More Heat than Light

April 26, 2010

For evidence that the terrain has shifted for education entrepreneurs, one need look no further than last week’s much-publicized hearing convened by State Senator Bill Perkins (D-Harlem) in downtown Manhattan. In what has been described as hours of “volatile” and “testy” debate, supporters and opponents of New York charter schools traded barbs over charges of fiscal mismanagement and corruption in some charter schools. At one point during the marathon hearing, New York State Deputy Commissioner of Education (and NewSchools Summit 2010 panelist) John King told Senator Perkins:

I wish for a day when we can hold a hearing about what goes on in the highest performing schools, and all of these reporters will come, and all these people will be here. I share your frustration about the politicization of education. And I wish for that day.

To which Perkins replied: “That day will come. But it’s not today.”

It used to be that charter school leaders could keep their heads down, focusing their attention on the curriculum and instruction, culture, and school design that would prepare students to achieve academically and graduate from college. Leaders allowed the results to speak for themselves. However, as public and political interest increasingly falls on the work of innovative education nonprofits, the necessity of telling one’s story effectively, developing a political strategy, and mobilizing supporters rises as well. To be sure, there are some poorly managed schools in the charter sector and greater transparency is needed. Yet the charges of mismanagement are not only overblown, but also unrepresentative of the sector writ large. How to counter the sensationalized headlines and focus attention on increasing the number of exceptional schools – district or charter – for traditionally underserved students? Join us for that question and many more on May 12.