“The go-to narrative on the relationship between districts and charter schools is generally one of mistrust and competition, but a few outposts of collaboration between the two are challenging that story line.”
—Arianna Prothero, Education Week
“When you announce you are enrolling your disabled child in a charter, people warn you you’ll get ‘counseled out.’”
—Beth Hawkins, RealClear Education
One of the best parts about working in public education is that you get to work with a lot of brilliant minds. One of the most frustrating parts about working in public education is that promising ideas often bump against closed minds.
Sometimes that comes in the form of bureaucracy. And the bumping usually emits a sound that has “policy,” “protocol,” or “precedent” in it.
And sometimes it’s an ideological or territorial bump, as with much of the opposition to charter schools, which are public schools (serving the public, funded by the public, authorized by and accountable to public agencies) that are run by non-public (usually non-profit) organizations. And there’s a big P sound there, too: push-out, as in: Charter schools (allegedly) push-out students who are hard to educate.
The criticism generally comes hardest from teachers’ unions, who are ideologically opposed to public services being managed and staffed by non-public (non-unionized) organizations and who are ferociously guarding the public education terrain that had been their exclusive purview for decades. And resistance also comes from some school districts, which can bristle at being expected—for the first time—to scooch over and make room for another game in town.
Not that charter schools aren’t immune from closed minds…and doors. They, at times, cling to “autonomy” when faced with the suggestion of increasing access to all students. Charters have flexibility in how they serve students but should still be held to the same “Y’all come” standards on whom they serve and how well they’re serving them.
But in an area that desperately needs more open minds and open doorways, special education, there are signs of daylight.
Here in Denver, the charter school community has been very open to increasing access. The Denver Public Schools district-charter compact is a shining example of open-minded policy making. It basically says, we’re all here to serve all kids, and we’re all going to take the same responsibility for that.
That openness has led to the type of collaboration in the name of improved access and service that’s highlighted in an EdWeek story on the STRIVE charter network. (You need a subscription to read the full story…. ( : – / )
“The idea of serving all students is something that we’ve always believed in, but now that we’re serving a population with more significant special education needs, we live it every day,” said Libby Miller, the principal of STRIVE Prep-Federal. “It has just built our confidence and capacity.”
STRIVE had enrolled students with mild to moderate disabilities prior to the district’s center programs, but students with severe or uncommon needs would have been placed by the district into one of its 100-plus center programs.
My son is 13 and has Asperger’s. He’s brilliant, creative and engaged, but this was the first time in nine years of school that the few-days-in social worker call wasn’t the start of a painful dance.
It was the first time the call was about playing to his strengths. It was the first time I was called on as the expert on my own child.
And it was confirmation I had done the right thing by enrolling him in an innovative charter school when it became abundantly clear my baby was being pushed out of his “good” traditional school.
For too long in public education, too many doorways were closed to too many kids. Now, through choice and innovation, the doorways are opening.