It is time for Minnesotans to seize the day. A convergence of national and local initiatives is creating a unique opportunity for education reform that offers Minnesota a chance to reclaim its leadership position in education. While defenders of the status quo tout our high overall statewide education rankings, they ignore our achievement gap and the failure of our education system to prepare our future workforce.
At the national level, President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have re-energized the education reform movement through their Race to the Top initiative and their emphasis on turning around low performing schools and replicating high performing charter schools.
Charter School Partners is a new Minnesota nonprofit positioned at the center of this convergence to make high performing charters a vehicle for closing the achievement gap. Successful charter schools around the country like KIPP, Uncommon Schools, the Noble Network, Achievement First, and many others have shown it is possible to educate all children regardless of their skin color or their zip code. Charter School Partners wants to replicate their success in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Department of Education has embraced its new legislative authority to hold charter school authorizers to a much higher standard than before by only approving six of the first 13 applications. Commissioner Alice Seagren and her team should be commended for their courage in re-establishing a “high bar” for Minnesota charters.
At the local level, the Minneapolis Public School (MPS) district has created an Office of New Schools that will offer facilities and services to recruit a portfolio of high performing charter schools into Minneapolis. Charter School Partners is working closely with MPS to identify and recruit future charter school leaders that are committed to creating the highest performing charters in our urban communities.
The recent arrival of Teach for America also signals a commitment to a higher standard of teaching in our urban schools. Increasing the supply of high quality talent, both at the administration and teacher level, in Minnesota is critical to our mission of creating high performing charters that close the achievement gap. Minnesota must embrace the urgency of the situation. Only when we have shown that high performing charters can help all children succeed will it create a force of irrefutable evidence that educational excellence is possible in every community.
At the national, state, and district level, there is renewed energy, focus, and alignment to dramatically reform our educational landscape. This is an opportunity Minnesota cannot afford to miss. Charter schools started as an opportunity to provide choice to families, but choice is no longer just the ability for a student to pick a school that’s different than what the district has to offer. The real choice for students is when they can graduate from high school and have the “choice” to pick their own future. This choice will only happen when we acknowledge our education system’s failures and adopt new practices that will prepare all students to succeed in college. The time is now! – Al Fan
Al Fan is the executive director of Charter School Partners, a nonprofit that works with charter schools in the Twin Cities to close the achievement gap.