Good day, CharterFolk.
I’d like to start off today acknowledging my own absence. It’s been a couple weeks since I last posted personally, one of my longer periods without writing since starting CharterFolk three years ago. It was a function of coming down with a virus that really knocked me out of the saddle. But I seem to be on the mend now, at least enough to get off this relatively brief post. My thanks to you all for your understanding and patience.
In my absence, we were fortunate to benefit from three great Contributor Columns.
Last week we had Kathryn Procope from Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science in DC …
… writing about the entirely intuitive and yet transformational partnership that is growing between HBCUs and highly successful charter schools.
… describing the unique engagement their organization undertook with faculty to understand how better to support teachers at this critical moment.
… writing about what we are learning best supports new executives coming into huge new leadership responsibility within the charter school movement.
All three were absolutely terrific pieces on issues of great importance to our movement more broadly. Many thanks to you all.
Thanks also go to many of you who reached out about the possibility of penning your own Contributor Columns here at CharterFolk. We are delighted to have so much interest, and there is nothing we would like more than to have even more posts coming out from contributors. So if you have ideas you would like to get out into the CharterSphere, please reach out to either Kerry Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org or to myself at email@example.com.
Finally, let me offer a last thank you to several of you who reached out in the past few weeks to become paid subscribers personally and/or to have your organizations become organizational subscribers. I found these gestures of support quite heartening. Here I am flat on my back not scribing a single word and still more support comes in from many of you wanting to help keep the community growing.
It means a great deal to me, CharterFolk. Thank you.
On we go.
Encouraging CREDO Report
We’ve had dozens of important new developments emerge in charterland since I last posted. I’ll catch up to them as I can in upcoming columns. The most important news is probably what emerged just this morning. CREDO released its biggest study yet showing the continued academic strengthening that has happened in the national charter school movement over the past decade.
Suffice it to say that, while there are obviously areas of concern like special education that we need to address, the overall picture is highly encouraging.
Our focus is paying off, CharterFolk. The movement is steadily, structurally improving its academic offerings over time.
I’ll dive into the study’s results in greater detail in my next post. For now, those of you wanting to peruse the data yourself can find them here.
Three Articles Show a Distracted Establishment
For today, I’ll focus on a trifecta of articles that have come out at the New York Times that underscore themes we have been following here at CharterFolk for a long time. They provide a kind of backdrop against which all our efforts happen. It’s a portrait of a societal/political/educational morass that is, as Eliot would describe it, “distracted from distraction by distraction.”
The first is an article about the decision in Oklahoma to approve an online charter school to be operated by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
Though the decision was covered in virtually every national news outlet across the country, there really isn’t that much news here. We all knew that an authorizing decision was going to be made which would result in a court challenge that will ultimately make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The only thing we didn’t know was which side would be the plaintiffs and which side the defense. Now we know. The state, which approved the charter, will be defending. The Times reporting got most of the story right, emphasizing that the petitioners don’t care much about charter school issues or even education issues really, but are seeking to make a point on religious liberty matters, and they see the charter school movement as a canvas upon which to paint their picture. The article pointed out that the difference-making third vote was cast by a new state board member who had been appointed just a few weeks ago by the Oklahoma House Speaker, who clearly wanted to see this particular vote happen.
Then there is this article about the great national crackup of policy making in red and blue-controlled statehouses across the country.
Again, I liked the reporting generally. There was considerable attention focused on the massive changes that whipsaw a state when its legislature and governor go from being 51% supported by one party to 51% supported by the other, like has happened in Minnesota this year. From a broader electorate composition standpoint, Minnesota hangs in the balance, but from a policy standpoint, the agenda the legislature and the governor enacted this year is indiscernible from states whose electorates are bluer than blue. Thus, the middle collapses as all policy making rushes to the extremes.
Finally, there’s this one on the folly of having entrusted so much stimulus funding to school districts in hopes that they would be able to implement programs meant to compensate for covid-era learning loss.
Once more, I thought the reporting captured interesting nuance. The school districts that actually used resources wisely in support of their intended purpose are presented as very few and very far between. Most districts are presented as having recognized that spending on temporary programs wasn’t going to work and was going to traumatize their communities once the funds ran out. So why not be up front about the fact that the wisest thing to do with the money was to fix up school facilities? What got short shrift in the article were the school districts, especially large urban ones, that used their one-time funding to provide employees long-term compensation increases. Yes, the article ends quoting district officials who are clearly preparing for the fiscal cliff that many can now see on the horizon, but what the article didn’t do was highlight how a disproportionate number of districts approaching the abyss are large ones in big cities serving many of our most vulnerable students.
Across the three articles, a backdrop stitches together: 1) Advocates who care little about education matters attempt to drive broader societal change using education policy as a lever; 2) Evolving political dynamics push policy making to the extremes creating ever growing chasms between red and blue states; and 3) Huge chunks of the public education establishment careen toward an even greater reckoning in the years ahead.
It’s a portrait of an education world that is “distracted from distraction by distraction.”
The Definition of Great Advocacy
Amid all the incoherence, it can become easy to lose sight of the more seismic forces that are profoundly changing the landscape we act within. It’s why I thought among the most important articles in the last few weeks came from Todd Ziebarth at the National Alliance.
Todd’s reporting shows the remarkable progress we have made in charter school advocacy this year, and Todd’s list doesn’t even include additional wins that we know are going to come to light in the coming weeks. Many of these policy wins are transformational in their potential impact: funding equity wins, facilities breakthroughs, and fundamentally better authorizing circumstances for charter schools.
A few months back, I wrote a post saying that the definition of a good school is one that positively affects the rate at which students learn. An extension of that thinking can be applied to advocacy.
Great advocacy positively affects the rate at which the charter school movement succeeds.
By that definition, we are experiencing a moment when charter school advocacy is clearly becoming greater.
An Opportunity Emerges To Accelerate Progress
But policy breakthroughs are ultimately not what we seek. What we seek is better education that is enabled by those policy breakthroughs. And that requires thousands upon thousands of CharterFolk making use of the improved policy conditions that charter schools now find in many states across the country.
Can you see it, CharterFolk?
A broader societal context distracted from distraction by distraction.
A charter school movement retaining its focus and steadily improving its academic offerings as it matures.
A cadre of advocacy organizations opening up even greater opportunity for a movement that is getting even stronger.
A community of CharterFolk ready and willing to go above and beyond at least as much as we ever have.
This is the potential that lies before us between now and the end of the decade:
A period of progress occurring at a pace surpassing anything we’ve ever achieved before.