Good morning, CharterFolk.
What a year it has been since I posted the 2020 Year in Review. Somehow against a backdrop of challenge in public education more severe than any of us have seen in our lifetimes, on top of CharterFolk finding a way to keep bringing it for kids and for charter school advocacy, readers and contributors also came together to help put CharterFolk firmly on the map. Over the last year, we’ve had 140 posts go out including 22 Contributor Columns, 17 CharterFolk X Posts, and 6 CharterFolk Chats. In the context of announcing our Brian’s Voice Awards in August, I thanked the 52 CharterFolk who had contributed content here during our first 15 months …
… and we’ve had at least another dozen contribute since then. We’ve also grown readership from a little over 700 to 1300, we’ve had nearly 300 people become paid subscribers, and we’ve had a generous group of funders offer over $50,000 in new matches. We were able to make this progress despite the fact that I had to take an unexpected hiatus due to family matters in June. So, to all of you who helped make 2021 such a great year, I extend my deepest thanks. I look forward to making even more progress together in 2022.
Early in January, I’ll offer a Community Update about what to look forward to in the New Year. Below I provide a summary of content we shared here at CharterFolk during 2021.
The 10 Most-Opened Posts
A Top 10 List is difficult to report on this year. In addition to having a significantly expanded readership in 2021 making comparisons across months sketchy, technical matters make it even more difficult to report accurately. Midway through the year, our software product changed the way it counted email openings. So we either had a steadily improving open-rate as we came into the latter months of the year, or it was just an accounting error. While I’d like to live in my illusion that more of you are opening at the end of the year than were at the beginning, a better metric might be to report out the most-opened post for each quarter, and then throw in a half-dozen other posts that were opened nearly as much in those same periods. We end up with ten.
The top posts from each quarter were as follows:
- Quarter 1: General Principles for Addressing the Great Disconnect of 2021 – After laying out in my first post of the year the notion that 2021 would be The Year of the Great Disconnect, in the next post I made some suggestions for how we might go about addressing that disconnect. While it had a high open rate, it was one of the posts I personally least liked this year. In fact, I thought it contained such muddy thinking that it led me to write Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Greatly More Public Education, which (I hope) did a better job of tying together our short-term response to Covid with our longer-term advocacy priorities.
- Quarter 2: Appreciating Even More Deeply the Miracles that Got Us Started – For as long as I can remember, I have known that the passage of California’s charter school law happened because of a legislative miracle. What had not registered was the significance of the parliamentary heroics allowing the bill to get through the entire legislative process essentially unamended. That coherent vision for chartering then became the example that many other states turned to when charter school laws began to spread in the mid-90’s. It was a realization that was made plain to me during a CharterFolk Chat with Ember Reichgott Junge and Gary Hart which I then elaborated upon in my next column.
- Quarter 3: An Example of Enormous Opportunity – Celebrating Charter School Board Members – In July, having gotten new perspective on the work while away in Colombia, I returned more committed to the notion that our own world needs to get over our collective “Toxic Mass Humility” and to begin celebrating ourselves more. This post surfaced what I think is some of our lowest hanging fruit – recognizing the amazing Folk who serve on charter school boards.
- Quarter 4: 25x25x25, Pandemic Depletion and the Charter School Advocacy Tax – This was the post that the raw metrics would say had the highest open rate of the year at over 49%. In it, I recognize just how depleted our world is right now coming through the Covid crisis and how advocates need to be sensitive to that fact as we take on the next phase of our advocacy work.
Other posts with open rates nearly as high as those above include:
- Superintendents Who Walk Away; Marten and the Anti-Charter Tax; The Four Building Blocks that Drive Narrative – This was the first of many posts this year about the leadership exodus that has happened in school districts across the country. It also focused on why we struggle to drive a positive story about our movement despite the fact that we are generating such positive results.
- CharterFolk Momentum Grows; More District Leadership Implosion; The Second Awakening of the National Charter School Movement – This was one of my favorite posts from the year, inspired by a Contributor Column from Naomi Shelton. In it, I compare a period in early U.S history to the new era we are stepping into as a movement.
- The Union Leader in Her Labyrinth – A Stunning Opportunity to Frame UTLA and Drive a New Narrative for Charter Schools – The article that gave rise to this post is an absolute stunner in terms of its accurate portrayal of a teacher union leader focused on adult needs rather than student needs. I encouraged CharterFolk to draw further attention to the article and I have been delighted to see how often it has been referred to since, including in Bloomberg’s recent announcement regarding his decision to increase investment in charter schools.
- Framed Again! The KidsNotProfits Campaign to Destroy Charter Schools Goes National – This was a shoe waiting to drop ever since the presidential election when the NEA had attempted to box Biden into anti-charterness. What charter adversaries did to charter schools in California in 2018-20, they are now attempting to take across the country. As they do so, our world would benefit from understanding the strategy that was used in California so that we can devise a more effective response going forward.
- Blew’s Blues and Recognizing that We are Not A Silver Bullet But We Are Silver – A New Article Reminds Us Why School District Reform is Elusive and Why Charter School Blowback has Intensified – Leave it to Jim Blew to get us thinking more deeply about the challenges before us. Responding to his Contributor Column, I shared how the discrediting of NCLB and Race to the Top strategies for reforming school districts had cleared the policy field of proposals threatening to teacher unions, thereby allowing them to focus all of their advocacy bandwidth on advancing policies harmful to charter schools.
- The “Sunrising” of Bloomberg Philanthropies on Charter Schools – 8 Things the Announcement Did Incredibly Well, and 3 Things We Need to Focus On Going Forward – Bloomberg’s announcement did us a great service in terms of reminding us of the kind of messaging we need to drive a narrative for our movement. At the same time, the announcement created a need for the broader charter school community to take new action to capitalize upon this moment of opportunity.
As to how to organize the rest of the content that was shared over the last year, I think it helps to recognize that 2021 was a year of massive change in public education and reform efforts.
- It started with public education proving unable to provide the bare minimum that parents and society will accept, leading to a “Great Disconnect.”
- Widely different political dynamics in Red and Blue States led to widely different responses to public education’s failures, giving rise to a “National Crack Up” in policy choices being made in Red and Blue States.
- The system’s failure and recalcitrance shocked many district leaders, policy makers and editorial writers who hadn’t previously recognized how systematically dysfunctional our traditional public schools have become.
- Meanwhile, deep-seated unfairness in our public school system received new attention and created new momentum for reform.
- All of this change has created massive need for the charter school movement to maintain its advocacy bearings so as to respond to new threats and capitalize upon opportunities that present themselves in the current landscape.
All of these were themes we explored in depth here at CharterFolk.
The Great Disconnect of 2021
- The Great Disconnect of 2021 – Public Education’s Year of Reckoning – This post creates the Equity and Excellence matrix and lays out the stakes for public education if we cannot build a greater overlap between what public education offers and the bare minimum that parents and the broader public will accept.
- The Great Disconnect of 2021 Test Case, Part 1 – Sacramento Unified has Little Equity to Lose – The first principle for overcoming the Great Disconnect is recognizing how bad problems are in many of our nation’s large urban school districts where, sadly, it is fair to say that there is very little if any equity to lose.
- Concerns about Cindy Marten, and the Great Disconnect Test Case, Part 2 – Every School an Ally – This post contains a thought exercise for how to address the severe equity and excellence problems we see in problem school districts like Sacramento Unified.
- The Great Disconnect of 2021 is Becoming a Massive Chasm – While I knew all along that 2021 was going to be a year of massive disconnect, I had not realized the degree to which the disconnect would expand in just a matter of a few months. It thrust our entire public education system into the most precarious position it has been in for generations, if not ever. And it places massive responsibility on the charter school movement to be seen as a reason for hope that our public school system can be reformed.
The Great Disconnect Leads to a National Crack-Up
- The Great Disconnect of 2021 Becomes Public Education’s Year of National Crack Up – By May, it was becoming abundantly clear that the Covid era was spawning completely different policy responses in Red States and Blue States, with many Red States advancing new school choice laws, including charter school expansion proposals, while Blue States remained committed to supporting the public education status quo.
- The National Alliance’s Latest Report on Growth – Why It’s Imperative We Be Louder About the Fact that We Don’t Want More Charter Schools for the Sake of More Charter Schools – The Alliance’s report made clear that not only were we seeing policy differences in Red and Blue States, but we were also seeing that charter school enrollment growth was spiking in Red States but only increasing modestly in Blue States.
- A Monster Update – An Elections Roundup Focusing on Under-Appreciated Developments – By November, it was evident that it is no longer possible to talk about a “national charter school story.” Fundamentally different election results for charter schools were generated in Red and Blue States in 2021, meaning, if anything, we are likely to see divergence between Red and Blue education policy only accelerate in the years ahead.
