Saturday, July 1, 2017

Charter Schools: Collaboration, Excellence with Equity Must Drive Implementation

| Post by Brigitte Blom Ramsey |

This year’s robust legislative debate about public charter schools ended in a deep divide about how to improve education for all students. In spite of their disagreements, lawmakers on both sides of the charter issue affirmed three decades of educational progress in our state while acknowledging that achievement gaps persist among historically underserved students.

Now that the debate is over, we must turn our attention to making public charters, and all schools, the best they can be so every child in Kentucky receives the excellent education that he or she deserves.

As we move into this new era of public education, the Prichard Committee will continue to track our state’s progress, as we have for nearly four decades.  We will continue to study, inform and engage policymakers and citizens alike about how to make continued progress toward the goal of bringing Kentucky to the nation’s top tier of education excellence.  The urgency of this moment is to not let a quarter century of progress be pushed to the wayside – but to mobilize, galvanize, energize – for this next leap involving charter schools.  

Kentucky’s newly-passed charter school legislation benefits from 25-plus years of national experience by explicitly stating a desire to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps while bypassing more competitive structures in favor of local authorizing.

Kentucky’s approach intentionally positions locally elected boards of education as primary authorizers, promoting critical collaboration among charters and districts, to inspire and engage community support from the beginning. If local authorizers embrace this approach, they will create and sustain meaningful partnerships that provide alternative paths for students to meet their potential. Collaboration has been a hallmark of education policy in Kentucky for years and should now be leveraged as a position of strength.

Accountability is a key component of overall quality for traditional and charter schools alike. For new Kentucky charter schools, school boards and mayors will play key roles in monitoring and oversight, including default renewal/closure standards, all aligned to student achievement.

Those authorizers must spell out their criteria from the very beginning. Charter schools that fail to meet the ambitious vision set forth in the new legislation should be closed so communities can pursue other innovative options for student success. Indeed, a charter school that fails to improve on the performance of a traditional public school has no reason to exist.

Charter schools will not be right for every district in Kentucky, but in some districts they may prove powerful in lifting up students who have been farthest behind to new levels of proficiency and long-term success. Together, we must recommit to rigorous accountability and proper resourcing of the entire public system with an aim to increase success for all students.

Proper implementation of public charter schools will be the lynchpin of their success or failure in Kentucky. For more details and data on just what that means, please see my June 30, 2017, editorial with John B. King, Jr., president of The Education Trust and former U.S. Secretary of Education: How to get charters right? Keys to success the same for all schools.

The singular purpose of any school must be to prepare young people for a bright future with an excellent education that allows them to begin to realize their unique potential. Keeping our eyes on that ambitious goal is the best way to ensure Kentucky’s future prosperity.