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.

CharterFolk Contributor Terry Ryan – Review of Choice Out West – Lessons and Challenges from Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico


Hello CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Terry Ryan, CEO of the Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum and Board Chair of the Idaho Charter School Network

Terry Ryan, CEO of the Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum and Board Chair of the Idaho Charter School Network

I provide a bio for Terry below.

Terry Ryan is CEO of the Boise-based education nonprofit Bluum and Board Chair of the Idaho Charter School Network. Ryan is responsible for leading Idaho’s effort to double the number of students in Idaho high-performing public charter schools. Ryan leads Idaho’s federal Charter School Program (CSP) grant of $22 million. Ryan was Vice-President for Ohio Programs and Policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute/Foundation from 2001 to 2013. He began his career in education as a teacher in Poland and worked with the Polish Ministry of Education and the Foundation for Education for Democracy on education policy and civic education. In the 1990s, he served as research director for the UK-based 21st Century Learning Initiative. Ryan served on Idaho Governor Brad Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” education task force. He is a member of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Policy Advisory Council. He served as a Commissioner for the CAEP Commission on Standards and Performance. Ryan was a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and was a 2008 Aspen Institute/Pahara Fellow.

Review of Choice Out West – Lessons and Challenges from Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico

Colorado has long been a national leader in charter schooling and innovation in education more generally. The Centennial State was the third state in the nation to pass charter school legislation when it passed its law in 1993. The state’s charter law is perennially one of the top rated in the country by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The state innovated further in 2009 when it experimented with granting some district-run schools a taste of charter school autonomy by allowing them to become innovation schools. Denver was an early adopter of the notion of a portfolio school district, and the some of the nation’s earliest and most rigorous teacher pay-for-performance efforts occurred in Denver and the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs

During my time in Ohio (2001-2013) with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute we would often look to Colorado for ideas and approaches that could improve opportunities for students in the Buckeye State. For example, efforts to create portfolio school districts played out in districts like Cleveland, Columbus, and Reynoldsburg. Colorado was also an early adapter in developing a student growth model for measuring student performance as opposed to just looking at student proficiency. For years, Colorado has been a national beacon of innovation in the relentless struggle to improve K-12 education.

In contrast, for much of this same time Colorado’s Mountain West neighbors Idaho and New Mexico have largely been afterthoughts in the national conversations around charter schools and school improvement efforts more generally. Both Idaho and New Mexico have had charter laws on the books since the 1990s. But, just as recently as 2013, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked Idaho’s charter school law as #32. New Mexico, meanwhile, worked overtime to limit both the number and autonomy of its public charter schools over the years.

Fast forward to 2023, and both Idaho and New Mexico are quickly catching up to Colorado as states on the move when it comes to growing their charter school sectors, while also serving as drivers of larger school improvement efforts in their jurisdictions. Denver-based journalist Alan Gottlieb shares the evolving charter school stories of Colorado, New Mexico, and Idaho in the new report Choice Out West.

Luke Ragland of the Daniels Fund shared, “In five years, people will look back and will be writing stories about what happened in New Mexico’s charter school space…New Mexico is poised for some of the most impressive charter growth in the country.” While in Idaho homegrown charter school networks and innovative start-ups are utilizing generous support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, a significant federal Charter School Program grant, and increasing state support and flexibility to expand efforts across the Gem State. Over the last decade Idaho’s overall K-12 enrollment has grown by about 55,000 students, almost 20 percent of that new growth (10,422 students) has been in the state’s public charter schools.

In Choice Out West Gottlieb reports that, “Organizations like Bluum, the Colorado League of Charter Schools, and Excellent Schools New Mexico (the three organizations that commissioned this report) have pushed consistently for policies and practices that give charter schools a fair chance at success. Their efforts have been broad-based, but have included advocating for fair funding for charters, access to facilities and transportation, and high-quality authorizing, including options for authorizing other than local school districts.” In recent years Idaho and New Mexico have been able to stand next to colleagues in Colorado with their heads held high.  

But all three states face challenges moving forward. Gottlieb warns, “One common threat to school choice that spans all three states is the widening national political divide, though in Idaho, where Democrats hold little sway, the divide is less evident. What had been a bipartisan consensus in support of high-performing charter schools among more moderate Democrats and Republicans during the first 15 years of this century has begun to break down…That fracture could be exacerbated should the U.S. Supreme Court decide that it would be unconstitutional to deny approval of religious-based charter schools. The court opened the door to that possibility in the 2022 Carson v Makin decision.”  

Charters and school choice are alive and well in the Mountain West, but to sustain itself in coming years there is a lot of work left to be done. Long-time California charter school advocate and CharterFolk founder Jed Wallace warns those of us in Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico that “we in the charter world have lost that sense of moxie, we have lost a sense of confidence that we are on the right side of history.”  

The sense that the best days are behind for those of us who support school choice is real across the country, but in Idaho, Colorado, and New Mexico we see the threats and opportunities clearly. With eyes wide open we believe the best days are still ahead of us. To learn why please check out: Choice Out West.