Charters and Turnaround

Lesli Maxwell has a post over at EdWeek exploring whether or not charter organizations will play a role in school turnaround.  Many CMOs are (understandably) tentative about applying their skills and resources to turnaround.  The reasons for this are myriad, and I discuss some of them in my recent SSIR piece.  Despite some overlap in the skill sets a competencies necessary to start new schools vs. turn around existing ones, the enterprises are quite different.

I fear, however, that the conventional wisdom has become something like:

Starting new schools = reasonable and scalable

Turning around existing schools = impossible and avoidable

I have a few hypotheses for the propagation of this mindset, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the charter sector has – writ large – been a more hospitable policy environment for exercising entrepreneurship and dynamic leadership.  Existing school systems have rejected change for decades, and working outside of systems has become the modus operandi for a lot of reform-minded folks.  The education policy landscape is changing, however.  Districts and states are increasingly seeing the need to use outside partners in a symbiotic manner and are willingly creating a more welcoming climate for entrepreneurship.  See: Philadelphia, Chicago, DC, Boston, Baltimore, and others.

That is to say, if it were 1992, and I told you that in 2010, there would be over 5000 independent, extra-system charter schools in America, you would laugh me out of the room.  Now that we’re focused on the right levers of change – changing operating conditions, ensuring that low performing schools are staffed with the most effective educators and leaders, and committing real funds to change strategies – the turnaround space can look dramatically different than it does today.  It just requires some organizations with vision to take the lead.


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