Category Archives: School Choice

North Carolina Charter Schools, Teacher Credentialing, and the Future of Teacher Licensure

North Carolina Senate Bill 337 would, among other things,
remove the current statutory requirement that at least 75% of teachers in
elementary charter schools and 50% of teachers in charter high schools hold
teacher licenses. The controversial bill was passed in the Senate and now sits
with the House Education Committee. In addition to the eliminating teacher
licensing requirements, the bill would create a new state Charter School Board
with substantial statutory authority. I will discuss the implications of the creation
of such a board in a future post, but here I want to focus on the potential
elimination of teacher licensure requirements for charter school teachers in
the state.

If Senate Bill 337 is passed by the Republican-controlled North
Carolina House and signed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, as I believe it
will be, the implications for teacher certification in the state are pretty
significant. If the bill passes, North Carolina wouldn’t be the first state to
remove certification requirements for teachers in public charter schools. In
Louisiana, a state that has blazed the trail in recent years for controversial
school choice policies, provisions of House Bill 976 (2012) eliminated certification
requirements for charter school teachers in the state. Prior to the passage of House
Bill 976, Louisiana law required that 75% of teachers in charter schools have
valid teaching certificates. The elimination of certification requirements for
charter school teachers in Louisiana has been pretty hotly debated—as I believe
it will be in North Carolina; with the change drawing the ire of teachers
unions and traditional public school district superintendents.

In Louisiana, this change has immediate implications for the
vast majority of teachers in the city of New Orleans. Approximately 75% of
public schools in New Orleans are charter schools and nearly 80% of the city’s
public school students attend charter schools. So eliminating requirements for
teacher certification in Louisiana could mean that over time, a majority of
teachers working in public schools in a major American city could be non-licensed teachers. Charter schools in
none of North Carolina’s cities serve nearly the percentage of students as
charter schools in New Orleans, so the immediate implications of the passage of
Senate Bill 337 are not quite as drastic. But eliminating licensure
requirements for charter school teachers in North Carolina and Louisiana
represents a national conversation (or debate) around what the most appropriate
credentials for public school teachers ought to be.

The majority of advocates for eliminating state licensure requirements
for charter school teachers see state-licensure as an unnecessary hurdle for other-wise
qualified aspiring content experts
who would like to teach. While the current policy changes pertain only to
teachers in charter schools, changes to licensure requirements for teachers in
traditional public schools will likely follow in some states. How could they not?
Whatever one’s feelings regarding the utility of charter school reforms, there
is no debating the fact that charter schools are in fact public schools; and
states will have a difficult time rationalizing the maintenance of one set of
credentialing requirements for chemistry teachers at Johnson Traditional High
School, but then waiving those credentialing requirements for Jackson Charter
High School right across the street. It just doesn’t make sense.

Teachers unions and traditional public school district
superintendents in Louisiana and North Carolina are currently making the
argument that different requirements for charter school teachers and traditional
public school teachers doesn’t make sense. They are right. But what I don’t
think they understand yet is that the resolution to these differences in
requirements for teachers will likely be the elimination of state licensure
requirements for all public school teachers in a state. It won’t happen
overnight and it won’t happen in all states, but mark my words, that’s where
this is heading.

The implications for teacher training, schools of teacher
education, and the teaching profession are huge! More to come…

Mississippi’s New Charter School Law

In April 2013, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into
law the Mississippi Charter Schools Act of 2013, which makes relatively
significant changes to the state’s charter school law. Mississippi’s charter
school law up to now has been rated by charter school advocates, including the
Center for Education Reform (CER), as the weakest charter school law in the
nation; ranking last of all of 42 state charter school laws currently on the
books. Mississippi’s law has ranked so low largely because it is so restrictive
of charter schools. For example, the state’s law provided only for conversion
charter schools; start-up charter schools were not permitted under the law.
Only the most challenged traditional public schools in the state could potentially
qualify for charter school conversion; only a total of 12 charter schools could
be established; and even though the law was passed in 2010, no charter schools
could be established before the 2012-13 academic year. As such, even with the
law on the books, Mississippi currently has no charter schools in operation. For
anyone interested in additional specific details on the provisions of the state’s
old charter school law, I provide additional details on the law in a section below
(The Old Law: Mississippi Charter Conversion Act of 2010).

