The hottest toy of this past Christmas season was Hatchimals — plastic eggs with one of two interactive creatures inside. The lucky recipient nurtures the egg, causing it to hatch; and after hatching, the creature inside learns to talk, walk and play games with the help of the child. Right about now, the egg is hatching.
The same is true of charter schools in Kentucky.
For several years, Kentucky Youth Advocates have advocated for high quality, public and nonprofit charter schools as one of several tools to help vulnerable students. And charters are going to hatch this legislative session.
The previous obstructionist stance of the House, animated by loyalty to an entrenched K-12 establishment rather than what’s best for kids, was washed away in the November elections. And that is good news when it comes to public education.
The key question now is just what kind of charters will hatch from the 2017 General Assembly?
The opportunity exists to pass the best charter legislation in the country. We can learn from other states. We can fold that into the unique context of Kentucky. We can invent a win for vulnerable kids when it comes to academic achievement.
And yet, we are already hearing charter ideas that carry political ideology rather than research-based results on what works for kids. We must not settle for an “anything goes” mentality.
So what is that formula for high-quality charter schools when it comes to student achievement?
There are three nonnegotiable cornerstones.
First, charters must be public schools. Second, charters must be operated by nonprofit entities. And, charters must focus enrollment on those students who need the biggest boost to succeed.
There are a range of additional complex, but essential, details to be worked out.
As an example, an important element of good charter-school legislation is authorization. Local boards of education should have the right to be part of this formula. There is encouraging evidence that public universities with teacher-preparation programs are exemplary authorizing agencies, and Kentucky’s rich history of teacher education in public institutions of higher education make that a great option.
In addition, we would advocate that mayors of first-class cities have the authority to authorize.
Along with authorization comes appeals and monitoring. The Kentucky State Board of Education is the logical locus for appeals if there is a conflict between an authorizer and an applicant. We also believe that KBE must establish and maintain a rigorous tracking system on the authorizers to understand which authorizers are credentialing successful charters and which are missing that mark?
And how do we measure success?
Let’s be clear. The current assessment and accountability systems are flawed. I hope the General Assembly. through Senate Bill 1 and other mechanisms, can give our students, parents and educators an improved measurement system. But at the moment, we “got what we got” and it should be applied to all public schools, including charters.
That ensures we have access to “apple to apple” comparisons when it comes to holding charters accountable for student outcomes.
There is a myriad of other issues to be sure. As examples,
▪ The same certifications that apply to other public school employees should apply to charters. Kentucky should expand its current efforts around alternative certification to encourage nontraditional candidates to populate traditional and charter schools. However, teaching is a profession that demands preparation and certification ensures that noble and necessary tradition is upheld.
▪ If charters are public schools, they should receive the same per-student allocation as every other student in the district in which the charter is operating. And categorical money — such as support for special-education students — should follow the child.
▪ There must be clear-cut and ongoing monitoring of every charter school’s results. Defined check points to determine whether a charter is to continue to operate have to be clear, frequent and rigorous.
▪ Broaden the scale and scope beyond a limited number of pilots. The commonwealth’s children need a fuller compendium of charters. And if the necessary safeguards such as authorization and monitoring check points are in place, I see no reason that scale cannot be tackled in the initial phase of charter school implementation.
Everyone – elected leaders and educators, parents and preachers, business leaders and the thousands of interested citizens who simply value education -- needs to work together and ensure what hatches is the best charter school legislation in this nation.
That would be a win that can help all Kentucky children succeed as learners.
Terry Brooks is executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates.