Teachers Unions’ Opposition to Teacher Tenure and Layoff Reform Hurts Children

The California General Assembly’s stalemate on whether to change state laws regarding teacher tenure and layoffs highlights a major barrier to improving education for America’s most vulernable children. Once again, a legislative effort failed which would have made commonsense reforms to state laws regarding teacher tenure and layoffs. This year’s effort, Assembly Bill 934, would have (a) extended the the number of years school administrators have to evaluate teachers before teachers are granted the protections of teacher tenure, (b) created an expedited process for terminating teachers deemed to be ineffective after receiving additional professional support, and (c) allowed teachers’ job performance evaluations to be considered when making layoff decisions (instead of only considering teachers’ seniority). Once again, strong opposition from California’s teachers unions resulted in the reform effort going nowhere.

The California teachers unions’ resistance to common sense reforms is beyond disappointing. If you care about improving the quality of education for our nation’s most vulneralbe children, their resistance to these reforms ought to make you angry. These are commonsense reforms that would help to ensure that only the highest quality teachers are in California’s classrooms. There is no legitimate rationale for resisting efforts to ensure that administrators have ample time to evaluate the performance of teachers before granting them tenure. There is no legitimate rationale for opposing efforts to make it easier for administrators to remove teachers who are ineffective in the classroom. Neither is there a legitimate rationale for resisting changes that would allow teachers’ performance to factor into layoff decisions. Teachers unions’ resistance to these reforms ought to make it very clear that their intentions are to protect all teachers’ jobs regardless of whether those teachers are effective, because even ineffective teachers pay union dues. Nevermind the negative impact ineffective teachers have on the learning of their students. The tragedy is compounded when you consider that ineffective teachers are most likely to be in classrooms with children who need high quality teachers the most.

This legislative stalemate in California directly affects children in California’s schools. But the opposition of teachers unions across the country to similar reforms results in ineffective teachers remaining in high needs classrooms everywhere. California’s Supreme Court will eventually make a ruling on whether such language in unions’ collective bargaining agreements is legal in California, but whether the provisions of collective bargaining agreements are legal or not, protecting teachers we know to be ineffective is unethical and antithetical to what teachers unions say they are about. It’s time for all Americans, but effective teachers particularly, to take a stand against teachers unions’ insistance on protecting ineffective teachers.

All American Teachers Are Not Underpaid

A recent Brookings analysis makes the assertion that American teachers are underpaid. That blanket assertion, however, is untrue.

The Brookings analysis compares teacher pay in the United States to teacher pay in other OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations. The truth uncovered by the analysis is that compared to other OECD nations, American teachers, on average, are paid less than teachers in other nations. The author makes pointed comparisons to Finland, whose teacher pay is still less than the OECD average, but significantly higher than the U.S.

But before you join in singing the sad song of the poor, underpaid teachers, consider the following:

  • To put the international pay comparisons into context, comparing teachers from nation to nation is not comparing apples to apples. For example, as noted by the Brookings author, the teaching profession in Finland is much more prestigious than in the United States. That additional prestige factor in Finland contributes to a dynamic where college education majors are among the most highly academically capable students in higher education. In fact, the teaching profession is so prestigious in Finland that competetion for teacher education slots leaves even highly capable applicants on the outside looking in. Compare that now to the reality in the United States, where those accepted into teacher preparation programs across the country (including in my home state of Kentucky) post some of the weaker academic credentials of undergraduate students. There is no scenario in the United States where highly academically capable students can’t break into the teaching profession. While, of course, some of our teachers and students training to be teachers are among the academically brightest of their classes, that unfortunately is not the norm. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear from college education major or those considering an education degree, that they are considering or have selected teaching as a career path because their first and/or second choices proved to be too academically rigorous.
  • Second, consider that in the U.S., there is tremendous variation in what teachers are paid; variation that a mean or median national salary wouldn’t account for. Within the same state (Kentucky), a beginning certied teacher with a bachelors degree and no experience earns a 9-month base salary of $35,493 in Carlisle County Schools, and $41,756 in Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville); that’s a difference of $6,293 a year. The difference is even more stark for later career teachers. A certified teacher with 20 years of experience and a doctorate would earn $55,290 a year in Carlisle County, but would earn a 9-month base salary of $83,199 in Jefferson County; that’s a difference of $27,909 a year. That difference in salaries highlights just how problematic it is to say that all teachers in the U.S., or even all teachers in Kentucky, are underpaid.
  • Further, consider that teacher pay in most U.S. schools is still based completely on teachers’ education and years of experience; not their effectiveness. Teachers unions in the U.S. have been incredibly resistant to reforms that would differentiate teachers’ pay based on effectiveness and/or their students’ performance. Teachers unions have consistently argued that teachers should earn the same amount in a school district regardless of what they teach and how effective they are. They contend that only teachers’ level of education and years of experience should be considered in setting teachers’ pay.

