2020 CharterFolk Year in Review

Good morning, CharterFolk.

CharterFolk began on June 8, 2020 with the post Welcome to CharterFolk. The effort started at a moment of great racial reckoning both for our nation as well as for our movement. We were also in the middle of a great pandemic which has made CharterFolk’s contributions to public education among the most essential being made anywhere. Having had the chance to visit over half the states in the nation in 2019, I had developed a deep recognition that charter schools faced a backlash more extreme than any we had faced before.

From Why It’s Essential We Occupy the Moral High Ground

Meanwhile, a presidential election was occurring that served to make the national discussion about charter schools only less coherent.

Against that general backdrop, CharterFolk rolled out. Over the past seven months we have had 87 total posts at CharterFolk, including 60 twice-weekly columns from me, 19 CharterFolk X posts, 6 Contributor Columns with content coming from over 30 writers, and 5 CharterFolk Chats, including our initial one with Arne Duncan.

From CharterFolk Chat with Arne Duncan

We have created a nonprofit and recruited a great Board of Directors. We have grown readership and paid subscribers, and we have seen open rates that are well above “excellent” levels (at least as reported by WordPress) and trending even higher.

Along the way, I have had an incredible amount of fun and feel great gratitude for all who have contributed to and/or supported us, or have simply found the time to read the content appearing here. Maybe more than anything else, I have enjoyed hearing personally from hundreds of you as you have reached out to me at different times to offer encouragement and suggestions. Thank you. It really does mean a lot to me.

2021 promises to be a year of massive importance for the charter school movement. I look forward to continuing to build this community and to helping spark the key conversations we need to have in order to overcome the many challenges and to capitalize upon the massive opportunities that lie before us. In my opinion, the world has never needed the charter school movement more than it does right now. With that being the case, I put my shoulder to the wheel and thank you all for providing me additional inspiration to keep going at it with everything I’ve got.

Below I highlight some of the most popular and important posts of the year.

The Five Most Viewed Articles

The five most view articles based upon open-rates:

  1. 25x25x25 – A North Star for Charter Schools in the Biden Era – A post where I lay out a vision for the charter movement to unleash tens of millions of dollars annually to support the development of the improved advocacy efforts and infrastructure we will need to succeed over the long term.
  2. Why Elon Musk May Abandon California But Charters Never Will – An argument for not counting the California charter school movement out despite the challenges it has encountered in recent years.
  3. Where Shmuckheads Dropped the Ball on Vision – Showing how a failure to update our vision to reflect charter schools’ growing impact has had adverse impact on the movement.
  4. The Teacher Union Straightjacket – What COVID Reveals If We Act With Courage – COVID is making plain the harmful impact that teacher unions have on public education and opens up opportunities for charter schools to drive a new narrative for the movement.
  5. Responding to Scott – Existential Angst, Moral Authority and Crossing the Chasm – A response to Scott Pearson’s popular post about lessons learned during his time as the Executive Director of the DC Public Charter School Board.
From Where Shmuckheads Dropped the Ball on Vision

Contributor Columns

Since the beginning, the idea has been that a chorus of representative voices will help generate content and discussion here at CharterFolk. That is why I am particularly happy to have seen such great columns come from such an impressive array of people.

From CharterFolk Contributors Respond to
Arne Duncan’s Challenge to Involve Parents

CharterFolk Chats

Ditto about being pleased to have had such great CharterFolk participate in our chat series.

From CharterFolk Chat #5 – Larry Rosenstock and Don Shalvey,
Brothers from Other Mothers Look Back and Forward

CharterFolk X

One of the things I enjoy the most about the CharterFolk work is celebrating what our amazing people are up to. I provide three samples of CharterFolk X entries below, but I really have loved writing them all.

From CharterFolk X – Brian Jones,
Another Voice that Shall be Forever Heard

The Need for Improved Vision

What motivated me to get CharterFolk going in the first place was a recognition from my travels that we had lost a sense of vision for the charter school movement. It was one of my most oft-repeated discussions: I would ask people in their various states whether they believed that advocacy partners or others were projecting a strong sense of vision for their state’s charter school sector. That would lead to a torrent of criticisms, but when I would ask people what a good vision might be, they often struggled to articulate one. It made me realize that I should at least begin offering one myself, not so much to get us to coalesce around my own idea but to push the discussion so a variety of improved visions might be elevated.

From Brode Not Broad – What Happens When We Lose Our Voice

Understanding the Attack that Has Come Against Us

We get so bogged down in the day-to-day, it can be hard to get the distance to see what our adversaries have done in recent years to sharpen their attack against charter schools and to see how our initial responses have not always been helpful.

From Behold the Turtle – How Our Response Has Only Made Things Worse

Better Strategy

A theme running through many posts at CharterFolk this year has been the need for improved advocacy strategy at many different levels.

From Thunderbolts and Mountaintops – How We Smash Through the 2X2

The Need for Improved Advocacy Infrastructure and Capacity

For decades we have struggled to make the long term advocacy infrastructure and capacity we need to support the movement. The stakes are very high. We’ve got to get this right, and we’ve got to get it right now.

