Observations Heading Into Conference – Not Rocket Science, Just Structure, Leadership and Support

Good morning, CharterFolk.

So we head into national conference week, the first we’ve had in person in three years. Much has changed since last we gathered, putting into sharper repose the essential things we need to do to succeed as a movement. The most important question that presents itself, at least as far as I see it, is whether we are simply going to go forward and do the things we know need to be done.

Sometimes big conferences are just opportunities for our world to get back together and knit tighter relationships. Other times, conferences can be moments when enough presentations and formal meetings and hallway discussions happen that we can shift the entire movement to push forward on the most important things.

Here’s to hoping that this year’s conference turns out to be one where we do both.

Structure

One of the most important questions confronting us right now is whether we are going to finally put in place the advocacy infrastructure we need to survive and thrive for the long term. As I have been writing for a couple years now, this isn’t rocket science.

We need what the other side has.

  • They have the NEA/AFT which is formally affiliated with state unions, which are, in turn, formally affiliated with city-based unions. The entire infrastructure is fed by recurring revenues from members. While it can be messy sometimes, they make governance structures that formally empower their constituents such that they can make shared decisions that are recognized to be representative and legitimate. Finally, they have the capacity to work on both policy matters and political matters.
  • We need our National Alliance to become a membership organization, which is affiliated with our state associations, which are, in turn, affiliated with city or other regional associations (in those areas where we have enough charter schools to make viable regional organizations). We need recurring dues levels within these structures to be large enough to provide organizational heft and capacity, and we need governance structures to make shared decisions that feel representative and legitimate. And, of course, we need our infrastructure to be able to work on both policy matters and political matters.

Again, not rocket science.

We will see whether this year’s conference puts more energy behind building this infrastructure or not.

A comment from a reader about my post from Friday relates to this topic. He pointed out that, given that I had written about how unwise it was for Randi Weingarten in her recent op-ed in EdWeek to pick a fight with charter schools on the subject of city impact at a moment when new research is showing that charter schools are having positive impact in city after city, I really should have highlighted that 10 mayors from across the United States issued a new joint letter last week expressing their strong opposition to the administration’s proposed new CSP regs.

He was absolutely right.

Mayors are in positions that naturally lead them to become more supportive of education reform. Many of them are sophisticated enough politically to see that their local school districts are hopelessly broken and need something like a charter school movement to wake the whole system up to new levels of hope and possibility. They also tend to be just enough outside the machine of local public education politics that they can say and do things in their local landscapes that others can’t.

So it isn’t surprising that many of the charter school movement’s strongest supporters have been people like Antonio Villaraigosa, Michael Bloomberg and Adrian Fenty who have served as mayors of major American cities. Another great example is Shirley Franklin, the former mayor of Atlanta, who currently serves on the board of the National Alliance.

Across the country right now, we see mayors …

… having to grapple …

… with high levels of dysfunction …

… within their local schools.

Generally, protectors of the public education Establishment don’t like mayors having say over what happens in public schools.

Thus they’re often vying …

… to wrest control away from mayors.

In some places like DC, the fate of mayoral control over schools is being shaped by elections that will play out while we are at conference.

Ultimately, sadly, the problems in urban school districts are only going to become worse in the years ahead. As that happens, it is inevitable that even more mayors will recognize that charter schools present a unique reason for hope that structural, long-term, city-wide improvement of public education is possible. As they turn to us, we need to be ready. The most important need, of course, will be making sure that we have the strong charter school operators who can create great new schools when called upon. But we will also need whole new levels of advocacy effectiveness ready for those cities as well.

Leadership

Fortunately, since we last met in person at conference, we have been doing some things right, like making sure that more of our advocacy efforts, including advocacy efforts at a regional level, are being led by amazingly capable leaders of color. Some of those leaders have had a chance to share thoughts with CharterFolk readers over the past year.

Leaders like Ariel Johnson …

… who is now leading the DC Charter School Alliance‘s 501c4 organization that is playing a major role in the elections happening in DC this week.

Leaders like Daiana Lambrecht from Rocketship …

… whose team last month …

… hosted a mayoral candidates forum in San Jose …

… that was attended by over a thousand parents.

Leaders like Anthony Wilson from Equity in Education …

… who just last week penned a great contributor column here at CharterFolk about how the power of parents can be brought into school board elections and other political races playing out in Atlanta.

The same city where Shirley Franklin served as mayor.

Support

To my mind anyway, there isn’t any question whether Anthony has the potential to make a massive impact in the years ahead. The question is whether he will be supported at the level needed to enable that massive impact.

