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.
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 …
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:
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%.
- The Shark that Circles Now in the Public Education Deep – Exploring how much of the unfairness in public education arises not from conscious thought but actions emanating from unthinking forces that have simply not evolved over time.
- Why No One Calls Out the Dorsal Fins in Waters Where Kids Swim Everyday – An article lamenting that fear of the Establishment leads many parties to refrain from calling out the inequities that the Establishment is responsible for, ultimately leading to the broader public not even being able to see those inequities. They are examples of unfairness that ultimately the charter school world will be required to call out.
- From 7-0 in Support to 0-7 Opposed. The 20’s Require Coherence in Response to Dysfunction in Public Education – In one of my earliest posts of the year, I wrote about how the new Establishment-aligned school board in Denver was proposing incoherent policies that our world will need to respond to with crisp coherence expressed in tangible policy proposals consistent with our values.
- When DPS Becomes Understood to be “Dysfunctional Public Schools” – Just a few months after my first article about Denver, the level of dysfunction that quickly emerged across Denver Public Schools provided not just a proof point that Establishment control of school districts leads to intolerable learning situations for kids, but also, paradoxically, revealed the policy agenda that Establishment protectors aim to bring to every city in America.
- Two Under-Appreciated Essentials That Can Help Overcome Any Challenge – Effective advocacy on different policy challenges in DC and Connecticut demonstrates how a combination of moxie and togetherness can often generate significant wins.
Most Responded To Articles
The following columns were ones that elicited some of the greatest response from readers.
- 8 Words Defining What a Great Public School Really Is – I received a lot of response to this article recounting what my Dad taught me about great public education during a conversation we had in the family kitchen when I was around ten years old. It was republished at Fordham.
- A Day Short of Independence Day – The Challenge of Acting Affirmatively in the Era After Affirmative Action – This was a tough article to write so soon after the Supreme Court decision, but I thought it important not to fall into the trap of blaming all of public education inequity problems on public employee unions. Yes, they have done their share of damage, but the truth is that there are other very powerful forces that want public education to stay the way it is: affluent parents who like the educational redlines that afford their own kids better educational opportunity than is offered to others.
- The School Choice Dilemma: Yellow Matters More to Us Now Than Red and Blue – We are moving beyond the point when any and all school choice proposals are ones that we should be supportive of. Understanding what shades of “school choice yellow” align with our values and which don’t will become increasingly important in the years ahead.
- Gratitude for Nina Rees, Our Lead CharterFolk Who Overcame Immense Challenge to Elevate Us All – Written in the days after Nina announced her departure after having served for 11 years as the CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
- A Million Steps Later, the Journey Continues – A highly personal post about my time on the Camino that many people reached out to me about.
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.
- Back in the Saddle – Encouraging CREDO Report – Three Articles Show a Distracted Establishment – The Definition of Great Advocacy – An Opportunity Emerges To Accelerate Progress – Of course, one of the most important momentum stories of the year, if not of the decade, is the new CREDO study which showed that the charter school movement’s academic performance has strengthened significantly in recent years such that our schools in the aggregate outperform nearby traditional public schools.
- A First Anniversary, and the 10 Biggest Wins in CharterLand in the Past Year – This article was also republished at Fordham. It was the one where I began to articulate the momentum story that I eventually told in an article I published at Education Next in the fall.
- Charter Schools Now Across the Country; More Good News Than We Know What to Do With; The Multi-Decade Lens; the Need For Generations of CharterFolk – Charter Schools Now is the 501c4 tandem to the Texas Charter School Association’s 501c3 organization. Together those organizations are generating wins in Texas that are becoming an example that many other states are learning from to build charter school momentum in their areas too.
- Supreme Court Sanity; Conference Bedrock; How New Phenomenal Results Really Matter and Really Don’t – This year’s annual charter school conference underscored how our world both understands that our academic performance is improving and understands that it doesn’t translate into our advocacy challenge becoming any less difficult, which is itself another indicator that our movement is growing stronger and embracing the challenges associated with making ever-greater impact.
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.”
- Accentuating CharterNess; 101, 201 and 301 Levels; Being Clear About the That, the What and the Why; How Free, Public and Open to All Really Boils Down to Public, Public, and Even More Public – The series starts with a recognition that we are turning a corner such that more schools are emphasizing our charterness. We are also recognizing that we can talk about our collective what and why in alignment with the “Free, Public, and Open to All” messaging we use to educate the public about charter schools.
- FREE to Achieve Our Why’s; PUBLIC Because We’re Chartered; OPEN TO ALL Makes Us Even More Public – In the second article in the series, I explore how a deeper discussion within our own base about the implications of “Free, Public and Open to All” affords us the chance to assert that our movement is motivated by a long term North Star that all in our world can be energized to be aspiring toward.
