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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

Education Opinion

Part II: Why Relinquishment Is Not Yet Inevitable

By Guest Blogger — November 20, 2013 4 min read

Note: Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, is guest posting this week.

That Relinquishment is not yet inevitable is in some ways obvious. After all, only one city in the country, New Orleans, has adopted its core principles. But, surprisingly (I didn’t expect this to be the case when I started formulating this piece), I believe Relinquishment could become inevitable over the coming decades. Here’s why.

The Three Beliefs

For Relinquishment to become inevitable, the public, policy elites, and school district leadership will need to hold three beliefs, each of which builds upon the previous:


  1. Families have a fundamental right for school choice.
  2. To realize choice, families should be able to choose from at least some schools run by non-governmental institutions.
  3. A system of schools run completely run by educators will outperform a system of schools operated by the government.

So how do elites, the public, and district leaders feel about this cascading set of beliefs in choice, non-governmental choice, and a full choice system? See below...

The Public

Our current educational debates often mask the fact that 74% of the public favors public school choice.

And once they get choice, they don’t want to go back: in New Orleans, which the Brookings Institute ranked #1 on their school choice index, 90% of parents strongly agreed that it is important to be able to choose their children’s school.

The public also believes that choice should include options outside of local government entities. Charter schools have scored at least a 64% approval rate for the past four years (with a big jump from the 51% support rating in 2008). Moreover, as with gay rights, there is some emerging evidence that charter schools garner greater favor amongst younger generations.

When it comes to Relinquishment, however, the public is not clamoring for 100% charter school districts. I couldn’t even find a published poll that asked a question that might help me gauge public opinion. The public generally supports choice and charters, but it has not gravitated toward a broader version of Relinquishment.

The Elites

Over the past two decades, political elites enacted a slew of regulations - most notably No Child Left Behind’s transfer position - that provide for increased choice. Numerous carriers of elite opinion have endorsed school choice, such as: editorial boards (Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times); influential political coalitions (Chiefs for Change); liberal think tanks (Center for American Progress); conservative think tanks (all of them).

All told, elites of both political parties support choice.

Additionally, most of the aforementioned organizations support some non-governmental operation of schools. Perhaps most notably, the 2011 federal Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act passed the full House with a 365-54 vote. In age of hyper-partisanship, very few issues gain consistent bi-partisan support at the federal level. Charter schools do.

Yet, despite strong elite support for choice and charter schools, Relinquishment cannot claim bipartisan elite support. The first two necessary beliefs (choice and charters) are in place - the third belief (system of educator operated schools will outperform traditional systems) is not. Yes, some thought leaders - both liberal and conservative - have publicly supported the New Orleans model. But they remain in the minority.

District Leadership

Over the past two decades, there has been a significant evolution of district leadership on the issue of choice and charters. It was not long ago that only academics living in Seattle uttered the term “portfolio school district” (portfolio strategies generally include within district choice and support for charter schools). Today, approximately 35% of the nation’s one hundred largest school districts execute portfolio strategies, and 14 districts have publicly committed to partnering with charter schools. The times are changing.

Yet, despite this progress, and my best blogging efforts, Patrick Dobard is the only sitting superintendent to commit to creating a 100% charter school district. For all practical purposes, Relinquishment is uniformly rejected by every school district in the country. Roughly 0% of district leaders believe their role is to regulate, and not operate, schools.

Inching Toward Inevitability

To summarize: the foundations of Relinquishment continue to gain ground. Choice and charter schools receive significant bi-partisan, mainstream support. Yet, New Orleans is the only city in the nation where the transition to a fully educator run system has taken place.

As things stand, few people are calling that we transition away from our government operated systems.

What it will it take for this to change and for Relinquishment to become inevitable?

I’ll tackle that tomorrow.

-- Neerav Kingsland

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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