Coexistence With Charters Requires a New School System
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.