A Tentative Embrace of Charter Schools?


The New Yorker has a fascinating profile [registration required, or just read it for free here] of Los Angeles charter school revolutionary Steve Barr of Green Dot, the outfit that engineered a hostile takeover of one of South Central L.A.'s worst public schools in 2007. It's mostly one of those irrestible force/immovable object stories, in which a hardass discovers at mid-life his calling to take on massively powerful and entrenched public-education bureaucracies, but sprinkled in was some news I hadn't seen about the Obama administration at least paying lip service to the idea of taking Green Dot national:

Barr got a call from thenew Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He flew to Washington, D.C., at the end of March, for what he expected to be a social visit. At the meeting, Duncan revealed that he was interested in committing several billion dollars of the education stimulus package to a Locke-style takeover and transformation of the lowest-performing one per cent of schools across the country, at least four thousand of hem, in the next several years. The Department of Education would favor districts that agreed to partner with an outside group, like Green Dot. "You seem to have cracked the code," Duncan told Barr. […]

"We're being asked, 'Could you guys do five schools in L.A. next year? Could you expand beyond L.A.?' If you'd asked a month ago, 'What about Green Dot America?,' I would have said, 'No way.' But if this President wants to get after it I'm going to reconsider." […]

Duncan asked Barr what it would take to break up and remake thousands of large failing schools. "One, you have to reconstitute," Barr told him–that is, fire everyone and make them reapply or transfer elsewhere in the district. "Arne didn't seem to flinch at that," he said. […]

This month, Barr expects to meet again with [American Federation of Teachers President Randi] Weingarten and her staff and outline plans for a Green Dot America, a national school-turnaround partnership between Green Dot and the A.F.T. Their first city would most likely be Washington, D.C.

I am more than a tad skeptical about Arne Duncan's commitment to union-challenging reform, particularly in Washington, D.C., and there's something disproportionate about showering cheap praise on the drop while an expensive bucket rots nearby, but at this point in the ongoing travesty that is our public education system I will take what reasons for optimism I can get.

Watch Drew Carey talk about Locke High School below: