There was a lot of hoopla several years ago when teachers union supporters in the Kentucky General Assembly passed an anti-charter school, bait-and-switch bill to create “Districts of Innovation” instead (House Bill 37, enacted 2012). At that time, supporters of the bill claimed it would do just about everything good that charter schools were doing without having to actually create real charter schools.
It was a nice piece of politicking, but let’s be clear about this: Districts of Innovation are not like charter schools. Charters harness innovation from OUTSIDE the traditional school system while the Districts of Innovation program somehow tries to create innovation out of the existing, rather rigid, status quo preferring public school system. That’s a very tough nut to crack.
Case in Point: From 16 initial applicant districts, Jefferson County Public Schools was among the first four selected as Districts of Innovation on June 5, 2013.
It is now almost a year and a half later, and Jefferson County has yet to open its first School of Innovation. In fact, a new report from the Courier-Journal indicates Jefferson County’s first School of Innovation won’t open until the 2015-2016 school term. That’s a time delay of more than four years since House Bill 37 was enacted and a delay of more than two years after Jefferson County learned it had become a District of Innovation.
For a little perspective on this, the very first charter school law in the country was passed in Minnesota in 1991. Just one year later, despite the complete lack of any previous models to draw upon, the nation’s first charter school, City Academy in St. Paul, opened its doors. If Jefferson County had matched that sort of timing, its first School of Innovation would already be open, not still just a plan for the future. That does not seem very innovative.
Without question, real charter schools really are innovative. That innovation includes a high level of motivation to efficiently move out and make things happen for children. It happened in Minnesota, and it happened in Louisiana, which rebuilt its shattered Southern section schools after Hurricane Katrina by heavily concentrating on establishing new charter schools to speed the process.
How different the Minnesota and Louisiana experiences are from what is going on in Louisville!
One more thing. Jefferson County reportedly is poised to locate one of their 2015-16 Schools of Innovation at the J.B. Atkinson Academy. How ironic! Under former principal Dewey Hensley, Atkinson already was innovating like mad. Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be much dramatically new with getting Atkinson to innovate. It already was. Selecting this school almost seems like a dodge to avoid doing any real innovation anywhere else in Jefferson County.
The foot-dragging in Louisville would not be happening if we were talking anything close to real charters there. But, instead of move out innovation, in Jefferson County, at least, it looks like the Districts of Innovation race is being run by a tortoise, and a rather arthritic one, at that.