The headline, subhead and opening sentence of this item found on the Governing magazine web site are wrong, wrong, wrong. Check them out and then I’ll share why and the fact that what is taking place is a very, very good thing.
Creating Competition for Charter Schools
Massachusetts is opening more “innovation schools” this fall to keep kids from transferring to charter schools and taking education dollars with them.
Every time a student is accepted into a publicly funded but independently-run charter school, the traditional public school he or she leaves loses money. To stay competitive with charter schools, Massachusetts enacted a law last year to allow for the creation of "innovation schools," a hybrid between charter and public schools, reports the Boston Globe. Like charters, a committee at each innovation school has control over all curriculum, staffing and budget decisions, allowing for the needs of the individual students and school to be taken into account. Unlike charters, though, the hybrid-model schools have to negotiate their freedom with the superintendent and abide by all contract provisions from the unions, which support the new schools. About a dozen innovation schools are expected to open this fall, following another dozen next year. They can be created from scratch or converted from existing ones (if two-thirds of the teachers agree). This past year, three districts tested the idea by launching schools with unique focuses: one caters to the emotional and social well-being of students in poverty, another operates almost entirely in cyberspace, while another focuses on college prep. Similar schools have also been seen in Baltimore, Colorado and Cleveland.
So what are the problems?
- I hope traditional school districts aren’t trying to best serve their students with a variety of strong education options simply to "compete with charter schools"
- Pretty much the same reasoning applies for the subhead. Sure, the district doesn’t want to lose students, but would it really embrace innovation solely for that reason?
- Finally, the subhead and first sentence both state that a student goes to a charter school and the home district loses money. That fight has been played out endlessly in Indiana in recent years during debates on charter school caps, school funding and related legislation. The simple response: Are taxpayers funding schools or are they funding students? Why shouldn’t the money follow the child?
Despite my qualms with the beginning of the story, what’s taking place in Massachusetts (and other cities cited in the story and I’m sure a few other places) is exactly what should be happening in school districts across the country. It’s what charter school supporters have said would happen — the education establishment embracing innovation.
Are they doing it because of the competition, because of the serious shortcomings for students with the "we’ll do it this way because we’ve always done it this way" mentality or because it’s simply the right thing to do? I would like to assume it’s the latter reason, but maybe the best answer is that the reason doesn’t matter as long as innovation is embraced and our young people benefit.