Culture War Harms and Fears; Trepidation of the Learning Spheres; Maintaining Focus on the Far Greater Far

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

There are so many encouraging developments arising in Charterland these days, it can be a challenge to keep up with them all. Early next week, I’ll get done a national whip around for you showing how the charter school movement appears to be entering a period of even greater impact.

Today, though, I thought it would be best to keep focused on other “greater far” matters.

Like this article that came out late this week at the Times.

In it, we find Ember Reichgott Junge, the legislator who authored the country’s first charter school law in Minnesota, reminding people that the legislative intent behind the advancement of charter school laws has always been that our schools would be non sectarian.

Defining charter schools as private aligns with the interests of today’s conservatives. Back in 1991, Ms. Reichgott Junge recalled, it was the teachers’ unions and the political left who sought to frame charter schools as “quasi private schools.”

But from the very beginning, she said, charter schools were conceived as a public alternative to the government sending money to private, religious schools.

“It seems like 32 years later,” she said, “we are back at the same conversation.”

As the article depicts, Ember’s work at the the National Charter School Founders Library

… affords her a platform to tell the history of the charter school movement accurately.

You’ve heard me say it before, CharterFolk. I’ll say it again:

How we tell our own story matters. How we render our own history really matters.

Especially when others are actively attempting to distort or consciously miss tell that story to suit whatever their current political purposes may be.

And even more so now when we have so many newcomers to our movement who are not well-acquainted with our origins or with the heroic efforts that CharterFolk have made to propel the movement further forward ever since.

How many of you, CharterFolk, are situated within organizations that even once during the course of a year make a conscious effort to revisit our origin story, and to remember that we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves?

My sense is not nearly enough.

But I am encouraged by the fact that that appears to be changing, as is witnessed by the new attention coming to places like the Founders Library.

Meanwhile, I find it ironic that the story that precipitated Ember’s interview in the first place …

… has made headlines across our entire country …

… indeed across the entire world.

And yet, a story about a sector of public schools serving millions of students improving its collective academic performance over a multi-decade timeframe such that it is now indisputably outperforming other public schools …

… barely …

… makes it across the Hudson even.

Such is the world we live in.

Obsession with culture war matters grows unabated while the state of young people learning hardly gets the time of day.

Donne described it thusly:

Movement of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Here at CharterFolk, we retain an acute awareness that the spheres of young people learning in our country are in a state of trepidation. And that sad reality represents a greater far that our society cannot afford to remain innocent of.

So we do all we can to retain our anchor, reckoning with the spheres.

It’s why I’m happy that Macke Raymond …

… the lead author of the CREDO report

… will be joining Andy and me for a WonkyFolk recording next week to talk about what the charter school movement did over the past few decades, and what it has meant, both for the movement itself, as well as for all of public education more broadly.

I’m also delighted that we had such a thoughtful Contributor Column this week from Fatih Ay, the CEO of Harmony Public Schools in Texas.

Harmony’s commitment to innovation and constant improvement in STEM education has led to the organization generating some of the strongest academic outcomes in the country. Macke’s report identifies Harmony to be among the 1000 “gap busting” charter school organizations in the country, schools that have eliminated achievement gaps for historically underserved students.

Exceptional Performance in Charter Schools
Perhaps the most revealing finding of our study is that more than 1,000 schools have eliminated learning disparities for their students and moved their achievement ahead of their respective state’s average performance. We refer to these schools as “gap-busting” charter schools. They provide strong empirical proof that high-quality, high-equality education is possible anywhere. More critically, we found that dozens of CMOs have created these results across their portfolios, demonstrating the ability to scale equitable education that can change lives.

In Harmony’s case, over 40,000 students now find themselves in “gap busting” settings.

That’s nearly half the number of students that are served by the entire Denver school district.

It’s almost the same number of students are as served by the district in Seattle.

And it’s roughly equal to the number of students served in Stockton …

… and Minneapolis …

… and Oakland …

… to name but a few places that are exhibiting profound systemic dysfunction this spring to the detriment of thousands upon thousands of students and their families.

As our movement enters into our fourth decade of shared undertaking, we have developed a scope of capacity to make things better for young people that is growing to match the scope of dysfunction we sadly find across so much of public education today.

And our capacity stands poised to grow even more in the years ahead if we can stay on stride.

So if you ever feel yourself at risk of being distracted and divided by the harms and fears of the culture wars, I know how difficult it can be.

But, CharterFolk, I ask you to resist,

There is vast trepidation happening in our country’s learning spheres, and our potential, if we retain our focus and our unity, is to achieve what no others can:

Far greater far.