Charter or traditional?
Everyone in the education field will eventually be faced with this question, whether they are considering a job change or exploring opportunities to partner with other organizations.
Despite the weight of all the associations attached to the question, I am grateful that there is a choice and that both “sides” present opportunities to do better for kids.
I moved back to my hometown of Cleveland two summers ago to work for Breakthrough Charter Schools and I’ve found that charters have special offerings other schools don’t provide.
- A Sense of Community
First, there is a sense of collegiality nationwide. In an education landscape that often feels riddled with battles and vehement opposition, I have found such joy, peace and connection through friendly networking with other charters and thought leaders across the country. I had a phone conference with an administrator who leads principal training at a charter school on the East Coast, comparing notes about creating leadership development programs and principal residencies. In the same week, the director of a new charter school from the South came to visit us for a day of sharing best practices on everything from opening a school to teacher retention. Weeks like this are fairly common.Perhaps it is our shared scrappiness or the urgency to live up to the promises we made upon opening our schools. Whatever the reason, there is a sense of cooperation. Consulting with others strengthens the quality of various programs, and building active connections keeps staff motivated and empowered. This is a big movement. We have to rely on one another.This, I believe, is something that can be lent to the broader education conversation.
- The Power of Choice
Second, real choice matters, not only in terms of the kind of school children attend. Kids have different learning styles, so schools should follow suit.For instance, Breakthrough has four models: intergenerational, where students are clustered according to their developmental stages; preparatory, a more structured model emphasizing academic rigor; the citizens model of encouraging students to become involved in civic affairs; and the expeditionary model of hands-on, project based learning.
- More Quality Options
Finally, the coexistence of charters and traditional public schools builds a stronger future for education. We may not yet be in the place where we can move past coexistence and into true partnership on behalf of children, but the diversity of these two sides has spawned better conversations about how to create whole districts where each child has a desk in a great school waiting for them.
In some places, like Cleveland, we are also seeing this conversation evolve and be reframed to push everyone further. Our effort to transform the city’s education landscape, the Cleveland Plan, was formed by and built on strong district-charter partnerships. It seeks to triple the number of children in a quality school. It grows high-performing schools—charter or traditional—and closes or replaces failing schools, realigns district roles to better support schools in need and enable autonomy, and invests in essential school programs such as early-childhood education.
The question of charter versus traditional will continue to be one that steers the decisions of individuals. There is so much good that comes from wrestling with this question and what each side offers—so much so that I am confident that one day we’ll move that question into a riper space for real choice and progress, capitalizing on the unique contributions of each, and do away with the question altogether.