Blow Up the System or Think Ahead? Someone Is.

critical-thinking (2)Once in awhile good accidents happen.  A school reformer actually stops and thinks.  A panel discussion sponsored by the American Federation for Children was reported in Curmudgucation.  The discussion was predictable and too irritating to repeat–until the end.

Panelist Andy Smarick, a long time reform advocate with an impressive resume, was asked a question:  What lives and what dies in a system of choice schools?  More importantly, why should anything live” in the transition to a disperse governance driven by parental choice?. ”  

Smarick’s response is thoughtful, and gives a glimmer of hope that reason is not totally lost.  I include the summary from the Curmudgucation blog below.  My comments are in parentheses.  This post made me think!

Smarick responds:

“What should live?  Democratic control.  It’s something we think too little about…in systems of choice”.  There should be someway the community at large should be able to “control the contours of the system.”  It probably should not look like a ordinary school board that owns and operates all the stuff, but there should be something that gives the locals control.

[The idea of a combined public/charter management system was also mentioned in the post about lessons learned from Newark.  If we think of examples of public policy/oversight boards that provide representation of different interests, we might look at library boards.  Ours has representatives from the county and city commission and the League of cities.  A school board might have a different composition, but the components would perhaps represent constituencies like parents, business, teachers, and charters.  All of this would take serious thought to decide whether it would be an improvement or simply bring more dysfunction.]

“What should die?  The notion of a school existing in perpetuity and the right of government to tell parents where to send their kids based on where they live.”   [Hmm, Maybe that is what parents want.  They just want the school to be high quality.]

Smarick continues.  Some of the worst changes to the evolutionary revolutionary point are when we with great hubris, with great certainty, look at something and we think it is messy, untidy, inefficient and we don’t see the wisdom, we don’t see the long standing virtue, value that is in it that has been tested over time that has evolved, and we technocratically with great brilliance, the best and brightest among us decide we are going to change that thing.  [He goes on to give examples of policy disasters due to unintended consequences such as forests, swamps and public housing.]

[Again, this reference to the arrogance of reformers who know what is best for everyone else is echoed in the analyses of the community resistance to reform that built up in cities like New Orleans, Nashville, and Newark.

There are moments when the conversation shifts from relentless bashing by proponents of change and defenders of traditional schools to the consideration of unintended consequences.  When it happens, it is worth reporting.  Even more, these ideas are worth serious consideration. 

You can go back and review the Early Lessons Learned post about Newark.  Many of the flaws in the take over of public school and charter reform movement are addressed. 

  • What would a ‘model governing structure’ look like if we were to combine traditional and public school governance under one body and preserve the independence of charters to innovate and experiment?
  • Can we combine student assignment, admission and dismissal procedures for charter and traditional schools?
  • Can we combine planning for new traditional and charter schools to broaden choice without duplication and inefficiency?
What more should or should not be done to protect the public interest and allow flexibility to innovate?  Problems in traditional public schools are real.  Funding is not always equitable.  Quality is not universal.  Student  needs are not always met.
No system is likely to do everything for everyone, but is the traditional public school system being asked to correct community problems in isolation?  Are community schools that incorporate external public services an effective alternative?  We need to explore these questions.


Posted in Charter School Management, Reform.

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