Charter Schools and CBP in Washington State

For some, it has been a two-decade wait and a lot of advocacy on behalf of kids and communities that need better educational options. But the moment is here: in a few months Washington state will have it’s first charter school. What happens after that—well, it’s up to all of us.

While it was disappointing to many to wait twenty years, Washington can learn from the early movers and take full advantage of this opportunity—a chance to launch a charter sector from scratch, a chance to design for equity, quality, and innovation. Working with teachers, school leaders, board members, policymakers, authorizers, elected officials, and community leaders, we can put the accumulated and hard-won wisdom and insights of the charter movement’s first 20 years to good use and save the 42nd state to welcome charters from repeating all the (honest) mistakes that the first 41 made along the way.

Washington may be new to charters, but a lot of national ed reform experts live in the Seattle area and a lot of national organizations have lined up to help. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers helped the Commission develop a thorough proposal review process. Our organization, Charter Board Partners, has supported the development of great boards for dozens of charter schools in Washington D.C., and we have officially launched our effort to do the same in Washington State.

Five hard-won lessons of the last two decades that WA can put to good use:

1. Authorize high quality plans with high capacity teams
2. Target underserved neighborhoods
3. Work with districts to ensure equitable distribution of quality options (eg STEM, performing arts)
4. Ensure access to public facilities and equitable funding
5. Recruit and train high caliber board members to provide assistance and oversight

We’re hard at work on #5. We were delighted to attend the first Washington State Charter Schools Association Conference last week. We are working with the Washington Charter School Association to make sure every new charter school has a great well trained board—right out of the gate. Just as weak schools are hard to turn around, weak boards are too, so we are excited to help the new charter schools in Washington build strong and effective boards in the first place.

Here’s another observation: when a region launches several dozen great charter schools serving low income students, the community gets another important benefit—several hundred committed and informed board members advocating for better public education for underserved children. We intend to make that happen in Washington.

The sector has learned how to open great schools, and those lessons are being put to work in Washington. Our mission: to make sure that work is sustained by great boards, so that every charter school in Washington is excellent, and every student in Washington eventually has the chance to attend a great school.

For more, see Carrie’s awesome TED talk and Getting Smart conference coverage:

Co-authored by Carrie C. Irvin, Charter Board Partners, where Tom is a director. The featured image is from NewSchools Venture Fund where CBP won organization of the year in 2013.  This post first appeared on Charter Board Partners 


Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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