The Brookings analysis author makes the observation that increasing teacher pay could result in the profession becoming more attractive to persons who would not have otherwise considered teaching as a profession. I agree. But I completely reject the idea that there should be any across the board increases to teacher pay without reform in the areas I have highlighted here.

Education Attainment Alone Won’t Transform Kentucky: Reconsidering Policy, Practice, and Attitude

I am an educator. With the exception of a few brief years I spent in law enforcement as a very young man, I have spent all of my career in K12 and postsecondary education. From my earliest days as a high school teacher in the New Orleans Public Schools, to my time in teacher preparation in North Carolina, to my academic home today at the University of Kentucky, I’ve spent my career teaching and supporting students as they advance their education and achieve their academic goals. There’s not a greater proponent of education attainment than me. But education attainment alone is simply not sufficient for preparing the workforce Kentucky needs to retain and attract high wage jobs.

Kentucky has made tremendous strides over the last few decades with education attainment. Our graduation rates are much better than they were a few decades ago. Higher percentages of Kentuckians are literate and have high school diplomas. Increasing numbers of Kentuckians are going on to pursue postsecondary education and earning postsecondary credentials and degrees. In fact, in some years Kentucky has led the South in gains in high school graduation rates and postsecondary degree attainment. Those are all achievements that every Kentuckian should be proud of. Educationally, Kentucky is not the same state it was even 20 years ago. But we still have quite a ways to go. And we won’t get to where we need to be without making a course adjustment.

While it’s great that many more Kentuckians have high school diplomas and postsecondary degrees, we must come to terms with the reality that Kentucky’s significant increases in education attainment have not translated into the economic progress we so direly need. And that’s in large part because the diplomas, credentials, and degrees many Kentuckians have earned have not been aligned with the skills, credentials, and degrees that business and industry are demanding.

If Kentucky is to become what it has the potential to become economically, the state’s workforce has to become its strength, not its liability. To do that, young people and not so young people have to get the skills and credentials business and industry are demanding. It’s no secret what those in-demand areas are. In Kentucky, certifications and two- and four-year degrees in the medical fields, advanced manufacturing, and information technology would well-situate a young worker.

Below are a few changes in policy, practice, and thinking I believe Kentucky should consider for better aligning education attainment with workforce preparation. Better alignment of the two is essential if we are to become the economic engine we have the potential of becoming.

