Supreme Court Sanity; Conference Bedrock; How New Phenomenal Results Really Matter and Really Don’t

Good day, CharterFolk.

We start today with good news.

Supreme Court Sanity

The Supreme Court has refused to take on the Peltier Case …

… where the litigants attempted to argue that the U.S. Constitution’s protections of students are somehow not applicable to charter schools because charter schools are somehow not state actors.

It’s an outcome that is being rightfully celebrated by the National Alliance …

… which has done a great job representing the movement on this challenging case.

I will return to this topic later, but for now let this suffice:

In past posts, I called this case a “simple no.” There’s just no way that constitutional protections don’t apply to charter school students, and I am heartened to know that the Supreme Court has recognized the same. I am also heartened to know how much more strongly this positions us for other tough issues coming down the pike, like the religious charter school issue playing out in Oklahoma.

A very positive development.

Conference Bedrock

It was good to have had a weekend to decompress from a great week in Austin last week. For me this year, the National Conference felt like a chance to anchor in bedrock again. For several years, I have thought that a combination of pandemic and polemic have been gnawing at the movement’s moorings.

This year, the foundations that have anchored our work for decades seem to be holding us steady in ways that felt reassuringly familiar.

First, of course, there is a broad awareness that something is fundamentally askew in the way we’re educating kids in our country. For anyone paying attention, there are myriad indicators, but the latest NAEP data coming out mid-conference served to make things plain.

It’s the presence of a grave societal problem that gives our movement reason to exist. In the current environment, the problem is so apparent that the need for a rapidly expanding charter school movement couldn’t be clearer.

Secondly, there’s a fortified sense of confidence that, in fact, the charter school movement is doing something significant about that problem.

I was one of the many in the standing-room-only section of the CREDO breakout session where Folk gathered to more deeply understand one way charter schools are clearly making things better.

Then there’s the feeling of connection to a history that has been peopled by leaders infused with great moral purpose.

It’s why, of all the gatherings I attended at conference, my favorite was the Freedom Coalition celebrating Howard Fuller’s 60 years of service.

Whenever I am in Howard’s presence, I feel more deeply rooted in the bedrock of noble purpose. And I feel that way today even more than I ever have before.

Then there was the sense of momentum that permeated every room.

Whether it was the breakout sessions about headway being made in different parts of the country, like the New Jersey association’s presentation about the expansions breakthrough that happened this year …

… or the one I moderated with Terry Ryan, Angelina Sandoval and Scott Hindman about headway being made in western states.

We’re in that familiar territory of “covering lots of territory” that has infused our movement with excitement and a sense of possibility since the very beginning.

Nina started off the momentum story with her keynote address …

… citing the long list of policy wins that have happened across the country since last we gathered.

By week’s end, our host state was demonstrating anew just how much new momentum we are generating, with the State Board of Education approving four out of five new charter applications.

This is the same place where just a year ago, (and one election cycle ago) charter school opponents were celebrating the fact that the State Board had denied four out of five new charter petitions.

Meanwhile, across the country, we encounter the familiar territory of charter school opponents doing whatever they can to slow us down.

That includes age-old ideas …

… like lawsuits attempting to prevent a state from entering Charterland.

But it includes new ideas too …

… like resisting the release of data that would facilitate a deeper understanding of what happened in a city whose reform efforts …

… have been called among the most effective in U.S. history.

Think of that, CharterFolk.

A person who is supposedly responsible for the education of an entire city is attempting to block access to information that could lead to a deeper understanding of what has affected student learning in that city.

It’s hard to imagine that this is what we’ve come to. And yet, here we are, with a district leadership that is attempting to deny the public access to the information it needs to understand what is really going on.

It’s just further evidence that vast swaths of our public education establishment have become untethered from bedrock.

How New Phenomenal Results Really Matter and Really Don’t

While at conference, word began to spread that a big funding equity breakthrough is a distinct possibility in Ohio. It’s a proposal that hangs in the balance even as we go to press today.

Fordham has been on a nearly decade long quest to steward the movement toward becoming more high performing.

One big problem holding back the sector has been funding inequity, and here they stand so close to a breakthrough, and now the CREDO report comes out showing Ohio’s charter schools to be one of the few states where charter schools are generating fewer days of learning than traditional public schools.

It’s an assertion that some Ohioans understandably want to take issue with.

Surely, to some degree the criticism has merit. Generally, CREDO’s research shows that virtual schools perform worse than bricks and mortar schools. So, CREDO’s evaluation of different states becomes a reflection of the mix of virtual and bricks and mortar schools that states have, and if you’re a state like Ohio that has a larger percentage of virtual schools, you’re not going to look as strong as other states that have higher percentages of bricks and mortar schools. And the data is presented in such a way as to not make it easy to suss out the performance within states of bricks and mortar schools, which are likely performing as well in Ohio as they are in other parts of the nation. And when the data set isn’t designed to show whether a sector has strengthened within the study’s five-year time horizon, it can be frustrating to those who are close enough to know that things are getting better in ways that the report does not reflect.

All this I get.

But I also want to keep focus on the biggest picture.

Which is to highlight one of the most important questions relative to CREDO, one that Macke Raymond brought up in a recent WonkyFolk interview with Andy and me:

Are policy makers going to sustain a commitment to providing CREDO with the data it needs to keep doing this kind of analysis, which would ultimately provide conclusive evidence about whether Fordham’s improvement strategy for the charter school movement has proven successful, or are they not?

The scope of the attempt to erase data from the public education landscape is stunning. It is not, sadly, a Denver-only phenomenon, but is in fact a nationwide one. This spring, legislation was introduced in Congress designed to ensure that studies like CREDO are forever banned.

I find it revealing that the places with the strongest charter school performance …

… are the same places where support for erasing academic performance data is strongest.

Whether it’s Massachusetts where charter schools generate an additional 41 days of learning in reading per year.

Or New York, where charter schools generate an additional 75.

Or Illinois where it’s 40.

Perhaps most reassuring of all was what I didn’t hear at conference this year, which was any mourning the fact that the charter school movement’s demonstrated success isn’t somehow making our lives easier.

It used to be that many CharterFolk, myself certainly among them, believed that our success with students really mattered not only because it showed us fulfilling our mission, but because it would also help convince the rest of the world that it should make our path toward even greater impact an easier one.

We seem, finally, to be over that.

We recognize, of course, that phenomenal results with kids really matters, but in the advocacy realm it hardly matters at all.

People who oppose charter schools are going to continuing doing so no matter how well we do.

It’s why it’s so important that CharterFolk stay rooted in bedrock.

As Howard’s remarkable life attests, our ability to make progress over the decades has been a function of our willingness to struggle.

And no day without struggle awaits us if we remain intent on further progress.

Coming out of conference this year I sense us all being more firmly grounded in this awareness than we’ve ever been before.

That may be some of the most profound progress we’ve ever made as a movement.