New Orleans Plan: Charter Schools, With a Return to Local Control

New York Times – “Nothing has defined and even driven the fractious national debate over education quite like this city and the transformation of its school system in the decade since Hurricane Katrina.

Reformers say its successes as an almost all-charter, state-controlled district make it a model for other failing urban school systems. Charter school opponents and unions point to what has happened here as proof that the reformers’ goal is just to privatize education and strip families of their voice in local schools across the country.

Now comes another big moment in the New Orleans story: The governor is expected soon to sign legislation returning the city’s schools to the locally elected school board for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Strikingly, that return is being driven by someone squarely in the pro-charter camp, the state superintendent, John White. He is a veteran of touchstone organizations behind the efforts to remake public schools —Teach for America and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and its superintendent training program — as well as the hard-charging charter school efforts in New York City. He represents the wave of largely white, young idealists who rushed to this city post-Katrina to be part of the Big Thing in education.”

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Parents, students excited about Up Academy taking over Kennedy Middle School in Springfield

Mass Live – Alejandra Rivera, 12, plans to be the president of the United States one day.

“Or maybe a judge,” said the sixth grader at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Springfield.

Recently Alejandra’s mother, Jacqueline Rosario, joined several other parents to visit an UP Academy school in Lawrence. The school is managed by the UP Education Network, which is set to take over the under-performing Kennedy Middle School in the fall.

In January the Springfield Empowerment Zone board selected John F. Kennedy Middle School for additional support from the UP Education Network.

In an effort to educate parents about the new system, several tours have been scheduled to successful UP schools in Massachusetts.

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Event: The Emerging Third Way: Blazing an Optimistic Path Ahead in K-12 Education

Since 1636, Massachusetts has been known for its district public schools- the “first way”. Since 1993, Massachusetts’ charter schools have led the nation in pioneering a “second way”. It is time to recognize a Third Way – an emerging set of strategies that combine school-level autonomies and energetic innovation with a commitment to universal service and local voice. The Third Way does not obviate the need and demand for either of the other ways but it does hold out a promising path for cooperative change that could raise student success, especially among disadvantaged students, on a large scale.

Join us at a kick off event for the Third Way where we will explore some of the ways pioneering educators have been forging a Third Way ahead here and nationally. We will hear from the frontlines how these efforts already positively affect the education and lives of thousands of students in Massachusetts. Come to hear US Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. and MA Secretary of Education James Peyser speak. We hope to see you on Tuesday, May 31st for a program that is sure to challenge, push, and inspire.

Register now!

Read more about the emerging Third Way by clicking below.

An introduction to the Third Way


Denver school board approves innovation zone, granting schools new freedoms

Chalkbeat – Four Denver public schools will enjoy unprecedented autonomy next year after the school board Thursday unanimously approved a new “innovation zone.”
Ashley Elementary School, Cole Arts & Science Academy, Denver Green School and Creativity Challenge Community will be part of the zone, dubbed the Luminary Learning Network.

The four are already innovation schools, which means they have waivers from certain state and district rules. Those waivers grant them more sovereignty than traditional district-run schools but not as much as charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently operated. The zone will allow the four to act more like charters without separating from the district.
“This is one of the most exciting things we’ve done since I’ve been on the board,” said board member Mike Johnson. “I fundamentally believe those who are closest to the students should be making more decisions about how to educate the students.”

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Denver Expands Choice and Charters

EducationNext – “Some of the most dramatic gains in urban education have come from school districts using what’s known as a “portfolio strategy.” Under this approach, districts negotiate performance agreements with public schools—traditional, charter, and hybrid models. The arrangement affords school leaders substantial autonomy to handcraft their schools to fit the needs of their students. Districts give parents choices among the schools while working to replicate successful schools and replace failing ones.

Many doubt such a strategy is possible with an elected board, because closing schools and laying off teachers triggers fierce resistance. Most cities pursuing the portfolio strategy, including New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Camden, New Jersey, have done so with insulation from local electoral politics. In New Orleans, the state board of education and its Recovery School District (RSD) oversee most of the schools; Congress created the appointed D.C. Public Charter School Board; and in Camden the state is in charge.

All of which explains why reformers are paying close attention to Denver, Colorado. With an elected board, Denver Public Schools (DPS) has embraced charter schools and created innovation schools, which it treats somewhat like charters. Since 2005 it has closed or replaced 48 schools and opened more than 70, the majority of them charters. In 2010 it signed a Collaboration Compact committing to equitable funding and a common enrollment system for charters and traditional schools, plus replication of the most effective schools, whether charter or traditional.”

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Springfield Empowerment Zone seeks to launch stepped-up turnaround efforts at 2 city middle schools

Mass Live  – In an effort to quicken the pace of turnaround efforts at two of the city’s nine struggling middle schools, the Springfield Empowerment Zone Board (SEZP) on Thursday approved the launch of two new programs in the sixth grades at Van Sickle Academy and is Chestnut South under the direction of charter school educators with a proven track record of success.

During a meeting held at Duggan Middle School, one of the schools operating under the public-private zone, leaders of the two programs, Anna Breen and Nathaniel Higgins, former charter school educators, outlined plans for the programs slated to begin this fall.

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Chris Gabrieli on Why Lawrence Matters (Video)

In November 2011 when the MA Board of Elementary and Secondary Education declared Lawrence Public Schools a Level 5, Chronically Underperforming district, the Commissioner called education innovator Chris Gabrieli to help figure out how to pull off the first public school district takeover in the state of Massachusetts.

Fast forward a few years and Empower Schools, founded to help Lawrence and to spread the lessons learned elsewhere, is an organization that is actively partnering with several communities to help them get the schools they want with the results students need and is leading the conversation about the “Third Way” approach to school and district improvement. Much of Empower’s theory of action was developed in the Lawrence experience which is evident now in the work happening in Springfield, MA and Denver, CO.

But aside from the work that Empower is doing, the Lawrence story is important nationally. At the TFA 25th Anniversary Summit in February, Empower Co-founder and CEO Chris Gabrieli lead a discussion titled “Lawrence, Massachusetts: School autonomy, community bridge-building, and embracing many approaches to excellence.” In this video, Chris discusses the Lawrence context, theory of action, and its importance more broadly to the education reform movement nationally.

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