How to practice solution journalism part 2: Ask what needs to happen next
One of the reasons we launched Dowser was to counter a pervasive bias in the news—a bias against the future. Too often journalists report on yesterday’s events without giving readers a sense of the implications—and possibilities—for tomorrow.
The New York Times recently ran a story reporting that most charter schools fail to outperform ordinary public schools. This is an important story given all the hype surrounding the charter school movement. But the article failed to explain the role that leading charter schools are playing today in national efforts to reform education.
Before I explain why—a quick refresher on the charter school movement: Charter schools are elementary or secondary schools that are exempt from many of the rules and regulations that govern other public schools. In exchange for greater autonomy, charter schools are supposed to be held to higher accountability standards. Charter schools are publicly funded but they often receive private support as well.
Charter schools sound like a good idea, right? And some of them perform very well. In fact, some of the most innovative schools in the country serving low income students are charter schools, such as those run by KIPP, Uncommon Schools and the Harlem Children’s Zone. These schools have gained national attention for their success raising student achievement rates. As the Times points out, however, they are the exceptions. Most charter schools perform no better than other schools, and many fare worse. In practice, they are not being held to the standards in their charters.
But while the Times’ article exposes the problem, it doesn’t consider how it might be solved. And it doesn’t really explain why charter schools matter. Right now, the country is engaged in a massive education experiment. The Department of Education has deployed $4.3 billion in its Race to the Top fund to encourage school systems to find new ways to improve performance.
The question is: What should schools do? Educators desperately need new ideas and practical models to work from. And successful charter schools are among the few providing them. They are demonstrating new possibilities and, along the way, overcoming the tyranny of low expectations. More than ever, we need innovation in education. And the only way to get it is to give responsible educators latitude to experiment. The challenge is deciding who has earned that privilege and who has lost it.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made this point a week ago at the annual dinner of KIPP, the network of 82 high-performing charter schools.
Adults may care about whether a high-performing school is a charter school or a traditional neighborhood school. But children do not—and neither do I. I’ve said that I am not a fan of charter schools. But I am a big fan of good charter schools. By the same measure, charters that do not work need to be shut down much faster than they are today. As President Obama and I have said repeatedly, we care about what works to boost student learning—not about ideology, rhetorical purity, or political party.