  1. Kentucky’s high school diploma has to be more meaningful. Higher graduation rates are good, but higher completion rates are not incredibly meaningful if the diploma students earn  is useless. The hard truth is, comparatively, it doesn’t take that much to earn a high school diploma in Kentucky. Our state’s current minimum requirements are neither rigorous enough to adequately prepare a student going on to pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky, nor rigorous enough to ensure that a student not pursuing additional postsecondary education will learn a skill she can use to earn a wage sufficient for supporting herself. That’s unacceptable for Kentucky and it has to change.
  2. Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions must produce more students with credentials and degrees that match in-demand job sectors. There are more than a few good paying jobs that go unfilled in Kentucky. Eventually, some of those jobs are filled with skilled workers who come from places outside of Kentucky; and in other instances, the state’s skilled workforce challenges result in businesses deciding to put off expansion in Kentucky or to locate operations in other states with less severe workforce challenges. We have to turn the tide. Further, we need Kentucky’s postsecondary institutions to place greater emphasis on program development and program expansion in areas that lead to high paying jobs in high demand sectors.
  3. Kentucky’s parents and teachers have to change their mindsets about career and technical education. Too many students who would enjoy and be incredibly successful in technical fields that require less than a four-year degree have been inappropriately pushed into four-year institutions and into bachelor’s degree programs. In some cases, those programs have not aligned with students’ interests and/or strengths. An in other cases, those programs have not been aligned with jobs. In either case, the student has been inappropriately advised and shortchanged. The thinking that all high school graduates should go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree after graduating high school, regardless of what that bachelor’s degree is in, is wrong.
  4. Kentucky’s students should know that having a bachelor’s degree in any field will not necessarily lead to greater employment opportunities and higher wages than having an associate’s degree or an industry recognized certification. While on average, bachelor’s degree holders earn more than associate’s degree holders, there is substantial variation in the data across fields and majors.  For example, some bachelor’s degrees are intended to prepare students for further study in graduate school, and are not expressly designed for preparing students for job opportunities immediately following undergraduate degree completion.
    • As students are making institution, degree, and program decisions, they should do their homework. Students should be asking questions about recent degree and program completers, including whether those graduates have found jobs in their fields, where they are working, and how much they are earning as early career workers. Those are legitimate questions; ones which should help to inform students of what their best postsecondonary program options are. With better information, I am convinced that larger numbers of Kentucky students would decide to enroll in programs that are better aligned with their interests and strengths, and more likely to lead to the employment and wage outcomes they desire.

Kentucky’s Economy and Workforce Demands Have Changed, Most High Schools Have Not

In generations past, a sizable percentage of young men and women graduated high school with education and skills sufficient for getting a job and earning a wage adequate for supporting themselves and a family. Truthfully, the jobs they walked into typically didn’t require much skill, at least not upon entry. And many of the skills they would need for the job could be learned relatively quickly on the job. But that reality is no more. Our economy has changed. Many if not most of the jobs high school graduates of generations past walked into with minimal skill levels no longer exist. In fact, both nationally and in Kentucky, there are many more low skill workers looking for jobs than there are low skill jobs for them.

Most conversations about America’s and Kentucky’s over-supply of low skill workers and under-supply of middle skill workers lead to a single conclusion: Because the high school diploma is no longer adequate for preparing workers for high demand, decent wage jobs, all of our students must go on to college to earn a postsecondary credential, preferably a degree of some sort. But even with substantially increasing the percentage of young Kentuckians who go on to successfully earn certifications and degrees in high wage, high demand fields at postsecondary institutions, there will remain a significant minority of Kentucky high school graduates who do not pursue further formal education and training. So in addition to increasing enrollment and success at postsecondary institutions, we must also demand much more of Kentucky’s high schools.

As Kentucky’s economy and workforce demands have changed, most of Kentucky’s high schools have not. But they must.  It’s not that hard to graduate high school in Kentucky today. And while it’s great that Kentucky’s high school graduation rates have increased considerably in recent years, and a lot of hard work has gone into improving that rate, in comparison to many of its neighboring and nearby states, Kentucky’s minimum graduation requirements are not very rigorous.

Kentucky has no minimum testing requirement for graduation. High school students are required to take End-of-course (EOC) examinations in a few subject areas, but those exams have minimal to no impact on students’ course or high school completion. Scores on those examinations tell that story. In the 2014-2015 school yearly, just under 57% of Kentucky high school students scored Proficient or Distinguished on the English II EOC. Those percentages are 38% for Algebra II, 39% for Biology, and 57% for U.S History.

