Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why A Connecticut School District Won't Be The Last To Team Up With A Charter

    Kyle Stokes / StateImpact Indiana

    A student works on a lesson at Carpe Diem, an Indianpolis charter school that allows students to work at their own pace through virtual lessons while providing classroom instruction. Blended learning could encourage more collaboration between charters and local public schools.

    We’ve written about Indiana school corporations using outdoor advertising to market themselves and the bitter battle over students at four state takeover schools in Indianapolis. In a state where funding follows the student, corporations compete with charters, private schools and even other districts for enrollment.

    So it’s hard to imagine a school district sending its top teachers to a nearby charter school for lessons in management in leadership — but that’s exactly what’s happening in New Haven, Conn. Writing for Slate, Emily Bazelon explains how this unusual partnership works:

    For New Haven, Joseph Lumpkin oversees an unusual new partnership with Achievement First, the very charter school organization that once prompted such a defensive response from the city. Achievement First is now helping New Haven train its teachers and staff in school leadership, a relationship that may be the first of its kind in the country between a district and a charter. Here’s how it works: Last year, New Haven’s Joseph Lumpkin and Matt Taylor, the former principal of Amistad Academy, led a group who chose a handful of people from a pool of teachers and other staffers who wanted to move up the ranks to principal. The select few spent six months in residence at an Achievement First school … coming away with the credential they need to become an administrator anywhere in Connecticut.

    A teacher told Bazelon she experienced “culture shock” while observing the daily routines at the Achievement First school where she completed the residency. Many charter school operators take systemic approaches designed to make classrooms more efficient — we’ve seen that in Indianapolis at the four schools Charter Schools USA and EdPower are managing. But can such strategies work, not just in one building but across a district?

    Bazelon writes it’s difficult to determine whether or not the New Haven program will be successful yet because just three of the five teachers selected to participate last year are now in administrative positions. And she’s also quick to note that some of the tensions that have long divided public schools from charters are still there, chiefly how the union feels about the new training program.

    Then there’s underlying tension within the charter school movement, writes Alexander Russo over at This Week In Education. He says what’s happening in New Haven is as much about the clash between charter school operators and movement reformers as it is the old fight with public schools:

    Even if you’re not charterphobic, it’s pretty clear that the charter operators want to build and run as many charters as possible as freely as possible, with as few constraints and little oversight as can reasonably be expected.  Their focus is on creating immediate choices for parents.  They won an amazing gift from the Obama administration when its Race To The Top made eliminating charter caps a top priority without any equally clear consideration for quality, performance, diversity, or anything else.  (I still want to know who signed off on that, and what were they thinking?)  The operators have been struggling to deal with their quality problems, which is understandably hard to do given it basically boils down to self-policing during a land rush.

    The charter school reformers are interested in charter schools for their effects on the rest of the public school system, short- and long-term.  They’re the folks who are working with districts in New Haven and Denver, who signed onto the Gates-funded charter-district compact.  They want both short-term alternatives for parents but they also want to revamp the districts rather than creating an alternative charter universe.

    So what’s the takeaway? Parents in Indiana have more choices than ever before. And as Russo points out, new charter school models (think blended learning, also a priority of the Race to the Top competition) could push charters further into their own school systems — or else pave the way for increased collaboration.


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