I recognize that a high proportion of my friends are wonks obsessed with education policy who will probably like this book, but really, other people interested in the fate of civilization should read it, too. Andy Smarick presents a compelling set of arguments about how and why we should apply the principles and lessons of chartering to urban school systems.
Although not the first person to point out that states should withdraw the exclusive franchises given to districts (he rightly cites Ted Kolderie), he provides a useful sketch of historical context and connects the dots among numerous key studies and findings. Exhibit A is that many urban districts have been failing for a long time, and decades of efforts to fix them have also failed. As one USDOE report notes: “Businesses operate under the immediate threat of bankruptcy and termination; schools typically do not.” In other words, it doesn’t matter to districts how they perform: there are no real consequences. For those who criticize charters as having insufficient influence on districts, he cites a 2005 study of Washington, DC’s charter sector, which concluded that the district appears “impervious.” Indeed.
Smarick acknowledges that not all charters are great and that the charter sector needs to be more vigilant about closing poor-performing schools. And he argues that we need to apply that same rigor to district schools—and also to private schools, if they would like to opt into the new system that he proposes. In his new system, a chancellor oversees authorizers, operators (who might be CMOs [charter management organizations], or EMOs [education management organizations], or DMOs [district management organizations], or even PMOs [private school management organizations]), and schools. He’s sketched out some key issues that would need to be resolved. It will probably take at least another book to wrestle with them more fully. I would love to see an entire conference devoted to tackling these issues.
The bottom line to Smarick’s proposal, which I applaud, is that the key determinant of a school’s existence—no matter what sector it comes from—should be QUALITY. It makes sense. I’d love to see it happen.