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Live From Summit 2017: Charters: Bigger, Better or Different?

This lively debate session was moderated by Marc Sternberg, K-12 Education Program Director at the Walton Family Foundation. Joining him as panelists were President and Superintendent at IDEA Public Schools, Jo Ann Gama, KIPP Foundation CEO, Richard Barth, and CEO/Co-Founder of Citizens of the World Charter Schools, Kriste Dragon. Each debater assumed a specific “role” as a proponent of Bigger Better or Different The session provoked the question, “What is the best role for charters?” and engaged attendees in considering where we as change-agents ought to concentrate our resources.


While debaters argued why “Bigger,” “Better,” or “Different” should be the objective, attendees examined their own beliefs about the purpose of charter schools and how to create many more great schools. Attendees considerd how incentives and objectives impact the types of schools that open and thrive in a community. They were polled at the beginning of the session to provide their opinion of whether charters should be bigger, better or just different. Fifteen percent of the attendees thought that Charters need to be Bigger; fourty-eight percent said that charters need to be “Better;” and thirty-eight percent felt that charters need to be Different. Gama argued that charters’ footprint needs to be bigger. Her arguments centered on the need for charters to respond to parent and community demand. Academic results and because they are better able to support schools. When you do it bigger – when you do it on a larger scale – you can have the most signigicant impact.

Dragon argued that they need to be different for three reasons:

  1. First, there is an equity-based argument, and an agency-based argument.
  2. Secondly, we haven’t allowed differnet models to exist for lower-income parents, which is inequitable and comes at the expense of the parent agency. Dragon stressed the importance of putting parents and families at the center of the work.
  3. Thirdly, Dragon provaocatively asked, “Is doing the same thing going to get us to a better tomorrow?”

Barth argued that Better has to be the top priority for charters going forward. If you don’t aim to be better, it is impossible to be excellent. Also, if we don’t try to be better, the elites will think that they’ve already seen the best of what’s possible. We have much to get better at: college counseling, SEL, differentiation, and more. Anything other focusing on doing “better for our students would inherently be doing less than what we should..

The winner – the person with the biggest delta from opening to closing: Bigger: 15 to 28% Better: 48 to 40% Different: 38 to 33%

Surprisingly, Bigger is the winner, with the greatest gains from the beginning of the session to the end. When debators were able to break character, they all agreed that all three priorities will play a role in delivering a great education to all students, and that the degree to which each is important depends on the context in which reform efforts are happening.

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