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Opportunities + Innovation = Results

National Charter Schools Week 2018 Day 6

This is a country built on innovation, but when it comes to education we are far too cautious. We do not need a thousand flowers to bloom, as the saying goes. What we need is to have a thousand (or tens of thousands) of seeds planted. Those that are watered by parents and students and teachers, with money and time and loyalty, will succeed. The rest will become part of the fertile soil that will make more and better innovations possible in the future.

 The best and quickest path to unleash innovation is opportunity. Opportunities afforded today to communities thanks to charter schools, allows citizens to take control of their destinies, creating new avenues and alternatives to the tired systems of the past. Charter schools have transformed the education landscape and are continuing to serve as the driving force in reshaping and redefining education in America. Parents’ demands for access to new educational options for their children are being met. And millions of children are seeing doors of opportunity open.


Just in time to cap off National Charter Schools Week, 2018 comes the release of an important new report about these impacts.  The second in a three-part series, The Case for Education Transformation, Part II: Opportunity, argues for a shift not unlike that begun by charter schools in1991, to provide widespread educational opportunity in the U.S. It offers a real understanding of what a new opportunity agenda should look like, offers recommendations for federal and state policy makers, opportunity advocates, teachers, parents, and students.

But if research isn’t your thing, how about examples of how opportunity and innovation together have fueled a movement?

Appletree Early Learning in Washington DC leverages charter school autonomy to provide exceptional, high quality early learning. Blended learning once a novelty, is now a mainstay not only at many charters but in traditional education, thanks to groups like Rocketship EducationPhoenix Academies in Massachusetts is a small network serving disengaged learners to get them to and through college (dropouts, justice system-involved, teen parents). High Tech High in California has 13 high schools offering a project-based learning approach, teacher credentialing program and graduate school of education. Idea Public Schools has more than 60 pre-k-12 schools across Texas where 100 percent of seniors are college bound. Even back-to-basics can be novel again, as the experience of as BASIS: Arizona charter schools, which garnered top spots in US News and World Report’s Top 10 high schools in 2018, shows us.

But even these are too few and far between to ensure that all children, and learners at all levels, have access to exceptional education, fueled by student centered programs and funding, and untethered to zip codes and other barriers to entry.

As we’ve often said, it shouldn’t take a hurricane to realizes the potential for transformation across a grand scale.  Tragically, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina washed away much of the city’s education infrastructure. In the wake of the widespread destruction of property and the massive exodus of people, the state of Louisiana, with the help of education reformers, created autonomous charter schools to fill the void.

For education reformers — the people who dreamed of remaking not only schools, but reimagining school districts and entire education systems — New Orleans reminds us what is possible. The fact that schools have autonomy and parents have choices has helped to make the entire city a hotbed of innovation—from teacher training to curriculum to the use of technology in the classroom.

This is the closest we have come to realizing the groundbreaking vision of education innovator Ted Kolderie. Few imagined his prescription for creating new, responsive schools in the spirit of choice, innovation, and diversity would evolve into a nationwide movement. Describing the passage of Minnesota’s original charter law back in 1991, former state senator and bill author Ember Reichgott Junge explains, “Chartering trades regulation for results, bureaucracy for accountability, and we weren’t used to doing things like that. Resistance came from everywhere.

Thanks to the moral leadership of national advocates and the hard work of thousands the signs of success are everywhere. Charter schools are no longer a marginal experiment in U.S. education. In more than a dozen cities, charter schools educate 30% of or more of all public school students and are creating a ripple effect uplifting entire education systems, and seating supportive education leaders who helped create alternative opportunities in positions of authority at local and state levels.

And yet, if we as a nation are to be honest with ourselves, we must acknowledge that our efforts to drive change are meeting more resistance daily. Opportunities and Innovation about, but they are under siege. As discussed this week the data, demand and results are conclusive.

Along with the celebrations, however, we must face the challenges – and fight.