CharterFolk Chat #9 – Ember Reichgott Junge and Gary Hart, Pioneering Legislators of the Charter School Movement Reflect on Our 30th Anniversary

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we have a special one for you, a CharterFolk Chat with two legends from our movement, former Minnesota State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge and former California State Senator Gary Hart, the legislators who passed the first two charter school laws in the United States.

I always hope CharterFolk will find time to view chats in their entirety, but given the approach of our 30th anniversary as a movement, and given the unique insights these pivotal leaders have to share, I am doubly hopeful you will all make time for this one.

Ember and Gary have been interviewed on several occasions before. The interview that Ember moderated with Gary, Eric Premack and Sue Burr for the National Charter School Institute’s Founder’s Library was a particularly strong one. I provide a link below.

Rather than cover the same ground that was so well examined in the Founder’s Library interview, we attempted to explore new territory. I provide some highlights below:

  • At the 4 minute mark, Ember and Gary talk about how improbable it was that their two bills passed, and how the passing of the politically unlikely has contributed to the extraordinary impact of Minnesota’s and California’s charter school laws.
  • At 14:30, given that the interview was filmed as the Derek Chauvin case was proceeding, with Ember participating from her home where she has a view of the building where the trial took place, I asked the former Senators to comment on the civil rights origins of the charter school movement. (For those of you wanting a link to the CharterFolk post that Ember references in her comments, I provide it here: Why We Give a Damn About Charter Schools.)
  • At 22 minutes, Ember and Gary share their latest thoughts about what has surprised them most about the charter school movement, taking into account some of the latest developments we have seen during the Covid crisis.
  • At 29 minutes, I share my belief that one of our greatest shortcomings over our first 30 years has been a lack of emphasis on charter school conversions, and I ask our guests what they would identify as some of our mistakes and/or lessons learned.
  • At the 40 minute mark, the Senators share their thoughts about how the movement can best navigate the advocacy and political challenges before it.
  • At 47:00, I ask Ember and Gary whether they might think it productive for charter schools to begin pushing the traditional public school system to become greatly more public in areas where charter schools already are.
  • Finally, at 54:45, the Senators share some final thoughts and requests they have for CharterFolk as the movement prepares to embark upon its fourth decade of work.

It was quite a thrill for me to be able to be part of this interview. It made me think of many new things I hadn’t considered before, ideas I’m sure I will be sharing with CharterFolk in the weeks and months ahead. I extend to both Ember and Gary a deep felt thank you for being willing to be part of this conversation and for the irreplaceable contribution you have both made to the national charter school movement.

The New 80-20 Rule; No 30th Anniversary Celebration? Equity Warriors and Posers; Class Action Status Finally Achieved!

Good morning, CharterFolk.

There is a lot of good stuff to whip around the nation commenting on today. Let’s get straight to it.

The New 80-20 Rule

I should start, though, with an apology. Sometimes my own pinheadedness astounds me. Last Friday, I got off a post about a fascinating article showing how school districts serving majority Black and brown kids are overseen by school boards that are elected by white voters. I’m starting to call it “The New 80-20 Rule.”

School districts where less than 20% of the kids are white often have 80% of the political power be held by voters who are white.

Or said another way: school districts where 80% of the kids are of color often have 20% of the political power be held by voters of color.

My pinheadedness?

Forgetting to offer a link to the article itself! Sorry about that. I hope you all get a chance to read it. It’s well worth it.

No 30th Anniversary Celebration?

Meanwhile, something that has really been bugging me lately is my growing awareness that we are about to pass the 30th anniversary of the national charter school movement, and none of us is doing much to celebrate it.

Why do you think that is, CharterFolk?

I think it has something to do with the same underlying dynamics that led me to think that something like CharterFolk needed to be created: a recognition that the movement has lost a sense of vision; has lost a compelling North Star toward which we’re all striving; suffers from an ambivalence about whether there’s even that much to celebrate; and lacks an appreciation for how amazingly far we have made it in our first three decades against enormous odds.

Would we have wanted to make even more progress since 1991?

Heck, yes!

But are we still by a wide margin the most important reform of our nation’s public schools to have happened in generations, if not ever?

