Monday, February 9, 2009

Gov't Support for Progressive Charter Schools

Quite often it is the rule rather than the exception in politics that the headlines you read in the paper don't really tell the whole story. That story is only revealed later. A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of taking an education policy class from Dan Loritz in Hamline University's Graduate School of Education. Dan would often talk about the headlines and policy decisions repeating this mantra, "Only time will tell if this is good fortune or bad fortune." Such is the recent hullabaloo about the state of MN trying to pass policy that would tighten restrictions on Charter schools.

If you work for or are a stakeholder at any level in a charter school in MN this legislation looks on the surface as something that should cause alarm. It potentially could reduce funding for lease aid, clamp down on accountability that might or might not fit with the charter school's mission statement and educational philosophy, and could throw the proverbial monkey wrench in much of the operations charter schools currently face. Is this necessarily a bad thing? We need to be careful who we attack and who we lobby against. We just might be biting off the hand that feeds us.

This all became a bit more clear for me today. Curious about what might be in store specifically for education in the monster stimulus package slated to pass the senate later this week I found some interesting language that puts the current legislation regarding charter schools in MN in focus under a different light; a light that might paint tighter restrictions as good fortune rather than bad.

First, Tom Huffman wrote last week about President Obama's visit with children at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington D.C. more or less scolding the edublogosphere for not responding immediately to this trip in his piece, Is "No Comment" the Best We Can Do? Truth be told, I don't think most edubloggers had their eye on the ball on this one. Those of us who did have been slow in responding. However, this probably is not a bad thing. Carefully drafted posts require time for digestion and reflection. The reason this visit was important was because Capital City is a progressive charter school and the president's comments there reflect what I and many of my colleagues hope to be a statement that will set the tone for his education policy. As he visited the school he said, "This kind of innovative school…is an example of how all our schools should be."

This got me wondering what other evidence there is online that might shed light on the President's stance on progressive education and/or charter schools. That led me to this January 29th article in Teacher Magazine that gives a brief overview/preview of what elements of the economic stimulus package might be slated for education and how those funds are to be used. From that article:
The Obama administration is seeking to boost spending by nearly $500 million on reform-minded programs that fund teacher bonuses tied to student performance, and pay for charter school facilities and state data systems. The spending is in the stimulus plan approved Wednesday in the House, but it is not in the Senate version.

Also, on the White House website under the president's Education Agenda:

Support High-Quality Schools and Close Low-Performing Charter Schools: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will double funding for the Federal Charter School Program to support the creation of more successful charter schools. The Obama-Biden administration will provide this expanded charter school funding only to states that improve accountability for charter schools, allow for interventions in struggling charter schools and have a clear process for closing down chronically underperforming charter schools. Obama and Biden will also prioritize supporting states that help the most successful charter schools to expand to serve more students.

This brings us back to the state of MN clamping down on charter schools. Could it be that the drive behind this legislation is not to crush the charter movement but rather to open the door for more federal dollars to support successful MN Charter School programs? What I have seen of the legislation being passed around right now seems to take these last few lines in Obama's policy agenda almost verbatim.

And what charter schools are the best performing? Typically they are the ones that are the most progressive. However, this could all be for not if a two year moratorium on the formation of new charter schools passes in the state senate.


Alice Thomas said...
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