Chris Cerf is right to not give up on district reform

I’m flattered that Chris Cerf flew all the way to my ¬†hometown to deliver a speech to refute my piece about Newark education reforms, which argued that reformers would have been better off pursuing a charter-heavier strategy. To me, the logic still holds: The far smaller chunk of that $200 million that went into charters paid far larger dividends than the huge sums that went into the district itself. I have not seen anyone, including Cerf, dispute that.

As Cerf knows, I never argued that we should give up on district reforms, including his admirable campaign to improve Newark schools. Thus, his piece indulges in straw-man argument (but that’s okay; as a veteran editorial writer I’ve gone there a few times myself!).

What I will argue (and I hope Cerf agrees with me) is that the future of urban districts such as Newark lies in collaborations between the districts and top charters — the kind of charters Newark is fortunate to have, including KIPP and Uncommon. Some of those collaborations will involve direct infusions, as we see in Denver. Others will be side by side districts that nourish one another, as we see in D.C. That kind of relationship works only with strong district reforms, the kind sparked by Michelle Rhee and refined by Kaya Henderson. Of course we shouldn’t give up on district reforms.

When collaboration is rejected, as we see in L.A., where charters are being blamed for the many problems suffered by LAUSD, the true losers are students.