Yesterday I wrote about my optimism for the charter-district love-fest going on in the Gates charter compact work and in CRPE’s Portfolio School Districts Project. There’s no doubt, however, that the changes these cities are pursuing also carry tremendous risk. On the charter side, for example, the compacts can create infighting between charter schools that sign on and those that do not. Charter leaders are notoriously independent and mini civil wars could erupt in compact cities between CMO-run charters and “mom and pop” charters or between minority and non-minority run charters. I also wonder whether some charters will accept deals under the compact, like allowing the district to assign students to the school or reduced autonomy, and later find that those deals compromise their focus and effectiveness.
On the district side, the risks are even higher. The compacts require visionary superintendents who are willing to annoy teachers unions by partnering with non-unionized charters, who are willing to divide up pots of money once reserved only for district-run schools, and who are willing to force their own schools to share buildings, playgrounds, and lunchroom space with schools once considered the enemy. These district leaders and central office staffs have to work constantly to make a strong case to their boards, especially, about why all this trouble is worth it. Given all these risks one has to wonder why more than two-dozen major urban districts are taking this on. I’ll be back to that topic later this week.