And to an important degree that will be determined by whether our Atlantans become more tightly connected. Will Shirley’s efforts at the Alliance and Anthony’s at the city level become affiliated, integrated and mutually reinforcing, such that we are fundamentally better able to meet the advocacy needs of students and families at all levels – national, state and local?

For years now, this hasn’t even been a question worth asking because we didn’t have the heft, and because the movement hadn’t evolved enough to be ready.

But now we have.

It’s been three years since we’ve gotten together in person.

Much has changed, and now we can see.

The only question that remains is:

Will we go forward and do the things we know need to be done?

The Echo Clique Spreads Gossip Undercutting Their Own Case and Defying Common Sense

Good afternoon, CharterFolk.

I am looking forward to seeing many of you next week at the national conference. As ever, there will be too many great things going on to be able to attend them all. If you have time, come check out the conversation I’ll be part of with Naomi, Shavar and Rick.

Of particular importance, in my view, is attending the Charter Schools PAC fundraiser. I’m in as a co-host for the event along with Andrew and Starlee. We’ll be at the East Overlook Room at the DC Convention Center at 5:00 on Tuesday. Building a shared commitment among all CharterFolk to fund political efforts like the Charter Schools PAC is becoming more and more important to the long term success of our movement. I hope to see you there.

Let’s get on to today’s post.

The Echo Clique Spreads Their Gossip Yet Again

As I have underscored repeatedly here at CharterFolk in recent weeks, I find it highly unlikely that, despite the fact that tens of thousands of parents and other charter school stakeholders have voiced their opposition, the administration will pull back from adopting new rules meant to do massive harm to our movement.

Indeed, I saw the administration’s interview with Chalkbeat last week …

… as confirmation that the administration is in fact plowing on.

They’re being goaded on by the team of five educational NIMBYists …

… who, like housing NIMBYists, love to virtue-project how much they love people of every race and religion …

… while supporting actual policies that do immense damage to those very same people.

After parents expressed massive opposition to the new proposed regulations in Washington last month …

… the fivesome bided their time a bit. But then Valerie Strauss went first …

… penning what I thought was an amazingly sloppy and shallow effort to buck up the administration …

… doing little more than re-airing hit pieces against charter schools that had been written by others in their little club …

… which they claimed to be coming from a “nonprofit advocacy group.”

On Wednesday came …

… Randi Weingarten’s contribution …

… which essentially does the same thing – referring to those very same hit pieces coming from those very same old friends …

… describing the hits, again, as coming from “an advocacy group” without bothering to mention that her very own organization is the primary funder of that group.

Really, CharterFolk, it would be a disservice to refer to these people as an “echo chamber.”

They’re too small to occupy a chamber.

Think of them more as an “echo clique.”

Trying to spread their gossip.

Little of it surprises me, really, save this:

Just how shoddy their work has been..

The regs document itself was chock full of dishonest scholarship, as Sarah and Lee pointed out.

Strauss’s piece, meanwhile, literally had typo …

… after typo …

… after typo in it.

In the Washington Post, no less!

(How does that even happen? Do they just let her post whatever she wants without even editing it?)

It’s embarrassing.

These guys have been waiting for decades to be in a position to do fundamental harm to the federal CSP program and indeed the entire national charter school movement.

And this is the best they can do?

Deconstructing this Latest Weingarten Gossip

This latest piece from Weingarten is just more of the same.

It comes across like it’s been done by a procrastinating adolescent getting in an assignment at the very last second.

Like the overall framing. Is this really how they wanted to present themselves?

Being nakedly straightforward in their public lecturing of the administration that the only thing they really care about is the new “community impact report” requirement?

The charter lobby is chafing at one provision in particular—the requirement for applicants for Charter Schools Program startup funds to provide a community-impact statement. For the first time, the program requires charter operators to state how their new school would impact the surrounding community. The intent is to ensure that the applicant has engaged with residents in planning for the school, that there is a need for a new charter school in the community, and that the school won’t promote racial segregation.

For charter schools to truly contribute to the fabric of education, they must be integrated into the broader education community in the United States. This is the kind of community engagement everyone, including charter detractors, should welcome.

Every school system in America, when it considers where to build a new school, considers the proposed school’s impact on the surrounding community from which it will draw students. Charter schools should not be islands unto themselves, nor should they thrust themselves onto communities that do not want them there.

Pretty straight forward, isn’t it?

All their supposed worry about “for-profit charter schools?” All that stuff about making sure that charter schools and school districts collaborate?

