Reactionary Charter Politics, Janus, Gordon Ambach, John King, More…

New from Bellwether, here’s a deep dive primer on the Janus case – the Supreme Court will hand down a ruling later this month. This deck will get you ready. History, context, implications.

This Conor Williams essay in The Times has people chattering. Williams’ basic argument is that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos likes charters, people don’t like Betsy DeVos, President Trump likes charters and a lot of people don’t like President Trump, so that’s all bad for charters. It’s an argument more than a few folks are making and on its face it’s right. But it’s worth unpacking a little.

Ms. DeVos, who has been widely lampooned for her lack of expertise, can’t stop talking about how much she loves charters. She is so unpopular that she has set off a “political backlash” against these schools, two charter supporters wrote in USA Today. One survey of views on charter schools found that Democrats’ support dropped when they heard that President Trump supported them. In other words, the president and his education secretary are so disliked by liberals that some will automatically reject whatever they endorse.

There is some data on this now from more than one survey, and there seems to be a “Trump effect” of some sort going on. So, its magnitude might not as great as some assume, but it’s there. Let’s revisit the “automatically reject” point in a moment.

This puts Hiawatha [the charter Williams profiles]  in an awkward position. How should a charter network run by progressives committed to combating racism navigate the Trump administration’s vocal support of charters? How should it respond to criticism from progressives who accuse it of undermining public education? Charter schools are politically homeless.

I dunno. Maybe stick to doing good work for kids and don’t orient yourself solely in opposition to, or relation to, national politics? North star and all that.

During the Obama administration, tensions over charter schools among progressives were manageable. National charter school enrollment grew with support from President Barack Obama and his secretaries of education, Arne Duncan and John King. But the administration also provided more resources and flexibility for the education system as a whole.

Here’s a funny thing – until the 2009 stimulus the largest increase in funds for K-12 education was courtesy of a deal between President George W. Bush and Congress – and while it was pretty consistently misreported, that was real funds not aspirational authorization levels. Yet charters were caught in the same crossfire in those years and some of the same conversations and concern about a Bush effect. And whatever your politics, only a fool would compare President George W. Bush to President Trump.

It’s entirely possible that the fight over teacher evaluation and the fight about the general political relevance of the unions – remember Steven Brill declared them dead in 2009 and then they came roaring back in 2012 – had more to do with charter politics in the Obama years than much else. It’s also possible that the political pressure on charters today is growing because they’re one of the last things on the left everyone is fighting about on education. And their market share has grown to the point they are putting real pressure on the system.

Also, in terms of a reactionary politics around charters perhaps something else is at work here. I’d nominate ridiculously tribal politics that are now turbo-charged with social media. And it’s hardly just the left. During the Obama years Republicans defined themselves in opposition to the President on a range of issues where there was otherwise common ground. Recall Mitt Romney’s gymnastics on health care, for example. There are multiple issues you can write a version of this column about at a time when both parties define themselves more by what they’re not and what they’re against than what they are for.

Perhaps for charters the best thing the charter community can do is continue doing good work, cleaning up bad actors, and addressing the various challenges that exist. Being reactionary seems awfully short-sighted. It’s also not a good look.

Here’s Bruno Manno on some charter lessons.


Gordon Ambach has passed. In a long and accomplished career in education he was commissioner of education in New York and led CCSSO among other influential education roles.

New Pahara Next Gen fellows announced today.

Here’s a powerful teaching and learning story.

John King in Elle (!) on the gun debate.

Marshmallows revisited.

Serena Ryder, “Racing In The Streets.”

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