Good morning, CharterFolk.
CharterFolk began on June 8, 2020 with the post Welcome to CharterFolk. The effort started at a moment of great racial reckoning both for our nation as well as for our movement. We were also in the middle of a great pandemic which has made CharterFolk’s contributions to public education among the most essential being made anywhere. Having had the chance to visit over half the states in the nation in 2019, I had developed a deep recognition that charter schools faced a backlash more extreme than any we had faced before.
Meanwhile, a presidential election was occurring that served to make the national discussion about charter schools only less coherent.
Against that general backdrop, CharterFolk rolled out. Over the past seven months we have had 87 total posts at CharterFolk, including 60 twice-weekly columns from me, 19 CharterFolk X posts, 6 Contributor Columns with content coming from over 30 writers, and 5 CharterFolk Chats, including our initial one with Arne Duncan.
We have created a nonprofit and recruited a great Board of Directors. We have grown readership and paid subscribers, and we have seen open rates that are well above “excellent” levels (at least as reported by WordPress) and trending even higher.
Along the way, I have had an incredible amount of fun and feel great gratitude for all who have contributed to and/or supported us, or have simply found the time to read the content appearing here. Maybe more than anything else, I have enjoyed hearing personally from hundreds of you as you have reached out to me at different times to offer encouragement and suggestions. Thank you. It really does mean a lot to me.
2021 promises to be a year of massive importance for the charter school movement. I look forward to continuing to build this community and to helping spark the key conversations we need to have in order to overcome the many challenges and to capitalize upon the massive opportunities that lie before us. In my opinion, the world has never needed the charter school movement more than it does right now. With that being the case, I put my shoulder to the wheel and thank you all for providing me additional inspiration to keep going at it with everything I’ve got.
Below I highlight some of the most popular and important posts of the year.
The Five Most Viewed Articles
The five most view articles based upon open-rates:
- 25x25x25 – A North Star for Charter Schools in the Biden Era – A post where I lay out a vision for the charter movement to unleash tens of millions of dollars annually to support the development of the improved advocacy efforts and infrastructure we will need to succeed over the long term.
- Why Elon Musk May Abandon California But Charters Never Will – An argument for not counting the California charter school movement out despite the challenges it has encountered in recent years.
- Where Shmuckheads Dropped the Ball on Vision – Showing how a failure to update our vision to reflect charter schools’ growing impact has had adverse impact on the movement.
- The Teacher Union Straightjacket – What COVID Reveals If We Act With Courage – COVID is making plain the harmful impact that teacher unions have on public education and opens up opportunities for charter schools to drive a new narrative for the movement.
- Responding to Scott – Existential Angst, Moral Authority and Crossing the Chasm – A response to Scott Pearson’s popular post about lessons learned during his time as the Executive Director of the DC Public Charter School Board.
Since the beginning, the idea has been that a chorus of representative voices will help generate content and discussion here at CharterFolk. That is why I am particularly happy to have seen such great columns come from such an impressive array of people.
- CharterFolk Speak! 16 Leaders Offer Thoughts on Vision – CharterFolk responding to some of my early writing about the need for improved vision for the charter school movement.
- CharterFolk Contributors Respond to Arne Duncan’s Challenge to Involve Parents – Arne pushed us hard on this, and four writers from across the country shared specifics about how to bring parents in more.
- Part 2 – CharterFolk Contributors Respond to Arne Duncan’s Challenge to Involve Parents – This was a follow up post given that we had more people contributing than could be fit into one post.
- CharterFolk Contributor Scott Pearson – 5 Things We Learned in DC – In our first Contributor post, Scott shared his first public thoughts since stepping down as Executive Director of the DC Charter School Board.
- CharterFolk Contributor, Ramona Edelin – Public Schooling in DC Before Chartering – In an era when charter opponents try to blame charter schools for problems that we are in fact a response to, Ramona reminds people how bad public education was in DC before charter schools began making their remarkable positive impact.
- CharterFolk Contributor Kyle Rosenkrans – 3 Things We Learned in Newark – Amid all the controversy that has surrounded Newark efforts, the irrefutable fact is that Newark’s charter schools have catalyzed a great improvement in public education. Kyle deconstructs a few of the lessons they have learned along the way.
