ConcesiónFolk – Part of Something So Much Bigger than Ourselves

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Thank you to so many of you for your kind words in response to Friday’s post.

I don’t claim to be back at full speed yet. It’s going to take me a few weeks to do the advance work necessary to complete CharterFolk X posts and Contributor Columns. I’m also going to reduce the number of posts slightly over the next few weeks so I can get the website organized better, allowing people to find more easily the past posts they are seeking. By mid-August, I look forward to returning to my regular cadence – a couple of posts from me, one Contributor Column and one CharterFolk X article per week.

My intent during June had been to keep cranking out material and to seek philanthropic match commitments so that every paid subscription we get in Year 2, whether new or a renewal, would be matched dollar for dollar. Well, that didn’t happen obviously, but what is amazing is that dozens of you have already gone ahead and renewed for Year 2 anyway. Thank you!

To all of you who have renewed already, or are considering doing so soon, just know this: I fully intend to secure, and am highly confident that I will be able to secure, the donor commitments needed to ensure that every subscriber dollar provided to CharterFolk in Year 2 is matched. And for all of you who have been looking for the right moment to subscribe for the first time, why not join the nearly 300 paid subscribers here at CharterFolk by signing up today?

In ramping things back up, I thought I’d do a last post today about an observation I picked up in Colombia. On Friday, I want to do a post about what some distance has helped me recognize about the unique value add of CharterFolk. And next Tuesday I plan to finish off the post I was halfway through when everything got interrupted by my sudden need to go to Colombia. After that, I’m chomping at the bit to get back to writing about the many fascinating developments that have happened in charterland over the summer.

My post today grows out of a particular moment in the Colombia odyssey. It was a Sunday afternoon. I had been waiting in my hotel for my brother to contact me. I had already prepared for whatever eventuality I could think of. Family back home was all updated. So I actually had a couple of minutes to myself.

So, what do you think I did, CharterFolk?

That’s right …

I started reading about charter schools. (You think I exaggerate when I tell you that I can be positively insufferable when it comes to charter schools?)

Colombia’s charter schools are called “Colegios en Concesión.”

You know what I found most remarkable about the time I spent googling about them?

How familiar it all seemed.

The clear success of the first wave of charter schools …

Translated from the Spanish original

… however you choose to measure them.

The controversy surrounding them …

… almost always centered on whether colegios en concesión are “privatizing” public education.

Meanwhile, parents of the students who have gotten the opportunity to attend the new colegios have become the schools’ greatest defenders.

In 2013, despite the fact that the colegios de concesión were serving 40,000 students well in Bogotá, goaded on by the local teacher’s union …

… the new mayor of Bogotá announced that he would not renew the charters of all 25 of the city’s colegios de concesión, which would have essentially brought to an end the charter school movement in Colombia.

This resulted in parents taking to the streets.

They also formed a new association that brought forward a lawsuit to protect the schools.

Ultimately, 22 of the original 25 colegios en concesión had their charters renewed.

That enraged the teachers union, which led to a strike where closing the colegios en concesión was one of their top demands.

After 37 days, they supposedly won concessions …

The only problem was that the strike did nothing to address the problems in public education that are well known throughout Colombian society.


Which resulted in a big new wave of charter school opening in Bogotá in the last two years.

They’re headed up by some of the most remarkable people, education mavericks who won’t take no for an answer.

In Colombia, I believe they’re called “ConcesiónFolk.”


They are being joined by concesión alumni, who have gone on to become mayors and other civic leaders pushing for expanded options for parents.

This leader, Jorge Pinilla, has become the Mayor of Usme, a town in the south of Bogotá where some of the highest need is. The next town over is Soacha, right where ConcesiónFolk have concentrated their efforts.

But so much need remains. Despite the fact that concesión enrollment in Soacha has grown 42% in recent years …


… long lines of desperate parents remain.


These are exactly the kind of schools that, had circumstances been different, I would have been eager to visit.

Just like I have visited many public schools in other countries over the years …

In India, near the Pakistan border.

In Fiji.

In Spain.

But the situation being what it was, I couldn’t do the same in Colombia. A few minutes later, my brother contacted me, and the whirlwind began again.

Six days after that, I was flying home and saw that this article had come out. Of course, the picture’s caption leapt out at me …


Exactly the part of Bogotá I had been reading about just the week before.

A place where there is a Great Disconnect in public education as pronounced as any in the world.

And where extraordinary Colombians are giving their all to make things better.

We CharterFolk, or ConcesiónFolk as the case may be, find great meaning in being part of something bigger than ourselves.

But it can be a challenge sometimes to keep sight of just how much bigger.

During my time in Colombia, I caught a glimpse again.

And so I return, somehow even more committed to our shared work than I’ve ever been before.