Good day, CharterFolk.
I extend another thanks to Don Shalvey for sharing yesterday more lessons learned along the way. That reflex we all have to keep our doors closed when things aren’t working in our classrooms is one I remember well. The only way I was able to get through it was by being in the presence of courageous educators like Don who were willing to keep their doors open at all times, whether things were working well or not. It’s another remarkable thing about Don I should have included in my tribute to him last week.
Thanks again, Don, for all the great thoughts you have shared with CharterFolk in recent days. I’ll be pulling for your Eagles next weekend.
Meanwhile, I said in my last post that I’d get to an eight-word definition of a great public school today. My regrets. Four new things are happening in charterland that have crowded out those eight words. I’ll get to those words on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, I close this intro with quick reference to two other pieces of news.
The first is that we lost a titan this week.
There are a lot of articles out there about his legacy, but not enough focus is being placed on the fact that Durenberger was a great supporter of charter schools. You can find out more at the National Charter School Founders Library where you’ll find an oral history …
… and a letter penned by the senator last spring which proved of assistance to the movement during the recent CSP regulations fight.
The second piece of news is late-breaking word that the Tribune announced their endorsement of Paul Vallas for Chicago mayor a few hours ago.
The editorial is further evidence that Chicago is indeed a canary in a coal mine on a range of issues, this time demonstrating the central theme of today’s post which is that, ultimately, elected officials will be held accountable for the performance of public schools under their watch.
Let’s get onto that post now.
#1 – Breakthrough in New Jersey!
We start with some of the best news we’ve seen in years. A breakthrough in New Jersey!
Progress in a blue state where less that a year ago the governor was smothering charter school growth.
This week, less than a year later, the New Jersey Department of Education did an about face, announcing that 11 out of 16 charter schools have been approved for expansion, with many of those schools being poised to receive federal CSP funding that will enable them to serve thousands more students within just a few years.
As I wrote in July …
… the path toward faster growth of the charter school movement is to get over our Blanche Dubois complex (depending upon the kindness of strangers) …
. … such that our state associations begin applying for and managing the distribution of CSP funds …
… while building the structural advocacy and political infrastructure needed …
… to get in the game …
… and then to use the resulting new levels of influence that CharterFolk have in the landscape to turn up the heat …
… in support of commonly shared policy priorities.
All these things JerseyFolk have executed to a tee in recent months and years, helping generate a win for kids and families that will have huge impact up and down the Turnpike for many years to come.
Certainly, it’s a multi-faceted story. Many parties played an essential role here. And we can never forget the absolute centrality of the fact that New Jersey’s charter schools are performing excellently with students and inarguably should be allowed to expand.
But when it comes right down to it, winning advocacy battles like this isn’t rocket science.
It’s running a play.
And if we simply run that play across the nation in a manner consistent with the presence and the potential that we now have …
… many more breakthroughs are surely within our grasp.
#2 – Another Blue State Governor Recognizes the Inevitable.
Meanwhile, right across the Hudson, one of those additional breakthroughs suddenly seems within reach.
New York Governor Hochul included provisions within her state budget that would allow new charter schools to open in New York City for the first time in years.
Advocates are praising the governor’s courage …
… as well they should. But it waits to be seen just how much courage she will show when it really counts – not at the beginning of the state budget process, but at the end.
I see this as another example of a blue-context policy maker recognizing that a catastrophe she hoped might have a very long fuse …
… turns out to have none at all.
Indeed, many locals are saying the catastrophe …
… is “imminent.”
Defending the status quo in such circumstances simply isn’t viable for an elected official.
So when a moment arose to hold said public official accountable, like the debate that happened in the recent gubernatorial campaign …
… where any expressed opposition to charter schools in the face of “imminent disaster” in NYC schools would have opened up a moment of huge opportunity for her opponent …
… we got the single word we needed.
Yes, she supports the lifting of the cap on charter schools.
This week we have seen that single word first expressed in tangible policy substance. Now we have to make sure we keep hearing that word all the way through the state budget process.
In my estimation, our best way of doing so is to make it abundantly clear that, should the governor waiver on her support for lifting the cap, we will make sure she is held accountable for the mess that many New York public schools, sadly, have become.