Ditto about being pleased to have had such great CharterFolk participate in our chat series.
- CharterFolk Chat with Arne Duncan – Our inaugural chat where Arne made plain his level of concern for the country and pushed our movement hard to do a better job of bringing the voice of parents and youth into our advocacy efforts.
- CharterFolk Chat #2 – Howard Fuller Being Clear about the Purpose of Charter Schools – Howard was very clear that public education is a broad aspiration not a specific delivery model or governance arrangement.
- CharterFolk Chat #3 – Nina Rees on the Importance of Having a Clear North Star – Nina was clear that the need has never been greater for a national North Star for our movement around which we can build advocacy strength.
- CharterFolk Chat #4 – Bradford, Skandera and Rotherham on Elections and Implications for Charter Schools – In our most viewed chat of the year, three national leaders shared analysis of what the elections mean for charter schools and what we should be planning for in the months ahead.
- CharterFolk Chat #5 – Larry Rosenstock and Don Shalvey, Brothers from Other Mothers, Look Back and Forward – Two highly respected charter school leaders at moments of transition share their thoughts. This was among the most opened posts at CharterFolk this year, but view rates are not as high given that I released this chat during the holidays when people are so busy. I hope people can find a moment to view at least a portion of it as Don and Larry surface a number of fascinating observations about the state of the movement.
One of the things I enjoy the most about the CharterFolk work is celebrating what our amazing people are up to. I provide three samples of CharterFolk X entries below, but I really have loved writing them all.
- CharterFolk X, Vol 18 – Christopher Mayes, “Getting It” in Ways that Advance our Entire Movement
- Announcing CharterFolk X – The Extraordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things in Our Nation’s Charter Schools
- CharterFolk X Vol 4 – Brian Jones, Another Voice that Shall be Forever Heard
The Need for Improved Vision
What motivated me to get CharterFolk going in the first place was a recognition from my travels that we had lost a sense of vision for the charter school movement. It was one of my most oft-repeated discussions: I would ask people in their various states whether they believed that advocacy partners or others were projecting a strong sense of vision for their state’s charter school sector. That would lead to a torrent of criticisms, but when I would ask people what a good vision might be, they often struggled to articulate one. It made me realize that I should at least begin offering one myself, not so much to get us to coalesce around my own idea but to push the discussion so a variety of improved visions might be elevated.
- No Vision, No Voice – How the charter school movement’s failure to update its vision has resulted in many in our movement going silent during a period when opponents are becoming even louder in their criticism of charter schools.
- A New Vision for Charter Schools – Greatly More Public Education For All – In this post, I lay out the beginnings for a new vision that I believe reflects the impact our movement should be trying to have on public education today.
- My Worst Mistake – The Missing Third Leg of a New Vision for Charter Schools – This post highlights how damaging it has been for our movement not to prioritize supporting existing public schools to voluntarily convert to charter status as a foundational part of our work.
- DC – Where Charter Schools Next Make Education Greatly More Public for All – This column takes the broad ideas for national vision for the charter school movement and tests their applicability in our nation’s capital.
- Brode Not Broad – What Happens When We Lose Our Voice – Our opponents are constantly trying to dehumanize CharterFolk. This post underscores the importance of CharterFolk speaking together as one in order to combat efforts to dehumanize us and to advance a positive broader narrative for our efforts.
Understanding the Attack that Has Come Against Us
We get so bogged down in the day-to-day, it can be hard to get the distance to see what our adversaries have done in recent years to sharpen their attack against charter schools and to see how our initial responses have not always been helpful.
- The Work of Charter Schools – Harder than Issues of War and Peace – The work of charter schools is incredibly difficult. This column takes a quote from Tony Blair as a starting point for understanding what it is we are up against.
- Why It’s Gotten Even Harder – The Establishment’s Strategy to Destroy Charter Schools – As hard as things have always been, in recent years it’s gotten even tougher due to intensified efforts from our opponents to end our movement.
- Behold the Turtle – How Our Response to Attack Has Only Made Things Worse – Taking inspiration from a piece of art that used to hang in my father’s office where he was a school principal, the post points out that CharterFolk going into a defensive crouch on advocacy matters has not resulted in us building the advocacy strength we need.
