One of my biggest laments in the debate of charter schools versus public schools here in Columbus, as well as Ohio in general is what about the kids?!?  When adults fight over the school system they often make a lot of fuss and mess over an ideological battle (by the way, I think that it is definitely important that we stop and think about this).  However, in Ohio we’ve become a bit entrenched in this debate.  There is great indemnity for charters by many in the traditional public world (it’s worth noting that in my travels and conversations with charter teachers and leaders that the same kind of vitriol isn’t reciprocated).

I work for a public charter.  We get the same per pupile funding as every other school in the state (in fact, that’s all we get).  We are a community school that is run by a community board.  We are not owned by a billionaire as 1 commentator noted in a comment title, but rather we are run by a lot of well-meaning, intelligent, compassionate, and responsible people.  I am proud to count myself as one of them and to work for one of the best charter management organizations in the state.

That being said (being done with my defensiveness) I welcome the day when we can work more creatively with the public schools in the region to better the education of ALL of central Ohio’s children.  We all have a strong desire to educate and better the lives of the students.  This is where we have a lot to learn from Denver, Colorado.  Rather than acknowledge the battle lines, they have sought creative and innovative approaches to bridge the gap and work together to benefit the students.  This has happened in Cleveland as well and it is time to look at this as a model for Columbus to consider.

Denver Public Schools works collaboratively with charter schools to provide school buildings and bond money for building facilities, and the district has worked collaboratively to create enrollment zones for families so that they can choose between both charter and public schools in their neighborhoods. The district and charter schools are currently working on finalizing a mid-year enrollment policy to share the burden of mid-year entrants into Denver Public Schools. Denver has been a leader in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation District-Charter School Compact work, which has commitments from 10 cities nationally to encourage greater collaboration and shared responsibility. It is a collaboration that, in the end, benefits all Denver families.

We are losing opportunities to educate students as well as we can by creating a fractured system where students can fall through the cracks.  By establishing better record sharing, sharing buildings and other resources (such as extra-curricular activities and the arts), collaborating on school (re)design, and sharing best practices we stand a chance of reversing the terrible educational trends that have gripped our city.  I am eager to engage in this kid of collaborative work and I am sure that there are folks in CCS (and the other central Ohio districts) who believe the same way.  -Ed

Link is here.

Why Denver Is a Model for Education in America

by Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST Public Schools.  Good.  June 16, 2011

One of the central questions facing the education reform movement is the relationship between the growing number of urban charter schools and the large school districts that oversee public education in those same cities. This is a question that dates back to the beginning of the charter movement and one of its early supporters, Albert Shanker.

Shanker, the union boss of the American Federation of Teachers in New York City in the 1960s, and one of the intellectual fathers of the charter school movement, believed in a central premise: Charters would give teachers a vehicle to innovate in their craft and then share these innovations back into district schools. Both districts and charter schools have struggled to make good on this promise, largely because the relationship between charters and districts has suffered from political divisions, territorial control issues, and perceived “competition” between the two. Fortunately, this has been less true in Denver, Colorado over the last decade, where I lead DSST Public Schools, a growing charter management organization.

What is going on in Denver to make this possible?

In Denver, there is a shared commitment by the superintendent, school board, and charter leaders to provide every child a high quality public school, regardless of whether it is a charter school or a district school. This commitment has led to a sharing of resources, not competition for resources.

U.S. public school superintendents average two and a half years on the job and elected school boards frequently change their vision based on voter preference. Contrast that with Denver, where two superintendents over the last six years have provided stable leadership. Michael Bennet, now a U.S. Senator, and Tom Boasberg, who was then-Superintendent Bennet’s Chief Operating Officer, have offered a consistent vision that has led to sustained efforts to improve public schooling. The Denver Public School Board has similarly shared the singular vision of providing all kids with a high-performing school.

In addition, the larger Colorado community is committed to improving public education. With proponents such as former Governor Bill Ritter and current Governor John Hickenlooper, former state education Commissioner Dwight Jones, and state legislators like Peter Groff, Terrance Carroll and Mike Johnston (all Democrats, incidentally), Colorado has pushed for public education change through ground-breaking legislation. Legislation such as the Innovation Schools Act, which shifts autonomy to the school level from the district level, and Senate Bill 191, which requires the State of Colorado to use student achievement as the main measure in determining tenure, boldly put the interests of students above those of adults.

The result is that Denver Public Schools works collaboratively with charter schools to provide school buildings and bond money for building facilities, and the district has worked collaboratively to create enrollment zones for families so that they can choose between both charter and public schools in their neighborhoods. The district and charter schools are currently working on finalizing a mid-year enrollment policy to share the burden of mid-year entrants into Denver Public Schools. Denver has been a leader in the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation District-Charter School Compact work, which has commitments from 10 cities nationally to encourage greater collaboration and shared responsibility. It is a collaboration that, in the end, benefits all Denver families.

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