Here are a few noteworthy elements of Mississippi’s new charter
school law:

  • The law creates a Charter School Authorizer Board
    which has “exclusive chartering jurisdiction in the State of Mississippi,” and may
    approve up to 15 charter schools per fiscal year. The new board will have the responsibilities
    of reviewing applications, approving or rejecting applications, entering into
    charter contracts with approved applicants for charter schools, overseeing
    charter schools, and making charter renewal and/or revocation decisions. The
    board is to consist of seven members, with three members appointed by the Governor,
    three members appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, and one member appointed by
    the State Superintendent of Public Education.
  • Both conversion and start-up charter schools
    may be authorized. The law prohibits, however, the conversion of private
    schools into charter schools.
  • For the conversion of traditional public schools to
    charter schools
    , applicants must “demonstrate support for the proposed
    charter school conversion by a petition signed by a majority of teachers or a
    majority of parents of students in the existing noncharter public schools, or by a majority vote of the local
    board, or in the case of schools in
    districts under state conservatorship, by the State Board of Education.”
  • “In any school district designated as an A, B,
    or C school district by the State Board of Education under the accreditation
    rating system, the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board may authorize
    charter schools only if a majority of the members of the local school board
    votes at a public meeting to endorse the application or to initiate the
    application on its own initiative.”
  • Approved charter school schools may delay its
    opening for one year for the purposes of planning and preparation. The school
    may petition the authorizer for a period of longer than one year for planning
    and preparation before opening.
  • Charter schools must be open to any student
    living within the boundaries of the school district within which the charter
    school is located. School districts may not require any student to attend a
    charter school.
  • The “underserved student” enrollment of a
    charter school must be reflective of the students attending the school district
    in which the charter school is located, but must be at least 80% of the total student
  • ·        
    At least
    25% of a charter school’s initial teaching force must meet all state certification requirements, but all teachers at a charter school are required to meet state
    certification requirements by the school’s third year of operation. School administrators are not required to meet state licensing requirements.

  • Charter school employees are not subject to state salary requirements.
  • Charter school employees are not eligible for participation in the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement System.
  • The new law goes into effect July
    1, 2013
    . The Charter School Authorizer Board is expected to issue a
    call for charter school applications by December 1, 2013.


The Old Law: Mississippi
Charter Conversion Act of 2010

As of January 2013, Mississippi had no charter school in
operation. The Center for Education Reform (CER) graded Mississippi’s law as an
F in 2012, awarding it a total 1 out of 55 points. Of note, the Mississippi
state legislature passed new charter school legislation in April 2013. This
discussion, however, is of Mississippi’s charter school law as of January 2013.
The law was passed initially in 2010 as the Charter Conversion Act of 2010. It
defined a conversion charter school as “a public school that has converted to
operating under the terms of a contract entered into between the local
management board of a conversion charter school and the State Board of
Education.” Start-up charter schools may not be authorized under this law.The
State Board could approve up to 12 conversion charter schools from 2010 until
2016, and no more than three petitions for charters in each of the state’s four
congressional districts could be approved. No conversion charter schools were
to begin operations before July 2013.

The Mississippi State Board of Education was authorized to
issue contracts for conversion charter schools for a minimum three-year term,
and could renew conversion charter school contracts for up to three years
provided that “all parties to the original contract” approve renewal with a
majority vote of parents or guardians of students enrolled in the school.
However, after three years as a conversion charter school, parents or guardians
of students enrolled in the school could request that conversion charter school
status be removed from the school by submitting a petition to the State Board
of Education with the support of over 50% of the school’s parents or guardians.

Mississippi’s conversion charter schools were to function as
traditional public schools in most ways. They were to continue receiving
funding and are provided with transportation services in the same manner that
these were provided before receiving conversion charter status. In addition to
state and local funding, the law permits conversion charter schools to receive
additional funds from other public or private sources. In fact, the law goes to
great lengths to make it quite clear that conversion charter schools may
receive funds from the federal Race to the Top program. The following excerpt from
the law strongly suggests that the passage from the law was in large part an effort to win federal Race to the Top

It is the intent of the Legislature
that in accordance with the conditions of federal funding under the federal
“Race to the Top” program, public schools converted to conversion charter
school status in Mississippi are authorized to operate conversion charter and
autonomous public school programs that are high-performing. It is further the intent
of the Legislature that public schools converted to conversion charter schools
receive equitable state and federal funding compared to traditional public
schools, as required by the federal “Race to the Top” program, and that the
state shall not impose any school facility-related requirements on conversion
charter schools which are more restrictive than those applied to traditional
public schools.

Children in the attendance zone of a conversion charter
school prior to the conversion would continue to attend the conversion
charter school after the conversion. The schools were to be open to transfer
students from other schools only if openings were available.

Why There Is No Charter School Law in Kentucky

I run into friends and colleagues quite often (in Kentucky) who are surprised when I tell them that there is still no law allowing for the creation of charter schools in Kentucky. I would say their surprise is warranted given that 47 states and the District of Columbia now have some form of charter school legislation. So today’s post is for my fellow Kentuckians; those friends and colleagues that after finding that we have no law, ask me why not. The truth my friends is that teacher unions’ money and Kentuckians’ contentment with our schools have stopped us from passing a charter school law. 

  • Believe it or not, Kentuckians are pretty pleased with the outcomes of our education system. In fact, some of us think our state’s schools are pretty darn good!! And maybe they are; the new Quality Counts rankings in Edweek came out just today and Kentucky ranked #14 in the nation! Out of sight!! Never mind the enormous, shameful achievement gaps that have persisted for generations in schools all across Kentucky; or that there are schools in parts of our state that should be shut down and never reopened; or that only a small fraction of our high school graduates leave high school prepared for the rigors of college. If you can just get past those little things, we’re really doing a hell of a job in Kentucky! And who would have thought it? I know I had no idea. It is truly the best kept secret in America. But probably not for long; with the release of the Quality Counts rankings we are likely to have a hard time keeping parents from Ohio, Indiana, and Tennessee from sneaking across the state line to get their kids into our Kentucky schools. 
  • Kentucky’s teacher unions/professional associations have lots of Democrat legislators under their thumb. These organizations heavily fund the campaigns of many Democrat legislators. The unions pretend that they oppose charter schools on the grounds that charters will be detrimental to Kentucky children, but in reality they oppose charter schools because they would threaten the job security of ineffective teachers. Can’t have that, now can we!! So they persuade/bully Democrat leaders in the Kentucky legislature to oppose even open and honest conversations about the issue; and they spread lies to their members (teachers) and to the public about charter schools. And are these legislators willing to stand up to the unions, their campaign funders, and say that we must have an open and honest dialogue about charter schools? Of course they are not. Why not? Because their next election is just around the corner, and they can’t count on the parents of children in failing schools to fund their campaigns.
The political landscape in Kentucky is pretty complicated for sure. I don’t mean to trivialize or oversimplify the issue, but the simple reality is that Kentucky has no charter school law because Kentuckians are pretty content with the schools we have, and the very well funded teacher unions/professional associations do a great job of keeping the Democrats in the legislature in line. Until one or both of those realities change, there will be no charter schools in Kentucky.

Arnold Foundation to Invest $25 million in New Orleans Charter Schools

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation announced last week its latest investment in school reform in New Orleans. Following multi-million dollar investments in charter schools, school choice, and teacher recruitment, the foundation announced that that it will invest an additional $25 million to support an initiative to help create and expand high-performing charter schools in New Orleans. The funds are to be managed through New Schools for New Orleans and the Charter School Growth Fund. The initiative’s goal is within the next five years, to move 15,000 students attending low-performing schools in New Orleans to high performing charter schools. 

