Public charter schools were created specifically to advance achievement. They reflect the vision, the skills and the heart of the team that founds them. They are intentional schools, schools built to order, to meet a need known but not met, a possibility understood but not yet realized. Public charter schools were envisioned to be the place that we could find solutions for America’s most intractable struggle to realize our children’s potential. And they have been America’s best public education innovation tool.
Until the advent of public charter schools in the 90’s, new public schools were created when there was projected growth and when there was sufficient money in place –period.
Nothing in our traditional school development requirements spoke directly to quality. The rapid growth of public charter schools gives us the opportunity to rethink this process. Instead of planning a new school, boards can solicit offers to operate a new school to education leaders with a track record of excellence. Pre-approval of academic goals and contractual guarantees for progress can be a requirement for any public school.
The advent of public charter schools combined with two decades worth of annual, per-student achievement data has given the entire public school system far more information about what constitutes a quality school than we ever had before. The challenge to all of us now is to make that matter for all students. And in fact, there are leaders on school boards and authorizing boards all over the country who are sharing this information and trying to understand how they might learn from each other.
Our struggle continues to be achieving high quality in all of our public schools. The big divide in our education system is not between charters and district schools – it is between schools that are excellent, and those that are not.
And it feels great to know a lot more than we used to. But I fear any assumption that says we know enough. I fear those who believe that we should codify today’s knowledge and not tolerate future failed attempts at excellence. I’m no fan of failure. But our goal has to be excellence for all students, and we are far from there. The critical balancing act by authorizers and by all governing boards is to act on the best of what we know today, and to be open to learn what is possible tomorrow.