Accountability Opinion

Coexistence With Charters Requires a New School System

By Charles Taylor Kerchner — March 14, 2016 1 min read
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Increasingly, charter-friendly writers and activists, such as Andy Smarick, are coming to the conclusion that simply adding more charters doesn’t fix a city’s education system.

Writing in the Fordham Institute blog, Smarick lauds Washington DC’s charter sector, but sees the overhanging systemic issue. “We have two sectors [charter and district], scores of operators, and hundreds of campuses, but we don’t have a coherent system of schools,” he writes in a hypothetical speech for DC’s mayor.

The need for a systemic approach has been increasingly obvious as one looks at the U.S. charter landscape. Rather than freeing school reform from toxic politics, charter-based reforms have created intense and protracted political battles. Rather than pointing the way to a solution, veteran reformist school administrators maintain that district reforms and charters are on a collision course.

So what of Smarick’s plan?

First, he advocates that district schools should gain the same autonomy as charters, by becoming charters, and the district would become a charter management organization.

Second, a new body—independent of both the district and the charter operators—would put all district-run schools on a performance contract. Operating authority would be severed from performance accountability. The city would have a portfolio school system, but the existing school district wouldn’t run it. In a portfolio system, by definition, the school authority assembles the best schools it can regardless of who operates them.

Third, a student-based funding formula for all schools would be introduced.

Fourth, a new democratically controlled body would be responsible for the portfolio of schools and a limited number of central office functions, such as managing facilities and a central enrollment system.

I don’t know much about the politics of the District of Columbia and, thus, have no inkling of whether Smarick’s proposal is likely to win support there. I wouldn’t support it as a model for Los Angeles.

But that’s not the point, which is that Smarick’s bold enough to actually propose a new system. Folks who are contemplating the future of Los Angeles schools should also be required to think in systemic terms.

The opinions expressed in On California 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.