Will big bucks facility at EKU produce for kids?
A news article in the Richmond Register about Eastern Kentucky University’s $83 million plan to build a new combined facility for its education college and the special, on-campus K to 12 Model Laboratory Schools raises interesting questions.
Is this EKU model really the right approach, and is this the best way to spend such a large amount of tax dollars?
As the Register’s article points out, the Model Lab Schools are unique in the state. Apparently, some other teacher preparation programs around Kentucky used to have similar, on site schools, but Model Lab is all that remains today.
Some time ago I was told that Model Lab Schools admissions policies are somewhat unique in the state. Some students come from as far away as Lexington. Enrollment is not limited only to residents of Madison County, where EKU is located. In that sense, at least, the school functions as a school of choice, somewhat like a charter school.
But, Model Laboratory Schools offer a limited, one-only model of a way to get student teachers in close contact with typical Kentucky schools and typical Kentucky students. In fact, the on-campus Model Lab Schools might not present a very typical Kentucky situation, at all.
For example, the Model Laboratory Elementary School report card for 2012-2013 (Access that with the Kentucky School Report Cards web tools) shows only four percent of the students there qualify for free or reduced cost school lunches. In the surrounding Madison County Public School District, the lunch rate is 50.0 percent and the statewide rate is 56.6 percent. It doesn’t look like Model Lab’s student profile is much of a model for Kentucky schools, does it? It starts to look like Model Lab is more of a taxpayer funded good deal for the wealthy in Madison County and the surrounding area.
Here’s one more shocker. In 2011-12 Model Laboratory Elementary School was identified as a “Focus School” under Unbridled Learning! Apparently, despite its extremely low poverty rate, the Model Labs Elementary School left at least one group of special students (probably its learning disabled students) behind most of the rest of the state! That’s some model!
In contrast, the University of Louisville also has programs to put student teachers into real school situations, but the program works very differently. U of L’s approach involves dedicated use of physical classrooms within a regular public school building, such as the J. B. Atkinson Elementary School in Louisville.
This allows U of L to house its college classes in a building environment that enables student teachers to just walk a few doors down in the same building to watch a fully qualified teacher working the theory in actual practice with real students. The student teacher can learn the theory on day one, see a working professional use the theory on day two, and then actually work the theory themselves with real students on day three.
As an added bonus, teachers in a regular school get a superb chance for enrichment with working college professors who are right in the same building, not housed off miles away on a college campus.
Unlike the fixed Model Labs approach, the U of L model is expandable. Other low-performing schools in the Louisville area will be getting similar cooperative programs with U of L.
By the way, J. B. Atkinson’s new school report card shows the school’s free and reduced cost lunch rate is 95.2 percent. If you want to train teachers to handle students with poverty challenges, this is where you would go.
To be fair, Atkinson was also a “Focus School” in 2011-12, but with a sky-high poverty rate, that seems a bit more understandable.
I suspect that the U of L model, which uses existing space in regular schools instead of a new, multi-million dollar building on a campus, probably rings in as a much more economical approach. I hope our legislators fully investigate that issue before going forward with the Model Lab construction.
Something else that badly needs more research is the resulting quality of teachers trained in both systems.
Not long ago, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday expressed concerns about the quality of teachers in the Eastern part of the state. The commissioner pointed out that the vast majority of those teachers are prepared in Kentucky education schools located in the Eastern half of the state. One of those schools is EKU.
So, EKU’s Model Lab approach may not be much of a guarantee of effective teacher preparation.
In the end, there are a lot of questions still to be answered about EKU’s new education complex plans. But, in this day of tight money, we need to get more answers before 83 million tax dollars are committed to a project that might, or might not, produce good bang for all those bucks. Maybe this money would have more impact if it helped move EKU’s teacher preparation programs off campus and into regional area schools that badly need help. That might not create another fancy building on the campus, but it might do a lot more Kentuckians a lot more good.