By Amy Nichols and Rachel Gramer, with Mary P. Sheridan
As a field, we have long been interested in using our expertise and positions to inform educational policy and participating in community activism. Some institutional efforts make national headlines, such as the University of Kentucky’s attempts at moving away from merit-based aid in higher education (Capilouto and Tracy;Seltzer). Meanwhile, at the state level, there is a call to shift K-12 education away from Common Core toward more localized control (Weber). Given the polarizing, vitriolic political climate surrounding our new presidential administration, there are multiple needs for intervention in public policy–and multiple ways in which K-12 and college language and literacy educators can intervene at the local and state levels.
On February 7, 2017, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of Education (Huetteman & Alcindor). Though Devos’ positions on higher education have thus far been fairly vague (Douglas-Gabriel), she is a known advocate of charter schools and school vouchers–a conversation that should interest educators in Kentucky, one of the seven remaining states considering whether to allow charter schools. Charter schools have existed in the U.S. for more than 25 years (Center for Education Reform), and though researching them presents challenges (Center for Public Education), there is a large body of data studying their effectiveness across multiple contexts:
- The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) produces oft-cited broad-spectrum charter school reports.
- Charter schools’ effects on college access remain understudied. At least one 2008 study found that high school students graduating from charter schools in Chicago and Florida were 8-10% more likely to attend college (Abdul-Alim) but did not study whether students completed their degrees.
- Most charter schools are located in urban areas (Charter Schools in Perspective), but rural communities face different challenges in implementation (Glatter;“Urban” CREDO 2015).
- Online charter schools appear to be less educationally effective than their brick-and-mortar counterparts (CREDO 2015).
Educators in Kentucky concerned about national educational policy should become involved in state and local policy discussions on charter schools, which are currently under consideration by the Kentucky House of Representatives. Consider, for instance, these current state-level conversations:
- Meeting minutes from the Kentucky Board of Education, culminating in a proposal that could frame future legislative efforts toward charter schools in Kentucky (KBE Minutes 12/06/2016,KBE Minutes 11/28/2016).
- House Bill 103 concerning charter school implementation, forwarded to Education on 01/06/17 (Kentucky Legislature).
- Other stakeholder reports on the bill; for example, the the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, which raised fiscal concerns (Spalding).
While educators need to be heard at the national level, our participation in local and state governance may have greater overall impact. AsRobert Brooke and other advocates of place-based learning have argued, education (and education policy) need not be focused only on the national level, “but can instead be focused on developing skills for robust local citizenship, right here where you are, and right now.”