In an environment where both Presidential candidates have called for an expansion of the roles of Charter schools, and highly-visible and encouragingly successful school districts such as New York, New Orleans and Chicago have embraced Charters as part of their overall strategy, Denver remains resolute in its silence on how Charters should contribute to broader school reform.
What makes this even more timely and relevant are the 2008 SPF results. Charter schools are disproportionately represented among the cities best schools. DSST is in a class by itself for high school, and among middle schools, KIPP, West Denver Prep, and Odyssey all show growth numbers well above Denver’s mean, with Omar Blair pretty close behind. If you eliminate the schools with competitive admissions policies (DSA, Hamilton) and free and reduced lunch numbers far below the city average (Slavens, Dora Moore), the results are even more stark.
The sheer indifference to Charters does not show up only at the high end of the charts, and the SPF shows quite clearly that the worst high school in the city is the recently reauthorized CCI, and two more of the worst four high schools are Charters. Apart from CCI, the results for Charters are better in middle school, but any serious Charter strategy would and should include a strong discussion over closing those schools that consistently fail to perform.
Despite both the cream and part of the manure of the crop, there is no articulated strategy or policy by Denver’s school board for Charter schools – not on the forthcoming bond, on facilities, on ProComp or on any of numerous other areas. The closest I have heard to a policy statement has been a repeated thought from various BOE members along the lines of
“Charters are useful as “Research and Development” efforts where the District can watch and perhaps try some new ideas.“
Aside from this being foolish in practice (one cannot take a piece of what makes a Charter successful and place it in the corpus of a District school and expect similar results), it also made me think of cars.
In 1986 Toyota produced it’s first car on US soil, in a joint-venture with General Motors. Over subsequent years, Toyota featured innovative methods and a focus on continuous quality improvement. GM suffered through a bloated cost structure, crippling pension debt, and labor struggles with an aging, unionized workforce all while continually failing to produce products consumers actually wanted. Sound familiar?
In 2008, just over 30 years from their first US production, Toyota is likely to capture the lead in US market share. Meanwhile, GM lost over $15 billion in the second quarter alone, and the viability of the Big Three is in doubt.
I think somewhere back in 1986, a GM executive told of group of his peers that having Toyota produce cars in the US will be a useful R&D exercise for GM to watch and perhaps try some new ideas.
If urban districts do not move to bring Charters into their educational reform strategies, significantly and rapidly, the timeline may vary, but I don’t ultimately see a different fate.