Friday, April 2, 2010

Why Charter Schools?

As a local superintendent in North Carolina, I was never a big fan of charter schools. I always felt that the charter law in North Carolina did not provide local control and did not focus enough on providing opportunities for children who were not achieving academically. Also, the charter school law in North Carolina has proven to resegregate schools, and in many cases, the more wealthy parents created charter schools that seemed to be exclusive.

However, over the years I have visited many outstanding charter schools across the nation, and I know that programs like Geoffrey Canada’s Promise Academy can close achievement gaps. So, as I came to Kentucky, I remained open about charter schools and have always supported parental choice of schools and programs based on the best interests of children.

Then, the Race to the Top (RTTT) guidelines were introduced, and the charter issue was placed front and center. Since I had been in Kentucky only a few months, it quickly became clear that I could either get superintendent and teacher support, or I might be able to get charter legislation; however, I could not get both.

In December, I met with teachers, school board members and superintendents and made the commitment that our Race to the Top application would not include charter school legislation. We promised to make our best case that school-based decision making (SBDM) councils provided everything that charter schools had and even more.

We did make a strong case on this and other components of the RTTT application. The Kentucky application was very strong -- we placed 9th overall in the scoring. However, when we analyzed the results, we were the only state to receive ZERO points for charter schools. The scorers were very clear that we must have charter school legislation to receive any points in this area. If we had scored the points in this area (32), we would have been the 2nd-highest-rated state and possibly been a first-round recipient.

So, the charter legislation is back on the table. As promised to school board members, teacher organizations and superintendents, the only way I could support charters is with these criteria:
Local boards would serve as the sole authorizing agent.
Teachers do not lose any personnel and collective bargaining rights, if relevant.
Charter schools must first and foremost address closing achievement gaps and meeting needs of children who are not achieving academically.

The Senate passed the legislation along party lines this week. If we had been able to discuss and meet individually with senators, I believe we could have achieved bipartisan support as we did with House Bill 176; however, the end of the session is very hectic, and there is not much time for debate and review.

Now, on to the House, and eventually a conference committee will meet to make the final decision on charter school legislation. My biggest concern will be the loss of superintendent, school board and teacher support for our Race to the Top application. I hope everyone will read the final version of the charter bill and find a very reasonable and practical approach to charters that will provide local boards and superintendents with full control. Also, I hope that educators and community members also will see the tremendous potential for innovation.

Charter schools that focus on dropouts, achievement gaps, early college, virtual learning and other possible innovations to help children achieve at higher levels will be possible. Of course, all of these are currently possible with SBDM councils and creative superintendents.

We are back to the main reason why we need charter legislation – hopefully, to help encourage creativity so more children will be successful. Also, charter legislation represents our best hope to obtain the points we need to receive up to $175 million in federal funds to implement many of the innovations that we hope to see. I wish there were easy answers, but, as with so many things, there are no easy answers.

6 comments:

  1. This is in response to Dr. Terry Holliday's blog, "Why charter schools," dated April 2, 2010. First, this author congratulates Dr. Holliday for the Senate passage of "the legislation along party lines this week" of the charter school laws in his state.
    The time has come when educators, policy makers and researcher must educate the larger community that charter schools are, also, public schools. The school board members, teacher organizations, and superintendents fear the establishment of charter schools in their districts because they lack knowledge of the functions and characteristics of charter schools. Historically people tend to fear the "unknown" in the absence of the knowledge of the unknown. Therefore, we must start to educate the public, as a whole, about charter schools. You stated, "I hope everyone will read the final version of the charter bill and find a very reasonable and practical approach to charters that will provide local boards and superintendents with full control." You are most likely to fail, with charter schools, if your intention is to provide local boards and superintendents with full control. You must realize that charter schools are only successful when giving the autonomy to operate within the law. You will agree with me that the intent of the charter school movement is to abolish the control of schools, and control of access to innovation by local boards, superintendents and school union bosses that have consistently failed our children in the traditional public schools.
    You stated that, " Also, charter legislation represents our best hope to obtain the points we need to receive up to $175 million in federal funds to implement many of the innovations that we hope to see." From your assertion, it seems that your only purpose for supporting charter school law is to receive the money to implement your old programs rather than provide parents and students a choice to transfer out from the traditional schools that have failed them for years. I am unsure if you actually read the conditions of the "Race to the Top" and the intent of the program. You must be honest in your intent. It is important that educational leaders, that actually care for the children of our nation, work to remove the hindrances that have prevented the establishment of charter schools in their districts.
    In regards to your existing program, you assets, " Charter schools that focus on dropouts, achievement gaps, early college, virtual learning and other possible innovations to help children achieve at higher levels will be possible. Of course, all of these are currently possible with SBDM councils and creative superintendents" but you failed to elaborate if your current SBDM councils and creative superintendents' programs have, if any, contributed to students' learning through their standardized test scores. This author thinks that it is time to allow new innovations and allow new charter schools in your district not just to support charter laws for the sole purpose of securing the federal money to continue the old programs that have failed the children of this nation for years. It is time for a paradigm shift, it is time for a change in the positive direction, it is time to narrow the achievement gap by authentically supporting new innovations through parental choice in the way their children are educated.
    John O. Alizor, is a PhD student in educational leadership at Capella university.

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  2. What a wonderful blog! Thank you for writing to all of us.

    On Friday (April 2nd) you wrote:

    "Charter schools that focus on dropouts, achievement gaps, early college, virtual learning and other possible innovations to help children achieve at higher levels will be possible. Of course, all of these are currently possible with SBDM councils and creative superintendents."

    You make a good point.

    A critical question, then, is what systemic factors have slowed such innovations until now?

    And how does our (or anyone else's) RTT proposal change those factors to enable innovation?

    Scott Diamond


    --
    Scott E Diamond, MA Ed, PhD
    970/300.2029

    Science Teacher
    Saint John School, Georgetown, KY

    Adjunct Assistant Professor of Physiology
    University of Kentucky College of Medicine
    I've read the discussion of RTT and reform both here in KY and from writers from other states. I haven't seen much that gets to this underlying issue.

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  3. Thanks to all who've posted comments about this blog entry -- this is a subject that is sure to generate much comment and feedback, which I welcome.

    I may be responding to comments directly as well, but on the issue of what's kept schools from providing innovative learning opportunties and focus on specific items -- it's difficult to point to one hurdle, since each school (and its problems)is unique. But, as a rule, public schools have to be "all things to all children," and charter schools (as described in House Bill 109) would have more flexibility to target specific problem areas.

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  4. You said, "Charter schools (as described in House Bill 109) would have more flexibility to target specific problem areas"

    That could be a wonderful benefit of a charter school bill.

    Of course some districts have already been able to establish a few schools targeting specific opportunities (see magnets), and even problem areas. Fayette, my (large) district, certainly is doing both.

    One could imagine a very strong RTT proposal that includes concrete and specific proposals to establish schools focusing on state-wide "problem areas". One could even imagine multi-district solutions for our smaller districts.

    That would be a thrilling outcome for this RTT process.

    Scott

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