Again, heck yes!

And it’s high time we start acting like it. The official 30th anniversary is on June 4th, the day that Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson signed the first charter school law. Four days after the anniversary, we will announce our first CharterFolk of the Year Awardee. Between now and then, I want to do whatever I can to help elevate the topic.

To wit:

We have made a programming change.

Next week we will be posting a CharterFolk Chat with Ember Reichgott Junge, the Minnesota legislator who carried the nation’s first charter school legislation, (and author of this great book …)

… and Gary Hart, the legislator who carried California’s charter school law.

As some of you may know, Senator Hart has been facing some serious health challenges of late, so I am doubly pleased that he is feeling well enough to share his thoughts with us. Special thanks to both Ember and Gary for agreeing to be part of a discussion that is sure to catalyze further recognition of our impending 30th anniversary.

Equity Posers

I confess this story drives me crazy.

It’s a good 20 minute read, and the word “charter” does not appear in the article even once … though on several occasions during his three-year stint as Chancellor, Carranza went out of his way to do damage to charter schools in New York City.

I wrote about this during the second week here at CharterFolk:

Notice in the article, Carranza doesn’t in any way refute the substance of what CharterFolk are saying.  He doesn’t contest that district schools are failing to serve students well. He just says, “Don’t talk about our schools. Because our schools belong to the community and we’re going to do what we need to do to support our schools.” Then he adds, “I don’t think it’s okay for anyone to build their school by cutting down one of our schools. That’s not okay. Call me protective, call me a father, call me just plain proud of our schools.”

Now, can we just take a step back here, and recognize how stunning it is that anyone in Carranza’s role would say something like this? Actually telling people to not talk about public schools in New York.  Actually threatening people who dissent? Saying that he’s proud of Establishment schools no matter how badly they may be serving kids.

I’m sorry.  We expect a father’s love for his children to be unconditional. We do not expect a superintendent’s love for his schools to be so. In fact, we expect a superintendent’s love for his schools to be absolutely conditional upon the fact that they’re doing well with children. In my view, any superintendent uttering such things should be grounds for termination. But in the “down is up” world of education politics, he’s doing things exactly right. His role is to be the mouthpiece for what the broader Establishment knows. Which is that if there are no problems in traditional public schools, there is no need for charter schools. And if he can intimidate CharterFolk into not speaking our truth, he can get us to undercut our very reason to exist.

Can we be clear here, CharterFolk?

Richard Carranza is not an “equity warrior.” He does damage to the brand.

An equity warrior does not bring as his primary lens the protection of Establishment schools at all costs, nor does he threaten a whole categories of schools that are by their very design far more equitable than any other form of public school found in New York City.

Unfortunately, Carranza’s brand of so called equity warrior-ing has left swaths of destruction in its wake, as we see in San Francisco Unified where he used to serve as Superintendent …

… and which has become, sadly, perhaps the most dysfunctional school district in America.

In the end, his tenure will be remembered as more posing for equity than truly fighting for it.

Kids and families deserve so much more.

Class Action Status Achieved

Meanwhile, if you want to see what real equity warrior-ing looks like, look no further than San Diego …

… where one of the most unconscionable decisions to have happened during the Covid era is being contested in court. As CharterFolk will remember …

… in the fall, California legislators decided to refuse to fund so called “Non Classroom Based” charter schools for any new students who might want to attend. The very schools that parents were most desperately turning to in hopes of finding improved remote/hybrid learning options were the schools that the legislature decided to do most harm to. Well, a group of three charter school organizations decided to sue, and last week we saw the suit achieve class-action status, meaning all of the 300+ affected schools serving nearly 200,000 charter school students now have standing in the case. It’s worth learning more about the suit at the site set up by YM&C, the firm driving the case.

It’s also worth listening to Classical Academy Executive Director Cameron Curry …

… describe the latest developments of the case in a radio interview (starting at the 21:49 mark).

It’s an important milestone for the national charter school movement. After 30 years of shared effort, a charter school lawsuit has finally achieved class-action status.

It underscores a central tenet of all charter school advocacy, not just in the courts, but everywhere:

We are strongest when we are in “class action” status.

We are strongest when we are in it together.