Ironies Advanced by Young and Old – Will We Ever Call Them Out?

Good morning CharterFolk.

A reader pointed out to me that a link to an Iowa advocacy position I posted last week was incorrect. Here’s the right one. It’s a darn good job, CharterFolk, for any of you wanting to get advocacy right out of the gates in a new charter school state.

Meanwhile, for those of you more inclined to Grand Ole Opry environs, you may find this one from Nashville enticing. Another great one!

Keep them coming, CharterFolk.

Meanwhile, I extend to Porsche Chisley a special thanks for offering her Contributor Column yesterday …

… about the success that the Mind Trust has had in terms of improving student outcomes in Indianapolis and preparing to grow the organization’s impact by expanding into Texas. Among the Mind Trust’s great contribution has been a never ending stream of accurate communications about the impact that charter schools are having providing improved learning opportunity for all students, especially those who have been historically underserved.

The Mind Trust also provides accurate information about the underlying economics affecting the public education of all students in Indianapolis.

When we can’t get these kinds of communications done at the level required, the ironies that end up going uncontested contribute to narratives that completely miscast the impact that charter schools are having.

Some of you may have seen this op-ed from Pittsburgh this week.

A high school student who attended a K-8 charter school that he says was a great option for him and his family had to decide whether to stay with the charter through high school, switch to a private high school, or go to a Pittsburgh district school (PPS). He chose a district school, and now a few years later he reports:

While I made my decision for personal reasons, as a student leader at PPS, I know more about how those decisions impact every student and have learned more about the issues that charter schools pose to the district.

He then describes how charter schools serve 5000 students in Pittsburgh while the district serves 19,000, and the district sent $119 million to the charter schools, or 17% of its operating budget. It leads him to conclude:

My family’s decision to send me to ECS cost PPS over $140,000 at current rates. Although every child who enrolls in a charter school may appear to increase their opportunities and quality of education, their decision greatly decreases opportunities for every remaining PPS student.

My point here is not to go back and fact check the student’s numbers. It’s to shine a spotlight on the ironies that we allow to go uncontested.

I accept his numbers at face value which show that charter schools educate 20.8% of the students in PPS and receive 17% of the district’s funding. Those numbers reveal the following:

Charter school students receive almost $7,000 per pupil less than district students.

If you compute what the per pupil amount of expenditure would be were charter schools equitably funded in Pittsburgh, you see that charter schools actually make nearly $34M in additional funding available to the students who remained in district schools. And when you divide that across the 19,000 students served by PPS, you see that the charter school presence actually raises by $1784 per pupil the amount of funding going to the students remaining in the district …

… making plain the irony of the student claiming that the presence of charter schools “greatly reduces opportunities for every remaining PPS student.”

Again, my point is not to dive into the veracity of the student’s numbers, though it bears mentioning that funding levels in the neighborhood of $30,000 per pupil, which are at least roughly confirmed by quick checks against independent sources, are far in excess of national averages and warrant inquiry as to why any public school system funded at this level would be first focused on a lack of resources as a primary driver of challenge within the district.

I also find it mystifying how the student makes the general claim that charter schools do not perform better than district schools and then includes a link citation supposedly confirming the claim, but when you explore the link you see that all it leads you to is the state’s website reporting public school academic performance generally.

Sadly, though, these are not even the greatest ironies found in the op-ed.

Because if you look at the district school that the student chose to attend …

… you find that it’s a school like many other IB programs that uses selective admissions criteria that screen out low performing students, often along lines of race and class.

And, given that it is an IB magnet school, we know that the expense of implementing the IB program almost certainly means that the district is spending significantly more per pupil on Obama Academy than it spends on its other schools.

So, in terms of choosing to attend a school whose economic model decreases opportunity for students remaining in district schools, this student chose to attend the most damaging.

And yet he casts great blame on charter schools which do the exact opposite.

