Tag Archives: Charter

The Charter Model Goes to Preschool

Richmond College Prep emphasizes a student-centered atmosphere.

Photo courtesy of Richmond College Prep

Over the past 20 years, both charter schools and prekindergarten have taken on increasingly prominent roles in the schooling of America’s children. Charter schools in 43 states now serve more than 2.6 million students — roughly six percent of all students attending public schools. And more than two-thirds of four-year-olds attend some form of public or privately funded preschool, with 1.4 million of them enrolled in state-funded pre-k programs.

As separate reforms, charter schools and pre-k produce strong, positive results for high-need children. But what happens if we marry high-performing charter schools with high-quality pre-k? Could the combination of these two reforms produce a result better than the sum of its parts?

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Candidates Think We Can’t Handle the Complex Truth About Education

The Learning Landscape

We need a nuanced education conversation based on data, not polarizing rhetoric. That’s why we built this new resource: www.thelearninglandscape.org/

Depending on whom you ask, charter schools represent either the best of things or the worst of things in the modern education system. This binary hero-villain dialogue plays out time and again among education advocates. It’s so pervasive that it even managed to infiltrate a presidential election that has otherwise been light on K-12 education talk.

Bernie Sanders declared his support for public charter schools, but not private ones in a CNN town hall event last March — belying a fundamental confusion about what charter schools actually are. Last year Hillary Clinton disparaged charter schools with a blanket statement suggesting that they reject serving students who are the “hardest to teach.” And while decrying the federal footprint in education, Donald Trump said he wants more charter schools because “they work, and they work very well.”

The primary flaw with all of these statements is that each one lacks nuance and ignores what is true, what we know, and what we don’t know about charter schools. After all, one of the hallmarks of political campaigns is the reduction of complex issues to simple binaries. Candidates harp on divisive issues and ask voters to pick a side — for or against, good or bad. While this strategy makes for rousing stump, it misleads and under-informs voters about critical policy issues.

Sanders’ confusion about whether charter schools are public or private schools is not uncommon, but it’s easy to clear up. Charter schools are public schools. They are publicly-funded, and they provide education free of charge. The confusion arises because they are often operated by private organizations (a mix of non-profit and for-profit). Some of these private organizations are very good at running schools that achieve amazing outcomes with kids. Some of them are not as good.

Similarly, by painting all charter schools with the same brush, either negatively or positively, both Clinton and Trump ignore the complex reality of what we know about charter schools. (Clinton, I should note, told the NEA convention earlier this month that we should seek to learn from the many good charter schools – that common sense statement drew boos from the crowd).

In practice, who is served best and most often by charter schools varies significantly from state to state and city to city. And the overall quality of charter schools varies, too. In some cities, like Washington DC, charter schools produce an average of 101 days of additional learning in math compared to the surrounding district schools. That’s a tremendous difference. But in Fort Worth, Texas, charter schools underperform district schools on average.

Attempting to define the whole notion of charter schools as either good or bad encourages us to continue to focus on the existential question of whether we should have charter schools at all. And that is simply the wrong question. Continue reading

How One NOLA Charter School Is Shifting the Dialogue on Discipline

USNewsMost of the news you’ve heard about charter schools and discipline has been bad. Very bad. But one school in New Orleans is moving in a different direction with a focus on restorative justice. I spoke with Beth Hawkins about it for this column in U.S. News and World Report, published on Friday.  

Restorative justice practices – approaches to conflict and misbehavior that focus on relationships rather than punishment – are taking hold across the country, but schools continue to struggle with implementation. The phrase “restorative justice” itself is losing meaning: it’s becoming easy to forget that the “restore” part refers to a conflict among people and the need to repair a social harm inflicted on a relationship or community. It’s interactive and dynamic and it depends on the investment of everyone involved.  

In a true restorative justice education space, what looks like a behavior problem has a culture solution. It is unequivocally not about following a new protocol, having students fill out different forms, or renaming the detention room. It requires changing the way that every person in the building relates to one another – students and adults. And doing it in schools means doing it in spaces that host some of our most complex social dynamics: racism, sexism, classism, historical segregation, gentrification, and more.

To be very explicit about it: school discipline is a racial justice issue, and restorative justice is civil rights work. It is deeply personal, often uncomfortable, and implicates both history and power. And if you are the one with history and power on your side, these are all things that are never easy. They shouldn’t be. If it were easy, it would mean you weren’t fully engaged in the authentic self-inquiry necessary to move the work forward.

“Uncomfortable” is an intersection, not a stop sign. You’re right to think that hot feeling under your ribs is your cue that something is wrong, but what you do with that next is where the work begins. We need to prepare our practitioners to be uncomfortable, to retrain them to see that as a sign that they’re doing something right, and then give them the skills to respond to their own discomfort with empathy, kindness, and humility.

Success Academy Isn’t Being THAT Unreasonable About Pre-K

For the last three months, the Success Academy charter network has refused to sign a mandatory pre-k contract with the NYC Department of Education. The contract – which every other city pre-k provider already signed – would allow NYC DOE to oversee Success Academy’s five pre-k classes.

Success Academy hasn’t said why they’re not signing the contract. Some critics suggest that the network is trying to avoid program oversight, or is picking a fight with the city, or is just being difficult.

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Another standoff between Success Academy and Mayor Bill de Blasio

But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. It’s more likely that Success Academy doesn’t want to be considered a “vendor” to the NYC DOE program – and with good reason. Continue reading

In Some States, Pre-K Providers That Have the Money, Keep the Money, and That’s a Problem

Charter schools should offer pre-k. Sometimes they can, and sometimes they can’t. One reason they can’t: Policies in ten states privilege existing pre-k providers. When these states allocate pre-k funding, they allocate funding first to providers that are currently serving children, leaving little — if any — funding for charter schools that aren’t existing providers, which many aren’t. So the providers that have the money, keep the money. Continue reading