The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence conducted extensive research on issues related to the creation of charter schools, producing a report in 2014 - Charter Schools: An Informational Guide. The Committee does not have an official position in support of, nor in opposition to, charter schools. However, if the Kentucky General Assembly considers charter enabling legislation, the Committee believes strongly that the law must have the clear goal of closing gaps in student achievement. In addition, as one of seven states in the nation without charter schools, Kentucky is in an excellent position to learn from the experiences of other states.
The following policy statement frames Kentucky’s education progress over the past 25 years, briefly reviews the research on charter school effectiveness, and outlines clear criteria for charter school legislation in Kentucky.
National Efforts to Improve Student Outcomes
Since 1991, 43 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation allowing charter schools. Charter schools are intended to improve student outcomes by allowing for local autonomy, innovation and encouraging community engagement and support. In 1990, Kentucky chose an alternate path to those same objectives by implementing a governance model for all schools that requires school-based decision making councils to be comprised of parents and teachers. Another common rationale for charter schools is that providing more choice or competition among schools will improve the quality of schools and increase student outcomes. Kentucky did not inject competition into its public school system as part of the 1990 reforms. Rather, it set up an accountability system to increase the quality of all schools and it set up collaborative systems such as Family Resource Youth Service Centers (FRYSCs) to connect at-risk students and families with community supports in an effort to decrease barriers to learning.
Since 1990, Kentucky has made significant progress in student achievement for all students. On the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Kentucky now ranks 8th across states in 4th grade reading, is above the national average in 8th grade reading, and is at the national average in 4th grade math. Gains since the 1990’s place Kentucky in the top quarter of all states for positive growth in 4th and 8th grade reading and math.
Despite these positive results, achievement gaps persist in Kentucky and across the nation for African-American and Hispanic students, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families. In many cases, these gaps have widened over the past 25 years. States across the nation, including Kentucky, are seeking ways to reverse this trend, considering everything from rigorous standards, innovative teaching practices, community support services, and charter schools.
The most complete research evaluating outcomes of charter schools is from The Center for Research on Student Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. The center has found the overall performance of charter schools to be mixed, with significant variance in whether charter schools actually improved overall reading and math. However, the research concludes that charters can be beneficial in urban settings with African- American and Hispanic students, students living in poverty, and English language learners. When one or more of these designations was combined (i.e. African-American and poverty) the results were increasingly positive.
Policy Criteria for Charter Schools
As outlined by the Committee’s Informational Guide, there are eight key questions to ask regarding charter school policy – the answers to which should guide the development of any effective charter school legislation in Kentucky:
1. What student results will charter schools be expected to deliver?
2. Which public school requirements will be waived, and which will be required?
3. How will students be admitted or assigned to charter schools?
4. Who will authorize charter schools?
5. Who will be able to apply to run a charter school?
6. Will charter school numbers and enrollments be subject to caps?
7. How will charter schools be closed if they do not deliver?
8. What funding will charter schools receive?
Since its review of the charter school issue, the Committee has identified certain principles as vital to the continued success of public schools and assuring that charter school legislation maintains Kentucky’s commitment to student achievement and ending achievement gaps. These principles address key issues of accountability, authorization, enrollment and funding.
- Charter schools should, at a minimum, be held to the same standards of expectation, accountability, performance, and data collection as required by Kentucky law of all other public schools. Further, charter schools may not be exempted from the same requirements of all other public schools regarding health, safety, civil rights, open meetings rules, open records requests, and sound financial and accounting practices.
- Authorization of charter schools should be by local boards of education following rules established by the state Board of Education that define processes for creation, conversion, renewal, revocation, closure and dissolution. Training of local boards, provided by the Department of Education, on charter school regulations, procedures and oversight should be required prior to any authorization. Authorization of charter schools should be allowable only in circumstances of persistently low-achieving schools and/or significant achievement gaps.
- Charter schools may not discriminate in the enrollment of students in any fashion, including on the basis of ability, performance, geography, socio-economic status, race or ethnicity, and also must provide free and reduced-price meals and full services for students with disabilities.
- Funding for charter schools should not diminish the resources currently available to school districts to educate and increase achievement for all students. Any proposal must guarantee that schools and districts remain adequately and equitably funded according to Kentucky law as outlined in Rose v. Council for Better Education.
Excellence with Equity
Whether Kentucky enacts enabling legislation for charter schools, we must recognize that too many students are not achieving at high levels, putting their future at risk and keeping the state from creating and sustaining a dynamic, competitive workforce. Policymakers, elected officials, educators, citizens and business leaders must come together to ensure Kentucky achieves excellence with equity for the education of all of its students.