KAGE is the Kentucky Association for Gifted Education. Sadly there isn't a Louisville chapter, and I think one is desperately needed. Are there any parents who might be interested? Feel free to send me an email at LouisvilleSchoolBeat@gmail.com.
Hal Heiner has been making the rounds pushing charter schools as the solution that all to ails education in Kentucky. He was recently on Channel 41's Point of View making his pitch.
Louisville's problem is not uncommon for large cities but what makes it more difficult to turn them around is our unwillingness to implement new forms of education with a proven track record. In every state in America except for eight, school districts have the ability to convert failing schools into public charter schools, but not in Kentucky! Public charter schools have the freedom to set new curriculum and give parents the ability to choose a school that fits the individual needs of their child.
Of course! The problem with JCPS is that it doesn't have enough choice. In fact, the lack of choices in JCPS is so dire that JCPS published this booklet and this booklet this booklet devoted to telling you that your child will only go to the worst school in the district.
Hal, I realize I only had a lousy public school education, but let's think on this for awhile, shall we? If JCPS currently offers a wide array of schools with different magnets, teaching philosophies, and curriculums to children, is choice REALLY our problem?
And how about that "proven track record"? Bull droppings. Charter schools is such a vague term and charter schools have such a mixed track record that pinning success on the concept is like saying a pickup truck is the answer to every person's transportation needs because you know a guy who had a Ford F-150 that has 400,000 miles on it.
Hal Heiner is a businessman, so certainly he understands that it is tough to craft a solution if you don't have a clear understanding of not just the problem, but the causes behind the problem.
So let me ask these questions of Hal Heiner, and the others behind the most recent charter school push.
1) Who is behind the charter school push? Specifically, what are their motives, what is their experience with JCPS (and how recent is it), what is their knowledge of the current JCPS situation, and why are they pushing charter schools as a solution? This is important because charter schools are a big business, and as open to corruption and fraud as any public institution.
2) What specifically will a charter school fix that cannot be fixed within the existing school system? In other words, why is a charter school better than a regular public school that makes the same changes?
3) What guarantees are in place to make sure that a charter school actually raises performance among low performing students and how will this be measured to ensure we understand the reasons behind the improvement?
4) What real world data do we have about the success of anyone chosen to run the charter schools? How has this data been gathered and analyzed that show the results come from the charter school itself and not from other factors influenced by those that run the school?
5) What method will be used to place students in charter schools? Will every student be placed there based on parental choice, or will some simply be assigned as they are today in many of our schools? If the charter enrollment is based on choice, as Heiner indicates above, how do we avoid the problems we have today with all parents who want into a school that they choose? And how do we avoid the charter excluding children who are most at risk?
6) How will we ensure that charter schools aren't shedding problem students once they're enrolled?
7) How will we ensure that the charter schools are audited closely to ensure that their testing data is not being influenced by fraud?
8) What will charters do for the kids that are NOT in JCPS' decent schools and not in the charter schools? How do we avoid the situation we have today where there are still low achieving schools?
To be clear, JCPS needs to address the problems they can fix. But we cannot fix problems simply with another type of school. Only solutions that address the problems in these low achieving schools directly will improve our schools.
In a recent article about JCPS and the lack of progress made at several schools in the district, Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday called this lack of progress, "academic genocide". While strongly worded, it's really kind of tough to disagree with the assessment. While the article notes progress, I am a bit troubled by this quote from Dr. Donna Hargens.
"(It's) impossible to go back and try to figure out why things weren’t being done before.”
Impossible? Really? Difficult? Sure. Painful? Probably. Necessary? You bet.
I'd really have loved to seen a follow up that asked Dr. Hargens WHY it is impossible. Perhaps it was simply a failure under the previous administration to keep an eye out on progress, or too much covering of tracks by those responsible. Perhaps people are lacking the help they need, or the ability to do what they've been tasked to do. I don't think understanding why you've failed to progress is an exercise in blame, it's an exercise in improvement. At the very least I'd like to understand what Dr. Hargens has in place to make sure that it is no longer impossible to identify why things weren't being done before should future failures occur.
I do think Dr. Hargens is working to improve JCPS, and has been a 500% improvement on her predecessor. But I hope she understands that we need full accountability from now on, including the hard assessments of past mistakes that ensure we don't continue to make them now or in the future.
A few days ago I was at a JCPS high school and was shocked at the condition of the bathroom. It reeked of tobacco smoke, the toilet paper was hung from a chain and padlocks, there was an apple shoved in one of the hand dryers, and the bathroom was dark and dingy.
The secondary gym in the same high school had bleachers that were bowing and felt unsafe.
When I used to wait tables, one of my managers insisted the bathroom and kitchen were as important to maintain as the rest of the restaurant, because the most beautiful dining room couldn't be overshadowed by damaged, dirty, or unsanitary kitchens and bathrooms. Additionally, people feel less inclined to vandalize and destroy places that look like someone cares about them.
I realize money's tight, but how many of our kids are hurt by their surroundings, using toilet paper that's attached to a chain like some fourth rate portapotty at a construction site, and feel like they're in a prison or worse every time they simply have to pee. Does this affect how they feel when they come to school, their desire to be there, and the outcomes from their education?
Something to think about.
About Rob Mattheu
I created the Louisville BEAT to help JCPS parents become more informed and involved in the school system. You can contact me here.