Posted by mdruckman on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 at 2:02 pm
RE: NY Times: “Many Charter Schools, Varied Grades”
The NY Times article of May 2, 2010 entitled “Many Charter Schools, Varied Grades” lays the groundwork for understanding the challenges of urban education. While good charter schools are an exciting development, other pathways for success exist that deserve attention.
There is an alternate story that needs to be told to balance the enormous attention in recent years towards reforming failing schools, and starting new school models in an effort to end the devastating achievement gap. There is another option that has largely been ignored: building on the assets of high-performing schools that already exist in the community. It is time to eliminate the focus on the differences between schools, and concentrate on the common attributes that lead to student success. Rather than compare charter schools with district schools or ignore independent and faith-based schools, an alternate direction is to celebrate the success of any school with clear records of performance and outcomes. Once such schools are identified, the challenge is to grow them regardless of whether they are charter, independent or district, under the careful leadership of proven school leaders. This alternative can transform the status quo reliably and in a reasonable period of time.
Such an alternative is represented by Schools That Can (STC), a not-for-profit network of high-performing urban schools in low income communities that serve over 16,000 children nationwide. It is made up of a diverse group of independent, charter, district and faith-based schools that share common records of academic achievement, impressive student outcomes and strong leadership with can-do cultures. The key driving force is that these schools are all providing quality education and their governance style is not the determining factor to their success. Most STC member schools test at least at the equivalent of 75% at grade level on state assessment tests, show clear evidence of impressive outcomes and serve communities with federal free lunch percentages of 60% or above. While approximately 50% of the member schools are Charter Schools, the network is open to all schools that meet STC standards.
These issues and opportunities will be on full display at the upcoming Schools That Can Forum in Newark on May 21-22. This gathering is attracting many of the best school and education thought leaders in the country at a time of unprecedented change in urban education. The purpose of the Forum is valuable discourse at a time of uncertainty and sharing of best practices, collaborating and learning from each other.
At this years Forum an initiative will be discussed that can potentially change the national debate about urban education for years to come. Eight schools in Milwaukee that are either independent, charter, district or faith-based schools, all with proven track records, are engaged in a unique alliance. Our STC Milwaukee colleagues have developed an initiative that has the potential to transform urban education by growing good schools with proven leadership and using the know-how of leaders in existing high-performing Milwaukee schools to mentor other school leaders in emerging schools. Local business and foundation leaders are rallying behind this initiative. The vision of “collaborating for quality education” is an exciting development that will affect children of our cities for years to come.
The Milwaukee initiative has set a ten-year objective to double the number of quality education seats through organic growth and replication, where leadership of mature schools will coach emerging schools. If this vision is achieved, 15% of the urban student population will experience quality education by 2020. This is transformational change.
Milwaukee is not alone in this effort. Similar STC initiatives have begun to take shape in Cleveland and Newark. These are all at an early stage in a movement that seeks educational reform by leveraging the assets of existing educational resources in the community – schools that have already proven they can provide a quality education.
It certainly appears that a significant component of educational revitalization lies with building from existing community assets. Consider the experience of the Trey Whitfield School in East New York, Brooklyn in 2002. We helped to save this School, an independent high-performing school, after they lost their lease and needed to quickly find a new facility for almost 500 students.
We built a collaboration of banking, foundation and community leaders who believed in the school and in the students. This group rallied to help find a new home, and three years later, the school moved into a totally renovated six-story building. Today, this same school is considered among the best middle schools in New York State, and is considering adding high school grade levels. An existing educational asset survived, thrived and is growing thanks to the collaborative support of the community. The same dynamic for supporting high-performing schools that already exist in the community is developing in Milwaukee and other STC cities. We think we are on to something important and worthy of attention in the national debate for reforming education in our country.
The above is written by Michael Druckman, Chairman and CEO of Schools That Can and Board Chair of the Trey Whitfield School and AB Whitfield, President and Co-Founder of the Trey Whitfield School, a member school of Schools That Can.