During my first few weeks on the job, there have been many conversations and lots of action surrounding the Race to the Top funding. Kentucky has a consulting firm (the Bridgespan Group) that is helping with the application, and we have a number of advisory committees and lots of two-way communication planned to ensure we have the best possible application by the December deadline.
One of the “hot topics” is charter schools. Some think that since Kentucky does not have charter school legislation, we will automatically be eliminated from competition for funding. But, the guidelines only have two non-negotiable items. We must have applied for the stabilization funds, and we must show we do not block linking teacher data to student achievement data. We are okay with both these issues.
The application must address standards, data systems, teacher effectiveness and turnaround schools. The turnaround schools requirement is where the charter school issue arises. However, if you read U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s remarks on the turnaround requirement, you see that President Barack Obama and Sec. Duncan focus on four options for turnaround schools. They are as follows:
Option 1 – Principal and staff start planning in the fall to turn around a low-performing school. Basically, the students stay, and many staff members leave or at least have to reapply.
Option 2 – Staff is replaced, and a charter organization or for-profit management organization is allowed take over the school.
Option 3 – Most of the staff stays, but the school makes major culture changes to the evaluation system, curriculum and instruction, time on learning, and flexibility for budgeting, staffing and calendar. This is the model that Kentucky is well-known for through school-based decision making councils.
Option 4 – Schools are closed, and students are sent to other schools.
The focus of the turnaround schools requirement is on improving student achievement outcomes. That is something everyone in Kentucky can support. We have had experience in Kentucky working with turnaround efforts that we need to build upon.
In my previous experience as a local superintendent, I have worked very well with charter schools. I think Kentucky should keep an open conversation going about the best possible solutions for raising achievement and closing achievement gaps. I feel certain the conversation will include all of the options espoused by Sec. Duncan.