Dysfunction and Recalcitrance In Public Education is Shocking to Many
- Marshall Plan? Can Big School Districts Marshall Anything at All? – The naiveté our society suffers from regarding the state of our traditional public schools was summed up beautifully by the Washington Post’s decision to publish an op-ed by the superintendents of the three largest school districts in the country calling for a “Marshall Plan” for public education. Within months all three had departed. Some Marshall Plan.
- Newspapers Lament But Offer No Suggestions for Better Education Leadership; Lewis Center Shows Us All How to Celebrate the 30th; Don’t Assume Simple Smiles in Red States – It’s a recurring phenomenon we are seeing play out in the Covid era: various parties including newspaper editorial boards can identify problems in public education but can offer no potential solutions. In the end, commentators call on school districts to continue doing the very things that have made them so ineffective in the first place.
- Why So Many Editorial Boards are Missing in Action – The level of shock that newspaper editorial boards have demonstrated about the appalling performance of public schools during Covid reveals that they, like so many other observers in the landscape, suffer from a severe lack of understanding about how traditional public schools work. Having been unable or unwilling to look under the hood during normal times, it leaves them ill-prepared to offer informed opinion at key moments like the Covid crisis.
- When Cities Sue their Own Schools – Public Education’s Accountability Disaster – It has been fascinating to see many mayors and other policy makers who had previously been close allies of teacher unions become shocked at the unions’ selfishness and recalcitrance during Covid. It led some policy makers to attempt extreme gestures including the Mayor of San Francisco going so far as to sue her city’s own school district.
Deep-Seated Unfairness Within Our Public School System Receives New Attention and Builds Momentum for Reform
- Fascinating New Research – What Happens When White Voters Control School Boards Serving Black and Brown Kids – This year we saw several new studies surface deep-seated inequities within our public school system. This post described a particularly good one coming out of Annenberg.
- The Huge Opportunity to Make Progress on Red Lines in Blue States Now – Later in the year, a study from the Urban Institute came out about attendance boundaries and district boundaries resulting in appalling racial segregation. As it so happens, one of the schools featured in the study was the elementary school were I served as a TA before starting my teaching service in LAUSD.
- Marten Nomination Final Hours; A New Article on Redlining’s Corrosive Impact; Why “Red For Ed” is a Moniker They Deserve – A new study from Annenberg showed how many attendance and district boundaries are highly aligned with racist housing redlines that were first drawn in the 1930’s. Teacher unions that now try to present themselves as on the side of racial justice have been, and continue to be, some of the prime defenders of these racist boundaries.
- Humility Overcome in DC; Putting the Question to White Liberals – Conor Williams is one of our strongest writers about the need to address inequities within traditional public schools. I found his piece in the Education Post in August to be another spot-on commentary that prodded me to riff further on the need to call out the hypocrisy that many white liberals demonstrate on matters related to public education.
- What Dilapidated School Buildings and Unrequited Love Have in Common – As school districts are being shown through Covid to be fundamentally more interested in self-preservation than in providing services to the kids and families who need them most, it casts a new light on all the actions that school districts take, including districts’ habitual misuse of public resources which so often results in poor communities having dilapidated school buildings that would never be accepted in other communities.
Maintaining Our Advocacy Bearings Through it All
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for Greatly More Public Education – Maintaining advocacy bearings requires we understand what we are advocating toward. This post describes public education’s current dysfunctional needs hierarchy as well as one that would support greatly more public education for all, a hierarchy based upon the way needs are prioritized within the charter school movement. Our long-term advocacy efforts must be calibrated to improve public education’s needs hierarchy over time.
- Cards on the Table – A New Article Shows Teacher Unions Plotting their Next Line of Attack – Teacher unions are planning to take anti-charter school agendas and strategies devised in LA and Chicago to the rest of the country. While sobering, the article actually provides a roadmap for what the charter school movement needs to do to build its own advocacy strength.
- The Battle Over Educational NIMBYism Spreading Across the Country Now – One of the NEA/CTA’s top priorities is eliminating state authorizing and making sure that only local school districts may authorize charter schools. This article explores why such a policy equates to nothing other than educational NIMBYism which will result in educationlessness in the same way that housing NIMBYISM results in homelessness.
- Cherry-Picking vs Orchard-Harvesting – Do We Have the Courage to Frame the Big Picture? – This was a follow up to the post about the NEA’s effort to take KidsNotProfits national. From a strategy perspective, the question comes down to whether our movement is going to be smart enough and brave enough to draw frames around the massive failings of our traditional public school system.
