Good day, CharterFolk.
Sometimes I struggle to make sense of things.
Have you seen this one?
A wealthy woman in San Francisco who is trying to get rid of public pickleball courts in her area …
… owns a mansion on the market for $36 million that …
… literally …
… has a pickleball court in the backyard.
Her argument is that the thwacking sounds of paddles hitting balls represents a kind of noise pollution that endangers area wildlife.
I mean … CharterFolk …
What sense are we supposed to make of something like this?
On the one hand, she’s the very definition of a NIMBY.
Or would it be more accurate to call her a NPIMBY?
You know …
A “No Pickleball in My Back Yard-er?”
But then, she literally has pickleball in her backyard.
So what does that make her?
A YPIMLBY but NPIMFBY?
A “Yes Pickleball in My Literal Back Yard But No Pickleball in my Figurative Back Yard-er?”
Or is she just a IGPIM$36MDBYASATROYWWPAE?
One of those “I Get Pickleball in MY $36 Million Dollar Back Yard And Screw All The Rest Of You Who Want Pickleball Anywhere Else-ers?”
In terms of finding a workable acronym here, I confess to feeling in a bit of a pickle.
Speaking of pickles.
Have you seen the one that the head of teacher union in Chicago has gotten herself into?
You can’t make this up.
After days of making no comment about news reports, she confirmed it.
She sends her own kid to a private school.
This is the same person who just a couple weeks ago …
… literally called supporters of school choice fascists who never intended for Black people to be educated and should be kept off the school board at all costs.
Do you have concerns about school-choice and privatization supporters running for the school board, and a strategy to oppose that?
Yes, we are concerned about the encroachment of fascists in Chicago. We are concerned about the marginalization of public education through the eyes of those who’ve never intended for Black people to be educated. So we’re going to fight tooth and nail to make sure that type of fascism and racism does not exist on our Board of Education.
I mean … CharterFolk …
What sense are we supposed to make of something like this?
On the one hand she’s saying that people who exercise school choice are fascists … right?
And yet, she literally exercises school choice herself.
So … is this her way of coming out as a fascist?
Meanwhile, she says that supporters of private education never intended for Black people to be educated … right?
But then she enrolled her son in a private school.
So … does that mean she doesn’t intend for him to get educated?
And she wants to keep fascists off the school board … right?
But then she has more access to Brandon Johnson than any other person in Chicago.
So, does that mean she doesn’t want fascists on the school board, but she’s cool with them being in the mayor’s office?
You think …
… she plays pickleball?”
A Useful New Frame
Sadly, pickleball dynamics are ones that CharterFolk grapple with on an ongoing basis.
At least moments like this provide a useful new frame for thinking about our work.
You remember those people in Connecticut I wrote about in my first post after the Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action?
They live in school districts where their kids get to go to good schools, but then show up at school board meetings …
… to deny kids outside the district access to those very same schools.
They’ve got courts in their backyards and then work to deny others access to courts everywhere else.
What do we call them?
It is fitting that the term would have found its origins in California.
We’ve got paddlers across the state, thwacking away in a variety of realms.
Last summer, you may remember that there was big uproar about UC Berkeley having to rescind offers to new students because a recent court decision had stopped the construction of new student housing.
A couple of weeks later indignant state policy makers rode to the rescue, creating an exception to the monstrous regulations that they themselves had made.
But then a few months later, a new lawsuit shut down the Berkeley student housing project yet again.
What was the NIMBYist’s argument this time?
Call it “the pickleball defense.”
Not to be confused with the “twinkie defense” …
… which also had its origins in the Bay Area …
… where the lawyers defending the murderer of Harvey Milk convinced the court that their client’s excessive consumption of spongey junk food made him do it.
In the Berkeley student housing case, the pickleball defense actually convinced the court …
… that student noise is a form of ecological contamination.
And given that the project proposed no mitigation plan, it was tabled.
And as laughable as that might seem, it’s an idea that has actually gained currency. Last month a housing project next to USC was stopped using the precedent that was established in Berkeley.
It’s when opposition to supposed noise pollution becomes noise pollution itself.
The nemesis enabling all this, of course, is CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, which imposes so many supposedly eco-friendly requirements on constructions projects, and offers so many opportunities for NIMBYists to stop projects through the filing of never-ending lawsuits, that few ever get built.
It’s essentially the leverage that gives pickleballers their standing in court.
And the consequences are anything but funny.