I have made no secret about my position on high quality public charter schools; I favor them, and I favor legislation and legislative changes that allow for their creation and expansion. Charter school reform critics argue that investing in charter schools does not fix broken systems, and I do not disagree with them. But school reform happens one school at a time. So every high quality school that we create for children, whether a traditional public school or a charter school, contributes to the goal of reforming public education in the city of New Orleans. Every additional high quality public school that we create provides that many more opportunities for children currently attending low-performing schools to attend a high-quality school. Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about reforming the public school systems that serve our most vulnerable children, but I will not apologize for supporting the creation and expansion of high quality public charter school options as well.

JCTA President Must Stop Misleading the People of Jefferson County About Charter Schools

For the first time Kentuckians are having the opportunity to openly discuss the possibility of charter schools in the Commonwealth, and propaganda and untruths are being spread like never before. What is most disconcerting is that many of those untruths have come from the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA), Mr. Brent McKim. Unfortunately, Mr. McKim has decided against participating in an open an honest conversation about what the passage of charter school legislation and the expansion of public school options for parents could mean for families in Kentucky. Instead, he has decided to mislead both his own association and the citizens of Louisville about what charter schools are and what they could bring to Kentucky. 
Reason for Opposition
Mr. McKim has misled the public about why he opposes the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky. He would have Kentuckians to believe that his opposition to charter schools is altruistic, and that his primary motive for opposing charter schools is his desire to ensure that all children in Jefferson County have access to only the highest quality schools. The truth, however, is that his primary reason for opposing charter schools is that in most charter schools across the country, there is no collective bargaining with teachers unions. Many lawmakers and charter school operators and authorizers across the country have made the decision to not have collective bargaining with charter schools in an effort to ensure that charter school administrators have the flexibility to make personnel decisions that are in the best interest of children. Collective bargaining agreements often restrict school principals from making these types of decisions, sometimes resulting in ineffective teachers remaining in positions that they should have been removed from years earlier. Principals in charter schools have the authority to remove ineffective teachers from classrooms. Mr. McKim is not a fan of this type of accountability for teachers.
Second and related, since there is usually no collective bargaining with charter schools, fewer charter school teachers remain members of teachers unions. For Mr. McKim, this would mean fewer dollars coming into his office every month; some of those dollars which he now uses to thwart the efforts of those who want real reform in Jefferson County’s schools. 
Charter School Teachers
It is unfortunate that attempts have been made to scare good public school teachers into believing that charter schools would put their careers in jeopardy. This could not be further from the truth. Here are a few truths about teachers in charter schools. 
  • Most charter school teachers across the country come from traditional public schools. 
  • Most charter school teachers across the country hold state teaching licenses. 
  • All charter school teachers apply for jobs at charter schools. Teachers are not reassigned from traditional public schools to charter schools. 
  • As all charter schools are public schools, all charter school teachers are public school teachers and have all the same rights and privileges of other public school teachers, including the opportunity to the participate state teachers retirement systems.
  • The only teachers that should be wary of applying for teaching positions in charter schools are ineffective ones. Ineffective teachers have long found comfort in knowing that they could fail children and families year after year and still hold onto their jobs, move up the salary schedule, and check off another year toward full state retirement because of protections provided by collective bargaining agreements. Ineffective teachers in charter schools do not have the protections of collective bargaining agreements to protect their jobs, so they ensure that children in their classrooms learn.
Student Achievement in Jefferson County Public Schools
Charter schools will bring innovation in curriculum, instruction, and accountability to Kentucky. This is not to suggest that there are not innovative practices already in place in some Kentucky schools. The truth is that some Kentucky schools (some in Jefferson County) are doing a fantastic job. The problem is that some are not doing well. In fact, some schools have failed children and families for years. According to Mr. McKim, Jefferson County Public Schools is already doing enough. He points to Kentucky’s rank of 14 on the 2012 Edweek Quality Counts rankings. These rankings do point to strides that Kentucky has made in recent years to improve education outcomes. As a Kentucky educator, I am proud of the strides that we are making as a state. I do caution Kentuckians, however, that on that list Arkansas is ranked 5th and West Virginia is ranked 10th.  
But I believe what is more important than Edweek’s rankings is the achievement data for children in Jefferson County Public Schools. According to the Jefferson County Public Schools’ 2010-2011 District Report Card, on the Kentucky Core Content Tests (KCCT), only 49.3% of African American students scored proficient or distinguished in reading, only 64% of Hispanic students scored proficient or distinguished in reading, and only 52.92% of economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or distinguished in reading. In mathematics only 40.87% of African American students scored proficient or distinguished, only 60.84% of Hispanic students scored proficient or distinguished, and only 46.23% of economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or distinguished in mathematics. Also, tragically, students with disabilities in Jefferson County Public Schools scored proficient and distinguished in mathematics and reading at rates far below Kentucky state averages. 
The achievement data are even more troubling when we look specifically at some of the district’s lowest performing schools. According to Iroquois High School’s 2010-2011 School Report Card, in mathematics only 19.47% of African American students scored proficient or distinguished, only 26.34% of economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or distinguished, only 38.89% of White students scored proficient or distinguished, and not one (0%) student with a disability scored proficient or distinguished in mathematics at Iroquois High School. So while I agree that Jefferson County Public Schools has made strides and is doing some things very well, these figures clearly illustrate that Mr. McKim’s claim that Jefferson County has everything under control are nothing short of misleading. Unless Mr. McKim is prepared to tell us that Jefferson County’s economically disadvantaged, Black, Hispanic, and special needs students are incapable of learning at higher levels, he should retract his claims of Jefferson County schools’ greatness.
Charter School Funding

