Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said Sunday that he remains a backer for introducing charter schools in Kentucky, especially as an option to address lack of progress to reduce gaps in student achievement in some public schools.
Holliday at KASS
However, in remarks Sunday at the opening session of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents winter conference, Holliday suggested for the first time that he will support “a middle ground between business as usual and charter schools.”
Kentucky remains among a handful of states where charter schools are not authorized as a publicly funded educational option.
Proponents tout charters as being able to achieve academic success freed from restrictive state regulations. Opponents note charters in other states have had mixed results, both in the classroom and on being accountable for use of limited state tax dollars.
“Gap is going to be the next hot topic during the 2015 legislative session. The achievement gap is one key that I’m going to use to push for charters,” Holliday said. “We’ve had people who are pushing for charters who say the reason they are needed is because of significant achievement gaps. So it would be in your best interest to discuss achievement gaps in your communities.”
However, Holliday also said he would endorse an alternative to charters that would enable local leaders to act more quickly on low-performing schools with gap issues. It would involve schools with test scores in the next-to-lowest level in the state’s Unbridled Learning school accountability system.
“Maybe we could use what we are doing with priority schools (the lowest-rated schools), and give superintendents and school boards the authority to intervene earlier in focus schools after two to three years of low performance where they are just about to go off the cliff to priority status,” the commissioner said.
“Maybe you could go in and do a diagnostic review, like we do with priority schools, and determine whether principal and site council has capacity to turn around the school,” he said. “If the answer is ‘No,’ then the district needs to select the principal, and select the (turnaround) model, and go in there earlier before the school reaches priority status.”
Holliday, who was scheduled to testify before the legislature's Interim Joint Committee on Education Monday afternoon, said he might propose the idea as early as today. Otherwise, he will press the issue when the legislature convenes in January.
Program Review reviews coming
Holliday also told the superintendents the Kentucky Department of Education will begin auditing some schools where test results are dramatically different than the school-scored program reviews on related subjects.
Program reviews, created by the 2009 General Assembly under Senate Bill 1, provide for measurements of progress in areas including writing, arts and practical living. Schools score themselves in program reviews, as opposed to the state’s K-PREP tests in the accountability system.
“There is a real concern when you rate yourselves as distinguished on the writing program review, but you are in the bottom 5 percent in writing performance,” Holliday said. “If you are rating your K-3 program reviews as distinguished and you’re not seeing kids move, you could have some questions about the validity of your reviews."
To address questions about the reliability of program reviews, Holliday said his agency will begin a series of “desktop audits” involving a small group of schools.
“Our first screening will be to see if there is a correlation between program reviews and measurements of student achievement in writing, career tech, practical living and the arts,” he said. “We can’t possibly audit 1,200 schools, so we’ll call you and walk through it with 15 or 16 schools. We will be giving special attention to schools or districts that have high program review scores and low proficiency scores (from the K-PREP results).
“There will be no penalty, no consequences. But we will ask, ‘Are we clear about the expectations in your program reviews,’” Holliday said.
“K-3 program reviews are critical,” he added. “I’m afraid if we don’t address program reviews, we may lose them.”
The KASS winter conference continues through Tuesday in Louisville.