Testimony to the Education Committee of the Baltimore City Council

November 1, 2012

The mission of the Coalition of Baltimore Charter Schools is to protect and defend the autonomy of charter schools leading to great public education for Baltimore city children.  The charter movement in Baltimore is a story of a grassroots revolution, limited autonomy, and a lot of kids getting a great education.

A GRASSROOTS REVOLUTION

“The revolution won’t be televised.”  

I remember seeing the phrase spray painted on a water tower in my hometown neighborhood in Chicago.  Today, graffiti makes me think of “The Wire,” the television series that was set in Baltimore and for a season focused on Baltimore City Schools.

When people hear about our ten-year-long quest to transform urban public education, they often suggest we watch that series.  But we don’t have time to watch that series.  We are busy.  We are fighting for the 12,000 children in charter seats in Baltimore, we are working alongside parents, teachers, neighbors, community leaders, and local colleges to create and shape a unique vision for educating our students.

My husband and I moved here so I could get my Masters at College Park.  We stayed, once we had kids, because of the great public schools in the city.  Get used to hearing that.

Can you imagine the foundational strength of a school system that has thousands of people invested in its home-grown schools?  People from neighborhoods and families, drawn together by their strong sense of urgency and love for their kids?  It might not make good television, but it certainly makes great schools.

Charter schools are approved and renewed by the authorizer.  We need an authorizer who is determined to do everything in its power to keep this revolution going.  Baltimore is now a city where there are many choices for families to consider.  Choices of schools that utilize a variety of models for learning.  Models such as: project based learning, STEM, Montessori, environmental focus, language immersion, all girls school, all boys school, college prep, liberal arts, career pathways, vocational, alternative, old fashioned, new fashioned.  All run by folks in the city.  Folks who have gathered a team, a mission driven team who will do whatever it takes to get results for the children of Baltimore.

Now that, my friends, is a grassroots revolution.  In the past ten years, 33 charter schools have started up.  Charters now serve 6% of the school system.  There are 11,000 children on wait lists.  There is work yet to do.

In Baltimore, to talk about charter schools is to talk about public education.  They are one and the same.  The concept of one school system running all the schools in the same way is just as dated as the notion that a teacher should be teaching kids all at the same time in the same way.  Across the country, other urban cities have a mix of independent operators running schools successfully.

It is imperative that we create an environment that yields great schools.  Not just the operator managed schools, but every public school.  The Coalition formed to make sure that happens.

What works

Along with the District we are redefining what a public school system looks like in Baltimore.   Given our charter school law, charter schools are embedded within the existing structure of public schools.  Does it work?  Sometimes it is beautiful.  Sometimes we are able to lead the way for reform such as:

  • Our work to make funding transparent directly contributes to the fair student funding formula used at traditional schools
  • Our work helping to launch the Baltimore Education Coalition, protected millions of dollars for public schools in Baltimore
  • Our engagement in the Transform Baltimore campaign, because we believe every student and teacher should have a great building to learn in.

What doesn’t work

The Coalition is strong out of necessity.  The battle for independence within the District is constant.  Often charter schools end up subject to every policy, initiative,  and regulation of the local district.  Tonight you will hear about some of those and other major challenges we face.

A LOT OF KIDS GETTING A GREAT EDUCATION

Look at the stats.  We are proud of our accomplishments.  We are continuing to grow, and build the strength of our coalition.  We believe in public education, we believe in the children of Baltimore, and we believe in you.

The Coalition is made up of grassroots group of parents, educators, and operators, who are organized.  We know that public education is at the heart of this city, and we are inspired to work together and make our city strong.

We have a strong Coalition of Baltimore Charter Schools, and along with Supporting Public Schools of Choice, The Maryland Charter School Network, and the Baltimore Education Coalition as well as other partnerships in the city, we can continue to advocate for great public education, and tell our story –  the Baltimore story –  of great public schools.