Mr. McKim has charged that charter schools would divert critical funding from traditional public schools. This is another untruth that he has regularly used to mislead Kentuckians. The truth is that charter schools are public schools, and as such, they are funded in the same way that traditional public schools are funded. The same state, federal, and local tax dollars that fund a child’s education at duPont Manual High School would fund that same child’s education at a charter school. Funding follows children. When a child leaves one school to go to another one, the funding for that child follows her to the new school. That means if no parents choose to enroll their children in the charter school, the school does not get a dime. In this way, charter schools must e
nsure that parents are pleased with their children’s educational experience, because if parents take their children out of the school it received no funding and it has to close. So in addition to being held to high academic performance standards, charter schools are held directly accountable to you (the parent).

This Fight is About Giving Parents Options 
This fight is about parent choice in education. Charter school advocates want to broaden the quality public school options available to parents in Kentucky; Mr. McKim thinks parents have enough choices. Please understand that when Mr. McKim talks about funds being diverted from traditional public schools, what he means is that he would rather that you (the parent) not have choices about what public school you send your child to, because you might take your child out of a school that has been failing for years and put him/her somewhere where you think your child can get a quality education. He would rather that you not have the option to send your child to a charter school where the JCTA does not have a collective bargaining agreement. This fight is about you , and the fact that Mr. McKim and other education leaders like him do not think you are smart enough to make your own decisions about where you send your child to school. Please do not let him make you believe that this fight is about me, or charter school advocacy groups, or the individuals or groups that fund charter school advocacy groups; this fight is about giving you quality public school options for your children. 
Please do not let Mr. McKim or anyone else mislead Kentuckians about charter schools any longer. The charter school bill under consideration in the Kentucky General Assembly would set very high standards for the authorization of charter schools in Kentucky, and hold charter schools accountable for meeting high standards. Charter schools that fail to meet those standards would be closed. Call or email your state legislators today to let him/her know that you support the passage of charter school legislation in Kentucky.
For your convenience, a link to the proposed HB 77 is provided here.

My State of the Union Education Wish List

As we prepare to hear President Obama’s assessment of the state of our great nation tonight in the annual State of the Union Address tonight, I am making a list of a few statements that I would like to hear him make. The president is preparing for what many pundits are predicting will be a pretty tough re-election campaign, so I would expect him to recap some of the education accomplishments of his administration, and that is fine. But after a brief recap of those victories, I want him to make a few clear and definitive statements about the educational direction he would like to move the nation in during a second term. 

