It’s an unfortunate truth for Kentucky: despite more than a quarter of a century of aggressive education reform, achievement gaps continue to be a major problem.
The situation is so dramatic that even a most enthusiastic cheerleader for traditional public education, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, now candidly admits:
So, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) has a problem. What makes that problem worse is that Kentucky has already tried many Progressive Education ideas that were supposed to erase the gaps; so far, these attempts have not been successful.
About the only major reform idea Kentucky hasn’t tried is a public charter school program. Of particular interest considering Kentucky’s current gap problems, a growing number of reports – including several presented to the KBE yesterday – indicate that public charter schools show particular success with some of the very same disadvantaged student populations currently under-performing in the commonwealth.
Thus, the KBE held an all-day work session yesterday to learn more about these innovative alternatives to traditional public schools (TPS). During the KBE meeting, various presenters discussed a wide range of topics ranging from the basics of what charter schools are, how they are created in different states and how they operate to their performance with various student populations in various settings such as urban and rural areas.
By the end of the work session, it seemed clear that even the more resistant KBE members now recognize that charter schools are coming to Kentucky, with member Roger Marcum saying:
“I’m a realist and I think we’re going to have charter schools in some form or fashion in this state after the legislature meets.” Marcum added that the board would be wise to develop a proposal for how Kentucky’s charter school law should be framed.
After all, with 43 states and the District of Columbia now allowing charter schools, the KBE learned there is a growing amount of evidence about better and poorer performing state charter school programs to examine. So, Kentucky doesn’t have to settle for just an average charter school system. Instead, the Bluegrass State has the option to focus its legislation around those places where better charter schools are found because, as Kentuckians know, if you want a top quality race horse, you build your blood line around proven winners.
Ultimately, the formulation of charter school legislation will be up to the state legislature. But, ideas from those who will undoubtedly be part of the team that implements that legislation are certainly worth consideration. Even more importantly, the KBE apparently now accepts the fact that, as education commissioner Stephen Pruitt puts it, “Charters could be one tool in the utility belt.”
Charters could indeed be a most useful tool in that belt, if Kentucky really wants to get serious about finally getting the achievement gap under control.