All Aboard for National School Choice Week in Chicago

On January 29 I joined the National School Choice Week Express in Chicago on its Whistle-Stop Tour across the nation.  And what a celebration it was!  Despite the pouring rain outside, Chicago’s Union Station was teeming with charter school parents, teachers and students.  Their passion for their schools and their school choice was unmistakable!  See the photos below.

I was invited by the Illinois Network of Charter Schoolsto join the rally.  David Weinberg, pictured with me to the right, is founder and board chair of the Network.  About 12.5% of all public school students in Chicago attend a public charter school.  I watched with interest last year during the teachers strike in the Chicago district schools.   The heart of the debate was not salary—it was about accountability.   That is a good debate!  Performance accountability has been fundamental to the charter school contract since chartering began twenty years ago. If performance objectives are not met, the school can be closed.  That doesn’t happen with district schools.

Heartland Institute hears Zero Chance of Passage

The Heartland Institute, based in Chicago, is a national nonprofit research organization dedicated to finding and promoting “ideas that empower people.” That certainly describes chartering and public school choice, so I was pleased to be their featured speaker during National School Choice Week.   The Heartland Institute has been a strong supporter of chartering with legislators around the nation.  You can hear the Heartland daily podcast about the Pioneering Story of Charter Schools here, and see a video of my presentation here.   Granted, the conservative audience and I did not agree on everything, but there was plenty of common ground and robust conversation.  We fundamentally agree on this:  sometimes the best thing that policymakers can do is step back, remove the barriers, and let citizens take the lead. That’s how we have over 5600 charter schools in the nation today!  Perhaps most surprising to this Chicago audience was how chartering emerged from a Democratic legislature over union opposition, and how Minnesota is now home to the first teachers union-initiated charter school authorizer in the nation.   Zero Chance  is indeed feeding a new conversation from both sides of the aisle, and I love that!

The Joyce Foundation Comes to Minnesota

While in Chicago, I visited with fellow Duke University alum Butch Trusty of The Joyce Foundation, which is dedicated to “development of policies that improve the quality of life for people in the Great Lakes Region and serve as models for the rest of the country.”  Butch is Senior Program Officer for the Education Program, committed to improving teacher quality, insuring children’s literacy by third grade, and supporting high quality public charter schools and other educational innovations.  The Joyce Foundation is focused on improving public education in Chicago, Indianapolis, and now Minneapolis, especially by eliminating barriers that prevent low-income students and children of color from reaching their full educational potential.  This is a welcome new partner in Minneapolis!  The Joyce Foundation will work with MinnCAN and Minneapolis Public Schools among other partners in these efforts.