Constructive responses x Obstructive responses
The decade between 1999 and 2009 saw a dramatic expansion in CMO schools, with increases of approximately 20 percent per year, a higher growth rate than seen by independent charter schools, according to a recent study by Mathematica Policy Research. The KIPP network and CMOs Uncommon Schools and Rocketship Education have demonstrated the ability to achieve success with challenging populations, so it may not be surprising that districts pursuing reform seek to partner with them or with equally successful EMOs. In March 2011, for instance, Detroit Public Schools (DPS) emergency financial manager at the time, Robert Bobb, proposed inviting charters and private schools to take over Detroit’s 41 most academically challenged schools. Dubbed the DPS Renaissance Plan 2012, the purpose was to engage proven charter-school operators in the district’s school-improvement effort. In April 2011, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers agreed to assist DPS as the district designed a competitive and rigorous RFP (Request for Proposal) process to identify schools that it would authorize as charters beginning in fall 2011. The district’s portfolio now includes two DPS schools that were converted to charter schools in partnership with CMOs (EdTech and the Detroit Association of Black Organizations) and three in partnership with EMOs (SABIS, Solid Rock, and the Leona Group).
As an example of a district imitating successful charter-school practices, Denver Public Schools is, as Education Week has reported, “aiming to re-create within its own buildings the innovation seen in top charter schools, and keep the state funding.” The approaches used by Denver schools in the Blueprint Schools Network since 2011 are supported by high-quality research and guided by the following five “tenets”: 1) excellence in leadership and instruction; 2) increased instructional time; 3) a no-excuses school culture of high expectations; 4) frequent assessments to improve instruction; and 5) daily tutoring in critical growth years.
Across all four regions, districts have increased marketing efforts to recruit and compete for students. For example, in Harlem, Jennifer Medina of the New York Times reported in 2010, schools were putting out fliers and actively seeking to change their images. She quoted then principal of Public School 125 Rafaela Espinal saying, “We have to think about selling ourselves all the time, and it takes a concerted effort that none of us have ever done before … We have to get them in the door if we are even going to try to convince them to come here.”
In addition to the responses described above, we find evidence of three other constructive competitive responses: expanding or improving district schools, programs or offerings (6 locations); improving district efficiency (5 locations); and supporting semiautonomous charter-like schools (5 locations).
Although obstructive responses continue to exist and may occur in far greater number in districts not covered by our study, we found fewer visible instances of resistance to competitive pressures than of other types (see Table 1). This could reflect the activities that receive media coverage or districts’ acting more covertly when they are working against charter schools. The most common obstructive response we observed was districts seeking to block access to buildings. We find evidence of this response in three locations, with one district in three of four regions displaying this behavior. Two districts, Los Angeles Unified School District and the District of Columbia Public Schools, have recently demonstrated such unwillingness to share public space with charter schools.
California provides constitutional assurance of adequate charter school facilities. Under Proposition 39, public school districts are required to provide “reasonably equivalent” space to charter and district students. A protracted legal battle between the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and L.A. Unified began in May 2007. At issue was the formula used to calculate how much space should be offered to charter schools. A settlement was reached in April 2008, but the charter association returned to court in May 2010 citing failure of the district to comply with the agreement, and again in May 2012 to enforce the trial court’s earlier order. In June 2012, L.A. superior court judge Terry Green ruled that the district should factor in rooms not being used for regular classes. The school system appealed the order, and it was reversed in December 2012. In his opinion for the court of appeals, Judge Edward Ferns ultimately found the district’s formula for assigning classroom space to charter schools was consistent with the intent of Proposition 39. This case is now headed to the California Supreme Court.