Bridging the Gap Across Charters and District Schools
We are publishing a blog series about themes to be discussed at the upcoming Vision 2015 conference on Delaware public education to be held on October 9. Every Friday leading up to the event, we will feature a blog post authored by a different conference panelist.
This blog post is the second in the series, written by Vision 2015 Implementation Team member Dan Rich. This blog post is representative of his opinions, rather than a Vision 2015 recommendation or reflective of policy positions of the Rodel Foundation of Delaware. To read the first blog post, “Preparing Delaware’s Youngest Learners for Success,” written by Harriet Dichter, Director of the Delaware Office of Early Learning, click here.
Central to the rationale for charter schools is their anticipated role as demonstration schools, creative educational environments where innovations in teaching and learning could be piloted and evaluated. Successful innovations would be shared and scaled-up for adoption by other charters as well as district public schools. In Delaware, however, there have been few sustained substantive bridges between charter schools and school districts, a condition in Delaware that stands in sharp contrast to the operation of charters and traditional schools in most of the nation.
Nationally, almost 90 percent of charter schools are authorized by local school districts. This structure in itself helps to foster communication, coordination, and collaboration between charters and traditional schools. In Delaware, however, about 90 percent of charters are authorized by the state outside of schools districts. Indeed, only one school district, Red Clay, has authorized charter schools. As a result, there is a structural divide between charters and traditional school districts in Delaware that does not exist in most of the nation. Without building bridges to strengthen the collaborations of charters and school districts, Delaware will proceed down a path towards creating, funding, and operating two largely disconnected public education systems. All Delawareans should find this path unacceptable.
Our public education system has the potential to be much stronger for having both charter and district schools and now is the time to actualize that potential. To do that, we need to implement effective and sustained collaborations that enable both charter and district schools to actively and continuously support the overall improvement of the public education system. There are good precedents for what is needed right here in the First State. For example, the nonprofit Vision Network of Delaware Schools facilitates a collaborative association of 26 district and charter schools that work to accelerate student achievement through coordinated programs, including joint professional development for education leaders and teachers that support continuous improvement in school leadership, classroom instruction, and school culture. Another example is the Model Schools Alliance, organized by Innovative Schools, that has helped promote improvements in traditional and charter schools.
A recent encouraging step is the establishment of the Charter-District Collaboration Task Force that includes representatives from charter schools and districts as well as state education leaders and leaders in the Delaware General Assembly. This Task Force will consider the nature and extent of existing collaboration within the public education system, and develop recommendations to strengthen and sustain this collaboration.
Collaboration needs to be strengthened across the entire public education system, among districts, charters, and vo-tech schools as well as across these domains. But the most critical need is to act now to build strong bridges between charter schools and district schools, including vo-tech schools. The longer we fail to act, the more these different parts of the public education system will develop separately, and the more difficult it will be to build bridges later.
Educationally and financially, Delaware cannot afford two disconnected public education systems. Delaware’s students will not be effectively served by a bifurcated system in which collaboration and shared learning across charters and traditional schools is the exception rather than the norm. Delaware tax-payers should not be expected to support such a system. What we need now is the will and determination to connect the building blocks of our public education system in ways that support improved learning for all of our students.
To learn other opinions, ideas, and to engage in the conversation about the challenges and opportunities to sharing best practices across Delaware’s schools visit the “Connecting Across Schools and Districts” session on October 9th. Visit the conference web app now to express your opinions or questions about how we can encourage and share best practices and innovative thinking throughout our system.