This study from a couple months ago …
… demonstrated that over 48,000 housing units, more than half of the state’s new home supply in 2020, were challenged by CEQA lawsuits, leading to disproportionate impact on low income people of color and young people seeking improved housing options. It’s the main reason California hasn’t come remotely close to building the number of new homes Gavin Newsom promised during his campaign.
It’s a level of regulatory morass so debilitating that it blocked the state’s effort to remodel its own capitol building …
… creating a metaphor for so much of public life in California.
Half demolished …
… and bogged down in quagmire.
The Educational Pickleball Challenge
Some CharterFolk readers may remember that I have written several times …
… about how charter adversaries have changed California charter school law to create CEQA-like mechanisms meant to choke off the growth of charter schools
Just like builders are forced to create massive Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) that can be challenged in court for the most ludicrous reasons, charter school developers in California are now forced to submit Community Impact Reports (CIRs) that can be similarly challenged.
The first school I wrote about being subject to the new CEQA-like requirements was Mayacamas Charter School.
It’s been a long and winding legal road for Mayacamas, with the deepest-pocketed protectors of the status quo supporting legal challenges at every step in the process.
Call it the full-pickleball-court-press.
It leads to a circumstance where, like it can’t even remodel its own capitol building without getting bogged down in court, so too the State of California can’t even approve a charter school on appeal.
But showing absolutely amazing resiliency, the founders of Mayacamas were actually able to get over the educational pickleball challenge and to open their school …
… though it’s long-term survival hangs in the balance.
Member of the Public #1
Last week a new hearing was scheduled where the local school district’s superintendent sent an email out to 16,000 parents excoriating the founders of Mayacamas and beseeching parents and employees to show up in person at the hearing and spread the district’s vitriol.
And who, of all people in the state, was Member of the Public #1, the person who had called in early enough to be the first to address the board?
Just like he was Member of the Public #1 addressing the State Board when Mayacamas brought their appeal to the state.
Jerry Brown knows the challenges that charter school developers face. He himself proposed two new charter schools when he was Mayor in Oakland ….
… only to see one get rejected by the local school district …
… forcing him to appeal all the way to the state board where ultimately he prevailed.
Brown knows the odds we’re up against.
He knows that California’s recent changes in charter school law foreclose the state playing the same role in the Mayacamas appeal that it played for his school. And he has seen in recent weeks how a school modeled after his military academy in Oakland was forced to close despite his support for the school, due in part to the new powers local authorizers have to shut down charter schools.
And yet, he forges on, Member of the Public #1.
Supporting the creation of the new things the public needs.
Just like all Members of the Public #1 are not giving up and continue to propose the new things the public needs.
New charter schools.
Housing of all types.
Pickleball courts where all can play
And in so doing, we make transparent the most abhorant things.
The way pickleballers will treat parents simply seeking an opportunity to get their own kids access to a court.
Not just excoriating the Mayacamas parents in an open email going out to 16,000 households as the local school district superintendent did a couple weeks ago, but actually suggesting that Mayacamas parents should be investigated for the financial contributions they have made to a nonprofit supporting the school, as district staff did at a recent hearing.
It happens everywhere we have Members of the Public #1 push the public system to allow charter schools to grow.
Educational pickleballers saying the most offensive things.
Like the school board member in Los Angeles who recently referred to charter schools as “a cancer.”
Or the Texas legislator who called us a “virus.”
They’re the kinds of comments that lead all of society to say:
I swear …
What sense are we supposed to make of this?
How We Ultimately Prevail
Ultimately, in getting the ball back on the pickleballers’ side of the court, we force them to thwack again.
And that is when they end up saying the patently offensive things that discredit themselves in front of others.
Because look, I’m fully aware that a simple shaming of the NPIMBYists will never win them over.
But we’re at a moment when smart observers are recognizing that YIMBYs are picking up steam …
… like writers such as Matthew Yglesias who are deeply keyed into the pickleball dynamics that govern public education.
From my perspective, the point is still very much in play.
Not just the Mayacamas decision which was punted even further down the road …
… but everything we’re trying to do in charterland.
Not just in California.
The Biden administration’s proposed CSP regs a year ago was an attempt to make a national education CEQA law.
Just last week a new charter designed to serve special needs kids was denied in Atlanta, with the district citing as its number one reason for denial its own financial considerations, the exact same arguments that have now been made legal in California and are being used against the Mayacamas school.
The challenge, as far as I see it, is not to win over the people with pickleball courts in their own backyards.
They’re just not winnable.
But they find themselves, fortunately, in the ultimate pickle.
