Opinion: Charter status affords rural districts needed flexibility

Terry Ryan is president of the Idaho Charter School Network and a member of the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho task force. Before moving to Idaho in 2013, he served as vice president for Ohio Programs and Policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for 12 years.

Ryan began his career in education as a teacher in Poland and worked with the Polish Ministry of Education and the Foundation for Education for Democracy in the mid-1990s. Ryan was a 2008 New Schools Venture Fund/Aspen Institute Fellow and is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

In this essay, he talks about the role of charter schools in rural Georgia.

By Terry Ryan

One of the most innovative developments in American education during the past decade has been the reconceptualization of school districts and how they should be organized and managed.

A growing number of big city districts across the country have embraced the notion of “portfolio school districts,” where superintendents use their authority to transfer power away from the central office to individual schools – and, most important, to their principals and teachers.

In a portfolio school district, leaders see their role not as running schools, but rather as creating the conditions for a “tight-loose” system of school management – “tight” as to results, but “loose” with regards to operations. Georgia embedded the concept of portfolio school districts into state law in 2008 when it revamped the state’s Charter Schools Act.

As a result of these legislative changes a number of Georgia’s 181 school districts, including some rural ones, have decided to pursue the option of becoming a “charter system,” a model Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission should take to heart in its recommendations on how to remake Georgia’s education system.

I had the opportunity to visit Dublin in Laurens County where I met Superintendent Chuck Ledbetter and his team. The rural Dublin City Schools was an early adopter of the charter system concept. As a charter system, Dublin receives some flexibility from state rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability for outcomes. The district serves about 2,800 students, 82 percent of whom are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch.

TimBrinton.NewsArtThe charter system builds on nearly 25-years of charter school experience across the country. Dublin’s Saxon Heights Elementary school principal John Strickland said the district’s charter status allowed a “culture shift. It triggered a change in mind-set. We don’t have to do things here because of the system. We do things because we think it works for kids.” He said his school has seen a dramatic decline in referrals for discipline issues since the change in the district’s charter status. Dublin has also seen its graduate rate steadily improve since 2011.

As the Education Reform Commission looks into ways to expand opportunities for Georgia’s learners, increase access to education, and seek greater system flexibility, a good place to look for ideas is Dublin. Some of the lessons coming out of their innovative experience might include:

• Charter school flexibilities work for students and educators, and the state should find ways to give charter districts like Dublin even more operational flexibility.

• Raw test scores from the state’s assessment system don’t capture many of the advanced skills required of advanced learners or the skills and knowledge related to professional credentials.

• Seat time requirements are largely irrelevant to students spending half their time in an industrial fellowship or internship.

As Superintendent Ledbetter said, “Funding Carnegie Units doesn’t work for high school students participating in the Middle Georgia Aviation Program.” Further, he said, “Seat time should be waved and there should be a focus on mastery of content, while funds should follow students to the programs they actually participate in.”

Rural schools need to innovate to survive and thrive, and Dublin is helping to show what’s possible.

Reader Comments 0

26 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

To all: Sorry, I meant NO difference.  At least, none involving the children (yet?).  Just more meetings, more attempts at "stakeholder" input by meetings and surveys.   I sense the "getting' of that input isn't going so well.  Parents are less invested in the schools than presumably they are in more wealthy, more highly educated areas.  Other citizens are interested in the schools primarily to the degree of "how much is this going to cost in my taxes?"

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Based on a bunch, I mean a whole bunch, of research, I have come to the conclusion that MOST of the charter school/reformer effort is aimed squarely at the huge (8.5 billion) pot of money that is available to k-12 education in GA. Some reformers are true believers, usually parents that want a private school atmosphere for their children on a public school budget(free).


The problem is that profiteers are furious that local boards of education get to control education money. Local boards do have cronyism and nepotism problems as are found everywhere, but for the most part the money is spent to educate children in a way that creates and sustains local middle class jobs for people that support the local community. The profiteers will say almost anything to be in control of the money. They see millions in salary payments that can be siphoned off to  create wealth for a select few.

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian


"Based on a bunch, I mean a whole bunch, of research, I have come to the conclusion that MOST of the charter school/reformer effort is aimed squarely at the huge (8.5 billion) pot of money that is available to k-12 education in GA".


But the eduacracy keeps telling us that education in Georgia is chronically, dangerously underfunded.Why would these boogermen that you see want to take on something so derelict ? I mean, these spaces are regularly used to accuse the governor and the legislature of "stealing" $8 billion from schools during the worst recession in decades. Why would any "profiteer" want to be involved with a venture where they could be robbed? Nobody has ever answered these questions for me which is why I contend that the whole school funding debate is largely based on myth or politics.


And if that pot o' gold is so large, why aren't the incumbents doing a better job with it?

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Astropig @AvgGeorgian


Here's a quick example of how profiteering can work. http://www.propublica.org/article/charter-school-power-broker-turns-public-education-into-private-profits


As to the pot of gold - Schools will be schools and students will be students. High performing schools have high performing students. If you can entice high performing students to come to your school, be it private, public, charter, you will have a high performing school.  I have yet to see a study where a charter school took the entire population of an existing school and appreciably changed the performance of that specific population as a whole without outside support in the form of extra funding, mentoring, transportation and scholarships. This can only happen in very small schools. For example KIPP Atlanta Collegiate HS has about 120 students in each grade. KIPP gets about 18K per student funding  and the results are good but not great.


So if KIPP needs 18K per selected and screened student in a very small school to produce OK results, what is the required amount needed to get good results from the rest of the kids with few resources? Our Governor explicitly told the Education Committee not to address that question.