In fact, in the category of irony of ironies, it may very well be that, in providing the school district nearly $1800 in higher per pupil funding for kids remaining in the school district, charter schools provided exactly the excess funding that the school district needed to offer this student an IB option.

And yet, in this op-ed, and in countless other attack pieces like it across the commonwealth, ironies are allowed to go uncontested.

It’s one thing, when those ironies come from a young person.

How is someone still in high school supposed to have enough perspective to realize that he has chosen to attend a school perpetuating some of the greatest inequity found in public education today, a school that not only siphons money away from other students, but then prevents many of those very students from having even a chance to attend the privileged school they are being forced to subsidize?

It’s a whole other thing when ironies come from elders who clearly know better.

This week we saw one of the greatest purveyors of ironies assume one of the most influential positions in a large urban school district in the country.

Someone who clearly knows better but who keeps advancing the ironies anyway.

A sample of the some of the ironies she has advanced over the course of her career we’ll dive into next time.

But until then, CharterFolk, I’ll leave you with this.

Ironies are not just going to go away of their own accord. They have to be made to go away.

Not just by contesting them when they are irresponsibly advanced in the moment by young or old.

But by making the case proactively.

Teaching. Showing. Revealing.

The raw data is there, CharterFolk.

The true story of what is really happening in our schools is there.

The question is whether we will have the courage needed to bring the truth to light.

CharterFolk Contributor Porsche Chisley – Expanding Our Impact

Hello CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Porsche Chisley, Senior Director of Special Projects of The Mind Trust.

I provide a bio for Porsche below.

As the Senior Director of Special Projects, Porsche Chisley supports the creation and implementation of special projects meant to expand the impact of The Mind Trust’s successful programmatic work. Her responsibilities include designing and managing initiatives that strengthen the Indianapolis education ecosystem, collaborating with key community partners and stakeholders, and supporting The Mind Trust’s mission and commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Chisley began her career in education as a Teach For America Corps member serving kindergarten students in St. Louis, Missouri. After completing the corps, she taught middle school in Central Ohio. Feeling called towards social and racial justice work in education, she pursued educational leadership opportunities outside of the classroom and has held management roles in early learning, school improvement, school turnaround and innovation, and data analytics. Chisley has served on teacher-based and district leadership teams and led district turnaround efforts as a Director of Student Data. Her focus on equity and the use of evidence-based instructional practices resulted in gains on the Ohio Schools Report Card for multiple schools.

Prior to joining The Mind Trust, she worked full-time as the Director of School Improvement for a charter school authorizer serving over 13,000 students in Ohio. Chisley was a founding board member of the Columbus Urban League Young Professionals and co-chaired their Education Committee. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Ohio State University and a Master’s of Elementary Education from University of Missouri – St. Louis. She was born and raised in Indianapolis and is excited to be back home where she and her husband, Alex, will raise their three young children.

Expanding Our Impact

If you visit The Mind Trust’s website, the first words you’ll see on your screen are “World-class education for every child.” That is the guiding principle behind everything we do. For much of our 16 years as an organization, we’ve tried to move Indianapolis closer to providing that world-class education for every child.

It’s likely you’re aware, but there are deserving students all across the country who are being denied high-quality education on a daily basis. Throughout the life of our organization, we have learned that it doesn’t have to be this way; there are things we can do to change this – and what’s worked in Indianapolis can help thousands of other kids. So, when an influential education reform organization in Texas approached us about supporting their work to create an incubator that would attract talented leaders to grow innovative autonomous schools, we were all in.

Charters Exemplify Ingredients for School Success

We know our work over the past 16 years has been successful because of the steady growth of charter schools in Indianapolis. Their existence predates The Mind Trust, with Indiana’s original charter school law passing in 2001. Yet I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say The Mind Trust has played a central role in their growth and success. Today, Indianapolis is home to a thriving education ecosystem. We are responsible for launching 45 schools and 15 nonprofit organizations that ensure schools have access to high-quality teacher pipelines, resources, and more.