- The 1000-Cut Pain We Feel from Our Current Lack of Vision and the Huge Opportunity We Have to Set Things Straight – I continue to think that our advocacy effectiveness is undercut by our lack of vision for why charter school growth results in public education improving for everyone. A school-specific situation in Los Angeles puts the national challenge in crystal clear repose for us.
- Advocacy Investment as Collective Self-Care | The Highest Impact Advocacy Grant We’ve Seen in Years | The Potential of 25x25x25 – While the past year has been full of challenges, we have also seen the charter school movement make great progress on the goal to increase membership dues coming into state associations thereby increasing the resources available for advocacy. Stories from three states show how smart actions from members and funders can accelerate the growing of resources and advocacy strength.
Personal Connection to the Work
- Lessons From Colombia – A Better Strategy for Finding the Lost – CharterFolk readers showed great understanding during my absence in June. This post recounted what happened there and described an experience that taught me a key lesson about how to tackle all things in life including how to better serve the charter school movement.
- Groundhog Generation – Public Education’s Recurring Dysfunction Across the Ages – For too long, dysfunctional dynamics have driven great people out of public education prematurely. This post recounts the story of very close friends who have chosen to leave education early in ways eerily similar to how my parents retired early from their careers in public education.
- Why Closing the Latino Gap is the Path to Power – Emilio Pack’s and other contributors’ post about missing Latino leadership in the charter school movement led me to recount how charter schools in California made progress to serve more Latino students and recruit more Latino leaders. The post highlighted the great group of Latino educators I worked with at Hooper Avenue and recounted an interaction I had with Mr. Nava at the chainlink fence, an experience that redoubled my personal commitment to education reform.
- Unexpected Reunions, Anniversaries, the Staying Power of the Charter School Movement, and the Parade Toward Better Public Education For All – Of all people to track me down through CharterFolk this year, who would do it other than Mr. Nava’s daughter Yuri who had been a student of mine at Hooper Avenue! She contacted me on behalf of fellow classmates wanting to re-connect. Her outreach happened in the same week that anniversaries and other special occasions were underway.
- ConcesiónFolk – Part of Something So Much Bigger than Ourselves – Sometimes serendipity is just too much. During a moment of respite in Colombia I indulged my obsession and did some learning about charter schools in Bogotá. A few days later, literally taking off on a plane ride back to the states, I took my first look at the New York Times in weeks and discovered that the lead article was about the need for improved education in the very section of Bogotá I had been reading about. Never had I felt more connected to the cross-nation effort we are part of to improve public education everywhere.
- Nuts and Bolts – Breaking Down Step-by-Step What to Do When Someone Attacks You Because of Your Support for Charter Schools – This is a post that several people I deeply respect thanked me for. Since then I have referred many people to it who have been preparing for high stakes discussions about charter schools, all of whom reported that it proved helpful. It’s one that I wish someone could have handed to me during my first days on the job at CCSA, and it’s one of the first posts I would recommend CharterFolk to read.
- What One Awesome Hire Shows Us About How To Grow the Future Leadership We Will Need to Succeed – Often we think about how our narrative problems hold us back in the policy realm, but narrative problems also hold us back from recruiting great talent. The story of this great hire shows how essential it is to have a narrative for our movement that people we are recruiting can deeply connect with.
- You’ll be back. Time Will Tell – Everybody Now! You Know the Hamilton Tune … – This was just one that I spun off trying to offer a lighter take on a very sobering topic: the fact that hundreds of thousands of parents are abandoning the public school system during the Great Disconnect of 2021 and many of them will never come back again.
- Impact, Course Correction, Accepting Conflict, and the Responsibility that Has Been Handed to Us All – What We Can Learn from the Sunsetting of the Doris and Donald Fisher Fund – The Fishers have been incredibly supportive of our movement and of organizations that I have been connected to. I felt that the closing of the Fisher Fund deserved a moment of recognition.
As I noted above, I didn’t end up loving how I had first framed a suggested response to the Great Disconnect. Aside from that, my biggest shortcoming for the year was not being crisp on the way the Covid era is exacerbating our talent pool challenges.
- In the spring I talked about the massive amount of money coming into public education being a huge opportunity for us to attract new people to our movement. (The Impending Massive Squander; Charter School Responsibility; A New Generation of CharterFolk.) In truth, the scope of people-drain from all of public education has made it so daunting that we need whole new ways to think about the human talent challenge in front of charter schools and all of public education.