Here are a few of the specific things I would like to hear:
  1. I want to hear President Obama say that we must increase the number of high quality public school options available to parents. The president has been a supporter of increasing public school options for families in the past and I hope to hear that commitment reaffirmed tonight.
  2. I want to hear President Obama say that we do not currently have the necessary teaching and leadership capacity in our schools to prepare our children for 21st Century success; and that states must adopt a “by any means necessary” approach to getting teacher and school leader capacity to where it needs to be. 
  3. I want to hear the president say that states must hold schools, teachers, and leaders individually and collectively accountable for student learning. I want him to say that schools where children do not learn are of no use to us. I want him to say when children do not learn, adults have to lose their jobs.
  4. I want to hear President Obama say that he will remain committed to the federal government providing financial supports and incentives for states that take bold steps toward implementing serious reform in their public schools; not the surface stuff that everyone likes, but really committing to going back to the drawing board to redesign systems so that all children can learn.
It is past time to get serious about providing a quality public education for all of our children.

Charter School Rally at Kentucky State Capitol (Tuesday January 24th at 10 AM)

Advocates for education reform in Kentucky will convene on the State Capitol in Frankfort, KY tomorrow (Tuesday January 24, 2012) at 10 AM in a show of support for passing charter school legislation in Kentucky. Discussion of a charter school bill in Kentucky has reached new highs in recent weeks as Kentuckians Advocating for Reform in Education (KARE) , the Kentucky Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in Kentucky have continued to both build a grassroots movement and place pressure on the Kentucky General Assembly. 

For those in Louisville who would like to attend the rally, buses will leave the Midwest Church of Christ at 8:00 AM. Please call 502-494-6419 to make your reservation and for additional information.

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 I)

Over the next few months I will devote my activity on the Education Policy Matters Blog to making the case for giving Kentucky parents additional public school options by passing state legislation to allow the creation of quality public charter schools. To date, 40 states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of charter school legislation. Kentucky is one of only 10 states that have not. The fact that most other states have already passed charter school legislation is not in itself a reason for Kentucky to do so now. Throughout history Kentucky has been a state that has charted its own course, and has been deliberate in education reform and decision making; a most admirable quality that I hope we never lose. However, the passage of good charter school legislation in Kentucky and the creation of quality public charter schools across the state would give us a powerful tool to be used in our education reform efforts. I will start today with just providing some basic information about what charter schools are and why I believe they have the potential to be helpful to us with education reform.

Charter School Basics

Charter schools are public schools. Let me say that again. Charter schools are public schools; all of them. They do not charge tuition. Any child may attend a charter school. In the event that applications for seats in charter schools are greater than the number of seats available, names are randomly drawn to determine what students will be admitted. The name “charter school” comes from the charters (contracts or agreements) that the schools have with the state to provide education for children. Charter schools receive funding in the same way that traditional public schools do; based on the number of children that attend them. No child is ever forced to attend a charter school. Charter schools are schools of choice. Parents must choose to enroll their child in a charter school. 

In most states charter schools are granted waivers from some district and state-level policies giving them greater autonomy than traditional public schools. In exchange for this autonomy charter schools are responsible for meeting or exceeding the academic achievement terms outlined in their respective charters. Charter schools that do not perform to the standards dictated in their charters may be closed. Again, charter schools that do not perform may be closed.

Charter Schools Provide Options for Parents

Charter schools provide additional school options for parents. I firmly believe that every parent should have public school options when deciding on a school for his/her child. No parent should be forced to send his or her child to a school that cannot adequately serve his/her child’s needs; yet hundreds of thousands of parents across the country and tens of thousands of parents right here in Kentucky are forced to do just that. Parental options in the form of magnet schools,  intradistrict and interdistrict public school choice, and charter schools all provide public school options for parents. I believe that as we work to improve our traditional public school systems we must also work to increase the availability of options for Kentucky parents both inside our traditional systems and outside. All parents deserve school options; regardless of their zip code, education level, income, or social capital. Quality public charter schools can be instrumental in giving parents across Kentucky access to public school options.

Over the next few months I will spend some time making the case for why public school options for parents are so important, debunking some of the myths about public charter schools, and discussing why public charter schools should be an integral part of education reform in Kentucky. 

No Charters in Kentucky’s Race to the Top Application, But Why? Really?