- The 401-Level – When Free, Public and Open to All Becomes Our Agenda – The final ingredient for the charter school movement’s “Free, Public and Open to All” campaign is our “how.” It’s when our campaign becomes our policy agenda that when combined with growing advocacy capacity gives our movement the heft needed to shift all of public education toward greater public-ness for all.
- Our Focus Now Should Not Be On the Problem of Money Being Siphoned Away From Schools, But From Kids! – While I focused on the implications of “free, public and open to all” in the 101-401 series, the truth is that I write about these themes all the time, including in this post when I talk about the need for public education to have financial practices ensuring that dollars get to the kids for whom they are intended.
- 10 Words Defining What Makes a Truly Accountable Public School – Likewise, in this post from early in the year, I talked about how the fact that charter schools are accountable to third parties, and school districts are not, distinguishes our schools and demonstrates that our schools are more public than our sadly, barely public traditional system.
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.
- Putting a CAPE on the Superhero – The Evolution of the Free Rider Challenge in the Charter School Movement – In my last post of the year, I wrote that it was time that the charter school movement realize that it has achieved the heft necessary to wrap a CAPE of Coherence and Permanence around the shoulders of the charter school movement. It has the potential to lift us to superhero status, and the only real cryptonite that we face is the possibility that the charter school movement might one day develop a free rider problem.
- Keeping On. You’ll Look Sweet Upon the Seat … – After publication of the article at Education Next, I emphasized how much of the charter school advocacy strengthening that has occurred in recent years has happened in places where state associations are evolving into 501c3/501c4 tandem structures.
- Bigger Boats and 25X25X25 Meets the Great National Crack Up – Riffing on other shark-themed posts I wrote in the spring, I stressed that the scale of advocacy challenge that is emerging as the red and blue divide widens requires that the charter school movement have advocacy organizations with significantly larger heft.
- The Era Beyond the Beginning, the National Crack Up Straddle, the Barbell that Awaits – This piece posits that, though we have always been a movement that receives bi-partisan support, our future work will require that we build even greater capacity to engage and elicit support across the political spectrum.
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.
- Remembering Rick Piercy; A Backstage Pass to Doing No Damage; A “Bombshell” Bombs – An old friend passes away, but his last message to me reminds me to remain forever unapologetically pro-charter.
- Enchanting Charter School Series – Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America, A Beacon Showing the Promise of Agency and Self-Determination – A return visit to a school in Los Angeles shows how a school serving tribal youth was being celebrated by the very same forces that have historically tried to close the school down.
- The Enchanting Charter Schools Series, Volume 853: Remembering the Maine Idea at Baxter Academy of Technology and Science – A trip to Maine afforded me a chance to see a school whose students are responding to the project-based-learning program offered by the school.
- Enchanted in New Mexico | Breaking It and Owning It In Chicago and Los Angeles | A Movement With Shoulders Far Bigger Than We’ve Ever Even Dreamed – A trip to Albuquerque gave me the chance to visit two very different schools, pursuing very different pedagogical approaches in order to create new options that many more parents would like their kids to attend.
- The Heart at the Very Heart of the Movement – A follow up to Don Shalvey’s “Do What You Love” columns wherein I elaborate on the incredible contributions that Don has made to our movement over the decades.
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.
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.
- The More History is Brought to Light, the More We See It’s On Our Side – An article from Los Angeles shows how a lack of historical understanding allowed charter school opponents to launch an attack that was completely unfair to our schools, and shows how we must understand our own history and the district’s history crisply if we are going to prevent charter schools from being ridiculously scapegoated for the district’s problems which are entirely of its own making.
- Conviction Across the Generations – Our Greatest Reason for Hope – The history of successful education reform and charter progress in New Mexico is replete with advocates across decades acting courageously in accordance with their deeply held beliefs.
- “Houston, We Have an Enormous Opportunity.” What Happens When Our North Star and Our Lone Star Become Understood Again to Be One and the Same – In Houston, the state is involved in a takeover of the district. Many great charter schools stand ready to do more to serve students well, but understanding how vast swaths of Houston suffer from unpublic-ness is requisite to devising solutions for the future.
- What We Do When There is No Education There There – The Oakland school district is one of the most broken in the country, and many of its problems can be traced back to policy changes that occurred in the 70’s in California and then spread across the country. All these problems pre-date charter schools, and yet, charter schools are portrayed as the originators of the district’s problems. Our only way through this mess is knowing and exposing what truly happened so that charter school students, and indeed all current public school students in Oakland can be treated with far more respect than they are being treated with today.
- The Rube Goldberg that Los Angeles Has Tragically Become (CharterFolk, This Too Shall Pass) – Similar dynamics played out in Los Angeles where the recent teacher strike revealed brokenness within the system that the district’s board chair was a primary architect of nearly 40 years ago.
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!