schools. There are 18 in Jefferson County...If the state does take over the schools, Holliday said they would become like charter schools - privately run but funded by the state.

Using Tea Party language, Holliday told WHAS, "We don't want a government takeover." (A lovely soundbite for the right-leaning public, but the schools are already run under governmental authority. Are we supposed to fear the government taking over the government?) "But I have the capacity to choose the model [used for turning the schools around]." When asked if that included charter schools, Holliday responded, "Certainly. We don't call it charter, but we call it Education Management Organizations. Certainly an EMO could come in and would not have some of the barriers that are in place, and create something very different."

But  "very different" would have to occur without violating the JCPS/JCTA union contract.

After reviewing the next round of test data KDE will decide whether (or more likely, which schools) to take over. "It's not sabre-rattling," Holliday said. "Take over, is not taking over the district. It's just taking over the solution - the strategy for these schools - not the district."

Of the two bills that are filed in the legislature this session, Holliday has given his blessings to Senate Bill 176, which would permit local school boards to designate a persistently low-achieving school (now called a Priority School) as a charter school. He has consistently said since coming to Kentucky that he is open to charter schools as long as local boards hold authority over the charters.

Over at JCTA, the reaction was unequivocal:
SB 176: Education Commissioner Supports Charters in PLA Schools
On Tuesday, in a special called meeting of the Senate Education Committee, Education Commissioner Terry Holliday spoke in favor of SB 176 that would allow schools identified as PLA's to become charter schools. He specifically pointed to the PLA schools in Jefferson County and remarked that the efforts going on for the past three years haven't worked and felt that charter schools couldn't do much worse. JCTA has been aware for quite some time of the Commissioner's desire to bring Charter Schools to Kentucky and now the rationale is clear regarding his recent attack on the PLA schools here in Jefferson County as he accused our District of "education genocide." [sic] JCTA STRONGLY OPPOSES THIS BILL. We urge you to contact your State Senator and your State Representative and urge them NOT to support this bill. 1-800-372-7181. 
Holliday's clear rationale would seem to go something like this:
  1. Wait for the 2013 School Report Card results
  2. Follow up with Leadership and Management Audits in JCPS
  3. Decide on whether and/or which schools should be taken over by the state
  4. Then, acting as the JCPS Board could have chosen to act, KDE could decide to hire an outside EMO to run some number of schools
  5. In the process, he would have effectively established a charter-like situation in JCPS without the benefit of a Kentucky charter school law

Again, it must be noted that EMOs do not have the legal authority to negate a local teacher's contract, like the JCBE/JCTA agreement.

JCTA President Brent McKim told KSN&C in an email, 
JCTA is open to utilizing the EMO option, which would involve having an external management organization manage a priority school.  We would also be open negotiating staffing issues, if Dr. Holliday believes this is necessary.

We do not support SB 176 because we believe the current EMO option and the current flexibility available through “Districts of Innovation” allow the flexibility of charter schools without having the effect of privatizing public education.
In a series of emails with KSN&C, KDE spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said that scenario is all conjecture at this point. "We have tried restaffing and transformation in the JCPS schools and have seen only a couple of schools making measurable gains in student learning outcomes, however, the transformation model is working in other PLA schools across the state. The only other options available are school closure and EMO."

Rodriguez explained the commissioner's position. 
KRS 160.346 lays out four intervention options that persistently low-performing schools can choose from in their efforts to affect school turnaround. A fifth option allows for unspecified model that could be used as long as it complies with federal NCLB requirements.

Commissioner Holliday is encouraged by the progress he sees being made in many Priority Schools across the state. Some schools, however, are not making adequate progress relative to student achievement, graduate rates and college and career readiness. Dr. Holliday is concerned about what that means for the children in those schools and the communities in which they live. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to helping low-achieving schools overcome the numerous challenges they face. Each school is different, and helping them turnaround requires the collaborative efforts of districts, schools, educators, students, parents and communities. 
Meanwhile, in Frankfort...from WHAS:
The debate rages on about charter schools in Kentucky. Supporters for charter schools were in Frankfort Thursday as lawmakers took up the issue.
Charter schools are public schools that get state and local funding but can operate under their own set of guidelines.
The Kentucky Charter School project wants lawmakers to allow high quality public charter school options for families in the commonwealth. The group says other ideas have not worked and Kentucky should look at other states that have adopted charter schools. They brought in a representative from Georgia to stress their point. Kentucky's education commissioner also supports charter schools.
Those against it say it takes away resources from other schools.
The charter schools bill passed out of committee and will be voted on by the full senate as earlier as Friday.
It could pass out of the senate but could run into difficulty in the house.
The Kentucky Charter School Project, is a provider of misinformation whose members include Parents for Improving Kentucky Education, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, and a few socially-right groups like the Bluegrass Institute, Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education, and Kentucky Education Restoration Alliance, along with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Democrats for Education Reform (essentially, a collection of hedge fund folks who found profit in schooling) recently joined up. Apparently in celebration, the Kentucky Charter school Project blog responded by posting a story defending profit in educational enterprise. The blog's author is anonymous, but I'm fairly certain the piece was written by Gordon Gekko.

All of that being said, perhaps things are working out they way they should.

On the one hand, charters as competition for successful public schools, is a bad idea which weakens the entire system. And charters for affluent whites, or groups looking to push a religious agendas for a select group of students should be resisted. 

But on the other hand, if a school district can not provide an adequate education for a given community of students over time, at some point a community has a right (and perhaps the state has the obligation) to expect a fresh approach. Maybe that takes a Commissioner stepping in to accomplish.

The lack of a charter school law limits the spread of charters beyond persistently low-performing schools. And that's the way it should be.

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