An Awkward Moment for School Reformers

(This post also appears at Rick Hess Straight Up.)

Yesterday, Gwinnett County, Georgia, claimed the Broad Prize in a classy awards ceremony at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. The event featured New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NBC anchor Brian Williams talking about the vital role of school reform, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan naming the winner.

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.

An unhappy side effect of this suit is that the Georgia Supreme Court is now also being asked to decide whether GCSC charter schools qualify as “special schools” under the state constitution. If the court narrows the definition, in accord with the Gwinnett-backed claim that special schools are only those schools for special needs students, the existence of various nontraditional schools across the state could be at risk. It’s bizarre that, in the 21st century, we’re seeing school districts, unions, and frequently courts (as in the Florida High Court’s “uniformity” ruling a few years back) trying to wedge teaching and learning into rules and definitions that ignore the diversity of student needs, approaches to instruction and student learning, and routes to quality schooling.

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