The Case for Public Charter Schools in Kentucky (Part III-School Accountability)

A common question that I get from Kentuckians about public charter schools is this: What if they don’t work? I think that’s a fair question and one which any concerned parent and citizen should have of an education reform. Here is the answer:

In exchange for the increased autonomy or independence that charter schools receive they are held to high accountability standards. Does this mean that every charter school works? No, they do not all work. The benefit of the charter school, however, is that if it does not work we can close it down. That is a new breed of school accountability. If the school doesn’t work, we close it. This is why getting good charter school legislation in Kentucky is so important. With Kentucky being one of the last states to consider adopting charter school legislation we can learn from some of errors that lawmakers in other states have made with drafting charter school laws. For Kentucky, we want a charter school law that has a high threshold; meaning applicants wanting to open charter schools will have to meet a rigorous standard before being granted a charter. We also want the law written so that charter schools that fail to meet their agreed upon expectations will be shut down with minimal difficulty. In addition to this outcomes-based accountability that comes with charter schools, any parent  that is unhappy with the charter school that their child attends simply takes the child out of the charter school and sends him/her to another school. That’s consumer accountability (Lewis & Fusarelli, 2010).

Let’s imagine just for a second if all public schools had to meet this kind of standard; accountability for student outcomes and direct accountability to stakeholders. Any schools that doesn’t perform and doesn’t give parents what they are looking for would be forced to close. That sounds ideal for me. But that’s a far cry from what we have with the current system. Instead, what is much more often the case is it doesn’t matter if parents are pleased with the school or not or if the school is performing at acceptable levels or not, we will force kids to go to the school and not provide parents with additional public school options. That scenario would be hard to believe in the United States of America if we didn’t all know that it is what happens in many of our school districts in Kentucky today. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We get to write the next chapter of our Kentucky education story.

Lewis, W. D., & Fusarelli, L. D. (2010). Leading schools in an era of change: Toward a new culture of accountability. In S. D. Horsford (Ed.), New perspectives on educational leadership: Exploring social, political, and community contexts and meanings (pp. 111-126). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

The Case for Public Charter Schools in Kentucky (Part II)

I begin Part II of this series with a simple truth about charter schools: No child is ever forced to enroll in a public charter school. Public charter schools are schools of choice. The only children who attend public charter schools are those whose parents decided to enroll them in one. Why would a parent do so? There could be any number of reasons, but the short answer is that a parent would disenroll his/her child in one school and enroll him/her in another one because s/he believes that the child would be better served in the new school. So that is the make-up of families at public charter schools. These are people who were believe that their children are be better served by the program(s) avaiable at their chosen charter school.

I don’t know about any of you, but I have a hard time counting the number of parents that I know who are displeased with their child’s school for one reason or another. This does not necessarily mean that their chldren attend bad, or poorly performing schools. All it means is that the parents are not satisfied that the school is meeting their chidrens specific needs. Kids are different, and have different learning, social, emotional, and sometimes physical needs. Charter schools provide public school options for parents that find themselves in the position of wanting something different for their chidrens schooling than what the traditional public school they are assigned to is able to offer. That’s it. Nothing more. Public charter schools give parents options.

Saying no to allowing the creation of public charter schools in Kentucky amounts to saying that you are not supportive of providing children with additional public school options. It amounts to saying that if parents are displeased with the traditional public school option (and for most Kentucky parents there is only one option) available to them and they cannot affort to send their children to private schools, then it’s just tough luck for their children.

A frequent criticism of the charter school concept is that instead of creating public charter schools as additional options for parents we should devote our efforts to improving our traditional public schools. Well, I say that we need to be able to do both at the same time. Yes, we must continue to improve our traditional public schools. For the foreseeable future, traditional public schools will be the vehicle used for schooling the majority of our children. But there are many parents in Kentucky whose children are trapped in sub-par schools; schools that most of us would not send our children to under any circumstances. Saying no to allowing the creation of public charter schools in Kentucky amounts to saying to those parents that because they do not have the financial, social, or political capital to send their children somewhere else that they should just be patient and wait until we can figure out to fix their school; knowing full well that we have no idea when or if we will be able to transform their school. Saying no to the creation of public charter schools in Kentucky says to those Kentucky parents that because they don’t have the resources that more affluent and connected Kentuckians have, their children don’t deserve access to the same educational opportunities as other children.

I don’t believe for one minute that Kentuckians are against giving parents options to provide their children with the best public education possible; and I don’t believe for one minute that once Kentuckians learn about the options that public charter schools could make available to children across our Commonwealth that anyone will be able to stop public charter schools from becoming an important part of our public education landscape.