Rarely do these groups agree on anything, but the Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Kentucky School Boards Association, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, Kentucky Education Association and House Education Committee all oppose charter schools.
Yet, Gov. Matt Bevin supports and now, it seems, our state Board of Education will consider replacing our “failing” schools with charter schools.
Charter schools are an effort at privatization and profiteering, taking dollars from public schools and sending them to “management” operations, often with little oversight or results. Charter schools are part of a political agenda, and not one backed by evidence.
They must demonstrate, but often don’t, performance in academic achievement, financial management and organizational stability. If a charter school falls short of performance goals, it may be closed as many have been. Quite simply, charter schools are private schools, publicly funded.
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Bevin claims Kentucky’s public school system is failing. Yet, Kentucky’s is one of the nation’s fastest-improving as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a state to state comparative test. He says we have good teachers but they are so handcuffed by bureaucracy and red tape that they cannot teach.
The governor should be more specific about this bureaucracy and red tape. Our children must compete in a global workforce, yet the governor seeks to repeal the Kentucky core curriculum which is designed to prepare them for exactly that.
We are talking about moving children from a public school into a charter school with public school teachers. Who are these special teachers and where did they come from? Will they teach better in a different building? Would the teachers work on Saturday or later in the day? Will we bring in teachers from successful schools and turn student achievement around by exposing at-risk students to better teachers?
Will we consider differentiated pay to entice teachers into charters to improve achievement? What will happen to the “not so good” teachers, will they go elsewhere and offer mediocre instruction to students who were previously successful or will they remain behind to corrupt those children left in the traditional school? Questions, questions.
The students who will attend charter schools are now at “failing” schools and supposedly doing poorly in their studies; they may have behavior problems or are not focused on their school work. Charter proponents suggest that through some “magic” new school environment, they will become successful and better behaved, that the selection process will not discriminate in any way and will tolerate all of the bad behaviors experienced in the failing school.
If this is possible, why aren’t we already doing it at all schools?
Bevin says we need charter schools to be more competitive. But the best performing education systems, places like Finland, Singapore, Shanghai and several Canadian provinces, do not have charter schools. They have worked to improve their public schools, not dismantle them.
Bevin says he would start with replacing historically “low-performing” public schools, often determined by standardized tests. The association between test scores and poverty is one of the most established research findings in education, so is it really the case that the schools are “low-performing” or just that they are working with kids who do not arrive at school with the skills to engage and learn.
All public-school educators are concerned about the achievement gaps; I would suggest it isn’t necessarily an achievement gap but rather an opportunity gap. Kentucky has as many as 250,000 children living in poverty, virtually all of them in our public schools. Charter school attendance will not change these conditions. As a state and country, we must try harder to eliminate poverty, which we routinely accept, often nurture and in many ways support.
When people say educators use poverty as an excuse, what they are really saying is that we don’t need to do anything about the home conditions or health issues of poor children. Put them in school with a good teacher, give them some discipline, tell them to “suck it up” and they will perform on level with all the children raised under the opposite conditions. Virtually all experienced educators will say this isn’t true.
Teaching is complex; people who talk about it but don’t do it fall into oversimplification. I believe public schools acknowledge their almost inherent problems, but there is substantial evidence that the overwhelming number of public schools are serving our children well.
As an educator who spent 52 years in public education, I deplore this scheme to destroy public education in our state. Public schools and the educators who work in them are the backbone of our Kentucky communities.
If our governor is genuinely concerned about the quality of education, he should support adequate funding for our teachers and instructional resources. He should strive to help thousands of kids who struggle to come to school ready to engage and learn. This is the real work of building a great education system and there are no shortcuts.
Charter schools are a destructive distraction and we should not take a chance with our kids’ futures with these experimental schools. We must choose: Will it be about politics or will it be about our children?
Wilson Sears is a former superintendent of the Somerset Independent Schools and former executive director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.