Madeleine Albright on Listening|3 New Things Now|Terrible Proposed Regs Coming No Surprise from Cindy Marten

Good morning, CharterFolk.

I would like to start today recognizing an old professor of mine, Madeleine Albright.

I was one of the lucky ones at Georgetown who got into her renowned class Modern Foreign Governments, or “Mo Fo Go”as we all called it. It’s a class that became legendary enough that it was referenced in the above article. Being with Madeleine Albright, you always felt you were in the presence of an incredibly formidable person whose understanding of how the world actually works was immeasurably deeper than your own, a trait she demonstrated all the way to the very end.

Her stories were spellbinding, many of which simultaneously taught essential lessons about geo-politics while also sharing insights about forging new trails as a woman in a realm dominated by often dismissive men.

But a particular experience in her class is more seared into my psyche than any other.

On the first day of the course, she said something unexpected. It was a warning that for some reason she had been given an extraordinary sense of hearing. And she put us all on notice. If we thought we were going to be able to say something behind her back, or mutter something to a neighbor during class, she really advised against it. She would hear it, and she would be stern in calling us out.

I remember we all kind of laughed but then didn’t much think about it as she shifted on to her next topic.

One-third of the way through the semester, right when she was shifting focus from the USSR to begin consideration of her native Czechoslovakia, she began sharing some historical and cultural context that would inform our analysis of the country’s form of government. She referenced Karel Capek, the Czech playwright from the early 20th century who had written “Rossum’s Universal Robots,” the play that gave birth to the word “robot,” which is derived from the Slavic term for “worker.” She then went on to elaborate on Capek’s other accomplishments referring to him as a woman.

I had acted in “R.U.R.” in high school. So I happened to know a little about its author. I leaned over to my close friend who was taking the class with me.

“Karel Capek is a man,” I whispered.

Albright stopped in an instant and turned to me. The ensuing exchange went something like this:

Albright: Excuse me. What did you say?

Jed: What? Me?

Albright: Yes, you.

Jed. N-n-n-nothing. I didn’t say anything.

Albright: Don’t give me that. Yes you did. You said something to your friend there.

Jed: No, no really …

Albright: Did you say to him that Karel Capek is a woman?

Jed: Well … yes, actually. You’re right, I did.

Albright: So you’re telling me that you knew all this time that Karel Capek was a man and you were going to allow me to go on talking about him being a woman without saying anything, letting me make a complete fool of myself up here? Is that right?

Jed: Uh …

Albright: Is that right?

Jed: (Really sweating now) Uh …


Albright: (With a big smile.) Told you I had good hearing, didn’t I?


Thus, having not listened to a warning about listening, I was very appropriately made to sweat.

During the final meeting for the class, she returned to the subject of her exquisite hearing, which she referred to with a chuckle as having been on full display during a particular class from earlier in the semester that students might have remembered. (Boy, did I.) She then went on to say that one of the things that had allowed her to be so successful throughout her career was not really her extraordinary sense of hearing, but rather, her extraordinary ability to listen. And her work over the years in many high stakes settings had shown her that very few people really listen. They were invariably thinking of what they wanted to say, and so they missed so much. And if we could just have greater trust in ourselves to say the right thing after having disciplined ourselves to pay true attention to others, then when we do speak, we will find that we communicate with far greater authority, something she asserted she had been able to do at many critical moments in her storied career.

In hearing of her passing this week, I perused some materials on the web about her. This one grabbed me.

The lesson she in instilled in us all those years ago she apparently kept instilling in others decades later. This quote in particular leapt out:

“We should use our opinions to start discussions, not to end them,” she said. “This is the great challenge of our time; it is between the people who are willing to listen and those who believe they know it all.”

It’s a lesson that seems particularly important for me to be remembering given that I’ve gone on to make something like CharterFolk, an undertaking which certainly runs the risk of its founder becoming “all mouth and no ears.” At the same time, I’ve been blessed to have a life where I get to be in the room where so many extraordinary CharterFolk are sharing great insights about our movement, if I can just shut up and listen. And, of course, what I want to do here at CharterFolk in the sharing of my opinions is to start discussions, certainly not end them.