Further, Kentucky is one of the states that has retained a single pathway and set of requirements for high school graduation. With that single pathway for all students regardless of their intended post-high school plans, Kentucky’s minimum requirements are neither academically rigorous enough to prepare students for success at a four-year college, nor rigorous enough in career and technical education to ensure that students graduate with an in-demand certification or skill.

Even with Kentucky’s relatively watered down definition of what it means to be career-ready, in the 2014-2015 school year, only 67% of Kentucky’s high school graduates reached the state’s college and/or career ready benchmark. Here’s what that means:

  • Many of the students in that 67%, even while designated as career ready, had no industry recognized certification or skill that would lead to gainful employment.
  • Even more disturbing, 33% of the students who earned Kentucky high school diplomas didn’t meet the state’s low bar for career readiness. That means Kentucky is granting high school diplomas to students who we acknowledge have little more than a hope and a prayer of landing a job that pays a decent wage. That means Kentucky’s high school diploma is little more than a certificate of completion; and absolutely not a marker of quality academic and/or career preparation. While many Kentucky high school graduates are well prepared for college or a career, such preparation is not an expectation for graduation in Kentucky. That’s unacceptable. Kentucky’s high schools must better prepare students for postsecondary and workforce success, and expect more of its graduates.

Postsecondary training and education are critical to preparing a competitive workforce for Kentucky, but high schools have to do their part as well. High school curriculum, experiences, and expectations must change with the state’s workforce demands. Kentucky’s high schools must change if the Commonwealth is to reach its full economic potential.

Reflecting on Teacher Appreciation Week, 2016

I could not allow Teacher Appreciation Week, 2016 to pass without sharing a brief reflection on just how important teachers have been in my life. Throughout my academic career, from preschool through doctoral studies, I was blessed to have outstanding teachers. At nearly every stage of my academic career, I can identify specific teachers or professors who were incredibly influential in my academic, social, emotional, and spiritual development. And even as an early career teacher, my mentor teachers we so very crucial to my development as an educator. I make no exaggeration when I say I wouldn’t be the professional, the husband, the father, or the citizen I am today without the loving instruction and guidance provided by so many very special teachers. And for what they have given me, I will be eternally grateful.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not also acknowledge that many children across our country and across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, have not enjoyed the benefits of consistent, loving, caring, and effective classroom instruction. And unfortunately, across the U.S. and across Kentucky, having consistently effective classroom instruction is often dependent on where students live. Middle class and affluent students often have access to more highly effective teachers. It’s one of our dirty little education secrets.

So as we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, I am more committed than ever before to do everything within my power to move the needle on getting a highly effective teacher in every classroom in Kentucky. Every child in Kentucky, every child in America, deserves to have the opportunities so many of us have had. But that can’t happen until we get our children the teachers they deserve.

Should We Pay Teachers More? Let the Market Decide

“Teachers don’t make enough money.” It’s a refrain we’ve all heard over the years. In fact it’s a song that’s been sung so often that few people question its truth. The truth is the song is partly true, and partly false. It is certainly true that we do not pay some of our teachers nearly what they are worth. It is also true, however, that we pay some of our teachers entirely too much.

Salaries for the vast majority of public school teachers in the U.S. are determined based on salary schedules. Salary schedules are not incredibly complex. [Click here to access the the most recent version of the teacher salary schedule in Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisville).] A teacher can identify how much she will earn by locating her years of teaching experience and her education level. For example, in Jefferson County, KY, a teacher with zero years of work experience and a bachelor’s degree (Rank III, Kentucky) will earn an annual salary $41, 767.35. A teacher in Jefferson County with 10 years of experience, a master’s degree, and an additional 30 credit hours of coursework (Rank I, Kentucky) will earn an annual salary of $65,008.03.  That same teachers with 10 years of experience would earn $67,446.26 if she had a doctoral degree.

