CharterFolk Short: A Wax Museum in Michigan – Students Bring New Imagination to Advocacy

Good day, CharterFolk.

Michigan’s charter school movement is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Governor John Engler signed the bill in January of 1994, making Michigan the 8th state to pass a charter school law.

Since that time, Michigan’s charter schools have grown to serve 150,000 students.

CREDO’s recent national report identified Michigan’s charter schools to be among the strongest in the country …

… helping students achieve an additional 36 days of learning in reading and 24 in math relative to their counterparts in district schools.

For decades, this success story helped Michigan’s charter schools build strong political support, but recent elections have emboldened opponents to surface proposals that would do great damage to the movement.

It’s a situation requiring new thinking about our approach to advocacy.

New imagination.

New ways to build relationships with legislators one by one.

Enter charter school students …

… who made a “wax museum” last week, bringing legislators to life on the steps of the Michigan state capitol.

It led legislators like Speaker Joe Tate to come out to meet the students who were portraying them.

Others ushered the students depicting them into their offices for further conversation …

… and commendation.

Obviously, we have much further to go to protect Michigan’s charter schools from policy harm.

But last week was an important step forward.

Led by charter school students themselves.

Toward, yes, important new relationships in Michigan, right when they matter most.

But even more importantly:

Toward what our advocacy needs absolutely everywhere:

Greater imagination.

Crushing Down? Lifting Up? The Role of CharterFolk in a World Full of Cacophony

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

Thanks to several of you who sent in kind words about my post about San Antonio. Amid the constant cacophony in and around education policy in our country these days (see below), what spurs greater optimism in me than anything else is simply getting the chance to visit great charter schools making such a big difference in the lives of kids and families. A whirlwind tour of San Antonio last week certainly revealed that truth yet again. Thanks to all my hosts for treating me like such royalty.

And thanks to many others who have reached out in recent weeks requesting I make it to your school and to your hometown. I confess to being a bit charmed by all that. Please keep the invites coming and I will do what I can to make it to as many CharterPlaces as possible in CharterFolk’s upcoming fifth year.

Thanks finally for the comments many of you shared about Kimi Kean’s post this week about parent power making a $28 million dollar difference in Oakland. I agree it that it was a terrific column. Thank you, Kimi, once again.

We’re always on the lookout for great new stories about how parent power and advocacy strengthening generally are putting new octane behind our shared efforts. If you’ve got a story you want to highlight, please ping me directly at jed@charterfolk.org.

Meanwhile, it’s been a week of monumental news. Let’s get to it.

Crushing Down? Lifting Up? The Role of CharterFolk in a World Full of Cacophony

The week of seemingly monumental change started off with Apple issuing an apology for being so “off the mark” with its latest I-Pad commercial.

It’s worth a 68-second gander if you haven’t seen it yourself.

I’m a big fan of Stratechery. There, the site’s creator Ben Thompson highlighted a 59-second fix that an enterprising poster on X created that is also worth a gander.

Spoiler alert: it’s the original version, just played backward.

The irony behind Apple’s apology, as Thompson pointed out, was not how off the mark the commercial was, but how precisely on the mark it was.

And seeing the two versions played in juxtaposition – one with technology flattening the world into a thin brick, the other lifting up from the brick all the world has to offer for everyone to access anew – seems to put in repose a question so many of us have in the back of our minds about so many things happening today.

Which way is this going to break? Toward crushing down? Or toward lifting up?

One of my first posts of 2023 talked about artificial intelligence beginning to provide better alternative instruction as a new option for parents, improving their BATNA to enrolling their kids in traditional public school offerings.

Looked at from the vantage point of this week, it’s a post that seems almost quaint.

Just days after Apple’s mia culpa, OpenAI and Google announced big new product launches. Commentators used war terminology to describe their level of competition …

… with education clearly being …

… one of the main battlegrounds.

CharterFolk, if you haven’t seen Khan’s tutoring demo, it’s really worth the three minutes.

But as scary as it is to think about, tutoring’s just the beginning in terms of the enhancements to education that AI is going to be soon offering to essentially every pedagogical practice happening on earth.

Consider the impact of Sora.

Teaching Oregon trail (or California Gold Rush) …

… will never be the same.

Within the political realm, by week’s end we saw the highest office in the land marking the 70th anniversary of one of the most iconic decisions to have been handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In contrast to the worldview presented by those unleashing AI on the planet, one where change occurs at a pace that is almost unimaginably fast, most reflections on Brown focus on how progress has been unconscionably slow.

And in terms of charter schools’ role in efforts related to Brown, the conversation seems held in an almost perfect fixity.

Parties purporting themselves to be “Civil Rights Projects” …

… keep presenting charter schools – the one kind of public school in our country that does not screen out kids by geography and selective admissions – to be a part of the problem.

