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Home » Issues » Choice & Charter Schools » Opportunities Under Siege – National Charter Schools Week 2018: An Open Letter from Jeanne Allen


Opportunities Under Siege – National Charter Schools Week 2018: An Open Letter from Jeanne Allen


National Charter Schools Week 2018

In the 27+ years since the founding of the charter school movement, tremendous progress has been made in the number of schools established, and in the wealth of innovative opportunities they offer to children, families, teachers and communities. In the 25 years CER has been leading the fight for innovation and opportunity in education, we’ve been privy to the best hearts and minds that one could ever hope to bring together under one tent to serve children and expand educational excellence.

They make up the world’s most dedicated advocates – parents, policy advocates, legislators – and some of brightest minds in the areas of education technology, pedagogy, curriculum, teaching and learning has helped create a vibrant community of charters. When we first started celebrating  National Charter Schools Week with events on Capitol Hill and in every city, it was still a novel idea. The power of that idea now has seen a payoff for children and families that has catalyzed cities, improved communities and created life changing futures for students once relegated only to failing schools.

So why then, tell me, do so many members of the education establishment not want to break out of their comfort and ideological rigidity and embrace a cause that has paved the way for innovations in teaching and learning? Why did they ignore the data that saw charter school achievement for the most needing of students soaring in many states on this year’s Nation’s Report Card and instead, dedicated their money, time and public relations army to convincing teachers to abandon their work and walk out of union and non-union schools alike?  Why are those same teachers unions trying to create unrest in the largest and most successful network of public charter schools, the Alliance College Ready Public Schools, even after 3 years of trying, 10 lawsuits and thousands of home visits have still turned up short of those committed teachers wanting to unionizes their successful independent public schools?

I’ll tell you why. Because even despite chronic underfunding and a constant misinformation campaign and attack by opponents of charters and education transformation, more than 7,000 charters serve more than three million children in urban, suburban and even a few rural communities across the country. Together with waiting lists over one million nationwide, and engaged adults and staffs around those kids that are close to 20 million all in, this is a movement that was once considered unthinkable but that is now unstoppable.

We are tri-partisan, we are mixed in race, creed and color, we are diverse in socio-economics and occupation and we count among us visionaries, parents, public servants, politicians, activists, lawyers, doctors, working class, poor and just plain old fashioned committed folks.

Together we believe that all children deserve a great education and we aim to make sure they get it.

Together we know that learning is a natural phenomenon and schools built around it will ensure the achievement of learners.

Together we believe that uniformity of educational pedagogy, pay scales or expected performance only produced mediocrity, at best.

Together, we believe that no child should be forced to attend a school against their wishes and because of where they were born.

Together we believe that those closest to our kids know best and that with parents engaged, educators, school leaders and community leaders know best how to serve our students.

Together, we know that the traditional factory model of education is to schooling today what landlines are to mobile phones. And together we have and will continue to fight to ensure that better education is accessible to every child, every learner, at every level.

We know that charter school students surpass their traditional public school counterparts in key areas of learning and proficiency. We know that the safe, supportive learning environments that charter schools provide makes them a far-and-away better choice for parents than many troubled traditional public schools. We know that traditional education changes when they are pressured with the availability of other options. And we know that when charter schools do not meet expectations or the provisions of their charter, they can be and are closed, something that seldomly occurs in the 180 year old system that is designed so that no matter what their performance, they remain open.

To our dear friends and allies and the many thousands who toil daily to work in, create, support and advance charter schools, we must band together even more to recommit ourselves to the strong policies and programs that put charter schools on the map and have given millions of students over the years a path to the future. For despite our success we are under siege.

This past year we have witnessed the unthinkable. A union boss race baiting over charter schools, the NAACP calling for their moratorium, school districts denying funding and fighting to recapture control.

There are legislators who refuse to fund laws they pass, or set bureaucratic limitations on the power of charter schools to set their own course for success. They fear political risks, and fewer and fewer legislators are willing to stand four-square behind the boldest of charter school policies – those that create the kinds of educational success we see in Arizona, Florida, and Indiana, to name just three. Best to keep your head down and placate the powerful special interests than to take the bold steps needed to deliver real reform via strong charter laws. Then there are those, including some mayors, who fear nothing and simply believe that their old tired and worn allegiances with big union money power are the only cause worth fighting for.

On the other side of the ledger, we have witnessed in recent years the well-intentioned but damaging work of those allies who help those legislators, or create those rules and believe that state-required and imperfect standards and assessments are superior judges of educational success.  Their “we know more than you and your parents” mindset has been on a downward spiralthat is discouraging the creation of innovative schools, new entrants to leadership and teaching, and the creativity that charters once protected better than any other educational entity.

If we shed the obstacles that bind limit our reach, our power and our work we can transform education for learners at all levels. The opportunities for education in this 21st global century are boundless. And necessary. As Jefferson argued “no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.”

There is much to celebrate. This week we will bring you stories of success, captivating interviews with charter leaders, and data to bolster your arguments. Cheer them on, but remember they are under siege. We must fight for them, and remove the obstacles to the charter idea reaching more people. Only that way will the children be well and prosper.

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