2021 Year in Review

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:

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 Leads to a National Crack-Up

Dysfunction and Recalcitrance In Public Education is Shocking to Many

Deep-Seated Unfairness Within Our Public School System Receives New Attention and Builds Momentum for Reform

Maintaining Our Advocacy Bearings Through it All

Personal Connection to the Work

Personal Favorites

Lessons Learned

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.

Contributor Columns

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.

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:

Julio Vázquez’s Great Granddaughter – Isabella E. Vazquez-Negron

CharterFolk Chats

This year we had six CharterFolk Chats including:

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.

CharterFolk X

This year we issued 17 CharterFolk X Columns, and we announced our CharterFolk of the Year Finalists ..

Jerel Bryant, Delia Kumabe, Daniela Anello and Danielle West-Augustin

… and our CharterFolk of the Year Winner.

Danielle West-Augustin

Since that announcement, we have had 6 more CharterFolk X Columns including some with particularly high open-rates:

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.