Interesting tidbits

This article about the remarkable success of New Orleans charters helps support the case I made in The Urban School System of the Future: Smart chartering is the right systemic approach for drastically improving student achievement over time. This article is particularly exciting because it uses ACT scores as the measure of achievement (a rigorous indicator of readiness for post-secondary work) and because high school improvement continues to be one of the most stubborn challenges in urban K–12 reform.

I’m no reflexive advocate for ed tech generally or blended learning specifically, but the NJEA, New Jersey’s largest teacher union, is doing itself a disservice by suing to stop charters from making use of online learning. The early results elsewhere suggest that blended learning has promise, and the state is moving into this field slowly, which is prudent. Moreover, given that the charter at the heart of this controversy is in low-performing Newark, where new approaches are desperately needed, the NJEA (which, to its credit, supported the state’s tenure reform legislation) is handing its opponents talking-point fodder.

Sunday’s major article on D.C. charter expulsions is worth the read. It raises too many important issues for me to do them all justice in a quick blurb, but, in no particular order, here’s my list of takeaways and responses:

  • This is a story worth investigating and writing; the reporter deserves credit.
  • It is a shame that a key point was pushed to near the end: Districts have a number of ways to involuntarily transfer students, which is a close cousin to expulsion. Were those numbers included, this article would’ve taken on an entirely different complexion.
  • This is a complicated issue—one that’s obscured by the sensational headline and a good deal of the immediate reaction.
  • It probably makes sense for there to be some D.C.-wide guidance on public school expulsions. It probably ought to come from the SEA and be developed in partnership with the district and charter authorizer.
  • We should remember that many charters set out to educate the most at-risk kids, including those who’ve dropped out and those who’ve been in the criminal justice system.
  • Charters ought to retain as much autonomy as possible, but when it comes to matters like these, it’s important that they use it judiciously. I suspect most do.
  • Though I may be the urban district’s biggest antagonist, I concede one of its go-to defenses: As our laws are currently written, it serves as the “educator of last resort”—meaning that children of parents who don’t exercise school choice and kids who are expelled from other schools remain the district’s responsibility. While I still believe firmly that we must bring the urban district to an end, the system that replaces it must deal with this matter carefully.
  • While some policy types will be aghast at reading this article, I bet many parents of D.C. charter students had an entirely different reaction—something along the lines of, “Thank goodness my child can finally go to a public school that doesn’t allow disruptive or dangerous kids to ruin the educational environment of other boys and girls.” Yes, we have to wrestle seriously with the implications of allowing charters to expel as they see fit, but let’s not forget this perspective.

The Achievement School District is teaming up with the Alain Locke Initiative to recruit and place high-performing principals in schools serving Tennessee’s most disadvantaged kids. The Initiative’s Ryan Fellowship already works with NYC and Chicago; this is a win for the kids of TN, Chris Barbic’s ASD, and Locke, which is newly under the leadership of Rob Birdsell. Interested candidates can find more info here.

Rep. Todd Rokita (R) has been named chair of the US House subcommittee in charge of K–12 education. Given his background as Indiana’s state chief, Rokita brings a great deal of experience to Congress. I’m eager to see how he approaches ESEA reauthorization and waivers, competitive-grant programs (like TIF, i3, the Charter Schools Program, and the Race to the Top suite), Title I funding, SIG, federal research, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Act, and more. I’m still searching for a satisfying answer to the straightforward but complicated question, “What is the proper role for the federal government in K–12 education?” I’d love to know what Mr. Rokita believes.

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