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian @Astropig


"As to the pot of gold - Schools will be schools and students will be students. "


Well, that answers my concerns. Cleared it right up. We should close all public charter schools immediately.

popacorn
popacorn

@AvgGeorgian @Astropig

'I never blame myself when I'm not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn't my fault that I'm not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?'

Yogi Berra, adopted by NEA

Astropig
Astropig

@AvgGeorgian @Astropig


I hope you do realize that when you accuse charters of being "privateers",you're really accusing the teachers, staff and even the parents that are committed to help of being scalawags. I don't speak for them,but I'm betting they disagree with that characterization. 

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Astropig @AvgGeorgian


Didn't say privateers, said profiteers. You seem to work hard to attribute ideas and beliefs to others for the purpose of arguing. You are certainly an energetic poster and can be counted on to get into the mix, but It would add a lot to the public posting arena if you could use more logical arguments with supporting data, examples, and citations. I, for one, wouldn't mind being pointed to verifiable data that shows processes, be they public, private, or hybrid that make a sustained measurable impact on existing whole populations over time. 

Teachers/staff rarely do better financially under a charter school so I do not count them as profiteers - teachers for the most part teach because they really want to help students succeed. Few consider the job lucrative compared to the demands.

jerryeads
jerryeads

Hm. Prof: None. Retired: Not there.

If "charter" is the solution, though, then it seems the answer is to simply remove all state and federal control, leave ALL decisions to the local administration, and all will be hunky dory. No need to apply for "charter" status. That way, the "charters" can simply, among other decisions designed to serve local needs, put the poor kids on the street for the police to deal with. Might as well go for totally local funding, while we're at it. Wonder what the tax base look like in Taliaferro County.

Astropig
Astropig

@jerryeads


"That way, the "charters" can simply, among other decisions designed to serve local needs, put the poor kids on the street for the police to deal with. "


Charter schools are public schools.They wouldn't do that,except in your imagination.I'm beginning to wonder if you even know what a charter school is.

Charter systems are not too different from the systems that they were before becoming charter systems.One superintendent told me that he likes the new flexibility because it really helped with his attrition problem, especially among technical positions,where he could hire vocational pros instead of leaving a position open or shoehorn the wrong person into the job.




OriginalProf
OriginalProf

Are rural charter schools different from urban ones, and if so how? 

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady @OriginalProf


If you're talking about charter schools, there would seem to be no one answer because almost by definition,each is a "one off" that has a little bit different mission,focus,facility and degree of parental commitment required.


Charter systems kind of muddy the waters a little bit. They are NOT just systems full of charter schools.Again, they are almost indistinguishable from the system they were before,but with a little more leeway to solve issues and problems.(That's what a superintendent told me).Both are public school organizations that seek to educate the best they can.


Of course, the word "charter" has kind of been misappropriated here just enough to get the eduacracy howling in the night.

Retiredmathteacher
Retiredmathteacher

As long as the charter system has to abide by all state testing, the charter system will have to abide by the state curriculum and probably the state evaluation system.  So, just where is all the flexibility?


I, too, noticed little difference either way when my system went charter a while ago.  We kept suggesting innovations, and the state kept not approving them.


If the state would get serious and allow county school systems to become REAL charter systems, I am very confident that there are many systems currently doing a good job that would become outstanding and nationally, if not internationally, recognized.


Like it or not, current state law and regulation is one size fits all, whether charter, IE2, or stay the same.

Roi Johnson
Roi Johnson

The Achilles heel of charter school education in rural Georgia will be the propensity by some districts to allow segregation to prevail under the guise of charter schools. There are already districts in Georgia that see this as a way by which to shut down the fledgling "academies" that sprung up in reaction to the 1969 SCOTUS ruling on integration of schools, but to keep children divided along reasons of race and class under charter arrangements, utilizing public monies that heretofore have been denied private academies.  

Astropig
Astropig

@Roi Johnson



Behold ignorance.


Charter systems (which is our topic here) are really not different from what they were before they went charter (see Maureen's comment below). This is the big lie ("segregation" ) being peddled by the eduacracy (and swallowed whole by the unthinking) to distract taxpayers from the reality of what traditional schools have become.


Hard to tell, but I think even Catlady is saying that things haven't changed much with charter system status.


Like Pavlovs dogs, the totally ignorant just bark in anger when they hear "charter".The context or meaning doesn't matter.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

I have seen so difference in my system since getting charter system status. 

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@Wascatlady Do you mean no difference? I did not see any difference in my district, either, when it became one of the first charter districts in the state. But it may be the differences were in hiring criteria and teacher assignments.

Astropig
Astropig

Look for a raft of announcements that systems have become charter systems over the next couple of weeks. If I recall, the deadline to declare or not declare is June 30th.Systems have had the option of remaining "status quo".but astonishingly,have decided against that.(my county school board voted unanimously to go to a charter system).


For those of us that would like to see more charter schools, this is pretty thin gruel.But improvement is a process,not an event, and perhaps when parents see the change in approach (mild as it is) in charter systems,there will be a greater demand for even more comprehensive reforms.



Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Astropig There was a great deal of pressure to select either charter or IE2 status.

Astropig
Astropig

@ScienceTeacher671 @Wascatlady @Astropig


They held sparsely attended meetings in my county.The very few people that did speak up were in favor.I kind of got the impression that it was a done deal anyway,but they listened and then passed it.

Intteach
Intteach

All of the 181 school districts soon are either Charter or IE2 permitting flexibility. The only thing they have to adhere to are federal laws and meeting the improvement goals they set for themselves. They also have to adhere to state-mandated testing but everything else can be waived: class sizes, certification requirements, etc. The free market in public education has arrived - let's see how it works out for education.