Our analysis found charter schools have grown substantially in the last 25 years (with enrollment up approximately 800%) and are associated with substantial racial segregation, especially in terms of the proportion of intensely segregated schools with greater than 90% nonwhite students.

And lest anyone not understand what these supposed stewards of civil rights think about charter schools, I encourage you to dive deep into their publication that came out earlier this year.

Because the creation of multiple new charter districts in a single metro area can contribute to the same kind of regional fragmentation and segregation that district secession promotes, federal and state governments should consider issuing a moratorium on new charter school districts and strengthen oversight of existing ones.

You read that right, CharterFolk. A call for moratoria. At both state and federal levels.

It leads me to think about how we might best frame the moment we’re in.

What’s the backdrop? And what’s the foreground?

Is the foreground unimaginable technological change happening against a historical backdrop of insufficient progress regarding the need to create fairness and excellence in education?

Or is the foreground insufficient progress in education fairness and excellence happening against a backdrop of unimaginable technological change?

Or is it all being crushed together by some force on high as depicted in the now apologized-for commercial?

Or lifted up by the same rendering played backward?

The cacophony of monumental change happening at a societal level includes seismic changes happening within the world of education policy.

This week the Louisiana legislature poised the state to become, by my count, the 13th in the nation to adopt a universal ESA program.

Next door, the Texas governor is expressing new confidence that his continuing political work targeting opponents of private school choice will give him the additional votes he needs …

… to create what could well become the biggest private school tuition program in the country.

Simultaneously, Brookings released a new report showing that the overwhelming majority of benefit created by the country’s first universal ESA program is going to affluent families who already had their kids in private schools.

That study builds on other analysis showing that the creation of new ESAs is unleashing striking levels of inflation in private school tuition.

Meanwhile, the policy developments affecting charter schools border on the seismic as well.

The same state that Annenberg/Brown showed to be releasing tuition inflation also put a huge new investment behind the expansion of charter schools.

In deep red Florida, a long-on-the-books-but-never-used provision in state law seems poised to have the potential to provide charter schools access to unprecedented numbers of unused school facilities …

… right as one of the most respected charter school providers in the country prepares to enter Florida.

And in deep blue Rhode Island where charter school demand is spiking …

… we appear on the cusp of unprecedented breakthroughs in getting charter schools access to empty school facilities.

The main storylines emanating from status quo interests are sadly predictable, but no less monumental.

Forces that have been the longest standing opponents of any kind of accountability in public education decry a lack of accountability in new private school programs.

While across the United States, district …

… after district …

… is seeing their recent budgetary profligacy come home to roost, leading some Establishment protectors to consider increasingly desperate gestures.

It’s a scope and a pace of change in education policy making beyond anything that we have witnessed in our lifetimes.

And anyone who claims to be able to make sense of all of this should be viewed with high levels of skepticism.

If there is anything that we can be certain of going forward it is that answers will not be simple.

The world will not play out like an Apple commercial played either uniformly forward or uniformly backward, but will be a mix of the two, with parts of the world seeing things crush down, and other parts seeing things open up.

It will happen at a pace that will be bolder, bigger and faster than anything we’ve seen before, necessitating that we make plans ourselves that are commensurately bolder, bigger and faster.

And if CharterFolk are going to play the role that is required of us – keeping as much of this change an “opening up,” especially for those who need greater excellence and fairness in public education, rather than a “crushing down” – it’s essential that we understand how we represent a special mix.

Our category of schools consists of a balance of design features that are built to last if what you are seeking is greater excellence and fairness in public education for the long term.

Features that will ultimately prove instructive to friends and foes alike who are embracing ideas that will have to be refined, if not outright corrected, not much further down the road.

But not all of us in our own world even know these design features. Nor do we even understand how public education has evolved in our country to make them so needed.

We glob onto the iconography of Brown vs Board, when another case most of us have never even heard of, decided 50 years ago this July, had far greater impact on the political geography that our schools operate within today.

Milliken vs Bradley.

And so the charter school movement plods forward not even fully understanding how it is that we have more potential to help our country overcome the shortcomings of Milliken, and to ultimately achieve the spirit and intent of Brown, than any other force at work in public education today.

It’s yet another reason why I have said for nearly four years of writing now that the charter school movement needs a new North Star.

It was the most recurring theme I heard shared by the national advocates who gathered last week in San Antonio. And it’s the one I hear most often in my travels across the country speaking with Folk.

And as the monumental changes witnessed last week attest, it’s not just that we’re going to need a North Star by which to navigate.

The seas we are sailing into are likely to be rough enough at times to obscure all stars.

No.

What we need is a mast of guiding principle we can strap ourselves to as we encounter a turbulence and a scope and a pace of change in education beyond anything we’ve seen before.