The state’s drive to open more lab schools, supported by universities and colleges rather than local school boards, raises more questions than answers.
The bills proposed at the current legislative session will allow a university or college without a teacher education program to start a laboratory school. Currently, universities with a teacher education program can open schools under the 2010 law, although not many have taken advantage of this opportunity.
Documents obtained by Virginia Public Media show that Gov. Glen Yangkin wants to open at least 20 lab schools by the 2023-24 school year. His office told the Washington Post that there are no lab schools in the state. He offered to allocate $ 150 million to support this goal.
Bob Pianta, dean of the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia, said he was currently talking to officials about a potential proposal for a laboratory school to be run by UVa, under legislation now passing through the General Assembly.
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However, Pianta has questions about the financial sustainability of laboratory schools and how schools will affect partnerships with local school units.
“We have a huge partnership with Albemarle and Charlottesville, and we want to really respect that partnership,” he said. “I don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize this partnership. Anything that complicates life administratively or financially is difficult now. ”
Pianta added that he wants to be careful not to add more time and effort to local school units if the lab school is also not in their best interest.
“I just remember how difficult our public education system and teachers were, and the time is hard,” he said.
There are currently seven statutory schools in Virginia, including the Community Lab School in Albemarle County, which is overseen by the county school board. The statutory school is considered a public school in the state code and falls under the same state reporting requirements. However, schools tend to have more flexibility in how they conduct training.
A set of bills in the General Assembly this year aimed at expanding statutory schools has so far failed, but legislation to expand laboratory schools has moved forward, backed by lawmakers on both sides.
The Senate bill from Senator Todd Pilion, R. Abingdon, backed by several educational associations and a bipartisan group of lawmakers will allow more nonprofit universities and colleges to open lab schools, albeit in collaboration with local school boards.
Senator Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said the Senate bill is a softened version of a pre-school lab proposal that requires a specific source of funding. Cases eventually supported the bill.
“The danger for something like a charter school or a lab school is that funding will come from local school dollars and local schools are underfunded,” he said. “Instead of destroying the school system and creating new problems, we need to build our public schools, and for that we need more money.”
The House of Representatives Bill. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, opens up opportunities for lab schools for any university or college, but does not explain how they will be funded.
“Obviously, this is a huge opportunity in the Commonwealth for students, but we need to clarify the details,” Davis said. “And a lot more talk around the details.”
Proponents of the expansion said lab schools would help bring more innovation to K-12 education. Opponents of expanding charter schools in Virginia say charter schools are undermining traditional public schools.
“I think we should have some realistic expectations that these schools can improve outcomes for children, but they don’t solve all of our educational problems,” said Jim Wykaff, director of the UVa Center for Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness. “And they won’t be a cheap solution where we can solve problems without spending money.”
Despite its name, the Joint Laboratory School is not a laboratory school by definition in state law. Rather, it is a charter school that is managed and funded by the county school department.
Principal Chad Ratliff said the school is working with universities to implement evidence-based practices and then share what they have learned. This is different from laboratory schools run by universities and colleges and overseen by local school boards.
The community lab, which serves approximately 200 students in grades 6 through 12, adopts a student-centered and project-based approach to teaching and learning and collaborates with the University of Virginia and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in a variety of efforts.
Ratliff said they don’t want to be a boutique school with an approach that only works in school. Instead, they want to create examples to help other schools adopt the successes of the Community Lab.
“We make prototypes that other schools are capable of,” he said. “This is not a direct model of replication. It’s not like we came up with an answer. We set an example. “
Currently, school boards are the main authorizers of statutory schools in the state, so that means the Community Lab is considered part of the school department. Ratliff said the school provides maintenance, human resources and transportation, which is an advantage of the current model.
“It’s uncompetitive,” Ratliff said. “In fact, it’s very collaborative. We benefit each other. “
The proposed bills will not affect the Community Lab model, and Ratliff has not consulted on any of the bills concerning charter schools. If that were the case, Ratliff said he would use the Community Lab as an example of how charter schools could work as originally intended.
“They give families a choice based on different learning and teaching options, experiences for students,” he said. “Choosing a school is a choice of a student and a choice of a family. You benefit from working with universities, so you give them the benefits of this lab school model and the resources we have here at Albemarle County Public Schools. ”
The current model at the School Community Lab is working, Ratliff said, pointing to growing student interest. For the next school year, the school received three times more applications than places. If students ’interest exceeds their capabilities, admission to the school is determined by a random lottery.
The school originally began as an alternative school in 1988, established by a group of teachers and a unit to provide a non-traditional school. It was later converted into a charter school in 1991.
Once a year, Ratliff shares an annual report with the school board, which is one of the indicators of accountability. But he said the biggest indicator of success is whether students and families want to attend school.
“We have the same level of voting responsibility that any statutory school should have, regardless of organizational structure,” he said. “It really creates such a different level of responsibility in that regard.”
Ratliff said that a statutory or laboratory school is not a specific type of training, but an organizational structure.
“In fact, some charter schools are good, and some charter schools don’t work very well across the country,” he said. “When we think about it, it’s not a monolith.”
Looking at statutory or laboratory schools through the prism of good or bad is a misconception, he said.
“This is what problem you are trying to solve and what you are trying to offer families, and how then can we have more such opportunities?” he said.
Wykaff of UVa said an effective charter school policy depends on the extent to which the plan focuses on the problem it is trying to solve and on how it is implemented.
“I think children in Virginia, like many other places in our country, are low for very difficult reasons, and I don’t think we should naively believe that simply introducing charter schools will fix this problem,” he said. .
If the state is to move forward with charter schools, he said schools should be well funded and able to provide students with educational opportunities that are lacking. Those who sanctioned schools also need to know how to effectively design and manage them.
He would like to see a moderate approach to enlargement that examines evidence of success, such as student outcomes, in each particular school.
Pianta said charter schools are ambiguous nationally in terms of quality and efficiency.
“The difference, especially in achievement between children who have graduated from charter schools and children who have graduated from public schools, is really insignificant,” he said.
Pianta said the current code for charter schools is restrictive and views legislation on laboratory schools as a specific way to address this issue.
The Senate bill requires universities to explain how they will work with local school boards to create and operate a college partnership model. In addition, students attending laboratory schools will be enrolled as students in the local branch so that school systems do not lose state or local funding.
Each laboratory school will be supervised and managed by a governing board.
According to the Senate, the Virginia Board of Education will approve contracts with laboratory schools for at least five years.
Davis, who chairs the House Education Committee, said his goal is to bring more innovation, whether from higher education or the private sector, to the K-12 curriculum and better prepare students for high-paying careers. -th century.
He said the governing boards will ensure that schools are tailored to the specific needs of their students.
“Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you want to call these schools,” Davis said. “The important thing is that we have a path for students, regardless of zip code, to get a first-class education and innovate in the classroom to better prepare our students after graduation.”