With a salary schedule, a teacher knows exactly how much she is going to earn in annual salary based solely on how long she has taught and how much education she has; there is no consideration of what she teaches, the demand for teachers in her area of specialization, the scarcity of teachers in her geographic or content area, or how effective she has been in the classroom. So a teacher with 10 years of experience and a masters degree who is highly effective and teaches AP physics in a school district where there are only two physics teachers, earns the same salary as another teacher in the district with 10 years of experience and a masters degree who is minimally effective and teaches family and consumer sciences, a content area where there is no shortage of teachers.

I propose paying teachers what the market says they are worth. In my estimation, a teacher who is highly effective has a higher market rate than an teacher who is mediocre or minimally effective . A teacher who teaches in a highly specialized content area where it’s difficult to find teachers ought to be paid a premium. A teacher who teaches in a hard-to-staff geographic or content area, or in a school district where it is difficult to attract and retain high quality teachers ought to be paid a premium. The truth is there is enough money in public education to pay highly effective teachers a much more competitive salary. There is not enough money, however, to pay all teachers a premium, regardless of what they teach and how effective they are.

Further, the idea of paying a teacher more or less based solely on their years of experience and education level is outdated. Seriously reconsidering teacher pay can be quite helpful in our quest to attract and retain the absolute best and brightest to the teaching profession.

Community and Technical College: A First Choice

Community college can be students’ first choice. And for many students, community or technical college should be Plan A; not because those students are less academically capable than their four-year college going classmates, but because their career interests are better aligned with career and technical programs and credentials offered at community and technical colleges. For too long, parents, teachers, and school counselors have sold community college only as the option for students who struggle academically, or who come from families without the financial resources to make four-year college a first choice right out of high school. While both of  those reasons are valid for considering community college, those are not the only reasons.

As high school students consider postsecondary education and career options, they should think seriously about jobs and careers they feel most drawn to, the kinds of careers they believe they can find happiness in, and where they believe their strengths to be. As well, students should make use of available data when making postsecondary education and training decisions. What data? Data about the employment and earnings outcomes for academic majors and certificate programs they are considering. Students should know whether or not those who have completed such programs were able to find employment in their field. Students should also know in very concrete terms what the earnings are for completers of programs they are considering. Students should not have to guess about whether program completers find jobs within their field and how much they earn.

As thoughtful and informed young people going through this exercise, I am confident that many students will consider community college as a first choice; not based on their academic abilities or deficiencies, but because programs offered at community colleges are best suited to get them into the jobs and careers that interest them. Enrolling in programs at the local community college does not mean that a student is not cut out for four-year college, or that s/he could not have made it academically at a four-year college. Enrolling at the community college is a choice; and quite honestly, it’s a choice that not nearly enough high school graduates are making. As a nation, our failure to enroll larger numbers of high school graduates at community and technical colleges is crippling our economy. We are not producing nearly enough workers with the skills that many American employers need. I’m talking primarily about middle-skill jobs.

Middle-skill jobs are those that require education and training greater than a high school diploma but less education than a bachelor’s degree.  Middle-skill jobs make up the largest part of America’s and Kentucky’s labor market. According to the National Skills Coalition, between 2010 and 2012, 54% of job openings in Kentucky will be for middle-skill jobs. But Kentucky has a pretty significant middle-skill gap. While middle-skill jobs account for 58% of Kentucky’s labor market, only 48% of Kentucky’s workers are trained to the middle-skill level. That’s a significant difference from what we see at the high-skill and low-skill job levels. Kentucky’s high-skill and low-skill workers outnumber the high-skill and low-skill jobs available. There is tremendous opportunity, however, for workers at the middle-skill level. And these are good-paying jobs. Truth be told, many workers at the middle-skill level have earnings that surpass those of workers at the high-skill level.

