Saturday, April 17, 2010

If Kentucky had charters, which rules would they ask to have waived?

Jack Brammer blogs about what might be discussed in a special session to get us a state budget:
Williams, R-Burkesville, also said he would like to see Gov. Steve Beshear include on the call for a special session creation of charter schools to improve Kentucky’s chances of obtaining more federal funds. Such schools receive public money but are free of some rules that apply to other public schools in exchange for some type of accountability for producing certain results.
That second sentence is a fine definition of charter schools elsewhere.

But after twenty years of working with Kentucky school law,  I'm perplexed:  Which of our "rules that apply to other public schools" would a charter-organizer want us to waive?

For example, we don't have requirements about how much time students spend on particular subjects.  We have rules about class size--but they only apply to schools without school councils, and we have very few of those around.

Elsewhere,  states and districts can decide that all their schools must use a particular curriculum or teaching strategy.  Here, with school-based decision making, that sort of rule can only come from within the school's own leadership.

And then, there's an important list of rules that current schools follow and that charter schools would also have to follow.  Rules about safety, health, and adequate facilities will still applu, and so will rules about services to students with disabilities.  Under the charter legislation that passed the Kentucky Senate, charters would also have to have standards as high or higher than our new state standards and assessments to show the standards being met.  In the same bill, the educators would need Kentucky certification and they'd need to pay into the Kentucky teachers retirement system.

So what might a charter ask to waive?  I've thought of a few possibilities, including the requirements that schools:
  • provide 175 six-hour instructional days or the equivalent 1,050 hours.
  • offer added instructional time for students who need it, also known as extended school services.
  • identify and provide differentiated services to gifted and talented students. 
  • make college-level courses available to high school students.
There are also some "terms and conditions of employment" that might not apply, including uniform salary schedules, continuing contracts (also known as "tenure"), and the cycle of evaluations and professional development support.

Frankly, though, I'm hard put to see any of those rules as being enough trouble to warrant the huge effort needed to create a new school from scratch.

In the end, I believe the real constraints on Kentucky school innovations come not from an external "them" but from each school's internal "us."  That is, when one or two people in a school are excited by a new way of doing things, they may not be able to energize enough other people in the same building.  Absent a consensus on the school council and something close to consensus in the staff as a whole, the individual enthusiasm never flowers into schoolwide change.  For any given person who wants a bold initiative, the main barrier isn't the mandates coming from officials in Frankfort or authorities in the district central office, but the inability to convince friends and colleagues in adjacent classrooms.

Accordingly, I think the main appeal of starting a Kentucky charter school would be the ability to break out of  that collegial log-jam. Instead of continuing to woo those who don't want to try a new approach--Core Knowledge, Success for All, Montessori, Paedeia, you name it--the two or three or five who want to try that method could pull away, find half a dozen more colleagues interested in the same approach, and start recruiting parents who also want to give something different a try.  Or, the other way around, parents who want a particular distinctive model could start recruiting teachers who find the same idea exciting.


  1. Uh, maybe those rules that disallow union education administration with big fat union pensions and salaries to remain regardless of quality or performance???

  2. I've said all along that the concern with Charter's is frankly the limitations rather than anything else. A theory on how to educate best is only a theory until practiced, and despite the best intentions of many, sometimes the theory doesn't get practiced the way it was intended. Starting a new school, or a new "anything (food revolution anyone?)" will mean funding needed, facilities needed, and a great deal of patience to ensure it is meeting all the needs of all the students. I worry that, based on the current lack of state budget and the massive cuts to education within it, and only the "promise" of Rttt funds, that many charters (if created) will have to seek outside funding sources. I mentioned this at the KDE PAC meeting. As one who writes and applies for grants, there are always stipulations and sometimes limitations on how grant funds can be spent. So while the thought is that there are "public" funds available for a charter, the truth is that many charters rely on "private" funding in order to maintain their programing. So, and this is a serious question, wouldn't that create a "private" charter? And just because you have innovative thinking as a board, doesn't mean you'll find the right match for the classroom and administration, we know just from public schools that there are great and well, not so great teachers, etc. I also think it is a disservice to presume that a charter will mean an increase in parent involvement/engagement. Bottom line, parents who want to be involved find a way, whether thru PTA or the opportunities that Prichard provides, or just a parent group without national, state, or local affiliation. I have said all along my concern is not with the creation of charters but with the funding of charters when there is no funding for anything at this point in education. It is great that JCPS can get a GE grant to help with Math initiatives, but what about all the schools in the state? We have school districts that can't even create their own operating budget bc of the deadlock in Frankfort. What do they do? I think those districts are concerned less with the Charter Bill and more concerned with educating their students in the next year and how that education will be funded.


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