- By late summer it was becoming clear that intensified unionization efforts directed at charter schools were gaining new traction. This post (Naiveté Busting – The Need for CharterFolk to Get Real About the Unionizing Efforts Being Directed Against Our Schools) properly identified the threat being directed at our schools, especially against some of our most respected charter school organizations. But the scope of the talent pipeline challenges before the movement right now has made it difficult to follow up with suggestions and resources that feel genuinely supportive, rather than just cheaply didactic toward leaders who are already contending with unreasonable levels of responsibility.
- By the end of the year I was talking about depletion and what we need to do to better support CharterFolk through this moment of unprecedented challenge. (25x25x25, Pandemic Depletion and the Charter School Advocacy Tax.) That’s all well and good. It waits to be seen whether CharterFolk and advocates can find new ways to bring oxygen into rooms where CharterFolk are in critical need of it in 2022.
In September we instituted the Brian’s Voice Awards. Readers selected the following five Contributor Columns as the ones over the past year that had most made them either think anew or commit anew to our shared work.
- Naomi Shelton – Committing to Community Schools and Leaders of Color
- Cameron Curry – Will the Legacy of Covid Be a Turning Point for Kids?
- Emilio Pack, Malka Borrego, Nella Garcia Urban and Jennifer Lopez – The Missing Charter Leaders: ¿Dónde están los Latinos y las Latinas?
- Gina Plate – Charter Schools’ Inclusive Educational Models and Instructional Practices are Changing the National Discussion About How We Educate Students with Disabilities
- And Laura McGowan-Robinson – Racial Diversity Work Starts with You
We plan to continue our Brian’s Voice Awards again this year. We’ve already had several additional great Contributor Columns with very high open rates since August, including:
- CharterFolk Contributor Julio Vázquez – A Charter School Founder Welcomes His Great-Granddaughter to the School He Made: Why We Established Rochester’s First Community-Based Bilingual Charter School
- CharterFolk Contributor Jim Blew – The Charter School Movement: More Fragile Now Than in the Pioneer Days
- CharterFolk Contributor – Karega Rausch, Some Thoughts on Professionalizing and Modernizing Authorizing
- CharterFolk Contributors Arthur Samuels and Pagee Cheung – Creating 13th Grade Because Our Students Deserve Even Better
- CharterFolk Contributor – Ron Rice, The Next Iteration of Charter Schools Will Be Intentional, Of Color and Community/Economically Empowering – Are You Ready? I Don’t Think You Are
This year we had six CharterFolk Chats including:
- CharterFolk Chat #6 – Brantley, Tavenner and Bradford, Resisting the “Arranged Marriage” of Public Education that is Being Imposed on Students
- CharterFolk Chat #7 – Nella Garcia Urban, Challenging the Charter School Movement to Sponsor a New Generation of Latino Leadership
- CharterFolk Chat #8 – Castrejón, Coleman and Broy, Forging the Yellow Brick Road Toward the Emerald City of True Charter School Advocacy Strength and Influence
- CharterFolk Chat #9 – Ember Reichgott Junge and Gary Hart, Pioneering Legislators of the Charter School Movement Reflect on Our 30th Anniversary
- CharterFolk Chat #10 – Kim Smith, Returning to First Principles
- CharterFolk Chat with Danielle West-Augustin, CharterFolk of the Year for 2021
We’ve had a hiatus from the Chat series since my unexpected break in June, but we have some new ideas for chats in 2022 I’ll be eager to tell you about in our Community Update next week.
This year we issued 17 CharterFolk X Columns, and we announced our CharterFolk of the Year Finalists ..
… and our CharterFolk of the Year Winner.
Since that announcement, we have had 6 more CharterFolk X Columns including some with particularly high open-rates:
- CharterFolk X Vol 2.1 – Julia Meyerson, Returning to Her Hometown to Prove that Demographics Do Not Determine Destiny
- CharterFolk X Vol 2.2 – Patricia Brantley and Donald Hense, the Friendship at the Heart of One of the Most Important Success Stories Happening in Public Education Today
- CharterFolk X Vol 2.6 – Natasha Barriga, Standing Resolute With Kids and Communities Where Great Public Education is Needed Most
I will confess that, as regular work responsibilities have intensified since my return from Colombia, I have struggled to keep generating the CharterFolk X Columns at the same pace that I did last year. I have tried to find a writer able to help me with this part of the work, but thus far have not secured the assistance that I need. I continue to look. If anyone is aware of a writer who might be able to help me with this, please contact me directly.
I again thank everyone connected to the CharterFolk community for a great 2021. Have a great New Year. I look forward to seeing you all again next week.