#3 – Calls for Greater Blue Mayor Accountability
Just up the 95, we’re seeing very similar dynamics begin to play out in a place that, like New York City, has capped charter school growth.
CharterFolk may remember that in my elections roundup in November of ’21 …
…I said the following about the election of Michelle Wu, a protege of Elizabeth Warren, to the mayor’s office in Boston.
I don’t mind this outcome. Elizabeth Warren is one of the nation’s most gutless and cynical flip-floppers on charter school issues, and I have often said that what would be a fitting comeuppance would be for her to end up being the superintendent of a major urban school district. Then we’d see what she really thinks about whether our traditional public schools need reform.
Being mayor of Boston isn’t the same as superintendent, but it’s close, and the next best thing to Warren having the job is her protege having it. What we want more than anything right now is for our blue protectors of the status quo to completely and utterly own it, including all its dysfunction and its abject failure to serve our highest need students well. As far as I’m concerned we have Michelle Wu, and by extension Elizabeth Warren, right where we want them.
Perhaps the most important question at the time was whether Mayor Wu would be able to escape accountability for the train wreck that Boston Public Schools has become.
The Boston Teacher Union has been attempting to help her do just that, announcing less than a month after her election a desire to remove the mayor’s control over BPS altogether by calling for the establishment of an elected school board.
And just this week, the union began running legislation that would prevent the state from taking over BPS, thereby taking a meat axe to any accountability the mayor would have for the clearly inadequate performance of Boston’s public schools.
Fortunately, many of the most respected voices in Boston are seeing through all this.
The local NPR affiliate published polling results in December showing that parent satisfaction with the district is plummeting.
And the Globe followed up three days later …
… saying that the citizens of Boston should make the mayor more, not less accountable for the performance of Boston Public Schools.
How these specific policy fights play out waits to be seen.
But keeping focused on the big picture, whether she remains formally or informally accountable for the performance of her city’s schools, Mayor Wu is on a trajectory for discovering in Boston what Governors Hochul and Murphy have learned in New York and New Jersey, which is that a defense of the status quo in places where schools are clearly falling apart simply isn’t viable.
#4 – Kentucky Proving that Public Official Accountability for Private Decisions Is No Longer “Off Limits”
Perhaps the most prominent counterpoint to the three examples I share above of blue state policy-makers abandoning a defense of the status quo is coming out of Kentucky where, in response to a state legislature that has finally passed a financially viable charter school law, the Democratic governor has gone apoplectic in support of Establishment schools, fighting the legislation in the capitol …
… and then throwing his weight behind litigation attempting to find charter schools against the state’s constitution.
It’s essentially a scorched earth campaign, attempting to keep so much uncertainty in the landscape about whether charter schools in Kentucky will prove viable in the long term that no one even tries to open one in the short.
That effort has helped germinate a narrative that somehow people aren’t interested in charter schools …
.. when, of course, the truth is that support for school choice in Kentucky has never been stronger.
It all just reinforces that nothing will change in Kentucky until the governor is held accountable.
It is far preferable, of course, that he would be held accountable for how public schools are actually performing, especially in the places where better public education is needed most. For many years there has been widespread attention on just how dysfunctional the public schools have become in the governor’s own hometown.
And now, new analysis shows just how woefully Kentucky’s students perform relative to students in states with a robust charter school sector.
But if for some reason the governor isn’t being held accountable for the sad state of the public schools under his watch, it is only natural that people would begin looking to hold him accountable for the private decisions he is making that are so at odds with the positions he takes in public.
Like happened just last week.
Beshear may attempt to assert that there isn’t anything wrong with him securing for his own kids a choice he is now working to deny hundreds of thousands of other Kentuckians because he and his wife just happened to “fall in love” with a private school.
And he may claim that the whole subject of where public officials decide to enroll their own kids should be one that is “off limits” for discussion.
But it comes across looking like he simply wants his own kids to avoid the “excuses, boredom and chaos” he is forcing other families to endure.
It makes plain what all his posturing about “limits” really is:
An attempt to avoid accountability.
Ultimately, the Kentucky governor will learn that we have moved into a new era in public education politics, one where examining both the public and the private actions of elected officials with authority to affect the educations of thousands of families …
… absolutely is, and emphatically should be …
… “within limits.”