Friday, September 9, 2011

NOT doing charter schools right

As Kentucky gets ready for another discussion on charter schools, we need to pay attention to what is going on in the 40 states that already have charter school laws on the books.

I recently talked here and here about one great example, Louisiana, which quickly rebuilt its Katrina-shattered school system by taking advantage of the dynamic, entrepreneurial forces that charter schools unleash. Since 2007 Louisiana moved from notably behind to notably ahead of Kentucky on ACT college entrance test results. If Louisiana’s rapid expansion of charters is not part of the reason, then we need to find out what was.

However, as we get ready to craft a charter school law, there are cautionary notes that also should inform our charter discussions. One of those cautionary notes comes from our Southern neighbor, Tennessee.

Folks in Tennessee are not happy with the restrictive way they set up approval authority for their charter schools. Right now, the only approval authority is the local school board in each district. This new Commercial Appeal (Memphis) article says that is stifling the creation of more of these dynamic, and successful, public schools. Basically, local school boards often act to preserve their business as usual turf instead of doing what is best for students.

We already have evidence of local school boards protecting their turf in Kentucky. Our new report on “Digital Learning Now!: Obstacles to Implementation in Kentucky,” talks about local school boards blocking student transfers to other districts even when the students would be much better served by those other districts. Thus, Kentucky will be better served if we craft a charter school bill that doesn’t allow selfish adult interests on local boards to stand in the way of what is best for our students.

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