Education change happens slowly until it happens everywhere. And then a new normal exists.
Right now, it is normal for superintendents to directly control all the public schools in their city. It also normal for them to fight off educators (either within their system or external charter operators) who threaten this control.
But this is changing. A new wave of superintendents are looking to charter operators to help them solve their toughest problems. And they’re not doing so in light touch ways, like best practice sharing. Instead, they’re handing over control of some of their most struggling schools to charter schools.
In Atlanta, the superintendent is partnering with the city’s best charter operators to operate underperforming schools in the city.
Here is how one Atlanta high school student responded to her plan:
Omari Hargrove, a junior at Carver School of the Arts, isn’t looking for guarantees.
At a recent community meeting, Carver students spoke about daily fights on campus, gambling at school and classmates more focused on selling drugs, than studying.
“I’m not sure if the changes they’re introducing are the ones they need, but the situation we have now is not acceptable,” Hargrove said.
“Maybe they’ll work,” he added. “At least it’s a plan.”
The superintendent in San Antonio is taking a similar approach. Texas recently passed a law, Senate Bill 1882, which encourages both superintendents and charter operators to work together to turnaround failing schools.
In Denver, the district partnered with a charter operator, University Prep, to turnaround a struggling school. A year later, the school posted the highest math growth in the state of Colorado.
In Indianaplis, the district utilized the state’s Innovation law to partner with charter operators, and the first wave of schools saw an increase in test scores. One of those schools, while managed by a charter operator (Phalen Academies), was actually led by a group of district leaders who wanted more freedom (Project Restore).
Over the past few years, the state, frustrated with local inaction, has forced charter partnerships in Memphis. But last week, the superintendent told the local paper he was willing to lead the partnership effort himself. A locally elected board member also indicated willingness: “As we look at what’s best for kids, we have to look at all options,” she said.
What will be normal in 2028?
That’s hard to tell. But I hope that what we’re seeing from this courageous superintendents becomes the new normal.
A superintendent’s job is to get the highest number of kids in the best schools as quickly as possible.
That’s a job that requires all hands on deck.
Any group of educators who can make things better quickly should be given that opportunity, charter schools included.
Over the coming decade, I hope what we see in Atlanta, San Antonio, Denver, Indianapolis, and Memphis is the new normal.