Opinion Blog


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. Read more from this blog.

School Choice & Charters Opinion

Portents of Success for Charter Schools

By Rick Hess — June 13, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I wouldn’t have expected it, but events of the last 24 hours have got me in a surprisingly chipper mood.

First off, it was terrific to see some well-deserved recognition for the Success Academy. In the face of bureaucratic hostility, endless second-guessing about discipline and various school policies, and a bizarre amount of vitriol, the Success Academy earned the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools (Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Broad Prize review board). Success has accomplished some truly remarkable things: There’s the extraordinary performance on state reading and math tests. There’s the rapid growth, from one school to more than 40 (serving 14,000 students) in the course of a decade. There’s the commitment to a rich curriculum, an admirable enthusiasm for chess, and an unapologetic commitment to excellence.

Success isn’t to everyone’s taste—observers can reasonably think the school’s discipline policies are too strict for their taste or founder Eva Moskowitz’s expectations for teachers and students too high. Okay. That’s fine. Over the years, people have voiced similar concerns about Steve Jobs and Apple or Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. That’s good company to be in. I kind of wish we had more of those single-minded visionaries in schooling. And the nice thing about charter schooling is that no one has to attend a Success Academy school. If it’s not for you, so be it. But it turns out that there are thousands of families who think their children will benefit from what Success has to offer, and thousands more on waitlists hoping to get their children that same opportunity.

One of the striking things about Success’s story, at least to me, is how Success has posted such impressive results and growth while simultaneously conducting an ongoing struggle with New York City over everything from facilities access to preschool regulations. This also has the unfortunate consequence of shifting the conversation away from the more important issues. As I see it, discussion of Success should revolve around one big question: Why do Success’s academic results seem so outsized, even compared to some of the nation’s other, most-accomplished charter schools? Instead, when Success comes up, the question is frequently: Why do opponents and New York bureaucrats seem so interested in throwing obstacles up in Success’s way?

Anyway, like I said, I was pleased to see Success Academy reap some well-earned plaudits to set alongside all the brickbats and second-guessing. And, surprisingly, it’s not the only news that’s got me a little upbeat.

On Monday, the White House held a confab for school-choice supporters to talk about what’s ahead for its federal school push. Last week, I’d been told that this was going to be the White House scolding everyone, “The train’s leaving the station, time to shut up, get on board, and do as you’re told.” As you can surmise, I would’ve had a big problem with that (in part, it prompted me to pen last week’s imagined presidential address). Instead, though, I was gladdened to hear that it turned out to be an honest-to-goodness listening session. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway listened, asked questions, and took notes, while several dozen advocates offered competing perspectives and prescriptions. Concerns about burdensome federal regulations, heavy-handed mandates, and the problem with one-size-fits-all education directives were aired and given a respectful hearing. That was a heartening development and one that I found reassuring.

Then, on Tuesday, DeVos gave a speech to the annual charter-school conference that evinced an admirable concern for just those things that have stymied Success. Quoting from my recent blog “It’s Easy to Become ‘The Man,’” she expressed concerns about reformers who “become just another breed of bureaucrats—a new education establishment.” She echoed my concern about 500-page charter-school applications, noting, “That’s not progress. That’s fundamentally at odds with why parents demanded charters in the first place.” It was DeVos articulating the kinds of practical frustrations that bedevil so many educators, parents, and community members—especially that trio of dynamic teachers who might want to launch a charter, but don’t have the time or bandwidth to navigate an application process that requires two years, foundation support, and a professional proposal writer.

Good signs. Now, we’ll see what tidings they bring.

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.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Virtual Charters in Hot Water Again. Accusations of Fraud Prompt $150M Lawsuit
Indiana officials seek to recoup more than $150 million they say was either wrongly obtained or misspent by a consortium of virtual schools.
Arika Herron, The Indianapolis Star
2 min read
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. Rokita filed a lawsuit against a group of online charter schools accused of defrauding the state out of millions of dollars Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
School Choice & Charters How the Pandemic Helped Fuel the Private School Choice Movement
State lawmakers got a new talking point as they pushed to create and expand programs to send students to private schools.
8 min read
Collage showing two boys in classroom during pandemic wearing masks with cropped photo of feet and arrows going in different directions.
Collage by Gina Tomko/EducationWeek (Images: Getty)
School Choice & Charters Opinion Taking Stock After 30 Years of Charter Schools
Rick Hess speaks with Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, on charter schools turning 30.
8 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters In Fight Over Millions of Dollars for Charter Schools, a Marijuana Tax May Bring Peace
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously to rescind a polarizing lawsuit settlement, pending certain stipulations.
Nuria Martinez-Keel, The Oklahoman
3 min read
Money bills cash funds close up Getty
Getty