I am on my way this morning to a meeting of the state Charter Schools Commission (10 a.m. in the Twin Towers, 1414 west tower, if anyone wants to come.) The agenda includes a strategy session, and I am interested to see what the strategies might be and whether they will address the pending state Supreme Court ruling on the commission’s legitimacy.
In the meantime, I’d like to direct you to education researcher Rick Hess’ short blog this week raising concerns about the Broad Prize going to Gwinnett County, which he describes as anti-charter system. (An overdue hat tip here to Attentive Parent for mentioning the Hess commentary on the blog this morning.)
Hess can speak for himself on that issue but I want to raise another one here: What I find interesting about Gwinnett and its achievements — which are real and verifiable — is that the district has not jumped on many fads or broken new ground. It has flourished under the strong hand of a strong superintendent, whose main talent seems to be hiring excellent principals, who, in turn, hire good teachers. I have personally seen good teachers leave DeKalb and APS to go to Gwinnett and they report back that they are more respected and have clear goals and good leadership at their schools.
On paper, my view of a good school system would have been the DeKalb model. The county offered school choice in the form of magnets long before the rest of the country. It has tried many off-the-shelf reform models and a few of its own. Yet, it’s a mess, and I suspect will be even more so once it starts a painful redistricting process that will likely reassign children from performing schools to under performing ones.
DeKalb’s failings owe to a lack of strong leadership, the element more critical to school success than any reforms, whether magnet or charters, whether block or traditional, whether longer day or longer year.
Gwinnett is succeeding on what might be called the “old school” school reform model: Get a good plan and good people and stick with them.
I understand the criticisms, including those coming from Hess, of the system’s antipathy toward charters, but I also understand that Wilbanks has a vision for his system, and that vision has been producing notable gains in closing the achievement gap. So, should Gwinnett acquiesce to the latest wave of reform trends or stick to what it has been doing?
Here is what Hess says about Gwinnett’s Broad Prize award this week. (Read in full here):
Unmentioned by all, and for good reason, was that Gwinnett is in the middle of a very unreformish attempt to prohibit the Georgia Charter Schools Commission (GCSC) from approving or funding charter schools. Awk-ward….
Gwinnett has been one of several districts suing the state since 2007 over the GCSC’s “imposition” of charter schools. This is especially awkward in the case of charters like Ivy Preparatory Academy, an all-girls charter which is outperforming county schools in seven out of ten content areas. I find it more than a little depressing to think that the nation’s exemplar of urban school reform is engaged in a multi-year campaign to shut down charters.