The Schools the System Needs | The Education Abundance Agenda | The Time to Articulate Our Vision is Now

Weekend greetings, CharterFolk.

For several years now, I have been writing about the rough beast that is slouching toward our Normal Streets to be born.

By that I have meant that great, disruptive, inevitable change is now on its way to the central administrations that control our large urban school districts.

In many such places, status quo protectors …

… have temporarily regained the upper hand politically. And that has led some of us to de-emphasize the importance of major urbans where it is perceived that we can be beating our heads against walls to no effect.

Instead we have been dedicating additional effort to other parts of the country where conditions are more favorable and where we can make significant policy headway.

And clearly, the seismic breakthroughs we have been able to make in recent years in funding equity and new authorizing rules in places like Missouri …

… and Ohio …

… and Wisconsin …

… and Tennessee …

… attest to the wisdom of such thinking.

But to de-prioritize major urbans altogether?

That, I would say, is a mistake.

Because I actually remain as bullish as I have ever been regarding our prospects in major urbans, even in those places where status quo interests have regained their stranglehold. Or more accurately, especially in those places where the status quo has regained its stranglehold. Because in each of those places, it’s only a matter of time – and often not that much time – before the dysfunction …

… and hopelessness created by protectors of the status quo become apparent to all, ultimately leaving policy makers and the general public with no option but to turn back to charter schools …

… because our movement represents possibility and hope more so than any other presence in public education today.

It has happened all over the country, but perhaps the two places that I have thought most worthy of our attention have been Chicago and Los Angeles because they are two places where the local teacher unions are recognized to be national leaders articulating a vision for the rest of the country.

In this essay, we look at two case studies: the 2019 UTLA and CTU strikes. We hope that by detailing the methods we used to prepare and launch our largely successful contract campaigns, we can help revive a labor movement that has remained largely dormant, even in the midst of historic teacher strikes. Now is the time to build on the grassroots organizing of teachers unions and grow a more militant labor movement across the country. 

They are also places where status quo interests have regained …

… their strangleholds …

… making them both contexts that the unions have broken and now clearly own.

Finally, they are the places where the status quo’s agenda is being made most plain.

Look at that picture from the local NPR story, CharterFolk.

Zero in.

The banner says it all all.

What’s the CTU agenda?

The schools they need.

The schools CTU needs.

The schools Randi Weingarten, CTU President Stacy Davis Gates, and other union leaders need.

Not the schools their kids need. Those they access through the paying of private tuition that their large salaries allow them to afford …

… but which other parents can’t given CTU’s successful effort to kill off the Illinois tuition assistance program.

No, sadly, the CTU agenda has nothing to do with what students need. Or what families need. Or what even the community needs.

It focuses instead on what the system needs to keep itself afloat.

Ultimately, yes, sadly, again, CharterFolk …

… it’s all about the money.

First getting control of all of it. And then being able to direct it wherever they want to feed their own priorities.

In terms of getting control of it, the first piece, of course, is doing all they can to take kids back from charter schools …

… and undermining school choice.

In terms of freeing themselves up to direct money wherever they want, the big enemy becomes …

… student-based funding.

For quite some time, I have been encouraging our world to get ready for the moment when the unions, rather than talking about their plans in general, which they have been doing now for years, would actually begin to operationalize their plans. Because I knew that would be the moment when the unions’ vision would become understood to be incoherence, dysfunction and self-protection.

CharterFolk, in Chicago this week, that moment has arrived.

And true to prediction, the specifics are sparking outrage.

Over 150 schools are seeing significant cuts.

Many are refusing to accept them.

The new funding rules are so arbitrary and inscrutable no one can make sense of them, and the district refuses to be transparent about what it is doing. Chalkbeat has twice made public records requests of CPS regarding its budgeting process only to be rebuffed.

But word is getting out anyway about the nonsense embedded in the budget decisions.

The Tribune’s editorial this week …

… drew attention to the case of Douglass High School:

That high school currently serves a total of 35 — no, that’s not a typo — students. Under the new budget, Douglass is adding nine positions next year to bring its staff to 32 from 23, according to Chalkbeat. If the student population doesn’t increase next year, there will be nearly as many workers as students in that school.

It tees up the main point the Tribune wants to make, which is the fact that CTU’s broader vision is embedded in these budget decisions.

That brings us to the role of Johnson, the former Chicago Teachers Union lobbyist who now runs the city. This budget begins the process of carrying out Johnson’s (and CTU’s) vision for Chicago public education in which propping up unpopular neighborhood schools takes precedence over supporting popular alternatives such as magnet and charter schools ….

Don’t believe for a second that many Chicago parents of babies and toddlers aren’t watching what’s happening now with a great deal of trepidation. In a few years, they will have to decide whether to give Chicago Public Schools a try or just throw up their hands and move out of the city. While CTU plots with Johnson to preserve as many teaching jobs as possible by propping up half-empty (or worse) schools, their mutual maneuvers could simply convince parents of tomorrow’s would-be CPS students to pull up stakes. Then the continued declines in CPS enrollment eventually will give Johnson (or whoever sits on the fifth floor after him) no choice but to close schools and cut jobs.

Johnson talks a lot about redressing past inequities that he asserts are the reason for the failure of so many neighborhood schools. We’re more concerned about the future than the past. And we’re not confident this mayor understands what he’s risking by penalizing schools that parents actually want their kids to attend. At some point, it will be too late.

This is the vision that CTU and other status quo protectors across the country have for public education.

It’a a vision that first and foremost prioritizes the needs of the status quo itself.

In the process, it brings about nothing but scarcity.

Scarcity of educational excellence.

Of resources.

Of fairness.

And of opportunity generally.

In fact, in its doubling-down to protect its own interests, CTU actually accelerates the spread of scarcity.

The more schools succeed, the more they are penalized until their success is extinguished altogether.

For years now, I have been encouraging our world to issue our critique of what we have known is coming.

Because the way our schools are set up, with money flowing to schools on a per pupil basis, we offer an antidote to the scarcity agenda.

Resources flow to that which succeeds.

To schools that serve all students.

To schools that parents want.

Now is the time to turn our critique into an agenda.

We should think of it as an “abundance agenda.”

An abundance of educational excellence agenda.

Whatever is excellent, whatever is demanded by parents, let it grow. Actively encourage it to grow. In some instances, outright require it to grow.

Give it more resources so even more kids can be served, with preference going to those succeeding schools serving students who need great public education most, so that fairness becomes more abundant at the same time that excellence does.

Is the educational abundance agenda one that will benefit many charter schools?

You bet!

But more important than that.

It’s one that will benefit all public schools that provide greater excellence and fairness.

Because our common enemy these days in public education should be scarcity.

Scarcity of excellence and fairness.

Yes, sometimes it can feel like we are beating our heads against walls to no effect in big urban school districts.

But the truth is that those walls are crumbling.

And will likely come down in huge chunks and pieces.

The rough beast’s hour has come around at last.

It’s why the last thing we should be doing right now is turning our attention away from what is happening in major urbans.

As big an opportunity awaits us there as any place in the country.

We just have to bring forward that which is within our potential now to bring:

The Education Abundance Agenda.