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November 02, 2009
Since the troubled birth of charter schools here in 1997, school districts have had a love/hate relationship with them. Some district officials have sought to embrace them as part of their larger reform efforts, while others have done everything in their power to kill them off. A few leaders have actually done both simultaneously.
In 1997, then-Dayton Public School District Superintendent James Williams brought together a broad coalition of community leaders in an effort to convert five failing schools into district-authorized charter schools. At the time, charter schools were a brand new concept in the Buckeye State. Williams envisioned educational "high-flyers" with innovative teaching programs, longer school days, and a longer school year designed to boost student achievement. He dreamed of someday converting the entire district to charters. His plan was ultimately scuttled by the local teachers union, the same union that recently vetoed Dayton's application for Race to the Top funding.
Fast forward to 2010 ???????? Cleveland Metropolitan School District CEO Eugene Sanders is pushing an Academic Transformation Plan that seeks real collaboration between the district and the city's current and future charter schools. The district is asking the city's top charters to join its "portfolio.??????? Yet, as Cleveland works to embrace charters as part of the solution, other districts continue to make life hard on charters. My colleague Kathryn wrote yesterday about the Cincinnati Public School District's lawsuit to prevent a prospective charter school operator from using a former district building he had purchased as a charter school. This is despite state law that encourages just this sort of collaboration between districts and charters.
The relationship between charters and districts in Ohio is like an adolescent love story -- plenty of emotions, lots of intrigue, and a very unsettled future.