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Delivering the Dream, circa 2013

» U.S. Dep't. of Education: The Charter Mindset Shift: From Conflict to Co-Conspirators (Sec. Arne Duncan)

There's a lot to chew on from this speech. For deeper reading, there's the 2013 CREDO study on charter schools that Sec. Duncan refers to. That's on my agenda for the week ahead. But this little snippet also touches on HISD's experience with the Apollo 20 program.

The ideological battles over charter schools certainly aren't going to end overnight. Advocates and activists will likely continue to care about whether a high-performing school is identified as a charter school or a traditional neighborhood school.

But children do not care—and neither do I. There is nothing inherently good or bad about a charter or any other school. The only thing that matters to me is if a school is a great school. The sign on the front door of that school doesn't matter to me. It doesn't matter to children. It doesn't matter to most parents.

And it doesn't even matter much to the teachers, and counselors, and support staff that work every day in charter schools.

They absolutely want their students to succeed. But they also want the children down the street at the neighborhood school to succeed. This is not some zero-sum game—the collective goal for all of us in education must be a great school for every child.

This shift toward collaboration is already underway in the charter sector. I see it in the partnerships that YES College Prep has formed with the Houston and Aldine school districts, and in KIPP's partnerships in Houston.

I see it in the new book from three Uncommon Schools leaders, Great Habits, Great Readers, which helps codify their schools' K-4 reading taxonomy in the hope that it can help all elementary schools address the Common Core.

And I see it in the groundbreaking collaboration of Roland Fryer with the Houston and Denver school districts.

Houston superintendent Terry Grier asked Professor Fryer if the key ingredients of high-performing, no-excuses charter schools could be successfully imported into 20 traditional schools in Houston.

To date, the Apollo 20 project has been a tremendous success in Houston—as has a similar effort in Denver that superintendent Tom Boasberg organized with Roland.

The preliminary learning gains are remarkable—and in some cases even compare favorably with student growth in KIPP schools and the Promise Academy in the Harlem's Children Zone. It's still early, but we need more sharing of what is working.

And finally, I see proof of this growing collaboration in the great leaders in the charter sector who are starting to go work for states and districts to tackle educational underperformance at scale and take successful charter strategies to scale.

While I definitely find myself nodding my head a lot when Duncan talks about collaboration between charters and public schools to scale up what works, I'm also just a little doubtful about how realistic it may be to reach full-scale collaboration that it would take to turn an Apollo 20 into an Apollo 100%. Or, as we'd end up calling it: HISD.

Sitting in a legislative office during session offers some grounds for that skepticism: there never seemed to be a shortage of public ed advocates who were un-receptive to all things charter and there is still a trace of distrust of public ed among some charter advocates. So while its great to see that enough trust exists at the leadership level to make collaboration possible, it certainly seems to remain an open question about the depth that that trust can be immersed in.

I'd love to be wrong, though.


The State of Education Reform

» Dissent: Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools (Joanne Barkan)

This week should be a bit rough on the blogging schedule, so I'm more in a link-recommending mode of operation. This one in particular, is a worthwhile read if you want the alternate view of education reform. Barkan definitely hits all the notes you'd expect if you were to pick away at the Gates Foundation and the other two biggies that dominate education philanthropy. There are some aspects of the criticism that I can appreciate, but at the end of the day, I'm left wondering how different the education philanthropy field is from others that rely on philanthropy (and haven't been overtaken by Gates).

Of particular interest, Barkan spells out how the reform movement has taken root in the Obama administration and Education Secretary Arne Duncan in particular. Now, I'm generally supportive of the reform agenda that Duncan has spelled out. And I realize full well that there are some areas that run up against areas where I may disagree - I like the idea of better longitudinal data tracking students and teachers together, but I don't know that I fully support that as the end-all of teacher job performance. Likewise, I don't have much against third-party and state-mandated testing, but I do disagree with it as a high-stakes component to graduation and school performance measurement.

At some point, a more holistic pattern of metrics should be utilized and I can't help but scratch my head over why we aren't starting off with larger, meta-metrics that highlight a school system's ability to send elementary students to middle school, middle schools to high schools, and high schools to college. As a sidenote, I should point out that as I start to finalize the datasets needed to wrap up my "How Houston Commutes" work, the data that's next involves education in Harris County. And the first glance of what may or may not evolve to a fuller pattern is that the ability to matriculate students and ultimately get them into college is a big differentiator among the various parts of the county. None of that is new or earth-shattering. But for some reason, it never seems like enough of a metric to use when we talk about education.

Lastly, I think one very worthwhile critique of the Gates Foundation is that they rarely, if ever, seem to acknowledge failure. Their initial push was for small schools. It's an approach that I've supported and still feel very favorable toward. But the results of the initial approach did not seem to show causality of small schools toward student accomplishment. Indeed, Barkan highlights some of the negative side effects of the immediate shift to smaller schools. Why those can't be acknowledged while emphasizing the point that a multitude of different reform attempts still need to be attempted is beyond me.

There's an obvious parallel to this in what we see in the charter school movement in Texas (and probably beyond). What we were sold on with charter schools is that they would operate more to the market demands. If they failed, they would close. If they succeeded, they would expand. The latter has happened in spurts - funding for infrastructure and availability of qualified teachers has been an issue with regard to the ability for schools not named KIPP or YES to expand. But when the results merit closing an obviously failed - and likely dangerous - charter school, we rarely see the market in action as much as we see the usual political demands being vocalized in efforts to keep the schools opened. As one who supports the growth of charter schools, even I can't say that's the way the system should operate.

Either way you choose to see the current Ed Reform movement, I think it's worth spending some quality time reading Barkan's write-up. Feel free to apply as many or as few grains of salt as you choose to.

TANGENTIALLY RELATED: I leave it to you to determine whether you agree that Barack Obama is killing the science fair.


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