From Beyond Cellophane and DuBois – The Strength We Need to Survive

The Need for More to Get in the Game

A part of advocacy strengthening is simply encouraging more CharterFolk to get involved and giving them meaningful opportunities to participate.

From How One School Getting in the Game
Kept a Nightmare Out of Congress

Nuts and Bolts

I have gotten several comments from readers this year requesting that I get more specific in my suggestions for people helping to grow advocacy strength.

Personal Connection to the Work

People report liking different things about CharterFolk. While they don’t always have the highest open rates, posts that feature my own personal connection to the work tend to be the ones that people email me the most about.

From Education Inequity Shown in the Lives of One Soccer Team

Learnings

If you crank out this amount of content on deadline, you’re bound to make mistakes. I’ve certainly made my share this year:

  • Maybe my favorite mistake led to this post. Just Misspoke, Or Needs to Be Woke? Wallace Responds to Webb.
  • I had a reader rightly challenge me on bad language I used in this CharterFolk X post, which I have since edited.
  • I also had a few readers rightly question my use of the term “shmuckheads.” “Knuckleheads” will be the word of choice for future references to advocates like myself dropping the ball.
  • I don’t report myself to be happy with my design of the Forum. It takes a heck of a lot of people to get folks commenting on threads in order to facilitate discussion. Over the first months of ’21, I intend to convert the Forum into a place where it is easy to access all of the amazing content that is being generated by writers other than myself.
  • Finally, I’ve learned a lot about how to incorporate others’ voices. In November, we saw a drop off in contributions coming from others. That was a function of the fact that I simply got behind in my work and I hadn’t been proactive enough in extending invitations. (You can catch up on your personal writing by doing it at 3 in the morning, but that’s a lousy time to be getting others to contribute.) This year I’m trying to get a content calendar set up far in advance so we will hopefully avoid a period where we are not hearing as frequently from other CharterFolk.

Looking Forward

I am extremely excited about 2021. Some of the things we have to look forward to:

  • Great CharterFolk Chats
    • Diane Tavenner and Pat Brantley in January talking about the need innovate or perish,
    • Darryl Cobb and Charter School Growth Fund Portfolio members talking about the newest trends in growth and the fund’s efforts to support a broader, more diverse base of charter school organizations.
    • Andrew Broy, Starlee Coleman and Myrna Castrejón sharing what we’re learning about charter school advocacy in places where we have more evolved C3/C4 membership organizations.
  • Great Guest Contributors
    • Emilio Pack on the need to develop Latino leadership in the charter school sector.
    • Gina Plate on the latest in national advocacy efforts related to special education and charter schools.
    • Senator Mary Landrieu on what we have learned from the charter school experience in Louisiana.
    • Greg Richmond reflecting after having had a year to gain perspective since leaving NACSA.
    • Sonya Park on the messages we need to provide to charter school parents who are accosted for their support of charter schools.
    • Tom Castro on what has been learned in Texas as the state association has evolved into a C3/C4 tandem.
    • Laura McGowan-Robinson on what we are learning actually works in terms of recruiting and retaining more diverse leadership in charter schools.
    • Ben Austin encouraging us to coalesce around the idea that students should have a constitutional right to a high quality public education.
    • Trish Williams sharing her observations having served as a member of the California State Board of Education.

Plus, I’ll plan on continuing to crank out whatever I can in between others’ posts. Hope to see you here. Thank you again for all your support.

Reasons for Optimism: A Good Nomination and Appointment

Good morning, CharterFolk.

I don’t have a lot to add to what many others have been sharing regarding the nomination of Miguel Cardonas for the US Secretary of Education post. CharterFolk in Connecticut report that Cardonas is someone we can work with. In comparison to virtually all other names that were surfaced in recent weeks, he is a much better option. Perhaps most importantly, he signals an intent from the administration that it prefers to focus effort on issues where we can work together rather than on ones that would have torn the ed world apart. So we should feel a sense of relief. Many thanks to many CharterFolk who worked to help bring this outcome about.

The second piece of big news yesterday was the announcement of Alex Padilla to become California’s next US Senator. I am very pleased by this result. Although he has gone quieter in his support of charter schools in the last two years, Alex has consistently been a friend of charter schools throughout his political career. He often voted with other moderate Democrats in support of charter schools in the California State Senate. He also has extensive personal connections to charter schools in the San Fernando Valley. Finally, his family’s story is one that is deeply connected to the importance of high quality public education, and I have always found him to be one who understands how charter schools are needed to help constructively push all of public education to improve, especially for students coming from communities that have been historically underserved. While I would not expect Alex to seek an active, highly visible role related to charter school matters in the US Senate, I would be surprised if he does not turn out to be a source of reliable support for charter schools generally.

So for both the nomination and the appointment, we have had far, far better results than we might otherwise have had. It’s an encouraging way to wrap up the advocacy year for charter schools.

Stay safe, folks.