An Inspired Hire | Lessons from the Magical Mystery Tour | Suiting Up

Weekend greetings, Charterfolk.

Wishing all our FolkMoms a very happy Mother’s Day.

I had a great spring break watching Premier League games with my son in the UK.

But I’m chomping at the bit to be back.

Let’s get straight to it.

An Inspired Hire

Surely, the biggest news in recent weeks was the announcement that Starlee has been selected to serve as the next CEO of the National Alliance.

I’ve said in other contexts that one of the benefits of writing for CharterFolk is that I’ve often articulated things in advance such that when big moments arise, I need do nothing but refer back to things we’ve already published here.

So it is with Starlee’s selection.

For years now, I have been writing about the extraordinary leadership that Starlee has provided to the Texas Charter Public Schools Association where she serves as CEO. Entering “Starlee” in the CharterFolk search engine, I see sixteen posts come back wherein her personal contributions are highlighted.

That number doesn’t include the Contributor Column that Starlee penned last year …

… or the CharterFolk Chat she participated in the year before that.

Nor does it count the more than a dozen other articles …

… that have hailed the great progress that is being made by the Texas Charter Public Schools Association without specifically mentioning her name.

The fact is that when it comes to the most important developments happening in charter school advocacy today – whether its developing greatly enhanced state advocacy presence, or creating a high-performing 501c4 tandem organization, or uniting a strengthened board behind a shared vision for accelerated progress, or increasing membership dues and amassing new resources for advocacy – the fact is that much of the greatest progress happening anywhere in the country is emanating from the leadership that Starlee is providing to our movement.

Indeed, when given the opportunity by Education Next to highlight under-appreciated momentum emerging in the national charter school movement, where did I start my account?

Right in the heart of Starleeville, of course.

The defeat led Coleman to accelerate the development of the association’s 501(c)(4) political partner, which became heavily involved in both legislative and state board of education races in the 2020 and 2022 election cycles. The impact has been profound. Last June, the Texas legislature approved the association’s city discrimination bill by a wide margin, and a reconstituted Texas State Board of Education approved four out of five new charter-school applications in 2023.

Last fall, I was delighted when Starlee agreed to join CharterFolk’s Board of Directors.

Today I’m even more delighted that the Board of the National Alliance has chosen her to be the organization’s next CEO.

It was an inspired choice.

Congrats to all.

Lessons from the Magical Mystery Tour

My last post before leaving for the UK was one that took the closure of the King’s former high school in Memphis as a central frame.

A week later my son and I found ourselves on the Magical Mystery Tour in Liverpool …

… learning about how the school that George and Paul attended …

… had been closed too …

…though, unlike Elvis, Paul lived long enough to breathe life back into his alma mater, spearheading the re-opening of the school in 1996.

The re-opening was a big enough deal that the queen showed up.

As ever, I find travels in other countries illuminating about our own work.

The UK has a federal-like system for education.

Wales, Scotland and North Ireland have nothing like charter schools. And concern is building that their schools are struggling mightily.

Scotland used its new powers to reject the parent-choice agenda. When Tony Blair and later Michael Gove developed self-governing academies, schools in Wales and Scotland remained under local authority control. Then the curriculum reform came. Teachers were concerned at what some saw as dumbing-down masked by grade inflation, but PISA tests cannot be gamed. The maths results showed that England’s pupils have kept steady over the years, in spite of lockdowns, but since 2015 Wales has dropped 12 points (equivalent to six months of learning). Northern Ireland fell 18 (nine months) and Scotland dropped 20 points.

England, meanwhile, has “Free Schools,” which operate very much like charter schools.

They’ve turned out to be very successful and popular, leading to their rapid expansion …

… enabled by the fact that the national government, not local councils, serve as the schools’ authorizers.

Meanwhile, some of the political dynamics we think unique to the United States are at play in England’s Free Schools as well.

Such as separation of church and state issues.

Historically, schools with religious affiliations funded by the state have been allowed to reserve up to 50% of spots for students of the faith. This spring England is doing away with the 50% rule …

… allowing such schools to reserve all their seats for students of the faith, leaving some advocates utterly appalled.

And this will have impact on the Free School sector as well, as a small number of Free Schools have been allowed to form religious affiliations like other schools supported by the state.

Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, debate rages about the “academisation” of public education in the UK. Academies are former council-operated schools that convert to Free status. In the early going, schools voluntarily converting to Free status performed very well. But then the government changed policy to require underperforming schools to become academies. Within a couple years, results seemed to show that such forced conversions to Free status were not proving as successful.

CharterFolk, it’s EXACTLY the same issue I was writing about in the post about Elvis’s alma mater – how difficult it is to ensure that “forced conversions” become successful.

Yes, there’s great power in previously hidebound schools becoming “free.” But the stakeholders of the school have to actually want it.

So on both sides of the Atlantic, a recognition seems to be settling in:

What’s the sense in confining schools in order to make them free?

Now, as is the case in many communities across the United States, awareness is spreading in the Beatles hometown that the way it allocates educational opportunity to kids and families should be subjected to new scrutiny.

For me, the answer to these kinds of questions is actually quite simple.

It’s emblazoned on the jerseys of the city’s beloved football team.

When it comes to nearly all things public education, “standard chartered” is almost always an excellent starting point for discussion.

Suiting Up

I don’t have enough time today to cover all the news I’ve missed back home in CharterLand.

I’ll do what I can to catch up on the most important developments in posts coming to you over the next couple of weeks.

Suffice it to say:

The places where the Establishment has gained the tightest control of public schools are being further discredited everyday.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen another year of strikingly positive policy results emerge in many places across the country.

Things vary greatly from context to context. Believe me, I know, CharterFolk.

But, generally, in terms of preparations for the future?

I think we’d all be wise …

… to get properly suited up.