Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Takeovers or transformations?

Don't miss the article in the Christian Science Monitor which focuses on the first ever forced takeover (or transformation, depending on your point of view) of a public school. It's happening in Colorado where a law forces school closures after three years of failure; NCLB will require similar closings before the end of the decade-- and lots of 'em. So this takeover/transformation will be closely watched.

The Colorado law forces a takeover by a charter school (NCLB has no such specification so a private company could take over a school). The community voted to have a local group take over the school, but the state picked KIPP instead. My guess is that KIPP will experience success there. They do a lot right, including giving students a choice to attend. But not all charters/takeover agents are KIPP. From the article:

Skeptics say not all charters are equal

But critics of forced conversions point out that not all charter schools are KIPP, and shutting down a school offers no guarantee that its replacement will be better.

The law "presumes you've got a rational way of deciding this is the only way left for the school," says Gerald Bracey, an associate at High/Scope Educational Research Foundation and professor at George Mason University. "The idea [behind the charter movement] was that it was a way of improving student achievement, and that hasn't happened. Sure, it's happened in isolated schools, but it has [happened] in isolated public schools, too."

He points to studies that show charter schools keeping pace with public schools - but he questions the worth of that if the public schools are failing miserably.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has centered his plans for education reform on charter schools, proposing to make it far easier for failing schools to convert to charters. Under his proposals, failing schools could also be handed over to state-appointed management teams.

Under NCLB, failing schools will have options other than becoming a charter. But the predicted onslaught of school closings will probably produce large numbers of new charters.

"It's the most exciting thing to happen to the charter movement in a while," says Clemons. "If ... charter conversion proves successful, then that could be the next plane for education."

The danger, others say, is that it will be too much, too fast ...

Too much, too fast indeed. For every KIPP, there are ten Edisons, and a hundred other fly-by-nighters with little or no track record to suggest future success.

Whatever happens in the future, this case in Colorado is significant. It's the first takeover, but it certainly won't be the last.


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