The 2023 CharterFolk Year in Review – Remembering Linda Brown

Good day, CharterFolk.

It’s hard to believe I’m writing the fourth Year in Review post here at CharterFolk. Prior year reviews can be found here.

2020 | 2021 | 2022

But before we get to this year’s review, I would be remiss if I didn’t first do the following:

Remembering Linda Brown

We publish our review this year hours after having learned of the passing of CharterFolk titan Linda Brown.

Few people in our movement have had impact comparable to Linda Brown’s. Tributes are being written by educators from across the country who were inspired by Linda’s example and presence.

Here at CharterFolk, we were honored to do two “Oxygen Bar” interviews with Linda last year, one where she engaged Chris Manning at Buffalo Creek Academy, and Lagra Newman, at Purpose Preparatory Academy in Nashville …

… and another with Cristina Ureña and Keyleigh Colombero at Étoile Academy Charter School in Houston.

Both interviews are worth enjoying again in their entirety. They are quintessential Linda.

In the first one, CharterFolk listeners may remember that Linda took me to task for using the word “resiliency” to describe the characteristic that allowed her and the CharterFolk she inspired to continue on in the face of great adversity.

This is how the exchange went:

Jed:  What is it, Linda?  What is that special thing that you have that allows you to keep pushing forward on behalf kids?  The resiliency you can find, but also the way you rub off on others like you’ve rubbed off on me, to help people get through what would seem to be insurmountable challenges?

Linda:  I have no way to answer that.  It’s my stubbornness.  It’s a total belief system, and I don’t want anybody to mess with it.  And that makes me very stubborn.  And at the same time, it keeps me on point …. And I do, everyone who is listening, I do take issue with Jed using the word that I don’t use.  He says “resiliency.”  I say “persistence.”:  And along with persistence is just plain stubbornness.   I won’t give up …. Jed uses “resiliency.”  I think resiliency is too soft a word.  It’s just plain:  I’m gonna do it!

I returned to the theme of stubbornness at the conclusion of the second interview:

Jed: Linda, I am reminded of our last conversation, and your use of that word “stubborn.”  As I was reflecting on it afterwards, I realized that I hadn’t made a connection in that moment, which is that above my desk here, I hang a poem, and I don’t know if you can see the title of it, but it’s called Stubborn. 

It’s a story written by a professor of mine from college who tragically lost his three-year old son who was walking in the street and was hit by a car.  It’s the story of him driving home one day and encountering a toddler playing in the street.  And he stops his car and he picks the child up and he walks until he can find the child’s parents.  And then in the poem it’s him on the way home realizing that he’s going to be stubborn.  That he’s going to write about this too.  And he worries that he may be trading his life for words, but as the poem says: “It is work come clearly, saying go and write.  Do what has been given to do.  And if it given in grief, accept it there, where you may see whatever else is given.” 

Stubborn.  People who are stubborn do whatever is required in that moment, and they go on.

And what we see in you, Linda, and what we see in the people around you are folks who recognize that there are things that need to be done.  And we may not wish to have to accept it there, but if we do, and if we push through it, we see that there’s something on the other side.  It’s a side that is full of oxygen where we meet stunning people like you who continue to inspire us.  So to all of you, Kayleigh and Cristina, it’s my first time to have met you guys. It’s my role to try to help you however I can ….  And Linda, you’re a blessing for us, a treasure for us in that you keep helping us all understand more deeply what we’re doing, and finding even deeper commitment to go after it.  So thank you once again.

That was the last time I spoke with Linda Brown.

I can’t think of anything else I would have wanted my last words with her to have been.

So I come away from my last conversation with her, as I hope many of you will as well, being even more as she would have wanted us to be:

Stubborn.

Thank you, Linda.

On we go, inspired by your indomitable, unrepeatable, inestimable example.

The 2023 CharterFolk Year in Review

2023 was another very busy year here at CharterFolk. Over the past 12 months, we published 34 Contributor Columns, our largest number yet, we released 13 WonkyFolk Recordings, a new feature here at CharterFolk, and we distributed 56 articles from myself.

