One of the big reasons many high-flying charter operators are wary of taking over failed district schools is that they like to start their schools small, with just a grade or two, and then grow a grade at a time. District leaders, by contrast, want operators to take on all the grades in a school at once. That’s why the four “transformation schools” starting up in New Orleans are worth watching. In each of these previously struggling schools, a charter operator is running just the lower grades as a charter school, while the upper grades continue to run separately. Each year the charters will add a grade until the entire school is a charter school.
The idea raises lots of interesting issues such as, in the words of Louisiana state board of education member, “concerns about what is happening for the children in the upper grades.” Since the upper part of the school has no future, is there any hope of attracting a strong leader and effective teachers, and getting everyone to do the hard work needed for the students to succeed?
Maybe so, but only if we get creative. Here’s one idea from Public Impact analyst Jacob Rosch: what if we reconceive the role of the team running the upper grades? Unlike a traditional school staff or a charter operator, their job is not to build an institution that we expect to be around 20 years from now. Instead, they have a high-pressure short-term assignment to move the remaining kids as far and as fast as possible in the time they have left at the school. If they succeed, they move on to another phasing-out school and do the same. Intriguing idea – but just one of many possible configurations….To fix 5,000 failing schools, maybe we need to think outside of all the boxes, including the one that says every “school” is a stable institution that must be maintained over the long-haul.
–Guestbloggers Bryan and Emily Hassel