I attended the fall meeting of the Prichard Committee Monday to hear their discussion of charter schools. It was a breath of fresh air.
It's hard to find a discussion of the topic these days that is not laced with spin, obfuscation, and politics. But Prichard took a neutral approach. This allowed the group to look at the data more objectively and without all of the overstated, dreamy platitudes that attend most discussions. They produced a report that provides a nice summary of the issues the state must address with any charter school law.
Some members seem to lean toward charters. Others run away, citing existing concerns with for-profit charters like this one. But the group agreed that for or against is not the question they needed to concern themselves with.
Independent consultant Paul O'Neill reviewed the history and data on charters with the group of a hundred, or so, business and education leaders from across the state.
O'Neill talked through a number of bullet points:
- There are a great variety of laws nationally.
- Asking if charter schools are good is like asking if restaurants are good?
- Ideally, charters are given in exchange for greater accountability…but that does not always happen.
- Charters not exempt from federal law.
- All charters must follow health, safety, civil rights, and state assessment laws.
- Charters typically receive about 70% of public school funding – no facilities component.
- Open admissions – if there are more applicants than seat s, then a lottery is held…but some kids may get priority (siblings, living near school…Rank order waiting list…
- Charters cannot be established by or controlled by a religious organization.
- They can stand alone or be connected to a charter network.
- Contract with Educational Service Provider (ESP)
- Non profit – Charter Management Organization
- For profit – Education Management Organization
- Charter board employs ESP…but remains responsible
- Management agreement is a “performance contract” defining roles, $ and metrics
- What roles and responsibilities
- Establish how good is good enough
- Addresses academics financials and operations
- Governing board of trustees…usually not very active (a big problem)
- Function as a Non profit corporation…tax exempt
- ESPs manage charters and incorporate them into networks
- Charter school Organizations (CSOs) association for advocacy
- Authorizers (govt/quasi govt) hold charter schools accountable
- Responsible for initial approval, oversight, accountability decisions
- Various types (district, SEA, College, independent chartering board, non-profit org)
- Critical question: Can authorizers actually do the work necessary to assure quality?
- 42 states + DC have charter school laws (not KY, AL, MT, NE, ND, SD, VT, WV)
- 6,400 charters nationally +/- now (in 2005 = 3,383)
- CA TX FL OH have most
- 2.5 M students enrolled…4.2% of student population nationally
- New Orleans 90%; DC 40%
- 61% serve students with 60% low SES and up
- On average charter schools tend to serve a high % of non-whites, fewer with special needs, fewer with limited English
- Early charters promised better, more accountable schools, but results are a mix
- Many very high performers, many poor ones, plenty in the middle
- On average, about average
- Data suggests strong authorizers and high standards, charters consistently perform well.
- A charter school can fail faster…they don’t have the support.
- Lots of fighting over data
- Major studies
- CREDO 2009…17% of charters provided a better education…37% worse
- Pockets of stronger performance
- CREOD 2013 study similar results
- Weak authorizers leads to mediocrity
Why charters close
- 19% academic reasons
- 42% financial reasons
- 24% for mismanagement
- Balance a mix of facilities, district obstacles and unknown
Accountability v Autonomy
- Designed to be results driven, but...
- Assertive oversight may undercut autonomy and innovation
- hold schools accountable for carrying out the authorizer’s instructions
- May want to hold authorizer accountable for rigor and attentiveness
Non Academic accountability issues
- Charters are small to medium sized businesses responsible for millions
- Watch operating and financial practices
- Must be transparent under public disclosure laws
- Incompetence, self-dealing, and fraud
Allocation of Resources
- Diverting funds from district to charters schools…problematic impact on district
- How well served are charter families? How important is giving under served students options?
- States with charters have expanded the definition of public schooling
Issues for discussion in Kentucky
- Is there a need for change?
- More options for under-served kids
- Would a pilot charter school program make sense?
- Possible limits
- Cap on number of charters
- Geographic restrictions
This from the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence:
Charter schools, 'Deeper Learning' provide focus
of Prichard Committee fall meeting
Charter schools and learning strategies that emphasize students applying what they have learned in real world situations provided the focus of the recent meeting of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.
The issue of charter schools has been debated for several years in Kentucky with the discussion often reflecting the strongly held positions of supporters and opponents. The Prichard Committee has not taken a position on the issue, but has focused in recent months on gathering unbiased information on the organizational and operational elements of charter schools.
Much of the committee's work has been done through a special study group; it continued at the committee's recent fall meeting with a presentation by Paul O'Neill, an independent consultant and head of the education law practice group of Cohen Schneider & O'Neill in New York.
O'Neill noted that 42 states and Washington, D.C., currently allow charters. Kentucky is one of the eight states that do not. There are approximately 6,400 charter schools nationally in which more than 2.5 million students - or 4.2 percent of all students - are enrolled. Additional points from his presentation included:
- 61 percent of charter schools serve a student
population where more than 60 percent qualify for the federal Free or
Reduced Lunch Program due to low family income.
- The performance of charter schools has been mixed;
there are both high and poor performers but "on average, about
average" is their performance level.
- From 1992 to 2011, approximately 6,700 charter schools opened across the country and 1,036 closed. The reasons for closure included mismanagement, academic and financial reasons.
More detailed information was provided committee members in a report, "Exploring Charter Schools in Kentucky: An Informational Guide," developed by education consultant Susan Perkins Weston.
That report is available here.
The committee plans to continue to study the issue. Executive Director Stu Silberman said the emphasis will be on finding effective ways to close achievement gaps that persist between groups of students. "We're going to continue to work," he said, "and we may come up with a portfolio of tools to use in addressing the achievement gaps."
The committee also heard a presentation on Deeper Learning, an education strategy that links mastery of academic content with the ability to apply that knowledge in the real world.
Charmaine Mercer, vice president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, noted that, on average, more than 1 million students fail to graduate on time every year in the United States. Having just one class graduate on time would result in a $263 billion benefit to the economy through increased earnings and related savings, she added.
Through Deeper Learning, students demonstrate their ability to use what they have learned in different settings, better preparing them to succeed as adults. There is no single approach that must be used by educators, Mercer said, adding that the common bond of Deeper Learning programs is a commitment to positive outcomes for students.
Gene Wilhoit, director of the National Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky, emphasized the importance of "intelligent accountability" for schools and students. New academic standards and the challenges presented by college- and career-readiness are changing expectations for learning, he said. That means students must develop the ability to:
- Think critically and creatively
- Communicate in multiple forms
- Conduct research
- Solve problems
- Analyze and conceptualize
- Use new technologies
- Engage in learning at all times
- Reflect on and improve performance
An accountability system should encourage high-quality teaching and learning in all schools, provide tools for continuous improvement and means for identifying and addressing problems that need to be corrected, Wilhoit said. "Accountability does not equal testing."
The two-day meeting in Louisville also included:
- An update by the committee's Student Voice Team on the
activities of the group of middle to early-college students on education
- The members' interactive participation in a
presentation by Dale Brown, director of School University Relations at
Western Kentucky University, to assess student opinions about their
- An overview of the Professional Growth and
Effectiveness System for educators by Brenda McGown, instructional issues
specialist for the Kentucky Education Association.
- A report on the Governor's Commonwealth Institute for
Parent Leadership, which trains parents to become effective school
partners in efforts to improve student performance; since the program's
founding in 1997, 2,235 Kentuckians have graduated from its parent
- The presentation of the Prichard Committee Award of Excellence to Susan Perkins Weston.