The following is a guest post from Fordham Staff Assistant Mickey Muldoon.
Vying for a share of the federal Race to the Top money, West Virginia educational leaders oppose charter schools because the evidence on their average effectiveness is mixed, yet they pass legislation for a new school model for which there is no research support at all. The recent state law allows West Virginia to designate 10 schools as "Innovation Zones," provided that 80 percent of school staff, the county school board, and state education board, and the State Superintendent approve of the school's new plan. An approved plan would allow the school to waive regulations on working hours, school calendar, and compensation--nearly the same autonomy enjoyed by charter schools, state officials argue--though it could be revoked upon the state board's yearly review. Seems the only difference is that these innovation zone schools will remain under district oversight, implying that that is the key element that would improve charter outcomes. But is it? Special Assistant to the State Superintendent Steve Paine insists that it's ok that "innovation zones" aren't research-proven because the reforms being used in them are.
But that leaves a lurking question: If you can find a such a set of reforms that are "tried and tested," that 80 percent of a given school's staff agree to, and that local and state boards and the State Superintendent of Education can agree to, doesn't that amount to consensus that the reforms shouldn't be prohibited in the first place?