CharterFolk’s Reason For Being? Unleashing Advocacy Colossi on the Landscape

Good afternoon, CharterFolk.

I hope you are all having a good weekend. I wanted to get this post off Friday, but too many things were happening at once, so I’m pushing it out now.

As I alluded to on Wednesday, I’ve been wanting to share what a little more distance from the work in recent weeks has helped me see regarding CharterFolk’s reason for being.

The thought first occurred to me on the third or fourth day of Amy’s and my getaway to Mt. Ranier when we were getting ready to start our next hike in the park:

Wait a second.  How many kids do we have in charter schools again?

I knew, of course, the latest number that the National Alliance reports. 

3.3 million.

It’s a number I quote all the time. 

But what I hadn’t locked in was the year that the number referred to. Because what I was really ruminating on was the number of kids we have in charter schools right now. And in order to make an informed estimate of that, I needed to know how recent the 3.3 million number is.

So I looked it up.

Turns out it’s 2018-19.

And looking at historical growth rates, and assuming that 2019-20 was a typical growth year, we’d have been somewhere a little short of 3.5 million last year …

And 2020-21?

Well, wait a second.  Given the Great Disconnect, and given the known explosion in charter school enrollment that happened in many parts of the country, what would we estimate overall enrollment growth to have been?

Two hundred thousand?  Three? Maybe even a little more than that?

And with what I predict will be another boom year in 2021-22, it occurred to me:

We’re probably just shy of having 4 million kids in charter schools this year.

Double what we had a decade ago, a number that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t seized upon before.

Which led my mind straight back to 25x25x25.

If we’re really on the cusp of having 4 million kids in charter schools, and if state associations could really begin receiving an average of $25 per student in membership dues per year …

Isn’t it really possible we could have somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million per year going to support national charter school advocacy sometime near the middle of this decade?

My mind flashed to 2009, my first year at CCSA.  Back then CCSA was considered something of a national outlier, a colossus  – a state association with an annual budget of $10 million.

Could we really be within reach of having the equivalent of 10 CCSAs on the national landscape?

But more than that …

Because of the $10 million that CCSA had back then, 2/3 of it was philanthropy and so was always at risk of disappearing if funders’ priorities changed.

Do we really have the potential to unleash the equivalent of 10 completely self-sustaining advocacy colossi working on behalf of charter schools across the nation?

But more than even that …

Because, undoubtedly, since 2009 we have learned so much about how membership associations can use funding more effectively in support of charter school advocacy.

Couldn’t we really bring together the knowledge that has been accumulated over the past 12 years such that, not only will there be more reliable resources behind charter school advocacy, but those resources will be more wisely used than ever before?

But I didn’t stop there …

Because in recent years, we have also undoubtedly seen CharterFolk come to understand the importance of advocacy and become more willing to take action on behalf of our movement.

Couldn’t we take that new level of commitment from individual CharterFolk to support advocacy and aggregate it across the entire base of people serving 4 million students such that we would have a potential for impact orders of magnitude beyond anything we have had before?

Which also didn’t seem to capture it all yet …

Because we are now seeing a new generation of CharterFolk more representative of the communities we serve step into positions of leadership in our movement.

Couldn’t we support that new generation of CharterFolk to also take new levels of leadership within our membership organizations such that our advocacy work would be infused with a whole new level of legitimacy and moral authority?

Begging the penultimate question …

Because, without doubt, the pandemic and the racial awakening that has happened in our country have pulled back the curtain on the failings of our public education system to help our country address the racial inequities that are so deeply baked into our history.

Haven’t we reached that moment when the charter school community is finally ready to come out of its shell and unabashedly advocate for a new policy agenda that full-throatedly demonstrates how the charter school movement has the potential to lead our entire public education system to a new level of excellence and equity for all students but especially for those coming from communities that have been systematically underserved in the past?

All leading to the capstone …

And isn’t it possible that CharterFolk in its ongoing effort to bring together voices of people who recognize the charter school movement’s new potential for impact might in some small way make it more likely that that incredible potential is in fact realized?

My conclusion after hours of ruminating it while trekking up the steep sides of Mt. Ranier?

Maybe. Just maybe.

Which crystallized just one last thought:

I can’t wait to get back.

ConcesiónFolk – Part of Something So Much Bigger than Ourselves

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Thank you to so many of you for your kind words in response to Friday’s post.