I highlight our work growing charter schools not because I believe they are the be-all, end-all. Charter schools are not a magic bullet. Charter schools are only valuable to our communities if they operate with integrity and according to the values that this type of reform was founded on – which is why we believe the autonomy afforded to charter schools must be leveraged by talented school leaders and accompanied by strong accountability systems.

The Mind Trust believes so strongly in charter schools because they combine a few key ingredients for school success: talented leadership, autonomy providing the flexibility to serve students at their unique needs, and rigorous accountability. These concepts form a strong, three-legged stool. If even one of these legs is missing, the whole thing falls apart. And we’ve seen this in certain areas of the country. Charter school critics have every right to call out failures as long as they don’t ignore the successes.

Sharing Successes and Lessons Learned

I for one believe the success we have seen in Indianapolis over the past two decades is really a testament to what is possible when all three legs of the stool are strong. I see it in results from a 2022 study by Stanford University’s CREDO, in our state testing results, and in the ways our community has innovated to overcome the pandemic’s many disruptions to education through initiatives like Indy Summer Learning Labs.

Speaking of data, the recent release of 2022 NAEP scores rippled across the national education landscape earlier this year. They were not necessarily surprising. But they were an alarming reminder that if we do not take decisive action, the current generation of students are going to be left out of the kind of transformative futures they deserve. Across the board, scores are trending down, to the point that any NAEP gains in reading that have been made since 1998 have been wiped out.

Part of us saying yes to supporting a Texas-based project stems from a recognition that success is not something to sit on or hide away. There ought to be no secrets in how to serve students well. That kind of information is public domain, and we have a moral obligation to share it with whoever comes knocking. We also believe there’s value in sharing our lessons learned. Across 16 years, we’ve made mistakes alongside witnessing significant progress. Why not share our hard-earned lessons with Texas on behalf of its students? They matter just as much as the students we have the privilege to serve in Indianapolis.

Why Texas?

Which brings me to another point, something that stems from a major lesson we learned early on at The Mind Trust. It is this: no method of education reform will ever be successful if it is not led by those closest to the changes being made. Community engagement is absolutely vital.

I mention that as a lead-in to answer a question you may be asking in your head. Why is The Mind Trust working in Texas now? For starters, we were asked. We didn’t barge through the door. We answered the phone. Another way to answer why Texas is a matter of impact. Today, over 58,000 students sit on charter school waitlists across the state of Texas. Those students are asking for something better. They deserve something better. We can help ensure they get something better.

We have a moral obligation to share everything we have learned. That started last year when we partnered with the Max and Marian Charitable Foundation to pilot a community-driven strategy for launching an education champion organization in Rochester, New York. It continues with our work in Texas. If someone else comes asking next week, next month, or next year, you can bet we’re going to listen and do everything we can to do right by their students.

A Decisive Moment

Before closing, I want to turn for a moment to state flowers and what they can remind us of. Weird segue, I know, but stick with me. I promise there’s a point. Indiana’s state flower is the peony; Texas’ is the bluebonnet. Both of them are spring-blooming, here for a week or two, then gone. They mark a true transition from the chill of late winter and the dreariness that accompanies so much of spring, at least in Indiana. Blink and you can miss them as the school year concludes and people start making summer plans.

I bring up state flowers because I think we are in a spring moment in education. A moment of possible blooming. We have come through a long winter of COVID and declining NAEP scores and deep community unrest in so many parts of the country. But this comes with a caveat: while there may be something inevitable about the return of peonies or bluebonnets come spring, there’s nothing inevitable about education progress. It’s why we need to grab the longhorn by its horns, if you’ll forgive the terrible Texas-sized spin on that saying.

We are in a decisive moment where those 58,000 students on charter school waitlists are asking for something better. Will Texas provide it or miss an opportunity to expand world-class education options for every child? One thing I do know: The Mind Trust will do everything possible to make sure Texas can.