Cats, Dogs, and Children?

Along with national education thinkers, leaders, and reformers like Frederick Hess, Jim Blew of the Walton Family Foundation, and Don Shalvey of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, I was recently asked by the Center on Reinventing Public Education to describe the future of district/charter collaboration. Below is my blog response. To read thoughts and opinions from other education experts, visit the Center’s web page.

Coming Full Circle by Mike Feinberg

The push around the country for public charter schools and traditional districts to work together is an exciting development in our collective efforts to build truly effective public systems of schools for all our children. It also means that, in some cities, charters and districts are coming full circle. Take KIPP’s history, for example. KIPP started within the Houston public school system as a program and then as an in-district charter school. When there was no more room to house us, we became a state charter school, and we have been operating outside of the traditional school system for the past decade. Now, first with Galveston ISD and soon with Spring Branch ISD, KIPP has returned to the traditional school system by starting in-district charter schools.

In some cities, the relationship between charter schools and the traditional school district is analogous to cats and dogs, and that’s not surprising; competition is a new concept in public education, as we haven’t reformed our delivery system for educating our children in over a century and have relied on a government monopoly to deliver the educational services to our communities. Ultimately though, the cats and dogs need to learn to co-exist for a purpose larger than either of them. If we start from the perspective that all of our efforts are aimed at helping all of the children have a great education and a great life, then traditional districts and charters are two members of the local public system of schools that can achieve this mission for their children more effectively in harmony than in battle. Many other industries have proven it is possible for competitors to work together to help their industry flourish, and there is no reason why the different members of the public education community cannot do the same.

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