Our contributors were an incredibly diverse group from organizations across the country. If you count our ten co-columnists, our two CharterFolk X who were recognized by others, and the seven guests Andy and I had at WonkyFolk, we end up with an illustrious group of 53 contributors.

To all who contributed, I extend my deepest thanks.

Nearly every contributed post generated outreach and compliments, but the Contributor Column that resonated perhaps most deeply with CharterFolk this year was Don Shalvey’s …

… wherein he reminded us all to “do what we love.”

Indeed, we shall, Don.

The Most Read Articles

Of the articles that I wrote this year, most had open rates around 45%. Five had open rates above 50%.

Most Responded To Articles

The following columns were ones that elicited some of the greatest response from readers.

The Charter School Movement’s Accelerating Momentum Story

A theme I returned to often this year was the sense that across academic performance, enrollment growth and advocacy wins the charter school movement is picking up even greater momentum as we approach mid-decade.

The 101 Thru 401 Level Series About Free, Public and Open to All

In terms of content that has been most requested of me over the past few years, a recurring ask has been writing articles that would help our own base more deeply understand the what, the why and the how that lies at the heart of the charter school movement. It led me to write the 101 thru 401 series about “Free, Public and Open to All.”

The Need for Improved Advocacy Infrastructure

As has been the case since the earliest days of CharterFolk, the need to build lasting, coherent advocacy and political infrastructure and capacity was a recurring theme in 2023.

The Inspiring Things that Charter Schools Are Achieving Across the United States

A challenge we have here at CharterFolk is simply doing justice to the scope of remarkable things that charter school communities are achieving with students across the country. Below is a sample of articles I wrote this year attempting to keep up.

The Disconnect Grows

A backdrop against which our efforts occur is the broadening recognition that our traditional public schools are simply not offering the educational opportunity that parents seek, and we are amid a societal shift where, in one form or another, parents are going to find those better options for their kids.

  • Iron Cages Across the World – Taking on Something Even Bigger Than First We Recognized – In my first post of the year, I write about how an iron cage of bureaucracy and other constraint has descended upon public education, not only in the United States, but in countries around the world. And while nearly all countries have reform efforts underway, none are as far along as the charter school movement, putting additional responsibility on CharterFolk to not only succeed for our own country’s kids, but as an example for other countries as well.
  • Better Parent BATNA Now – The Real AI Transforming Education As We Know It – The Great Disconnect leading so many parents to abandon public education is being fueled both by discontent with education’s current offerings, and by parents having new options affording them the chance to access alternative instruction for their kids. Some of the most exciting developments in this space are happening on the other side of the world.
  • Signs of the Even More Greatly Disconnected Times – This article was a whip around the United States showing how in community after community traditional public schools are struggling and resisting change, while parents are expressing their desire for different options in myriad ways.
  • Navigating the Urban Education Doom Loop – The Renaissance of the American City Can Be Led By American City Schools – If there is any one place where traditional public schools are most struggling, it is in large urban centers where many school districts are now stuck in doom loops of their own creation. Fortunately, the charter school movement is generating improved outcomes with students and families in big cities and has the potential to be a huge solution for problems that are certain to further unfold in the years ahead.
  • The “Yes, Mom, It’s True” Category Is Growing to Define the Time We Live In Now – A sad reality is that, as traditional public schools struggle, they become desperate and do the most ridiculous things to try to prevent parents from accessing better opportunities for their students, including resisting charter schools in the most unbecoming ways. It’s simply a part of CharterFolk reality that we’re all coming to terms with as we rise to even higher levels of impact.

Historical Perspective

We live in a world where no one has time for history. It creates a kind of societal amnesia that allows our adversaries to blame charter schools for problems that we are actually responses to. While the accurate telling of history won’t alone be enough to prevail on advocacy matters, it is important that our world know the history so that we can have greater confidence that we are on the right side of it, and can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past as we continue to attempt to evolve public education into something greatly more public than it has been before.

It’s been yet another great year here at CharterFolk. Many thanks again to all our contributors and readers. I can’t wait to make even greater progress in 2024 and beyond!