- Divide and Conquer – The Next Phase in the Strategy to Destroy Charter Schools – Once the Establishment has begun to stem charter school momentum, it begins advancing policy proposals designed to get CharterFolk from different types of schools to abandon one another.
- Armageddon or Not, CharterFolk Come Together – While we are certainly up against a barrage of attack, we have a long history of standing united, and I am certain we will do so again despite efforts to divide us.
A theme running through many posts at CharterFolk this year has been the need for improved advocacy strategy at many different levels.
- Two Existential Questions – What Must We Do to Succeed and What Happens If We Don’t – This post lays out that charter schools have reason for optimism that we can overcome all challenges because we have the potential to be a true movement.
- Thunderbolts and Mountaintops – How We Smash Through the 2×2 – The essence of building advocacy strength for a movement is getting good at aggregating grassroots strength and developing sophistication and expertise in the various policy realms where advocacy fights play out.
- Why It’s Imperative We Occupy the Moral High Ground – Again and again we hear advice from experts saying we shouldn’t say anything negative about traditional public schools, but doing so risks us ceding what has always been a key ingredient for charter school success: making the moral argument for our work.
- Summoning Yolie – How to Be On the Offensive Locally – We often focus on the need to get on the offensive in state legislatures, but we rarely think about doing the same at a local level. A particular strategy pursued by a courageous school board member in Los Angeles is an example we should all learn from.
The Need for Improved Advocacy Infrastructure and Capacity
For decades we have struggled to make the long term advocacy infrastructure and capacity we need to support the movement. The stakes are very high. We’ve got to get this right, and we’ve got to get it right now.
- Membership Like Democracy – The Worst Except For All Others – Attempts to build advocacy strength for charter schools have been hampered for years, but a recognition is spreading that, while state associations have limitations, they are better than all other alternatives for building collective advocacy strength and long term advocacy infrastructure.
- Associations Associate – The Origins of Charter School Power – Collective strength requires that connective tissue link stakeholders together, something that membership associations are uniquely positioned to facilitate.
- Beyond Cellophane and DuBois – The Strength We Need to Survive – When I moved to Sacramento to take the CCSA job, people looked right through me because our organization did not have the ability to get involved in politics. It’s a circumstance we changed quickly, and many others are doing the same today.
- No Rocket Science – The National Advocacy Infrastructure We Need – Charter opponents have linked advocacy organizations at a national, state and local level. If we are going to succeed for the long term, we will need something similar.
- Empowering Parents More – The Picture that Haunts Me Still – Many people talk about the importance of empowering parents, but talk is cheap. The question is whether we are making the structures for genuine shared-decision making (ie smart democracy) that allow us to involve stakeholders such that they are truly empowered.
The Need for More to Get in the Game
A part of advocacy strengthening is simply encouraging more CharterFolk to get involved and giving them meaningful opportunities to participate.
- Election Takeaways? CharterFolk, We Got to Get in the Game! – Election results nationally show that charter advocates who are getting involved in elections are generating impressive wins.
- Want to Know Why We Gotta Get in the Game? Look at New Mexico! – Many people think we can’t begin building political strength until we have access to large amounts of funding, but resourceful advocates in New Mexico pulled off major wins on shoestring budgets.
- How One School Getting in the Game Kept a Nightmare Out of Congress – A charter school with a lot of moxie in California got their community involved such that a policy maker who has done great harm to charter schools was prevented from winning a race for Congress.
- Sometimes Getting in the Game is More Courtship than Combat – How a school in Colorado scored a breakthrough accessing local resources to build the school facility it has long sought.
Nuts and Bolts
I have gotten several comments from readers this year requesting that I get more specific in my suggestions for people helping to grow advocacy strength.
- Cards on the Table – The Quest for Better Vision Now – A roadmap for building strength rapidly growing out of Arne Duncan pushing us/me to accomplish more faster.
- Responding to CharterFolk on Parent Organizing – Show Me the Money – In this one, I lay down specifics related to parents and youth.