I don’t claim to be back at full speed yet. It’s going to take me a few weeks to do the advance work necessary to complete CharterFolk X posts and Contributor Columns. I’m also going to reduce the number of posts slightly over the next few weeks so I can get the website organized better, allowing people to find more easily the past posts they are seeking. By mid-August, I look forward to returning to my regular cadence – a couple of posts from me, one Contributor Column and one CharterFolk X article per week.

My intent during June had been to keep cranking out material and to seek philanthropic match commitments so that every paid subscription we get in Year 2, whether new or a renewal, would be matched dollar for dollar. Well, that didn’t happen obviously, but what is amazing is that dozens of you have already gone ahead and renewed for Year 2 anyway. Thank you!

To all of you who have renewed already, or are considering doing so soon, just know this: I fully intend to secure, and am highly confident that I will be able to secure, the donor commitments needed to ensure that every subscriber dollar provided to CharterFolk in Year 2 is matched. And for all of you who have been looking for the right moment to subscribe for the first time, why not join the nearly 300 paid subscribers here at CharterFolk by signing up today?

In ramping things back up, I thought I’d do a last post today about an observation I picked up in Colombia. On Friday, I want to do a post about what some distance has helped me recognize about the unique value add of CharterFolk. And next Tuesday I plan to finish off the post I was halfway through when everything got interrupted by my sudden need to go to Colombia. After that, I’m chomping at the bit to get back to writing about the many fascinating developments that have happened in charterland over the summer.

My post today grows out of a particular moment in the Colombia odyssey. It was a Sunday afternoon. I had been waiting in my hotel for my brother to contact me. I had already prepared for whatever eventuality I could think of. Family back home was all updated. So I actually had a couple of minutes to myself.

So, what do you think I did, CharterFolk?

That’s right …

I started reading about charter schools. (You think I exaggerate when I tell you that I can be positively insufferable when it comes to charter schools?)

Colombia’s charter schools are called “Colegios en Concesión.”

You know what I found most remarkable about the time I spent googling about them?

How familiar it all seemed.

The clear success of the first wave of charter schools …

Translated from the Spanish original

… however you choose to measure them.

The controversy surrounding them …

… almost always centered on whether colegios en concesión are “privatizing” public education.

Meanwhile, parents of the students who have gotten the opportunity to attend the new colegios have become the schools’ greatest defenders.

In 2013, despite the fact that the colegios de concesión were serving 40,000 students well in Bogotá, goaded on by the local teacher’s union …

… the new mayor of Bogotá announced that he would not renew the charters of all 25 of the city’s colegios de concesión, which would have essentially brought to an end the charter school movement in Colombia.

This resulted in parents taking to the streets.

They also formed a new association that brought forward a lawsuit to protect the schools.

Ultimately, 22 of the original 25 colegios en concesión had their charters renewed.

That enraged the teachers union, which led to a strike where closing the colegios en concesión was one of their top demands.

After 37 days, they supposedly won concessions …

The only problem was that the strike did nothing to address the problems in public education that are well known throughout Colombian society.


Which resulted in a big new wave of charter school opening in Bogotá in the last two years.

They’re headed up by some of the most remarkable people, education mavericks who won’t take no for an answer.

In Colombia, I believe they’re called “ConcesiónFolk.”


They are being joined by concesión alumni, who have gone on to become mayors and other civic leaders pushing for expanded options for parents.

This leader, Jorge Pinilla, has become the Mayor of Usme, a town in the south of Bogotá where some of the highest need is. The next town over is Soacha, right where ConcesiónFolk have concentrated their efforts.

But so much need remains. Despite the fact that concesión enrollment in Soacha has grown 42% in recent years …


… long lines of desperate parents remain.


These are exactly the kind of schools that, had circumstances been different, I would have been eager to visit.

Just like I have visited many public schools in other countries over the years …

In India, near the Pakistan border.

In Fiji.

In Spain.

But the situation being what it was, I couldn’t do the same in Colombia. A few minutes later, my brother contacted me, and the whirlwind began again.

Six days after that, I was flying home and saw that this article had come out. Of course, the picture’s caption leapt out at me …


Exactly the part of Bogotá I had been reading about just the week before.

A place where there is a Great Disconnect in public education as pronounced as any in the world.

And where extraordinary Colombians are giving their all to make things better.

We CharterFolk, or ConcesiónFolk as the case may be, find great meaning in being part of something bigger than ourselves.

But it can be a challenge sometimes to keep sight of just how much bigger.

During my time in Colombia, I caught a glimpse again.

And so I return, somehow even more committed to our shared work than I’ve ever been before.