So I put out an open invitation to everyone in the CharterFolk community: If you ever see me forgetting the lesson that Madeleine Albright instilled in me and others throughout her long and remarkable life, please do to me then what she so effectively did to me all those years ago …

Make me sweat.

3 New Things Now

I’ve gotten lots of feedback from readers in the last couple weeks. Most of it very complimentary like the thoughts I received about Jim Goenner’s great Contributor Column from yesterday. A little of it pushing back, taking me to task for veering too far in one direction or another. (Too critical of unions, on the one hand. Not critical enough of Dems, on the other.) All fair game. Keep it coming. And just know we’re always eager to share CharterFolk views in the form of Contributor Columns if you’re ever wanting to get your ideas out before the community.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share three pieces of news related to things we’ve been tracking here at CharterFolk recently.

First, I enjoyed seeing this post from Ravitch a few days after we published the piece on the breakthrough at the California Democratic Party last week.

I guess our adversaries see the breakthrough to be as significant as we do.

Secondly, I also liked seeing this piece.

As I have said here repeatedly, what we want is to make sure our blue mayors and governors are made to own the dysfunction of the traditional system. Within the first couple months of Wu’s term, we have the following on record:

Wu, citing her experience as a mother of two young BPS students, acknowledged that BPS has many problems, but stressed families and teachers know best how to solve them.

“I’ve seen the places where we fall short as a district, in a school transportation system that’s frustrating for families, in outdated facilities, and ongoing disparities that close off our students from opportunity,” Wu said. “We must do better, particularly for our English learners, students with disabilities, and students living in poverty.”

This is exactly what we want as a first step – the Mayor saying “we have to do better.” It tees up all the next steps when that better doesn’t arrive.

Just a note, CharterFolk. When Wu says that the district must do better with low income students, she is talking about 80% of the district; with English Learners she is talking about 30% of the district; and with students with disabilities she is talking about 20% of the district.

In other words, she is saying that the district needs to do better with virtually every student.

Exactly what we want.

Third, I can’t pass up this one, CharterFolk. After seven years of refusing to do so

… the State of Connecticut released an RFP for new charter school applications last week. How’s that for a next step building on the momentum that Ruben and the CharterFolk community are generating in Connecticut?

We got a long way to go, no doubt, before any new charter schools would actually open due to the release of this RFP. So I’m not counting chickens by a long shot. But, CharterFolk, if charter schools are returning to a place of momentum in the bluest of the blue contexts as appears to be the case in Connecticut, we can, as Ruben points out, generate that momentum anywhere. Here’s to hoping that the new RFP release catalyzes the submission of a number of applications reflective of the true level of demand there is for quality new charter schools, one that effectively prevents the protectors of the Establishment from concentrating all their oppositional force on a small number of schools or a single new school like they have done so ruthlessly in New Bedford. At moments like this, CharterFolk, the best strategy is for as many of us as possible to go together.

Terrible Proposed Regs Coming No Surprise from Cindy Marten

I’ll dedicate the remainder of today’s post to a topic that I hope all CharterFolk are already paying attention to.

Terrible new proposed regulations for the federal Charter Schools Program have been released this week. They are a full 72 pages of new menacing threat.

I acknowledge that it may be an overstatement to say that these regs have come directly from Cindy Marten. For those of you needing a refresher on who Marten is, I refer you to this post.

Apparently, I am told, Marten might not directly supervise the staff at the U.S. Department of Education that released the proposed new regs. But the reason that the tying of Marten to the regs seems legitimate is because the substance of them is so clearly aligned with anti-charter school substance that Marten has worked for years to advance. Having started out her superintendency in San Diego as neutral-to-supportive of charter schools, she pivoted over time to embracing and then helping to lead the Establishment’s attack on charter schools. These facts are what led many within the charter school community to oppose her nomination to become Deputy U.S. Secretary of Education.

Now, we see why it was that so many within our world were motivated to try to stop her nomination.

