Bipolar on DC Charter Deal

Over at The Charter Blog, Smith & Smarick are swinging high and low over a recently- announced collaboration between the DC Public Schools and KIPP. WaPost here. I’m not sure this is generational (or a matter of caffe latte-deprivation), as Nelson suggests, as much as it’s where you place charters and choice in the larger universe of education reform, or whether you believe they should be the universe. Another way of thinking about it: what, if anything, could or should charters contribute to improving urban public school systems? A good bet would be that lots of superintendents like D.C.’s Janey are thinking, if not talking, along these lines:

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey called the new relationship “a national breakthrough” of “joining two schools at the hip,” saying he believes it is the first partnership of its kind in the country. Janey had opened talks last year with KIPP about taking over an underachieving public school — a proposal KIPP declined — then began considering other collaborations. “I’m excited for a number of reasons,” he said, “including the fact that we had two school communities engaging with each other . . . to elevate the opportunity for high achievement.”

At the same time, I know folks in the charter community who believe urban school systems, as we know (and love or hate) them, should essentially be dismantled and replaced with a 100%-choice system, including multiple charter authorizers and networks, lots of indy charters, and for some, private school scholarship/voucher programs. Sort of like a man-made New Orleans situation (minus the catastrophic weather event, human suffering and displacement). For others, including many educator-refugees from disfunctional city school systems, charters represent an opportunity to do their best work while remaining in the public sector. Many of these folks would like nothing more than for those systems to get on a real improvement and reform trajectory, at which point they might get back on board. This is not abstract stuff. On the ground, successful charters like KIPP, Amistad & others are in great demand, and not only by parents and students. Their talented, dynamic founders and leaders increasingly will find themselves getting asked to make house calls to cure neighboring traditional publics of their various ailments. And they will have to decide a) whether traditional publics’ failure to thrive is the result of an incurable condition, and, if not, b) whether they have both the capacity and desire to practice this type of medicine. Guestblogger Dianne Piche

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