The New York State Board of Regents gave several reasons for their recent rejection of two charter school applications but one of those reasons—that the curriculum was insufficiently innovative—seems rather incredulous. In fact, one of the two rejected schools, which would have been located in the beautiful upstate town of Truxton, would have been the first agriculture-based rural charter school in New York State and their proposal bears no resemblance to what we have become accustomed to seeing in the world of New York charters. That world is sadly and loudly dominated by schools with a remarkable sameness, and we don’t hear a lot of policy-makers questioning how innovative they are.
It will indeed be a cause to cheer if and when policy-makers start to turn their sights away from the zero-sum game of whose schools are outperforming on ELA and Math tests and towards the ends that chartered schools were supposed to lead us in the first place: teacher empowerment, innovation, entrepreneurism and new models of teaching and learning to name just a few. But every day the alarm clock rings and we’re stuck like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day waking up to the same stupid song.
We can, in fact, come up with better songs and more innovative schools but it will take more than lip service to innovation from policy-makers for this to happen. It will take a true commitment towards working with schools to help them measure what is important and germane to their mission. The reason many of us in the independent charter school movement are insist on the discussion of multiple measures is because there is no credible way to demonstrate the value of what we are doing without them.
A lot of good work has been done in this area but much more needs to be done and ideally it should be a joint project between our schools and their authorizers. Here are a few places we could start:
There are standards for arts education from the Kennedy Center.
There are standards for tech proficiency from the International Society for Technology in Education.
There are now standards for entrepreneurship education.
The Illinois State Board of Education has developed standards for social-emotional learning.
Are any of our “green schools” developing standards for how they are measuring their students’ progress towards becoming the stewards of this battered planet? Are any of our schools that focus on civics trying to figure out how to measure student growth in “political intelligence?”
One of the great things about chartered schools is that they are driven by their mission and one of our greatest challenges will be to develop the means to show how we are realizing them.
PS -- We have an ongoing discussion of multiple measures in our Discussion Board. Please join in!