Last summer, charter school opponents in the U.S. House of Representatives attempted to cut funding to the CSP program and to propose new rules that would have been greatly damaging to charter schools.

The National Alliance contested them effectively.

Just last week, we finally saw Congress approve a new federal budget that did not contain the threatening language from the House.

Having not been able to inflict their damage via statute, a couple weeks later, charter opponents now start a new effort to achieve the same objectives via regulation.

In the weeks ahead, you are sure to hear many people chime in about different parts of the 72 pages that would be terrible for the charter school movement. I will focus my comments on just one over-arching matter.

As I have been writing about here at CharterFolk for many months, one of the primary new strategies that our opposition is using right now to stop the growth of charter schools is to empower educational NIMBYism …

…enabling the Establishment to prevent the opening of new charter schools in their local areas. One of the best ways they do that is to create new requirements forcing developers of charter schools to present “community impact reports.” Extensive community impact report requirements give NIMBYists many hooks at the authorizing, the funding and the court levels to slow new charter schools down, if not stop them altogether.

This is why the NEA’s policy agenda released in 2017 had a new emphasis on forcing developers to present community impact reports.

In addition, charter schools may be authorized or expanded only after a district has assessed the impact of the proposed charter school on local public school resources, programs and services,  including the district’s operating and capital expenses, appropriate facility availability, the likelihood that the charter will prompt cutbacks or closures in local public schools, and consideration of whether other improvements in either educational program or school management (ranging from reduced class sizes to community or magnet schools) would better serve the district’s needs. The district must also consider the impact of the charter on the racial, ethnic and socio-economic composition of schools and neighborhoods and on equitable access to quality services for all district students, including students with special needs and English language learners. The impact analysis must be independent, developed with community input, and be written and publicly available.

It is also why CTA fought hard to get similar language included in new statute in California. Cindy Marten carried CTA’s water, serving on a governor’s task force discussing changes to California’s law. Ultimately, sadly, AB 1505 contained the community impact language that the NEA policy contained and that Marten and others had advocated for.

(7) The charter school is demonstrably unlikely to serve the interests of the entire community in which the school is proposing to locate. Analysis of this finding shall include consideration of the fiscal impact of the proposed charter school. A written factual finding under this paragraph shall detail specific facts and circumstances that analyze and consider the following factors: (A) The extent to which the proposed charter school would substantially undermine existing services, academic offerings, or programmatic offerings. (B) Whether the proposed charter school would duplicate a program currently offered within the school district and the existing program has sufficient capacity for the pupils proposed to be served within reasonable proximity to where the charter school intends to locate.

Now we see that Marten’s administration has brought forward very similar language and concepts to being included in the proposed regulations. (I provide just the preamble to one section below. The language in just this one section goes on for five pages starting on page 26 and is then repeated and modified in multiple other sections throughout the 72 page document.)

Proposed Requirement 1 for CMO Grants and Developer Grants: Each applicant must provide a community impact analysis that demonstrates that there is sufficient demand for the proposed project and that the proposed project would serve the interests and meet the needs of students and families in the community or communities from which students are, or will be, drawn to attend the charter school, and that includes the following:

CharterFolk, I don’t need to walk you through what it would mean to have new requirements like this in place at a federal level. Step-by-step, domino-by-domino, they would proliferate in bills and laws and authorizing requirements in communities across the land, all stacking the deck with new provisions designed to empower local educational NIMBYists to stop the opening of new charter schools.

I know the Alliance and other advocacy partners are now gearing up to do everything they can to stop the adoption of these new regulations. It is going to be a tough challenge. An administration peopled with leaders like Cindy Marten has a lot of leverage to get its preferences through using the regulation process. An important part of our strategy will be making sure that policy makers hear loudly and clearly from our grassroots that we want the pathway to create new schools to remain open. So when the Alliance makes their call to action, I implore you to be respond. These regulations really are that bad.

For those of you wanting a refresher on how you might get ready, I encourage you to review this post.

As it turned out, we didn’t need to be ready for a call from Nina in November of 2020.

In March of 2022, sadly, we do.