Humility Overcome in DC; Putting the Question to White Liberals

Good morning, CharterFolk.

I wanted to start out today thanking so many of you for getting your votes in for the Brian’s Voice Awards here at CharterFolk. We’ll announce winners next week. It only takes a couple seconds to vote. So why not get your ballot in today?

Humility Overcome In DC

Next, I wanted to highlight this extraordinarily great story coming out of DC this week: Jay Matthew’s profile in the Washington Post …

… of Susan Schaeffler, Founder and CEO of KIPP DC.

I hope all of you have a chance to read the article, not only because Susan is such a great leader and should absolutely be celebrated for it, but also because the story is such a great example of us getting over our Toxic Mass Humility and personalizing our movement by putting names and faces to the massive shared effort we are making to improve public education for millions of kids in the United States.

But I ask you to note this, CharterFolk:

What makes the story such a fantastic one is not that it talks about great things that are happening in charter schools, as important as those things are. What makes it extraordinary is that it is about an amazing person who has made those great things happen.

A CharterFolk.

Note also how artfully Matthews crafts the story, aligning with many of the suggestions I offered in Nuts and Bolts – Breaking Down Step-by-Step What to Do When Someone Attacks You Because of Your Support for Charter Schools, including:

  • Establishing in the first paragraph Susan’s deep commitment to public education, which in the case of CharterFolk often grows out a family’s multi-generational commitment to helping kids (Susan and her father assembling furniture before the first school started, along with the article’s headline underscoring her refusal to be drawn away from improving public education in her own hometown);
  • Highlighting how Susan came to charter schools after trying to drive reform in other contexts (joining Teach For America and teaching in traditional public schools in Baltimore and DC);
  • Asserting that problems in public education are long standing (which is conveyed through the fact Matthews met Susan more than 20 years ago);
  • Providing testimony that charter schools are succeeding (all the great data about KIPP’s success with college-going and other indicators);
  • Insisting that charter schools are about helping absolutely all kids (the references to impoverished kids and students with disabilities);
  • Projecting a desire to include more teachers and educators in our efforts (the references to the Capitol Teaching Residency Program that Susan has made to train hundreds of new educators); and finally in the context of all that
  • Educating about charter schools generally (showing what can happen when amazing educators within stable governance are given the chance to innovate and improve over decades).

It’s an absolute home run of a story, one showing how to surface the humanity behind our movement, exactly what is needed to overcome the other side’s effort to cut off our heads and blur us out in hopes of convincing the public that what is behind the charter school movement is barely recognizable as human at all.

I only have one quibble with the story.

It’s the shape of Susan’s picture.

In my view it should have been …

… a diamond so that it would be better primed for inclusion within the mosaic I suggested last week

… one made from the DC Alliance’s new logo where there is one tile for each of the 123 charter school LEAs in the district. Last week I suggested populating the tiles with a board member from each charter school, but if I had known Jay was writing this piece, I could just have easily suggested doing it for each organization’s executive director, where Susan’s profile would be the first of many.

Because, as incredible a leader as Susan is, scores of others DC CharterFolk await their placement in the panoply.

Do I need to call you out by name?

Come on, Daniela!

Daniela Anello, Head of School
DC Bilingual Charter School

Where are you, Pat?

Patricia Brantley, CEO
Friendship Public Charter School

You hiding, Jack?

Jack McCarthy, CEO
AppleTree Schools

I’m talking to you, Mashae!

Mashae Ashton, CEO
Digital Pioneers

And to all the remarkable CharterFolk of DC.

We’ve seen now the power of one story very well told. Imagine that multiplied by 123. Or 123 x 123, and then brought together into the stunning mosaic that is our potential if we just overcome our toxic mass humility.

Come on, CharterFolk!

Putting the Question to White Liberals

Secondly, I wanted to take a minute to highlight a piece that I found very interesting. It came out in the Education Post earlier this week. Maybe you saw it.

It’s by Conor Williams, who I consider to be one of our strongest writers regarding the need to create public education that is greatly more public than it is today. I thought his piece in the Journal last spring was particularly strong …

… as was his op-ed in the Washington Post the month before.

ln the Washington Post piece, Conor argues that the legacy of our country’s racist housing policies is now cooked into the very DNA of our current day public education system.

That nexus of housing policy and public education policy is what he returns to in his Education Post column this week. I hope you find a moment to read it in its entirety if you haven’t already. It has many links to source materials that should be helpful to those of you who get into discussions with white liberals who are blind to the fact that they and their families benefit from a public education system that has been tilted in their favor and that, if they are really as progressive as they profess themselves to be, they would support completely different housing and education policies.

He even makes reference to yard signs, a pet peeve of mine which some of you may remember I wrote about in One Billion Kids in Charter Schools – The Case for Thinking Bigger

In the end, Conor states, “It is high time we ask if they [white urban liberals] are ready to move past their social justice talk and start walking that path.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The question then becomes how to pose the question?

Because the sad reality is that, the way that power dynamics play out in local politics – in the venues where these kinds of questions can actually be posed – no party on the landscape exists with the credibility, heft and motivation to bring forward the policy proposals that will make white liberals squirm.

What local political force of any real legitimacy exists to bring forward a proposal that school districts eliminate or at least begin to erase the redlining attendance boundaries that Conor writes about? What force would bring forward a proposal requiring a school district to actually be transparent about how much money it spends in high need community schools vs lower need schools? Who would push for a school district resolution saying that all parents should have the right to request a study by a third party comparing how much money their school district spends at their students’ schools versus how much money the district receives for those students?

(To name just a few examples …)

The answer is that no such party exists.

Meanwhile on the other side – parties motivated to make sure that those questions are never surfaced, parties motivated to make sure that completely different questions are surfaced supporting their own status quo-protecting agenda (like whether charter schools are for profit) – are a formidable force in every town in America!

In my opinion, there is only one group of people who have the potential to surface the kinds of questions that Conor talks about:


Only we are assembling a base of people large enough, with advocacy organizations representative enough, supporting schools whose existing practices are credible enough, that such proposals could be meaningfully brought forward.

But it means that we would have to be willing to do it, not because it would necessarily get us the immediate policy relief we need in critical areas like funding equity and facilities, but because they would be in the interest of all children and all families, not just those of affluent progressives with signs in their front yards.

And so, in my view, this is what we should be doing. In city after city across the United States, wherever charter schools serve more than 15% of the public school students in the area, we should be should be creating local chapters of CharterFolk working to put these kinds of question to their local communities.

We should do it, of course, because it’s the right thing to do, but it would also have the ancillary benefit of re-educating the public about charter schools, so that the progressive case that Conor writes about in the Journal and the Post is much more widely known, changing the narrative.

What puts the whole issue in repose?

I am aware of recent polling conducted in a major urban area in the United States showing that 46% of voters thought that we should begin to erase attendance boundaries, 31% thought attendance boundaries should stay in place, and 23% didn’t know.

That, CharterFolk, is the kind of starting point you want on an impending policy fight!

But there is doubt among at least some that the charter school community would ever want its advocacy organizations dedicating precious advocacy bandwidth to proposals like this.

We will see how this plays out.

But my bet in the end, it won’t surprise you, will be on CharterFolk who recognize that our role is to make sure that our entire public education system becomes greatly more public, and it’s hightime we begin developing policy agendas that reflect those values.