Where We Stand Thirty Years In

Good morning, CharterFolk.

A few pieces of housekeeping before getting to a post to mark the occasion.

First, today is the last day of voting for the CharterFolk of the Year Award so get your ballot in before midnight.

Second, another thank you to Robert Enlow for yesterday’s very perceptive column. The piece brings up all sorts of themes I look forward to returning to in upcoming posts.

Third, I surface a last request for participation in the Murmuration survey about priorities for the movement going forward. The deadline is tonight. It’s actually a great opportunity to get our views represented. I was delighted to see many of you respond to the first call. If any of you might be able to spare 10 minutes today, it would be great to see more of your views reflected in the survey.

Finally, I join California’s charter school community in celebrating yesterday’s news that this year’s terrible attack bill has been defeated.

This comes on the cusp of late-breaking good news we have seen in legislatures in Texas, Tennessee, Nevada, Illinois and elsewhere. I will update you all on these matters next week.

Meanwhile, let’s get on to today’s post.

Where We Stand Thirty Years In

A score and a half years ago today, our movement got started with the stroke of a pen.

Since Governor Carlson signed Minnesota’s charter school law into existence, charter schools have grown to become one of the most important reforms of public education ever to have happened in our country.  44 states and the District of Columbia now have charter school laws, and well more than 3 million students are being served. 

A huge variety of schools have been created serving a broad range of students, with the lion’s share of effort going to educate students from historically underserved communities.  Many charter schools are doing far better with students than the schools that came before.

Despite that progress, or perhaps because of it, we have seen a blowback against charter schools that tests whether our reform, or indeed any real reform of our public education system, may succeed. 

The blowback is not universal.  In some places, charter schools have more momentum today than ever.

But in other places the attack against charter schools is more sustained and severe than any other attack that has ever been launched against an effort to reform our nation’s public schools.

Now we are emerging from a great pandemic that has made plain that our public education system is not helping our society overcome its historical inequities but is in fact serving as one of the primary perpetuators of those inequities.

School district after school district across the land has proven unable to provide the instruction that many families sought …

… and that many policy makers believed was reasonable to assume our public schools could provide.

Rampant dysfunction within school districts led to many of their leaders departing.

They are being replaced by new leaders who are even more supportive of the forces that prevented public schools from succeeding during the pandemic.

Those who have remained on the job are being subjected to even greater micromanagement from their boards.

And now we are seeing legislatures approve changes in law likely to make our traditional public schools even less able to cope with the challenges of the future.

Against this backdrop, millions of students and families have abandoned traditional public schools.

Many are not likely to ever come back.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of additional students have enrolled in charter schools.

In red states, legislatures are passing new laws meant to speed the growth of charter schools and other school choice programs.

In blue states, forces protective of district schools are trying to impose even greater restrictions on charter school growth.

As the charter school movement begins its fourth decade, nearly all connected to it realize that a new narrative is needed, one showing how the growth of charter schools helps all of public education to improve. Thus far, the movement has been unable to generate a new vision for impact that would be the foundation upon which a new narrative can be driven. Many things hold the charter school movement back from articulating that vision, but perhaps chief among them is a fear that articulating one would bring an even greater level of blowback against our schools.

Aside of course from the profoundly positive difference that has been made in millions of young people’s lives, perhaps the most important accomplishment that has been achieved by the charter school movement in its first three decades has been the attraction of a whole new generation of people – educators, parents, students, community members, and many others – who bring an unparalleled conviction to the idea that our public education system can and must be reformed so that our nation’s commitment to it will long endure. In some quarters, those people are known as “CharterFolk.”

Perhaps more than any other strength, CharterFolk are understood to be people who are able to see both the successes of the charter school movement as well as its shortcomings, and to have the courage to run at weaknesses with full abandon. That has resulted in a spirit of self-correction and perpetual improvement that has now become a hallmark of the movement, one providing the greatest reason for confidence that charter schools have the resiliency they will need to overcome any challenge.

Summoning the courage they have used to surmount every obstacle that has arisen over their first 30 years, CharterFolk now turn their attention to the movement’s most pressing need – bringing forth a new vision articulating how over the next 30 years charter schools will lead our entire country toward a North Star that all will be eager to pursue – a public education system that finally becomes the greatly more public one our society desperately needs it to be.