Keep Calm and Relinquish: Lessons from England


The Economist has a good piece on England’s attempt to Relinquish through free schools and academies. Many of the reforms were instituted by the controversial Michael Grove, pictured above.

For an overview of the taxonomy of charter like schools in England, I found this page helpful.

Here’s what I find to be the most striking aspect of the English experience: a significant driver of growth in their academy sector has been driven by existing school conversions.

This paper indicates that over 2,000 academies were created through existing school conversion, often by top rated schools converting to academies to achieve more regulatory freedoms. On average, these school served 50% fewer students in poverty than the typical English school.

I think this has been a huge missed opportunity in the charter sector in our country. In New Orleans, in large part because of Hurricane Katrina, many of our top traditional schools converted to charter school status. Most of these leaders will tell you that they’ve been able to accomplish much more (with many fewer headaches) now that they are no longer under management control of the school board.

Great schools will thrive and grow when they are no longer part of top down bureaucratic structure. This is true for schools that serve high income, middle income, or low income students.

So here’s an idea for a reform minded local, state, or federal official: follow England’s lead and create a significant grant program that allows all schools in the 25% of performance in any locality to convert to charter school status.

The only requirements should be that the existing leader will run the school; that a qualified board of directors is formed; and that a financially responsible business plan is created.

If such a program was enacted, vigorously supported, and successful – it could transform public education in this country, both in terms of structure and performance.

PS: You might want to read this Guardian piece on how England is trying to learn from our charter school experience (I got to speak to members of Parliament when they visited New Orleans).

PPS: English friends jump in and tell me what I got right / wrong with the above.

3 thoughts on “Keep Calm and Relinquish: Lessons from England

  1. Peter

    ” Most of these leaders will tell you that they’ve been able to accomplish much more (with many fewer headaches) now that they are no longer under management control of the school board.”

    Well, they’ll tell you that. But they’ll be fibbing. And of course part of what they’ve been able to do is dump all those pesky high-cost, difficult-to-educate students.

    1. nkingsl

      Peter, in a city where 95% of the public students are served by charter schools – and where government oversees enrollment and expulsions – we’ve created a system that is much more equitable than most traditional public education systems.

      Take care,



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