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The First Charter

As we mentioned in yesterday’s In The News, Montgomery County (and Kensington specifically) will welcome its first charter school in 2012, run by Catalogue non-profit Crossway Community, Inc. As the Post reported:

The Montgomery County Board of Education approved its first charter school Monday night, sending a cheer through the crowded board room and signaling a breakthrough for a movement that is pushing to expand beyond struggling inner-city districts. [...]

School board member Patricia O’Neill (Bethesda-Chevy Chase) said she was proud to help shepherd in a “historic moment in Montgomery County” by voting for the school.

Nearly 28,000 students are currently enrolled in DC public charter schools, an increase of about 400% in the past decade; but such swift change has yet to appear in the surrounding counties. For example, Prince George’s County is home to less than ten charter and contract schools and Maryland as a whole will have 43 charters schools this coming fall (primarily in Baltimore). But should we predict further and faster growth?

Pressure to open charter schools has increased dramatically in recent years as national and state leaders have embraced the publicly funded, privately run alternatives as a stimulus for school reform. [...]

The board rejected Crossway Community’s first application a year ago. But school officials worked with the organization in the spring to address concerns.

The growing prevalence of charter schools has certainly catalyzed a national conversation about education reform this past year; but can we perhaps expect a more highly-localized conversation in this coming year? And should we expect more charter schools to open in DC’s surrounding counties, or will such schools simply remain less common in suburban or rural areas?

Best wishes to Crossway! You can learn more right here.

Question for Monday

From “Reviewing education reform in the 2010-11 school year” in today’s Post:

The 2010-11 school year might not have looked much different from the one that preceded it to all the kids who woke up early, slogged to school, took test after standardized test and went home to study some more.

But to the adults in public education, there was incredible tumult. [...]

The clock kept ticking on the 2002 No Child Left Behind law — or, rather, on its “annual yearly progress” provision, which sets a goal for virtually all students to become proficient in reading and math by 2014. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called for an overhaul of the law, saying in March that perhaps 82 percent of American schools would be considered failing this year under the provision.

Congress still has not acted.

As school years around the country come to a close, this whirlwind recap of events (or, in some cases, non-events) in American public education is quite striking. June’s graduations and commencements typically celebrate progress, launch the next phase. But in a year in which schools were arguably at the center of a local election and a major topic of national debate, did DC and the nation as a whole make some real progress? Has the next phase in education reform been launched — or does that next phase still lack definition? Last Monday, we linked to Jay Matthews’ “Class Struggle,” which argued that candidates will likely avoid educational questions in the presidential election as they are both divisive and ultimately local. So is the conversation at a stand-still, at least on the national level, until 2013? (I certainly hope not)

But to me, the first paragraphs of the reform review also hinted at a deeper concern: “all the kids who woke up early, slogged to school, took test after standardized test.” To adults, the school year was rife with upheavals. For kids, it was just another “slog.” In a sense, isn’t that precisely the issue? School shouldn’t be a slog. School shouldn’t be routine and repetitive. It shouldn’t be an endless array of tests (and prepping for tests). School should be fascinating and addictive. It should be variable. And as soon as we start assuming that it is not, as soon as we start taking actual student experience out of the equation, tangible progress becomes less likely.

Of course, the transformation of classrooms cannot happen everywhere all at once. But just to end on another, key question: how can we ensure, moving into the next school year, that the day-to-day experience of students is at the center of the conversation?

In The News … (More!)

Good morning, folks! A few more intriguing items caught me eye today, so I thought that we’d double up on the news digest this week. On a related note, I spent yesterday evening at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (a Catalogue non-profit!) on H Street NE for presumptive mayor-elect Vince Gray’s Ward 6 town hall meeting. Do let us know if you were there and have any post-town hall thoughts; I was in the over-flow room with the video feed, so I would certainly be interested in tales from the main room! Speaking of which:

Continue reading

If you do this right … (Continued)

Good morning, folks! I’m still thinking about the TIME magazine article and all the buzz surrounding the Facebook CEO’s $100 million donation to the Newark schools. First, the buzz is impossible to escape — just type “mark zuckerberg newark” into Google News. Second, no matter how you consider the issue, this is a serious gift with the potential to be a serious game-changer — not just in Newark, but on the whole. So I thought that I’d add a couple more voices to the mix. Definitely jump into the comment thread with your thoughts. (If you’re reading this on the Catalogue homepage, click BLOG to comment.)

NPR – CEO’S Gift: Philanthropy of Image Control? “Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show on Friday to announce a $100 million donation to public schools in Newark, N.J. But the timing of the gift has raised questions about the social networking wunderkind’s motivation…”

The Star Ledger/ (blog) – Newark schools by the numbers: “Grousing seems like checking the teeth of a gift horse. A hundred million is not chump change, even for a wealthy entrepreneur. But let’s look at the bigger picture [...] if Newark schools cannot produce quality education at $23,500 per student, it seems hard to believe that that they will do much better with an additional $2500 per pupil.”

What do you think?

If you do this right …

“In order to be successful, any philanthropist must cause a lot of disruption and consequently upset plenty of people.”

Hmm. That’s a pretty bold statement.

I did just take that quotation completely out of context though. So for some quick background: Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, announced on September 22 that he would donate $100 million to the Newark Public Schools. Zuckerburg also has a growing friendship with City Mayor Cory Booker who, as part of the terms of the gift, will take on “some control of the long-troubled state-run operation” from Governor Chris Christie.

In response, TIME magazine published a list of “5 Philanthropy Lessons” for the 26-year-old Zuckerburg, suggesting that he “study up on all the education grantmaking” that has come before his own if he wants his gift to have a serious effect.

The above quotation actually comes from the final suggestion and TIME goes on to note: “If you just want to be liked, education reform is not for you … if you do this right, not everyone will be rushing to friend you on Facebook.”

I am honestly not sure how to respond to this. Both the gift itself and his desire to catalyze change are pretty remarkable. But does his ability to make a difference mean that he must also outline how that difference is made? Is he not “serious” without that extra step? Without shaking things up? To put it another way, what if Zuckerburg truly believes that Booker has the right ideas and the right team in place and simply wants to give him the means to move forward? Or does a gift of that size demand some clear and personal ideas for its use? Maybe he needs to jump into the fray (and make some enemies) to ensure that this gift truly puts ideas into action?

Again, I don’t have a clear answer. What do you think? Overall, do disruption and reform often go hand-in-hand? Sure. But I’m not certain that the article has nailed the philanthropist’s role in that process. Or rather, I’m not sure that that role has such a vigorous, clear-cut definition.

That said, this point (plus the others in the article, including “Go big or go home”) are all good and vital food for thought, particularly for a donor like Zuckerburg who has the means and opportunity to spark systemic change in a very large system, very quickly. But I’m not crazy about the general tone of the article, which focuses so intently on big gifts and big change. Do we want to “go big?” Definitely. But impact on a small and personal scale is just as “real” — and for the kids in school right now, just as big.