So regardless of whether students are academic stars or need a little extra help, I advise all students to take a look at the programs their community and technical colleges have to offer. Not only is there tremendous career training opportunity there, but it might just be the place where they find their passion.

 

Fundamental Education Reform in Kentucky: An Economic Imperative

I love being a Kentuckian. Our state has been blessed with unbelievable natural beauty and some of the friendliest, good-natured, hardworking people you could ever hope to meet. My wife and I thank God daily for the blessings of our Kentucky home, church family, and friends. But there remains tremendous untapped potential in our state. We have not yet become the state that we can be, that we should be. And central to our untapped potential is a public education system that while much better than it has been in generations past, is still in dire need of reform.

Kentucky has made significant strides in public education since the early 1990s. The passage of the Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) and other subsequent reforms have been good for Kentucky’s children. But the academic performance and employment and earnings outcomes for our low income children and children of color is drastically different from performance and outcomes for our middle income and White children. That reality is crippling our state.

Much work remains to be done to improve the education attainment, employment, and earnings outcomes for all of Kentucky’s students, but drastic improvement in performance and employment outcomes for our low income children and children of color is both a moral and economic imperative. We are a state that has for years ranked near the bottom in labor force participation. In 2015 we ranked 47th out of the 50 U.S. states and DC, with a labor force participation rate of 57.9%. We lead only Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia in labor force participation. While those are fine states, we can do better. In sum, not nearly enough Kentuckians are working, and a major factor contributing to our labor force woes is our failure to equip all of our students with the knowledge and skills needed for gainful employment. That failure has in turn led to our challenges with attracting companies with high wage jobs to Kentucky, jobs that require a pipeline of skilled workers. There is no doubt about it, we have to do better.

First, there must be acknowledgement by education leaders and policy makers that current academic and performance outcomes for our students are unacceptable. Period.

Second, leaders must acknowledge that what’s happened and what’s happening in Kentucky’s public schools contributes to the current racial and socioeconomic performance and outcomes gaps. Leaders and policy makers seem content with pointing to out-of-school factors which contribute to gaps, but most leaders seem unwilling to admit that school factors have contributed to the problem as well. While our schools are not wholly responsible for the gaps, our schools have played a role and continue to play a role in the maintenance and in some cases exacerbation of performance and outcomes gaps.

The frequently heard refrain that “we’re working to ensure that all kids learn” is meaningless when what we are doing doesn’t lead to all kids learning. Leaders have talked about public schooling working for all kids in Kentucky for a long time, but low income kids and kids of color continue to be left behind. It’s past time for state and school leaders to acknowledge that what we’ve been doing in the name of all kids hasn’t worked for all kids; and begin exploring what we can do different to ensure that low income kids are learning, that Black kids are learning, that Latino kids are learning, etc.

Third, leaders must commit to fundamental change; not tinkering here and there, but fundamental change in our state’s public education system. The magnitude of socioeconomic and racial performance and outcomes gaps in Kentucky are such that tinkering with the system will get us nowhere. Fundamental reform to Kentucky’s public education system is an absolute necessity. Reform is needed in every area, from the recruitment, selection, and training of teachers and leaders, all the way to the mechanisms we use for holding schools, leaders, and teachers accountable for student learning and outcomes, and everything in between. A system that produces such disparate outcomes for different groups of children is fundamentally broken, and nothing short of large scale reform is worthy of consideration.

We can and we must reform Kentucky’s public education system to be responsive to the needs of our most vulnerable children; reform is both a moral and an economic imperative. The health of our state’s economy is dependent on our ability to better prepare all of our children for success. We cannot afford to prepare only some of our children for gainful employment, and lives as civically responsible, tax-paying citizens of our state. All Kentuckians’ futures are inextricably bound together.