- Five Things We Can All Do to Build Advocacy Strength Quickly – Self Explanatory.
- Want to Growth Strength Overnight? Join Your Association Now! – Another obvious one, but so needed at this key moment.
- Nuts & Bolts – Getting Ready for Nina’s Call, Should it Come – This one contains some specific ideas about how advocates should make requests for collective action from CharterFolk, and what CharterFolk should think through in advance if they are really committed to helping unleash large amounts of collective action at a federal level.
Personal Connection to the Work
People report liking different things about CharterFolk. While they don’t always have the highest open rates, posts that feature my own personal connection to the work tend to be the ones that people email me the most about.
- Welcome to CharterFolk – Recounting a promise I made to a special friend which has motivated my work in charter schools ever since.
- Why We Give a Damn About Charter Schools – Joining Big Brothers was one of the best decisions I ever made for so many reasons, but also because it has helped me get better bearings on the grave injustices we attempt to address in the charter school movement.
- Education Inequity Shown in the Lives of One Soccer Team – Sometimes something grows organically out of your life that reminds you why we do this work. So it is with my son’s soccer team.
- What Derrell and Spain Teach Us About Charter School Advocacy – A theme of CharterFolk is my insufferability in terms of my excitement about charter schools. My family has to put up with it more than anyone. One time my love for charter schools actually got in the way of our kids being able to see Santa.
- Sometimes Getting in the Game is More Courtship than Combat – Recounting a story about how some of my oldest friends got drawn into an effort to make a charter school in their hometown of Durango, Colorado.
If you crank out this amount of content on deadline, you’re bound to make mistakes. I’ve certainly made my share this year:
- Maybe my favorite mistake led to this post. Just Misspoke, Or Needs to Be Woke? Wallace Responds to Webb.
- I had a reader rightly challenge me on bad language I used in this CharterFolk X post, which I have since edited.
- I also had a few readers rightly question my use of the term “shmuckheads.” “Knuckleheads” will be the word of choice for future references to advocates like myself dropping the ball.
- I don’t report myself to be happy with my design of the Forum. It takes a heck of a lot of people to get folks commenting on threads in order to facilitate discussion. Over the first months of ’21, I intend to convert the Forum into a place where it is easy to access all of the amazing content that is being generated by writers other than myself.
- Finally, I’ve learned a lot about how to incorporate others’ voices. In November, we saw a drop off in contributions coming from others. That was a function of the fact that I simply got behind in my work and I hadn’t been proactive enough in extending invitations. (You can catch up on your personal writing by doing it at 3 in the morning, but that’s a lousy time to be getting others to contribute.) This year I’m trying to get a content calendar set up far in advance so we will hopefully avoid a period where we are not hearing as frequently from other CharterFolk.
I am extremely excited about 2021. Some of the things we have to look forward to:
- Great CharterFolk Chats
- Diane Tavenner and Pat Brantley in January talking about the need innovate or perish,
- Darryl Cobb and Charter School Growth Fund Portfolio members talking about the newest trends in growth and the fund’s efforts to support a broader, more diverse base of charter school organizations.
- Andrew Broy, Starlee Coleman and Myrna Castrejón sharing what we’re learning about charter school advocacy in places where we have more evolved C3/C4 membership organizations.
- Great Guest Contributors
- Emilio Pack on the need to develop Latino leadership in the charter school sector.
- Gina Plate on the latest in national advocacy efforts related to special education and charter schools.
- Senator Mary Landrieu on what we have learned from the charter school experience in Louisiana.
- Greg Richmond reflecting after having had a year to gain perspective since leaving NACSA.
- Sonya Park on the messages we need to provide to charter school parents who are accosted for their support of charter schools.
- Tom Castro on what has been learned in Texas as the state association has evolved into a C3/C4 tandem.
- Laura McGowan-Robinson on what we are learning actually works in terms of recruiting and retaining more diverse leadership in charter schools.
- Ben Austin encouraging us to coalesce around the idea that students should have a constitutional right to a high quality public education.
- Trish Williams sharing her observations having served as a member of the California State Board of Education.
Plus, I’ll plan on continuing to crank out whatever I can in between others’ posts. Hope to see you here. Thank you again for all your support.