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Coexistence With Charters Requires a New School System

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Increasingly, charter-friendly writers and activists, such as Andy Smarick, are coming to the conclusion that simply adding more charters doesn't fix a city's education system

Writing in the Fordham Institute blog, Smarick lauds Washington DC's charter sector, but sees the overhanging systemic issue.  "We have two sectors [charter and district], scores of operators, and hundreds of campuses, but we don't have a coherent system of schools," he writes in a hypothetical speech for DC's mayor.

The need for a systemic approach has been increasingly obvious as one looks at the U.S. charter landscape.  Rather than freeing school reform from toxic politics, charter-based reforms have created intense and protracted political battles.  Rather than pointing the way to a solution, veteran reformist school administrators maintain that district reforms and charters are on a collision course.

So what of Smarick's plan?

First, he advocates that district schools should gain the same autonomy as charters, by becoming charters, and the district would become a charter management organization.

Second, a new body—independent of both the district and the charter operators—would put all district-run schools on a performance contract.  Operating authority would be severed from performance accountability.  The city would have a portfolio school system, but the existing school district wouldn't run it.  In a portfolio system, by definition, the school authority assembles the best schools it can regardless of who operates them.

Third, a student-based funding formula for all schools would be introduced.

Fourth, a new democratically controlled body would be responsible for the portfolio of schools and a limited number of central office functions, such as managing facilities and a central enrollment system.

I don't know much about the politics of the District of Columbia and, thus, have no inkling of whether Smarick's proposal is likely to win support there.  I wouldn't support it as a model for Los Angeles. 

But that's not the point, which is that Smarick's bold enough to actually propose a new system.  Folks who are contemplating the future of Los Angeles schools should also be required to think in systemic terms.

 

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