English School Reform Plan Looks a Lot Like Charter School Expansion

A recent article in The Economist pointed to education system reforms in England which look a lot like charter school expansion and the establishment of charter management organizations (CMO). The plan being outlined is for all of the system’s schools to become academies. English academies bear striking resemblance to American charter schools. In sum, these are autonomous, state-funded schools that have relative freedom from government interference, may select their own curricula (may or may not use the national curriculum), decide the length of the school day, and may establish policies pertaining to teacher pay independently. They receive funding directly from the central government, without having funds flow through a local authority;

In addition to converting all current English schools to academies, academies would join multi-academy trusts, defined as charitable bodies which run chains of schools. These trusts bear striking resemblance to non-profit CMOs in the U.S. And similar to the bipartisan intent of the Charter Schools Program of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the U.S., English officials want to see academy administrators who have proven their effectiveness, have the opportunity to manage additional schools.

English academies are not a new concept. Currently, English academies make up nearly 60% of secondary schools and just under 20% of primary schools. The rationale for the plan is the same as the rationale for education reforms internationally that seek to increase schools’ flexibility and autonomy: (a) increased autonomy allows schools the flexibility needed to innovate, and (b) increased competition results in schools improving and being more attune to the needs and desires of students and parents. The plan to expand academies in England, however, is not without objections from some. Opposition to English academies is similar to opposition for charter schools in the U.S. In England, teachers unions and the Labour Party have been vocal critics of academies and the new plan to expand them.

Even with the aforementioned opposition from some groups, English policy makers and education leaders have decided that all schools in England would benefit form the flexibility that current academies have experienced. In England and in the U.S., policy makers and education leaders have come to realize that raising that educational achievement of students who have traditionally been under-served by public schools, requires granting schools much greater flexibility in the areas of budgeting, personnel, curriculum, and instruction. And in exchange for that increased flexibility, schools can and should be held accountable for higher standards of performance.

Teachers unions and their advocates will continue to fight such reforms. There is no way around their opposition. Granting personnel autonomy to school leaders means removing some of the employment protections teachers in the public sector have enjoyed for generations. But increased autonomy in personnel matters is essential to increasing schools’ flexibility; and granting schools additional flexibility to innovate is in the best interest of children.

Public School Options Currently Available in Louisville Are Not Sufficient

WFPL reported this week that Jefferson County Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Donna Hargens has said that a strategy for fighting charter school support is pushing the idea that Jefferson County parents already have a form of school choice. First, you can’t take seriously the argument that there should be no charter schools in Jefferson County because sufficient choice already exists within the system. Jefferson County does in fact offer some programs and schools of choice for families, but the argument that the choices available to parents in Jefferson come close to meeting parents’ demand for high quality school options is simply false. And please don’t take my word for it, ask parents in Jefferson County.

Jefferson County parents will tell you that the JCPS portfolio of schools includes schools that have struggled mightily as well as schools that parents would be willing to pay tuition for their children to attend. Within JCPS, there are schools and programs of choice that parents try to use every available connection to get their children into, and there are other schools that very few parents with means would send their children to. The reality is that the general quality of the school your child attends in JCPS is a function of where you live in the school district, your social and political connections, your child’s academic ability, and sheer luck. There is always the possibility that you could live in a low-income neighborhood in Jefferson County, have no social or political connections to speak of, have a child with average academic ability, yet still have her accepted to one of the schools that parents fight over. But there’s also the possibility that you could win the lottery. We know that people do in fact win the lottery, but most of us will not. And getting your child into a school that you feel good about, ideally a high quality public school, shouldn’t be like playing the lottery.

So While Dr. Hargens is correct that there are some school options in JCPS, there are not nearly enough of them; and that’s not just my position, that’s the position of parents in Jefferson County. JCPS should welcome the creation of additional high quality school options for parents in Jefferson County, and they should be ready and willing to make the case to parents that the school options provided by JCPS are superior to anything else that’s available. The creation of high quality charter schools in Jefferson County would be a small step in the direction of forcing JCPS to compete for the tax payer dollars that fund public education for children in Jefferson County.

Wayne D. Lewis, Jr.