Learning Partnerships – A Unifying Promise

The conversations heard after Mayor de Blasio’s education speech last week have been centered on college readiness, reading interventionists, computer science, and charter-district collaboration. All good things. Whether his plan is either practical, attainable, or a feasible substitute for widespread public education reform, remains to be seen.

Some public schools are doing better than others. The idea that we should take a school that excels in one area and a schools that has a deficit in that same area, and connect them, isn’t a new concept. NYSED Dissemination Grants have had some great successes with district-charter partnerships, but they require all hands on deck to support the collaborative process. If there isn’t enthusiasm from school administrations and staff in creating these partnerships, they will be less successful.

Public schools in NYC consist of district and charter schools. There are strengths and weaknesses in both. Mayor de Blasio echoed these sentiments earlier this week on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. He spoke about the exchange of best practices of finding a method to help those ideas go system-wide. Sharing information and working together would be an honest representation of the charter school mission and movement.

The original intent of charter schools was to provide a flexible environment that fosters innovation, find solutions that work, and share those models with other schools so that every student benefits. But there remains a strong public sentiment that charter schools are hurting district schools. Charters are the enemy. If any person with the ability to think rationally took a few steps back from this idea, they would realize that the divisiveness is only hurting our children.

The Mayor is proposing a District-Charter Learning Partnerships initiative that would select 25 district schools and 25 charter schools, pledging $5 million per year to facilitate the program. The first schools selected will focus on English Language Learner programs and math instruction. It’s a noble idea, and should have been implemented when charters were first approved in New York, but better late than never. Schools can’t be expected to help each other without a facilitating organization holding their hands.

I believe the greatest challenges will be in matching up schools in need with schools that succeed, without stepping on toes or creating friction. You need eager participants, which may prove difficult to find in an educational climate that harbors hostility towards charter schools. It will take determination and diplomacy to pull off. I’m hoping that the current administration is committed to seeing this plan take flight, instead of treating it as a side note uttered to appease a small group of educators and families that are desperate to see true equity in education.

Amanda Lefer


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