The pickle of being on the wrong side of history.
Because those around them?
Those who for decades have been siding with the pickleballers at their own expense?
Those who have no skin in the game but simply want what is clearly best for our society?
Ultimately, those people know. Or they can be helped to see:
The sound of students coming together is not noise pollution.
It’s in fact the sound upon which the future of our society depends.
The sound of learning. Of growing. Of building. Of making something new.
Some might even call it music.
The true noise pollution is the din of status quo defenders saying the most ridiculous things in hopes of preventing students from accessing new opportunities to learn.
Thousands of kids denied a chance to attend Berkeley and USC.
And millions of younger ones across the United States denied something similarly better in K-12.
And it’s up to us to make as loud as possible the self-serving thwacks that echo across communities most in need of new music.
Which we do by simply pushing on.
Standing in line to be the first to support schools like Mayacamas.
And proposing many new Mayacamases ourselves.
Not thinking that we will prevail in every situation in the short term. But knowing that we’re pushing toward a collective yes that’s a coming to backyards in communities across the nation.
It’s some of the most noble work happening in society today.
The work of CharterFolk and our equivalents in many other realms.
Like Jerry Brown himself.
Members of the Public #1.
CharterFolk Contributors Khalique Rogers and Joe Nathan – Two Specific Suggestions to Help Students and Communities
Good morning, CharterFolk!
Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Khalique Rogers and Joe Nathan, co-directors of the Center for School Change.
We provide brief bios for Khalique and Joe below.
Both have been asked to speak at several national conferences and co-authored several columns published in Minnesota newspapers, such as this one on how to help reduce the number of youth and families experiencing homelessness. They have known and mentored each other for 11+ years. Rogers experienced homelessness, Nathan grew up in a middle-class family. Rogers attended district, charter, and alternative schools. Nathan attended traditional district public schools. Rogers’ testimony helped convince Minnesota state legislators to allow millions of dollars to help reduce youth and family homelessness. Nathan worked as an urban district public school teacher and administrator, a project director for the National Governors Association, and has helped write charter legislation in Minnesota and 20+ states.
TWO SPECIFIC SUGGESTIONS TO HELP STUDENTS AND COMMUNITIES
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
At a time when some emphasize students’ deficits and discipline problems, especially after the pandemic, we’d like to offer a contrary, hopefully practical view more consistent with the optimism of CharterFolk. We urge that students have opportunities to study and help solve real local and regional problems that they’ve identified.
To maximize students’ learning and reduce frustration, while making their own jobs more satisfying by increasing students’ motivation, educators should identify and build on students’ strengths and concerns. This can be done while helping students with their shortcomings. As we explain below, Minnesota statewide policymakers are encouraging these approaches. We believe every charter, and every organization supporting chartering, should make two of their top priorities in the coming year these practical recommendations.
- Combine classroom work with efforts to improve their community, aka “service-learning”. This was the subject of a previous column.
- Expand service-learning to collaborate with community members and political leaders to help solve local/state problems.
“Insights from a Year of Listening,” a survey of 22,000 youth in 2021, found “Most young people say their experiences in school feel irrelevant and offer few opportunities for agency and choice.”
Research and experience show that service-learning connected to solving community problems can have huge benefits for students and schools. These ideas build on the skills, strengths, energy, and insights that many students are eager to use. These active learning options are valuable for all students.
FIRST RECOMMENDATION: Make combining classroom work and community service a part of every K-12 student’s school experience in the coming year.
The research on the value of these service-learning programs is overwhelming:
- Academic skills improve.
- Students gain by seeing they can have a positive impact on the world.
- Students have opportunities to explore possible careers.
- Students experiencing frustration or depression have opportunities to gain satisfaction, even joy, from making a difference.
Like what, some readers might ask?
- As a student, Rogers led a successful campaign, with other urban studies students and educators, to turn a weed filled vacant lot next to his St. Paul district alternative school into a beautiful playground, “Midway Peace Park”. This took several years. Families now have a terrific new resource.
- Students at one school in an English Studies class wrote to local organizations and businesses offering student-led research services. Among many research projects was a student-designed brochure showing area mines tourists could visit. The local chamber of commerce was so pleased with the students’ brochure they printed and distributed over 10,000 copies.
- Nathan worked in a K-12 school where, as part of their effort to learn to read, six- to eight-year-old students put on plays for early childhood students and senior citizens. As one student explained, “It’s important to learn to read because then you can get a bigger part in the play.” Other middle school age students at this school, including students with special needs, studied science and then put on “magic shows” for younger students using basic science principles.
- Rogers helped students at a rural district and urban charter public school study government, research, and write legislation that requires involvement of students in the state funded after-school programs. The state department of education has agreed this idea should be part of how proposals are judged and has agreed to involve students in evaluating and selecting proposals to be funded.
- Nathan taught a class in which students solved about 90% of hundreds of consumer problems that adults referred to them. This was part of a class called “Protect Your Rights and Money” – the kind of financial literacy class that students all over the country are seeking. A former student has written how this class “changed his life,” showing how he could use his anger to help make a better world.
Key characteristics of the strongest service-learning programs include giving students a chance to identify issues they want to work on, giving them opportunities to design and try solutions to these problems, ensuring students’ service is tied to vital academic outcomes (like improving their reading, writing, and research skills), and taking time to reflect and refine their efforts, depending on what happens. A complete list of key research-based characteristics of strong service-learning programs are found here.
The state of Minnesota (home of the nation’s first charter law) has become so convinced about the value of service learning that
- The 2023 State Legislature allocated $1 million to help start service-learning programs throughout the state.
- The organization regulating teacher preparation in Minnesota has decided that all prospective educators must learn the rationale for and how to implement service-learning with the students and subjects they will teach.
Copies of this legislation and the teacher preparation policies are here.
Furthermore, earlier this year, Minnesota State legislators allocated millions of dollars to help district and charter public schools start programs in which students learn construction skills as they build or rehab homes for low income families and families experiencing homelessness. We helped lead this legislative effort, which brought together district, charter, and community members in a strong, bi-partisan, successful effort. One of the schools helping students learn construction skills as they help neighbors is City Academy, the first charter to begin operating in the US. Below is a picture of a home for a low-income family built by students from a St. Paul alternative school. Minnesotans two largest daily papers described this legislation, here and in a front page story, here.
Photo courtesy of St Paul Pioneer Press
SECOND RECOMMENDATION: We urge every charter public school and every charter support organization to actively seek out and work on public local, regional, or statewide policy-issues that benefit many students and families, regardless of where they go to school.
The campaign that produced the multi-million-dollar legislation described immediately above, is a classic example. Working across district, charter, and community lines produced new friendships, understandings, and alliances. It can mean more allies for chartering and charter public schools. It’s an expansion of service-learning to actively include one or more community partners.
Key steps we took to produce this legislation included:
- Identifying two issues we thought would bring together district and charter advocates: 1) Reducing youth and family homelessness, and 2) Increasing the number of students trained in construction skills before graduating from high school.
- Inviting 10 local, county, and statewide groups to co-sponsor and attend a two-hour meeting, in which students from district and charters shared experiences. About 50 people attended this December 2022 event.
- Meeting participants agreed to work together on legislation.
- Asking for and receiving advice from relevant state agencies, which strengthened the bills and gained their support.
- Helping write and refine the bills with assistance from a friendly state legislator who attended the December 2022 meeting.
- Arranging for supportive legislative testimony from participating youth, a doctor, district and charter educators, and advocates for people experiencing homelessness.
- Praising supportive legislators on social media.
The legislation sailed through with bi-partisan support. Not a single objection raised during five separate hearings. Having 50+ years of combined experience working in these areas, including charter legislation, we realize that state legislatures, city councils, and county commissions can be very contentious. A previous CharterFolk column described more controversial legislation district and charter youth wrote that took two years to pass. Some legislation can take years to win approval.
However, we’ve found it’s possible and valuable to find issues on which district and charter students, educators, and community members can work together. These efforts have terrific positive impact for students. An Education Week article, “Really Listening to Students Has an Academic Payoff, New Research Finds,” highlighted that researchers at the University of California, Riverside and Northwestern University found, “For students, a belief that schools are responsive to their ideas correlates with a higher grade-point average and better attendance.”
We read constantly about the disaffection, distress, and discipline issues associated with many youth. But isn’t it time to recognize that among the best ways to help youth facing challenges is to help them learn to make a difference in the world? Isn’t it valuable to help students see connections between at least some of what they study in school and what’s happening outside school?
Doing what we’ve suggested will help produce a more satisfying, successful school year for students. It also will make teaching more fulfilling for educators – who came into this field to help make a difference.
We shared these suggestions at the 2023 National Alliance for Public Charter School annual conference, where the response was very positive. We’d be happy to discuss these ideas with readers interested in implementation anywhere in the US.