Rosenthal: Teachers, not policy make the difference

Published 12:03 pm Friday, May 5, 2017

I have had some questions about House Bill 520, which allows charter schools into Kentucky. To summarize, here is some key information.

Charter schools are publicly-funded like public schools but are run by outside groups instead of school boards. The outside groups can be teachers, parents, school administrators, community residents, public organizations and nonprofit organizations. For-profit organizations do not count as a public group. The groups, however, can contract with a for-profit group to handle the management and operations of the school.

Charters would be accountable for the state-mandated testing, but are free from some of the regulations mandated in public schools.

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Charter schools will be funded the same way as public schools with schools getting funding based on student enrollment. They must pay 3 percent of their total funding as an administrative fee to the authorizer, which is probably the school district.

Enrollment preference will be given to those who were in the charter school the previous year. The school may choose to give preference to free/reduced-lunch students or those who are attending a low-achieving school. However, charter schools do not have to offer that preference.

With all I have explained about charter schools, it is hard to believe there are other less communicated bills that effect the staff and the students.

The big one is eliminating the common core curriculum which means every teacher will have to adapt to a new curriculum.

The other bills are as follows:

— Senate Bill 159 requires all public high school students to pass a civics test in order to receive a diploma

— House Bill 128 requires the Kentucky Board of Education to establish an elective social studies course on the Bible

— Senate Bill 17 permits students to voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints free from discrimination and are allowed access to public forums as nonpolitical and nonreligious  — House Bill 206 provides KHEES funds to students enrolled in a registered apprentice program.

There are many other education bills.

In fact, this is the most I have seen in many years that require full implementation in a two-year period.

I question whether the government officials have the necessary expertise and knowledge to make policies on how to educate children. Since they are not usually working in the field, what fuels these changes? The answer is simple: politics.

One party changes everything that was done by the opposing party because it is their right. It is quite simple how teachers handle the upheaval. They go into their classrooms every day and do their job.

The one thing that cannot be changed is the autonomy that comes from teaching your own class. Even if there are changes and no input into these changes, the teachers ultimately have the freedom to make sure their students learn and progress because they make the instructional decisions in the classroom.

So, even with all the mandates and new policies, it is still ultimately the teacher, not the policies, that determines if the students are well-educated.

Why waste all the time and money on something that has very little direct effect on students and could ultimately be changed in a new election? The truth is new policies have very little effect on student learning, but teachers do.

Pat Rosenthal is a former teacher and administrator for Clark County Public Schools.