This bill is a major overhaul of the state’s approach to improving public schools. Unfortunately, this legislation will impose an unproven system of governance on schools in the state that will do little to improve student achievement, but surely will disrupt the lives of students, parents and teachers.
If passed, schools in the state will be assigned a letter grade and, if deemed failing for three consecutive years, placed under the control of the newly created Opportunity School District. The OSD is given broad powers to change the schools, including granting waivers to most Department of Education rules and regulations, almost absolute discretion in retaining or firing teachers and school staff, converting the school to a charter school, and closing the school.
Similar models in Louisiana and Michigan have not lived up to the promise of improved student achievement.
Particularly concerning about this bill is:
• The creation of A-F grading system to determine which schools are eligible as an Opportunity School District — Nowhere does the legislation describe how the current school accountability system in the state will be applied to the A-F model. The system in other states has been called “flawed” and “inconsistent.” In Oklahoma, “the A-F grades seem nothing more than a high-stakes accountability system intended to punish some schools and reward others” (okpolicy.org/flawed-f-school-grading-system-wont-help-improve-schools-guest-post-ryan-miskell).
• None of the intervention strategies used are backed by significant research that shows they improve student achievement — The four required intervention strategies for Opportunity Schools do not address the core problems associated with under-performing schools. In particular, the state, under this bill, could convert a school to a charter school or close a school. Neither strategy has been shown to improve student achievement, and the disruption it causes does more harm than good. Moreover, chartering and closing schools severely destabilizes a school district’s finances. In Philadelphia, the school district estimates that additional charter seats costs the district $7,000 per student.
• A loss of local control — Besides the broad powers the state level Opportunity School District is given to change a school, the legislation also requires a school to have a governing board organized as a nonprofit. The legislation does not specify who sits on this board nor how the members of the board are picked. It explicitly allows for the board to contract with a for-profit entity for services.
• The waiver of most of the rules and regulations for an opportunity school — The legislation gives almost complete control to the Opportunity School District over who gets retained and fired when a school becomes an Opportunity School.
• Forcing local school boards to pay for services — The legislation potentially requires school districts to cover the cost of “transportation, cafeteria services, custodial services, alternative education, broadband, utilities, special education services, test-administration services and student-information services” for schools designated as Opportunity Schools.
• The quasi privatization of school facilities — The legislation allows the Opportunity School District the ability to “repurpose” a school building for a private education-service company. And, while the education-service company would be required to maintain the building, the school district would still be responsible for capital expenses.
• The contracting out of services to private school-service companies in order to facilitate more charter schools — The legislation allows, “in an effort to provide opportunity schools seeking state charter-school status with necessary support, the [state charter authorizers] shall solicit, screen and select education-service providers, including independent consultants, education-management organizations, charter-management organizations and other support organizations that can partner with the state charter-school governing boards to support or operate such state charter schools.”