From 7-0 in Support to 0-7 Opposed. The 20’s Require Coherence in Response to Dysfunction in Public Education

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Lots of great jobs out there in charter school advocacy and growth. Check out these in Mississippi, and Iowa, and Connecticut. Next week I’ll share a few more.

I start out today highlighting the white paper

… that Terry Ryan reviewed in his Contributor Column earlier this week.

It really is worth a read.

It goes deeper into themes I wrote about in November …

… and it offers what the charter school movement and indeed what all of public education needs so much these days:


Ideas about how new opportunity can be offered at significant scale without recreating the dysfunction and unfairness that has become so deeply engrained in our nation’s public schools.

The white paper’s author is Alan Gottlieb who has written for many respected publications and is well known to many CharterFolk. Alan also co-wrote one of my favorite op-eds of 2022 about the dysfunction of the board at Denver Public Schools.

We, as Denver grandparents, are putting our differences aside for now because we agree on one key issue: DPS is seriously adrift, and it is time for the school board and the administration to get their acts together.

It’s irrelevant at this point to argue over which individual board members or district leaders are to blame for the current mess. The indisputable fact is that until the board can begin acting professionally, which includes providing clear direction to the superintendent, DPS will continue being a national embarrassment that gives the city as a whole a black eye.

Denver’s school board, sadly, has become a 0-7 bastion of charter school opposition

… despite ample research …

… showing that DPS reforms were among the most effective ever undertaken in U.S. history.

It wasn’t so long ago that the DPS board was 7-0 in support of reform.

It reminds me of a comment I heard a regular CharterFolk reader from Colorado share many years back. He said that nothing was worse than a 7-0 majority because it made the board feel like it needed to present itself as “balanced and reasonable.” So it didn’t continue moving forward aggressively with further reform. It created a circumstance where, paradoxically, electoral wins actually slowed rather than accelerated progress.

It’s a germane topic given that we have seen another school board become 7-0 in support of reform …

… in a city whose school improvement results rival the progress we have seen in Denver.

It’s why I’m excited to be sharing next week a Contributor Column from Porsche Chisley from the Mind Trust

… about the success the organization has had in Indianapolis and its plans for expanding impact in the years ahead.

My own sense is that the challenge that the Indianapolis school board faces today, and that DPS faced in 2013, is one of the great conundrums before the movement. What do we do once we have seen 20, 30, or 40% of students shift from district schools into charter schools, or schools very much like charter schools? Do we keep growing? If so, why? If not, why not? What’s the new coherence toward which we’re striving?

Not being crisp on that, we end up ambivalent. We end up prioritizing wanting to look “balanced and reasonable,” which only leads to 7-0 support for reform shifting to 0-7, sometimes quite quickly.

As bad as our ambivalence is, the other side’s naked support for people working in the system today and in the past, at the expense of those who will work within it in the future, never mind the kids and families the system is meant to serve, is a whole other level of duty dereliction. The DPS board hasn’t been able to get its act together to do much of anything of late, but they somehow found a way to suppress their dysfunction enough to give the teacher union what it wanted.

Now the consequences of that decision are beginning to be felt.

It’s the same dynamic we’re seeing in Los Angeles. The board tips back to 4-3 support for the teachers union.

Within weeks the new demands are made.

It’s only a matter of time before the LAUSD board agrees to something that will only further compromise the district’s ability to serve today’s kids and the future’s kids, never mind treat the future people who will work within the system with the respect they deserve.

Antonucci, as he always does, casts great new light on these dynamics over at the 74

… this time showing how more staff are being employed in public schools today than ever before even as enrollment has dropped. Much of that new hiring has been paid for by one-time funds that are now being consumed. It leads him to conclude:

It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see where this is heading. Schools will continue to use the available COVID relief money to hire more employees, until it runs out in 2024. There will be fewer students when that happens, leading to school closures and a major political push to raise tax revenues to replace the expired federal funding.

It will also lead to layoffs, and thanks to seniority rules, those who will be laid off are the same people being hired now.

There seems to be no end to this cycle, so keep it in mind during the 2024-25 school year, when instead of banner headlines about the educator hiring crisis, they will be about the educator layoff crisis.

And Mike’s analysis doesn’t include the unsustainable pay raises that have been approved by many school districts of late. Nor does it factor in new analysis showing the massive amounts of additional funding that will be needed to keep public pensions afloat in the very near future.

As inflation and interest rates have jumped, a funding crunch is looming for America’s public pension plans. For years, the system has teetered on the edge of a crisis that’s left plans more than $1 trillion short of what they need to pay out in benefits — a gap that widened considerably during the downturn in financial markets.​

Underfunded and under pressure, they’ve turned to riskier investments to boost returns, piling into private equity, hedge funds and other alternative assets. Where boards’ own expertise has fallen short, they’ve relied on investment staff and outside advisers, whose appetites for complexity add to costs and eat into returns.

“It’s the worst of all possible worlds,” said Mike Reid of CEM Benchmarking. “The US would do well to reconsider its approach.”

All this occurs against a backdrop of an unprecedented loss of confidence in public schools that is happening across vast swaths of the country right now.

If that’s what’s happening now, imagine how parents will react when they see the scope of dysfunction that will be on full display in the next few years.

It’s what in my view makes it likely that the 20’s will become recognized to be the most consequential decade in public education that we have seen in generations, perhaps ever.

And it speaks to the desperate need for coherence.

Not something that can be expressed in the 90-second time allotments provided at school board meetings where often good-intentioned people default to simply trying to look reasonable and balanced amid all the dysfunction that surrounds them.

But real coherence.

Anchors around which we can ground effort to improve public education for decades to come.

The kind of things Alan and his partners have offered with their white paper.

And hopefully the kind of things we are contributing here at CharterFolk as well.

Ideas for what to do when things are 7-0, as well as for when they are 0-7, and for every gradation in between.