Good day, CharterFolk.
Long time readers will know that for a couple years now I have been writing about what I call “The Great Disconnect in Public Education.” I made it the central framing theme for my first post of 2021.
The underlying thesis is that, in terms of generating value against the Equity and Excellence axes, there has always been a disconnect between what public education is offering and the bare minimum that parents and the public will accept.
In recent decades, the level of overlap between what public education offers and the minimum that parents and the public will accept has been decreasing.
And then Covid and the death of George Floyd happened, which accelerated the divergence, leaving us with very little overlap at all any more.
It creates an inherently unstable situation, one others have used slightly different terminology …
… to describe.
However you frame it, unprecedented numbers have left public education altogether in recent years.
Parallel to these dynamics, I have also been writing about the National Crack Up in education policy that is happening between red states and blue states.
By that I mean that the overlap in ed policy between red states and blue states is decreasing over time.
If I updated the graphic to reflect the changes that have happened in red states in the last two years …
… a more accurate rendering would look like this.
Blue states staying right where they are, with red states moving in an ever-more-different direction, with virtually no overlap whatsoever remaining between the two.
I have argued that, whether you agree with it or not, Republicans at least have a theory about how greater equity and excellence can be achieved. Their belief is that through greater parental choice, we can move both upward and to the right …
…though their political correctness police no longer allows them to use the word “equity” …
… meaning that in order to keep communicating the same basic concepts (while maintaining a modicum of alliteration), we have to rename the axes.
In blue state contexts, the thesis is that policy makers beholden to teacher unions and other protectors of the status quo are working to ensure that nothing changes. It’s a circumstance that equates to lighting a fuse under public education.
Their strategy really boils down to just continuing to extend the fuse as long as possible so that by the time the whole things blows …
… they’ll be comfortably out of office.
This fall, Tyton Partners have released a series of surveys and publications providing validation that enrollment losses are likely to continue post-pandemic.
It’s led Michael Horn at the Christensen Institute to be particularly blunt:
Public education either figures out how to provide the new forms of schooling that parents want, or even more dire consequences await.
I am not nearly as optimistic as Michael that school districts can just change to begin offering what parents want. Indeed, in my view, the entities least able to evolve right now …
… are school districts, especially large urban ones.
It leads to an unavoidable question, one that not all of us are eager or even willing to confront:
In a world where stopping the charter school movement has become the number one priority of protectors of the Establishment, where are the new kinds of programs that Michael is talking about supposed to come from?
It’s in that context that I found Greg and Paul’s observations about the value that Catholic schools are offering to families in urban settings particularly illuminating.
The three main differences they identified between Catholic schools and traditional public schools are that Catholic schools have:
- Far less money.
- Far simpler governance.
- And far less focus on differences between people.
All of it rings true.
But do we really think that parents are consciously running toward schools that have fewer resources, different governance features, and a message downplaying divisiveness?
Or is it more likely that, in articulating these three differences, what Paul and Greg have done is identify what parents are desperately running away from.
Schools that squander resources.
Schools whose boards are a mess.
Schools that are fixated on culture wars and identity politics.
To me, it’s clear what parents are running from.
What’s much less evident is what parents are running to.
Because the sobering truth is that Establishment protectors, having made the stopping of charter schools their number one priority, are choking off the creation of anything new in public education.
The kinds of programs and schools that parents and students would be eager to run to.
Consider how High Tech High, a school recognized to be among the most innovative in the country …
… got started in the late 1990s.
The San Diego Chamber of Commerce’s Roundtable on Education …
… came together over a several-year period to recommend the creation of a new charter school that would do very innovative things.
Now, CharterFolk, really.
Do any of us think that a roundtable of business leaders in San Diego or in any part of the country would come together in the current environment to support anything that the local public school monopoly would consider a threat?
Look what the teacher union did to business leaders who dared support the creation of a new charter school in New Bedford this year …
… business leaders who had previously been anointed community heroes when they worked to support local monopoly programs.
The proposed new school was summarily killed off …
… and the business leaders were made to promise to never make such a mistake again.
This is what is happening all over the country.
Just this week I spoke with another charter school advocacy leader who told me about a Fortune 500 CEO who had left their organization’s board due to pressure from the local teacher union.
Look at San Diego’s Business Roundtable’s agenda today …
Not a word about charter schools, or any other bold reform along the lines that Michael Horn is calling for.
Everything is about supporting local school districts to do even more of what they’re already doing.
It leaves the business community and vast swaths of civically-minded individuals in communities across the country essentially AWOL on education reform efforts.
It didn’t used to be this way, CharterFolk.
It used to be that charter schools were among the things that teacher unions and other protectors of the Establishment most reviled.
But now we are what they revile most.
Unlike earlier in our history when Establishment protectors didn’t consider us such a threat and would essentially let something like High Tech High get started, today they scour every nook and cranny of the landscape for any sign that a business leader or any other community member might be willing to support the establishment of something new and truly innovative.
That is enough to kill most things off.
And the only way out of this situation is not pretending that it’s somehow going to magically go away.
We have to make it go away.
And we do that by articulating our critique.
And by articulating a compelling North Start toward which all civically-minded individuals can proudly and publicly aspire.
One that doesn’t blame or scapegoat those who are working within the traditional system as the root of the problem.
But one that highlights that the system itself is barely even public and holds absolutely all people back.
Certainly all kids.
But also all adults, the vast majority of whom want to offer something better to their students and have the ability to do so if their potential could be unleashed.
Properly articulated and broadly supported, a compelling new North Star will catalyze myriad new policy proposals and program innovations.
Enough to put the Establishment back where it belongs politically.
On its haunches.
Such that the fundamental redesign of our public education system and the release of innovation we so desperately need can proceed.
No one is going to articulate that North Star, CharterFolk.
Except for us.
Before the spark consumes its fuse …
… don’t you think it’s time?