Is The Writing On the Wall?
From the editorial:
"Mr. Duncan has said from the start that he wants the states to transform about 5,000 of the lowest-performing schools, not in a piecemeal fashion but with bold policies that have an impact right away. The argument in favor of a tightly focused effort aimed at these schools is compelling. We now know, for example, that about 12 percent of the nation’s high schools account for half the country’s dropouts generally — and almost three-quarters of minority dropouts. A plan that fixed these schools, raising high school graduation and college-going rates, would pay enormous dividends for the country as a whole.Mr. Duncan can use his burgeoning discretionary budget to reward states that take the initiative in this area. But Congress could push the reform effort further and faster by granting the education department’s request for two changes in federal education law. The first would be to come up with new federal school improvement money and require the states to focus 40 percent of it on the lowest-performing middle and high schools. The second change would allow the secretary to directly finance charter-school operators that have already produced high-quality schools. "
I totally agree with the first. I have written on this before when this data was first announced. If we know that 12% of the nation's high school account for half the dropouts then as Homer would say, "Doh!". We know where they are so get to it in a big way.
Ah but the second. That second one is full of details and problems. One, the feds directly financing public schools? That's a local control that I doubt many states would go for and it would set up quite the smackdown between the two. Two, define "high quality". Is that definition the rise of test scores? Happier parents? Special education students being equally served in that location? Three, is that "high quality" able to be replicated on a large-scale? Heck, we can't even reproduce TOPS in our own district.
Also from the editorial:
"Mr. Duncan confronted this issue [of the unevenness in quality of charter schools] directly at a charter school alliance meeting held in Washington last month, pointing out that the states needed to do a much better oversight job and that failing charters needed to be swiftly shut down. High-quality charter models like the ones used by the KIPP program have a role to play in the plan, the goal of which is to change the cultures of chronically failing schools. Charter operators could be brought into some schools, but other schools might need to simply force out the current staff and bring in a new one. In other cases, states will need to shut down chronically failing schools and enroll students elsewhere."
Again, the feds say the states should do a better job of oversight. Using whose criteria? I like the idea of closing some schools and bringing in a whole new staff but we haven't even done that here in Seattle despite closing numerous schools. If someone had had some political courage somewhere along the line, AAA may have survived if it had been totally restructured. But this kind of thing may be much easier to say than to do. The last sentence is a mystery - "enroll students elsewhere". Does that mean other public schools including charters?
If the feds are going to get involved in public education on what seems a far-reaching scale, they need to set up the guidelines for charters, they need to outline what is "high quality", they need to explain a timetable for success and how to pull the plug. And, get states on board with the feds doing all this.
I have never said I am against charters. But I am against the piecemeal quality of them which will only divert resources and energy from existing public schools. If the Times or the Obama administration believes this is the way, then I want to see a plan. And right now, public education is largely under local control. How the feds can manage oversight of an expanding charter school nation that they themselves want in the face of states' rights will be interesting. But I don't want our kids to be part of a power struggle or chancey experiment.