Keeping Progressive Schools Alive

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Happy New Year and a special thanks to those who respond to past blogs about choice, et al. I always mean to respond to each comment.

They helped my thinking a lot. And, I have decided to start a new political tendency: “The ‘It Depends’ Party.” I find it is my answer to so many of the issues facing us in life, and in schools.


For example, school choice can be very useful, or very dangerous, it depends. Ditto for small schools, although I worry less about its misuse.

But self-governance, my third principle, I think holds up best.

Watching helplessly as some of our wonderful New York City small, self-governing schools of choice have been destroyed, I have learned a lot. But not yet how we could have avoided it. Rereading Seymour Sarason’s last book, The Predictable Failure of Educational: can we change reform before it’s too late, I wish I could confer with him. At the time I just thought that if I understood him right I could avoid the mistakes. I didn’t. I thought, for example, that in the absence of a strong movement behind us I would have to rely on powerful allies. It worked for 30 years. But that was not enough.

Some of those schools we started in the 1970s and 80s have survived. So we need to explore how they did it. In some cases their original leaders are still there, hanging on tenaciously for fear that they to will fall prey.  Some have succeeded perhaps by being so invisibly unnoticeable that they made no enemies. In contrast, many of us were very noisy about our beliefs hoping to encourage a movement.

In Boston, the Pilots were protected for a while by the local union’s support and our existence in the labor-management contract. But Boston has gone through several leadership changes since the Boston Pilots began and each time we are nervous. And the original idea was that the autonomies offered the Pilots would expand over time to the whole system. We had modest success in a few areas.

At the heart of the failure is our weak belief in democracy, the absence of a larger movement on its behalf and structural changes that might make these autonomies less dependent on individual allies within the system.

While I was in Minneapolis for the Progressive Educators Conference a few months ago, I learned more about the Minnesota work. Their charter schools are closer to what some of us had in mind when the idea of chapter schools was first proposed. The meeting in Albuquerque in late November of the recently formed Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools (CPIC) was encouraging. I see them as an inspiring and hopeful sign. They see themselves as allies of district public schools. For those who remember, The Coalition of Essential Schools was in fact inclusive of charter and public schools (oh how I miss the Coalition).

CPIC faces enormous challenges given how powerful the chain store charter schools are and how dependent even the best of the self-governing independent charter schools are on them politically for their own futures. Meanwhile it seems imperative to me that independent charters join CPIC. There are at least 1,000 of them in this country, and so far CPIC has at most a few hundred in their membership.

It is vital that we keep the democratic schools we now have alive to provide support and learn from as we grow a movement capable of making a serious impact. Meanwhile we might try to enlist one of the progressive candidates for President to our side. Ideas?

Tell your friends about Coalition of Public Independent Charters and see if any of them can figure out a way to get these ideas into the 2020 campaigns, since, in fact, what we are proposing, I think, is that all publicly funded schools follow CPICs principles (which I will print separately).

Have a wonderful New Year, one that ends with Trump’s defeat and the resurgence of a movement for expanding and deepening our daily weakened democracy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: