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: Plan A

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 far 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 prepare to graduate and consider postsecondary education and career options, I encourage them to 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, I strongly encourage high school students to 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.

The Prichard Committee’s Position on Charter School Authorizing is Shortsighted

I have long been a fan of The Prichard Committee‘s education reform advocacy work in Kentucky. The organization has a rich history of pushing boundaries and challenging both policymakers and the public to consider uncomfortable but needed reform in education. But the Committee’s recent Statement on Charter Schools in Kentucky regarding charter school authorizing is incredibly shortsighted.

As one of the principles for considering charter schools in Kentucky, the Committee has taken the following stance:

  • Authorization of charter schools should be by local boards of education following rules established by the state Board of Education that define processes for creation, conversion, renewal, revocation, closure and dissolution. Training of local boards, provided by the Department of Education, on charter school regulations, procedures and oversight should be required prior to any authorization.  Authorization of charter schools should be allowable only in circumstances of persistently low-achieving schools and/or significant achievement gaps.

Such a stance is particularly problematic for advocates of high quality charter schools in Kentucky, first and foremost because we know from experience nationally that such an arrangement is not likely to lead to the creation of high quality charter schools in Kentucky. Iowa did something similar to what the Prichard Committee has called for and passed charter school legislation in 2002 which requires that charter schools be approved by local boards of education. The result is that there are only three charter schools in Iowa after 13 years. The position that only local school districts may serve as charter school authorizers in Kentucky, just as in Iowa, is nearly the same as taking the position that there should be no charter schools in Kentucky. As evidence, you are likely to find support for the Prichard Committee’s Statement from opponents of charter school legislation in the Kentucky.

Over the last 25 years, we have learned that state charter school laws can be written in ways that guarantee that there will be few if any charter schools in a state. Opponents of charter school legislation work hard to incorporate those types of provisions into charter schools laws wherever possible. Mississippi’s first charter school law is a prime example. Under Mississippi’s former charter school law, the State Board of Education was the sole authorizer for charter schools in the state, and only a local school district could apply to convert one of its persistently low performing schools to a charter school.Even if granted the charter, the operation of a Mississippi charter school would have remained with the local school district. The result was that no charter schools were authorized in Mississippi. In 2013, Mississippi revamped its law, allowing for the creation of start-up and conversation charter schools that may be authorized by local boards of education, or a newly created Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. As a result, charter schools with promise are now being authorized in Mississippi.

Both the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), national organizations with records for advocating for strong charter school laws and high quality charter schools, have taken the position that state legislation should allow for multiple authorizers for charter schools. In measuring how state’s laws stack up to their model charter school legislation, the National Alliance scores states on the extent to which state laws “allow two or more authorizing options (e.g., school districts and a state charter schools commission) for each applicant with direct application to each authorizer.”

NACSA’s position on charter school authorizers is below:

  • NACSA encourages states to establish an alternative authorizer that meets NACSA’s Principles & Standards and which provides all charter school applicants with at least two authorizer options in every jurisdiction. Ideally, the alternative authorizer would be an ICB [independent charter board] and would have the ability to take applications directly, not just upon denial by the local school district. Regardless of the type, all authorizers should be required to implement strong practices in keeping with NACSA’s Principles & Standards, or similarly rigorous state standards for authorizers.

The Prichard Committee’s desire to limit charter school authorizing to local boards of education is out of line with what we have learned nationally about the establishment of high quality charter schools, and with the recommendations of respected charter school policy organizations. Further, the superintendents of Kentucky’s two largest school districts have made it clear that they do not want charter schools in Kentucky. With that understanding, taking the position that charter schools may only be authorized by local boards of education is nearly the same as the Prichard Committee saying that there should be no charter schools in Kentucky. If the Committee’s position is to support local boards of education in their opposition to charter schools in Kentucky, then they should simply say so. If that’s their position, they should make that position clear to the people of Kentucky, and not hide it behind a facade of moderate support for the establishment of charter schools.

Kentucky: Preparing for Performance-Based Funding in Higher Education

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) has said that the budget he will present to the legislature in January 2016 will include “outcomes-based funding”; or funding that is at least in part based on the performance of public agencies or publicly supported institutions. While Governor Bevin has not talked specifically about outcomes-based funding for higher education institutions, variants of performance-based funding in higher education have been adopted in all of Kentucky’s neighboring states, with the exception of West Virginia.

In a nutshell, performance-based funding of higher education differs from the more traditional funding approach in that state funding of institutions or systems is either in-whole or in-part dependent on an institution’s progress toward achieving certain goals or its progress on certain predetermined state-defined indicators or metrics. Common indicators for higher education performance-based funding include institutions’ retention rates, graduation rates, and successful course completion rates. Critics of traditional higher education funding approaches and advocates for performance-based funding argue that traditional funding models provide little incentive for institutions to improve retention and graduation rates, graduate students in a more timely manner, or graduate students with a more industry-ready skill set. Opponents of performance-based funding argue that such approaches disadvantage institutions that don’t perform well on performance indicators, but desperately need state funding to improve their performance.

The policy details of performance-based funding vary significantly from state to state. Among Kentucky’s border states alone, performance-based funding approaches differ substantially. For example, in Tennessee, institutions (two-year and four-year institutions) receive a base allocation for operations, but beyond that, all state funding is allocated based on institutions’ progress on specified outcomes. Ohio has taken a different approach. For four-year institutions in Ohio, 50% of state funding for institutions is based on degree completion, and 30% of funding is based on course completion. For two-year institutions in Ohio, 50% of funding is based on course completion, 25% is based on state-defined completion milestones, and 25% is based on state-defined success points. Different still, in Indiana, 6% of funding for two-year and four-year institutions is based on state-defined specific institutional performance metrics, including: degree completion, at-risk degree completion, high impact degree completion, persistence, remediation, remediation success, on-time graduation, and an institution selected measure.

While Kentucky has not yet adopted performance-based funding for higher education, the policy conversation is not at all new in Kentucky. State policy makers as well as leaders at the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) and at high education institutions across the commonwealth have engaged in relatively substantive policy conversations for the last few years about what performance based funding in Kentucky could look like. CPE President Bob King has encouraged the shift since 2011.

Most recently, in the 2015 Regular Session of the Kentucky General Assembly, the Republican-led Senate passed a resolution to move higher education funding in the state in the direction of performance-based funding. The resolution directed the CPE to:

“develop a performance-based funding model for the public postsecondary education institutions; identify guiding principles and constraints; establish metrics that recognize difference of missions among research, comprehensive regional, and community and technical college institutions; require findings and recommendations to be reported by December 11, 2015.”

Voting on the resolution was for the most part along party lines, with most Republicans voting for the resolution and most Democrats voting against it. The resolution moved to the Democrat-led House and was assigned to the House Education Committee, which took no further action on it.

It should be noted that the presidents of both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have not been supportive of a shift to a performance-based funding model, making the argument that such a shift should not be considered without the General Assembly directing additional funding to higher education. State funding for higher education in Kentucky and across the U.S. has declined substantially in recent years. According to a 2014 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, most states continue to fund higher education “below pre-recession levels.” Specifically, they reported that every state with the exception of North Dakota and Alaska are spending less per student on higher education than they were spending prior to the recession.

Whether Kentucky adopts performance-based funding in 2016 remains to be seen, but CPE, community college, and four-year institution leaders would be well-advised to prepare for its eventual coming to the commonwealth.

My Dream for Public Schooling in Kentucky: Every School A School of Choice

Education policy advocates on either side of the school choice debate spend considerable time debating the merits of charter schools, traditional public schools, magnet schools, etc. But the truth is that parents don’t care what type of school their children attend. Most parents want their children to attend a school that meets their needs, and honestly, they couldn’t care less whether the school is a traditional public school, a magnet school, or a charter school.

While some might call me naive, my dream for Kentucky is every parent having the ability to choose schools for their children. That choice might mean she enrolls her child in the traditional public school within walking distance of her home. That choice might mean his child is bused across town to attend a performing arts magnet school. Or that choice might mean her child attends a local public charter school with a curricular emphasis on medical technology. Whatever their choice, parents should be assured that school of choice meets a minimum academic performance standard, in the same way that when we choose a restaurant, we are assured by government that our restaurant choice meets a minimum food safety standard.

Call me silly, but I believe every public school in Kentucky should be one that parents choose for their children. No child or family should be trapped in a school that cannot or will not meet her academic needs.

Kentucky: Any Charter School Law Just Won’t Do

With Kentucky’s election of conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who included school choice as a part of his campaign platform, and Democrats coming closer by the day to losing control of the state House of Representatives, discussion of the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky has picked up significantly. In fact, I have never heard more discussion of what many education policy movers, shakers, and watchers are saying is the inevitable emergence of public charter schools in Kentucky. As a longtime advocate for the passage of strong public charter school legislation in Kentucky, I greet that conversation with cautious optimism.

It is true that the support of Governor Bevin, the support of newly appointed Education and Workforce Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, and shaky control of the state House by Democrats, all contribute to a political environment in Kentucky that could be ripe for the passage of a strong charter school law. But even with a more favorable political environment, advocates for high quality charter schools should be more insistent than ever that Kentucky’s lawmakers get charter school legislation right. We have learned from other states successes and challeng

es that the details of charter school legislation matter tremendously.It is the provisions of the statute that set the framework what charter schools in a state will eventually become. Unfortunately, I believe the inclination of some educational leaders and lawmakers in Kentucky is to try to pass a charter school law that is most palatable to the traditional public education establishment, rather than passing a law that gives charter schools in Kentucky the greatest opportunity to be successful. Rather than putting first the academic well-being of children who will be served by Kentucky’s charter schools, I fear that some lawmakers find it preferable to please district and state-level education leaders and the organizations they represent. Make no mistake about it, the interests of children and the interests of education organizations are not always one in the same.

I have gone on record previously and I do so again in saying that I will not advocate for the passage of a weak charter school law. A charter school law in Kentucky that leads to the creation of no high quality public charter schools, or worse, leads to persistently low achieving public charter schools, would do more harm to children than good. As such, Kentucky would be better served by forgoing the passage of a weak charter school law, and having no charter school law at all.

There are many elements of a strong charter school law to be decided on, but there are a few essential elements that must be a part of Kentucky’s charter school law if it is to lead to successful public charter schools. Based on research, the successes and failures of other states, and good old fashion common sense, here are a few of those essential elements:

  • Multiple Paths to Authorization. Kentucky’s charter school law must include more than one path to authorization for schools. Local school districts may serve as one of the charter authorizers, but groups applying for a charter must have at least one additional path to apply for charter authorization. Others states have experienced success with additional routes to charter authorization through independent charter school commissions, state boards of education, state commissioners or superintendents of education, city governments, and state-supported universities. All of these options should be considered in Kentucky. Providing charter schools with only one route to authorization through local school districts would leave the establishment and success of charters schools in Kentucky solely in the hands of organizations that have opposed the passage of charter school legislation.
  • Academic Accountability. Kentucky’s charter school law must hold charter schools to the highest standards of academic performance accountability. Authorizers must be held accountable for granting charters only to groups that have a comprehensive plan for the success of the school. Authorizers must be held accountable for monitoring the academic performance of charter schools in their charge, intervening when needed, and not renewing or revoking schools’ charters when necessary. Public charter schools in Kentucky cannot be allowed to fail children and families year after year, generation after generation, as some of our traditional public schools have.
  • Collective Bargaining. Kentucky’s charter schools must not be bound by collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts. The provisions of such agreements limit the human resources autonomy of administrators in some of Kentucky’s traditional public schools. Specifically, provisions of such collective bargaining greatly limit school administrators’ ability to recruit, hire, supervise, evaluate, and if need be, terminate school personnel. As the charter school concept is based on providing schools with greater autonomy in exchange for higher levels of academic accountability, binding public charter schools with those restrictions would be counterproductive. A charter school law would not and could not, however, prevent teachers at Kentucky charter schools from forming their own unions if they so chose and collectively bargaining with their schools.
  • Funding Equity. Kentucky’s public charter schools must receive funding that is equitable to traditional public schools. Public charter schools in some states have been crippled by receiving as little as half the per pupil dollar amount that would be allocated for a child attending a traditional public school. Such funding inequity would be unacceptable in a charter school law in Kentucky. Funding for public charter schools should be allocated in the same manner that funding for traditional public schools is allocated, on a per pupil basis. For every child whose parent chooses to enroll her in a public charter school, the same state, local, and federal dollars that would follow her to a district school should follow her to a public charter school.

Why High Tech High Couldn’t Operate in Kentucky

Over the last few years I’ve seen considerable interest from Kentucky educators in San Diego’s High Tech High School. For those of you who are unfamiliar with High Tech High, here is a brief description from the school’s website:

“Launched in September 2000 by an industry and educator coalition, the Gary and Jerri- Ann Jacobs High Tech High is an independent public charter school serving 584 students in grades 9-12. The school’s mission is to prepare a diverse range of students for postsecondary education, citizenship, and leadership in the high technology industry.”

In the last few years, more than a few Kentucky educators and education leaders have made their way to San Diego to tour the school, and most of them have returned to Kentucky energized about the possibilities for innovation in public education. I saw such enthusiasm on display again just last night. I was invited by my friend and colleague Dr. Justin Bathon to attend a film screening and discussion for “Most Likely to Succeed” at Lexington’s Steam Academy. The film was fantastic and I highly recommend attending or organizing a screening. The film highlighted High Tech High’s approach, students, teachers, and parents. And once again, Kentucky educators, parents, and students were inspired to transform classrooms, schools, and school districts into learning environments with similar characteristics as High Tech High. I wasn’t surprised.

What does continue to surprise me, however, is that in conversations about High Tech High and education innovation in Kentucky’s schools, there is rarely if ever mention of the fact that High Tech High is a charter school. And I’m perceptive enough to know that for educators and education leaders, it’s more than just oversight. It’s no secret that charter schooling is heresy in Kentucky’s traditional public education circles.

To be sure, there are plenty of charter schools in California and across the U.S. that can’t hold a candle to what High Tech High is doing. But it is absolutely the case that High Tech High is what it is because of California’s charter school law. Its leaders have used the flexibility and autonomy granted to it by California’s charter school law to build a school that bears little resemblance to traditional public schools in California or anywhere else. To miss that High Tech High is able to be as different as it is because it is a charter school is to miss something integral to its success.

Policy makers and education leaders in Kentucky should also realize this: If the leaders of High Tech High School wanted to come to Kentucky to replicate the school or create something similar, they couldn’t. Why? First and foremost, because Kentucky has no charter school law; so they couldn’t apply for a charter to do it. But even if it were current education leaders in a Kentucky school district who wanted to build a Kentucky version of High Tech High, they couldn’t; because without a charter school law, there is not nearly the flexibility for schools needed to pull it off in Kentucky.

Here are a few critical elements to the school’s model which Kentucky school leaders should pay closer attention to:

  • There is no tenure for teachers at High Tech High. Their teachers sign one-year contracts which may or may not be renewed at the end of the year.
  • California’s charter school law exempts High Tech High (and all California charter schools) from school district collective bargaining agreements.
  • High Tech High is authorized by the state to credential its own teachers (the first California charter school authorized to do so). Teachers hired are automatically enrolled in its free, two-year credentialing program. That kind of flexibility gives them the ability to recruit teachers who may or may not currently have a teaching credential, and who may or may not have completed formal training in education. High Tech High (and all charter schools in California) are granted further flexibility with the credentialing of teachers who teach “non-core, non-college preparatory courses.”
  • Leaders at High Tech High exercise an extraordinary amount of curricular and instructional autonomy; the likes of which current Kentucky schools do not have. In fact, a principal or superintendent in Kentucky proposing to alter the curriculum to the extent offered there would likely be laughed out of the state.
  • Leaders at High Tech High exercise tremendous budget autonomy in aligning personnel, instructional, and facilities expenditures with the the vision and mission of the school.

These are just a few of the areas where California’s charter school law has provided the legal flexibility that allows High Tech High to do what it does. There was no magic charter school dust that made the school what it is; but without the flexibility provided by the charter school law, the school wouldn’t exist. Education policy does matter. Kentucky’s policy makers and education leaders who have fallen in love with the High Tech High model would be shortsighted to not acknowledge that it does.

Wayne D. Lewis, Jr.