None of that matters to them.

All that Weingarten cares about, of course, is the community impact report requirement because it’s the trojan horse within the regs that will allow her and her allies to bring the growth of the national charter school movement to a screeching halt.

So she uses her op-ed to make it clear to her beholden interests within the administration that the last thing they are allowed to do is to cave on the community impact requirement.

But don’t you think it interesting, CharterFolk, that Weingarten and her echo clique would feel at this late stage in the process the need to lob in some late public posturing like this? Not into some general readership publication like the Post or the Journal or the Times, but instead to a publication like EdWeek, whose primary readership is the education Establishment itself?

This isn’t even remotely an effort to convince a broader audience. It’s about speaking to her base and keeping their pressure squarely focused on the President and his EdWeek-reading spouse.

It’s transparent, and it’s unseemly.

And yet, because they have managed the rest of their work so ineffectively, they feel they have no choice.

Which, then, brings me to my second criticism of the piece, which is that, of all the possible rationale that Weingarten could come up with to justify the need for community impact reports, she chooses to focus on a city impact.

Take the example of Detroit, where between 1995 and 2016, 152 charter schools opened, contributing to the closure of 195 traditional public schools in a city that already had a declining student population. This left some neighborhoods with no public schools—traditional or charter.

I won’t get into the particulars about the charter school story in Detroit. Suffice it to say that, by what I consider to be the fairest and most accurate way to look at charter school impact in Detroit, we have an absolutely positive story to tell.

But, more broadly, in just the past few weeks we have seen example …

… after example …

… after example …

… of new research showing entire cities where charter schools have made inarguably great community-wide impacts.

And if we expand our timeframe out to just the last few months, we see that a growing body of research is accruing about the positive community impact that charter schools have made …

… in the very largest cities

… of our country.

There were a thousand directions Weingarten could have gone in to attempt to make an argument in support of their horrendous new regulations.

To go in a direction opening a broader discussion about what the impact of charter schools has been in big cities?

Not a place she wants to go.

It’s a strategy that does not in any way point to community impact being a charter school weakness.

It points, in fact, to the the very opposite, which is that community impact is actually one of our greatest strengths.

Finally, I’ll mention the anecdote she decides to focus on to try to drive home her point.

Responding to parents’ and communities’ needs is what many charter school operators say they are all about. Yet, this responsiveness happens less than it should. In 2017, students at Hirsch Metropolitan High School on the South Side of Chicago held a walkout protesting a proposed charter school that would be sited at their building. Parents of students at the high school complained about a lack of community engagement from the proposed charter operator. The charter school eventually found a new, nearby location and promptly obtained $840,000 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Education.

Of all the places that Weingarten could have chosen to highlight to try to make an argument that somehow charter schools’ current use of CSP dollars runs counter to the interests of community, she decides to go to Hirsh Metropolitan High School in Chicago?

Who on her staff suggested that one to her?

Hirsch is a school that has suffered from low academic performance for decades …

… while having exhibited such other horrible problems …

… that parents have been desperate to get their kids to something better. While the school was designed to serve over 700 students, it currently serves less than 300, forcing the school district to …

… make emergency cash infusions just to keep the place open at all.

Meanwhile, what is Weingarten’s example of a charter school that should never have been able to come into existence in the first place?

Art in Motion?

Really?

The charter school that Common helped start?

The school that had over a thousand people from the community sign its charter school petition? The one where hundreds of people from the community showed up to celebrate its opening?

The one that’s been all over the local news ever since?

The one the community has loved so much they’re expanding rapidly?

The one that has clearly made a much better option for the families whose children previously had no choice but to attend a persistently underperforming school with a history of rat infestation?

In trying to highlight a situation that supposedly makes some argument for why we don’t want to have a federal Charter Schools Program, Weingarten has done exactly the opposite.

She’s highlighted a shining example of why we do want to have a vibrant CSP!

And why we must have an even bigger one in the years ahead!

This is what the echo clique has stooped to, CharterFolk.

Beyond gossip. Just downright silliness.

Stuff that defies common sense.

And we will see whether they prove able to push these terrible regs through in the short term.

But in the longer term, CharterFolk, we should be remember:

A day will come when common sense returns.

In my view, it won’t be too long.

And when it does, the echo clique’s long paper trail of shoddiness and uncommon sense will do in the macro what Weingarten’s piece has done in the micro.

It will show why the federal CSP is a program that has been an unprecedented success and should be grown to become orders of magnitude bigger than it has ever been before.