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How Steve Barr Is Not Like The Other Charter Show Ponies

The most interesting thing to me about Steve Barr (Maverick Leads Charge for Charter Schools) is that Barr doesn't seem like he really wants to be the show pony for Gates, Broad, the Andy Sector, and the New Schools Venture Fund -- folks who are trying to create or promote more of what the Times describes as "nonprofit, high-performing charter chains" along the lines of KIPP and Achievement First. He'll take their money and their praise, but he doesn't want to expand as fast as they want him to, whether it's to parts of LAUSD where he has no credibility or across the country.
He sure doesn't want to dress or talk like them, from what little I've seen. He's been around the block. He's seen what happened to small schools, among other ruined efforts. If he can do what he wants and keep to his vision, he'll have threaded a very difficult needle. Sort of reminds me of the crazed but brilliant director Billy Walsh in HBOs "Entourage," whose favorite saying is "suits suck." Right on, Billy, I mean Steve.

UPDATE: Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform makes some interesting if slightly over-enthusiastic observations here, and helpfully rounds up other reactions to the Times story.


Can you say more about small schools as a ruined effort?


you may well know more than i about this, jill, but i'm referring to the way that small schools used to be dominated by organic, mom and pop type folks and now are often district- or foundation-created efforts. or is that not really true?

It's true in my school district, San Francisco Unified (I'm a volunteer parent activist).

Small schools have had mixed success here. But the problem is that with dropping enrollment, any new school harms our district by draining away students and funding from existing schools. But Gates Foundation money is funding the effort to create a new one, now scheduled to open in fall 2008. It will kill an existing high school -- it will have to. That's not a good thing. But who can fight the Gates Foundation might?

I can. So can you.

go ahead, mike, or link to your post on this if you have one. or do a guest post on mine if you want.

My feeling is that the Gates funding has changed the situation so that those proposing the school are somehow no longer able to sincerely and honestly assess the need for it and its potential impact. There's an influence -- I don't want to say corrupting or tainting, but it's not a good influence.

As a parent volunteer observing this with great concern -- and whose district and family are potentially impacted by it -- I DON'T know how to do effective advocacy on this issue. I have spoken at school board meetings and blogged about it.

thanks, caroline -- what is the response when you ask hard questions about small schools or charters? where do you blog about this?

I co-blog on www.sfschools.org . I don't really feel I get direct answers on some of the biggest questions -- I would have to stalk key people and keep at them if I were really determined to demand clear responses.

Inspired by Alexander's queries, I posted a blog item listing my questions about the Bayview Essential School for Art, Music and Social Justice, planned to open in San Francisco Unified in fall 2008.



Thanks for the invitation to be a guest blogger on your excellent TWIE blog. I'm happy to do it any time. Maybe we can do a bridging differences thing like Debbie & Diane. Or not.

You are 100% correct about Barr and Green Dot when you say he doesn't want to be a pony for Gates, Broad, the Andy Sector, and the New Schools Venture Fund. I may be wrong but, I don't think Barr sees himself as part of the whole charter school operators battalion at all. I think he's more in the mold of the the civil rights/social-justice movements or the early small-schools movement (pre-Gates). I know he gets money from Gates & Broad, but I think you are right, that money is chasing him. That's the way it should be.

But in your post about Green Dot above, you never mention the union issue. It's Barr's view on that question, along with his civic engagement approach, that distinguishes him from the KIPPs, Edisons, etc... Don't you think?

He certainly seems to have shaken things up in L.A. and now New York. I have to hand it to him.

Can Chicago be next?

Come to our Small Schools Workshop forum in Chicago on August 15th at National Lewis, where we will have a panel with Barr and the leaders of the CTU and IEA lay it out for us.

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