After much talk about the possibility of “Race to the Top” influencing Kentucky to adopt charter school legislation, the Senate Education Committee today voted down an amendment that would have given life to the charter schools in the Commonwealth. The proposed measure would have only allowed for the conversion of chronically low-performing schools into charter schools. Critics of the proposed amendment argued that a last-minute change in the state’s Race to the Top application allowing for charter schools would have derailed the nearly unanimous support of the state’s school districts. In reality, however, unanimous support was not what lawmakers were afraid of losing. They were afraid of losing the support of the largest and arguably most influential district in Kentucky, Jefferson County Public Schools (Louisiville). Kentucky’s Education Commissioner said that the loss of district support of the application as a result of including charters could be more costly to the state’s application than not including the charter schools provision.

So for now, there will be no charter schools in Kentucky. But I do not believe that this is the end of charter school discussion in Kentucky. As I said in a post a while back, it’s been pretty interesting to me, a newcomer, listening to Kentuckians’ reactions to the charter school idea. It is as if “charter school” is a bad word here. And that’s fine. As I’ve said many times before, there are several good arguments against charter schools. For a look at some check out my a recent exchange on charter schools at The Edjurist. I guess the only thing that bothers me about the resistance to charter schools that I’ve heard in Kentucky is that most of it is misinformed. 

So let’s start with the basics. The charter school idea was based on Henry Hudson’s charter with the East India Company to explore the Arctic in 1609. The document detailed the purpose of Hudson’s trip, the risks, accountability requirements, procedures for compensation, and rewards for productivity. Ray Budde, considered by many as the father of the charter school idea, thought that a charter between teachers and parents could be similarly developed and used. Budde’s idea gained popularity with then American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Albert Shanker, who then pushed through the adoption of the idea with the AFT. The first charter school legislation came in 1991 in Minnesota, and today 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted some variant of charter school legislation, with over 4,000 charter schools now in operation, and over one million students attending charter schools nationwide.

Some of those national statistics are what give so many people the impression that charter schools are a singular policy concept, with charter schools operating the same way in every state. But the truth is, because charter schools are a state-level reform, the idiosyncrasies of both individual charter schools and the state legislation that authorizes them make it difficult to speak of charters as a monolithic movement. For example, charter schools in Arizona are based on the assumption that market-like competition will bring about improvement in public schools, while Georgia’s charter school policy is not based on competition at all. Just about the only things that can be said about charter schools generally is that they are grounded in site-based management theory, which espouses that key decisions should be made at the school building level as opposed to the district central office or the state level. Other than that, however, there is extreme variation across states in terms of what charter schools are and how they operate.

So here is my issue: If charter school policies are written at the state level, meaning individual states decide what charter schools are, who can authorize them, how they will be authorized, how they will be held accountable, who they will be held accountable to, and how they will be funded; what is it about the general charter school concept that Kentuckians are so adamantly opposed to? It is completely natural that state teachers unions would oppose a charter school policy that does not require charter school teachers to be state certified. I get that. But who says that a charter school policy has to include that kind of provision. Any survey of state charter school policies shows clearly that a charter school is whatever a state wants it to be. And to be honest, charter schools in many states don’t operate significantly different than traditional public schools in Kentucky with school-based decision making councils. If someone is fundamentally opposed to school decentralization, and holds that many school decisions should in fact be made at levels higher than the school building administration, then yes, it is understandable that that persons would be opposed to the charter school concept. But that person would also be opposed to school-based decision making in any form.

Whether or not Kentucky ever adopts charter school legislation is not important to me. But what is important to me is that Kentuckians discuss and even debate the real issues; not misperceptions of issues. The education of children in Kentucky is too important to shut out possibilities because we don’t want to take the time to truly understand new ideas and have substantive, not political, discussions about them. I make this argument about charter schools and any other education policy issue that comes around. I say to my students all the time, you can take any position you want, but be able to substantiate it. Charter schools may not be right for Kentucky, but we need to do the work of coming to that conclusion.The decisions that we make about our children’s education must be based on reason; not feelings, not politics, and not what friends in other states say. Let’s do things right Kentucky. We owe it to our kids.