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Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

You can steal the plays, but that doesn’t mean you can execute the playbook.

This week in the New York Times, Houston Public Schools explained how its troubled schools were looking to improve by mimicking successful charter schools.

It’s great that HPS is acknowledging that charter schools are successful in educating low-income, urban kids. And it’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But, it’s shortsighted to think that by cherry-picking a few plays from the charter school playbook achievement is going to rise in regular public schools.

HPS teamed up with Harvard researcher Dr. Ronald Fryer to identify and implement five key ideas common to successful charters: “longer school days and years; more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers; frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught; what he calls ‘high-dosage tutoring’; and a ‘no excuses’ culture.”

This approach demonstrates the lack of understanding about what is truly happening in charter schools.

HPS can’t just pick and choose charter school elements and think that’ll change everything. Charter schools are an entire culture shift that cultivates innovation and provides freedom from burdensome regulations.

Giving more quizzes and making the school day longer isn’t going to have the systemic change that comes out of a true charter environment.

“If you see something good, why not try to replicate it?” said Terry Grier, Houston’s superintendent.

Sure. But instead of just trying to replicate charter schools, why not become one – don’t just steal the plays, steal the playbook.


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