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June 08, 2011
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Yesterday, to go along with the release of its annual report on the state of American charter schools, the Center for Reinventing Public Education asked several experts to answer a tricky question: What is the future of district/charter collaboration? Here's my take:
The topic of collaboration between districts and charter
schools inevitably leads to Cold War imagery. Are we talking about appeasement?
Détente? Trust but verify?
Like the ideal of world peace, it’s easy to agree about
cooperation—moving from a “battleground” to “common ground,” as one Gates
Foundation official put it. But how can we ensure that cooperation doesn’t turn
into an excuse to co-opt the charter school movement?
The key, it seems to me, is for charters to come to the
negotiating table as equal powers.
To be sure, some enlightened superintendents and school
boards will welcome charter school engagement for all the right reasons. But
local politics being what they are, let’s not take goodwill as a given. Through
a prism of Realpolitik (!), the key
to making partnerships work is even strength on either side.
What that implies is that long-lasting charter-district
collaborations are only likely to work in locales where charter schools boast
serious market share and significant political power. So before charter schools
sit down to hammer out a deal, they should:
Until these three conditions are met, charter schools will
always play David to the district Goliath. Collaboration is great, but only
when the local charter school movement is ready for it.