The myth is that charters “own” innovation. I don’t buy the myth. In the K12NN FAQ Wiki, I’ve gathered too many examples of 100% public schools that are truly public inside and out – democratic governance mechanisms for the internal and operational affairs of the school and with outward public accountability to taxpayers in all things budgetary — I want to highlight as a Best Practice a Texas school district that’s figured out how to do innovation right.
In Grand Prairie ISD Offer School Choice for Parents and Students, we see a Texas school district that has re-organized itself and created mini-academies and themed/specialty curriculum at the various neighborhood K-12 schools in the district. They lay out their thinking behind concept schools here:
The school of choice model offers parents what they have been asking for — to choose a pathway of education for their children. The schools of choice are concept schools that offer students an extension of traditional curriculum, providing students academy options with specialized focus. Under this model, parents and students can choose the type of educational experience that best fits the needs of the individual student. If a student shows a propensity for leadership, fine arts, or math and science, GPISD offers “schools within schools” to advance those interests and skills for their children while also offering traditional schools.
The district anticipates adding more schools of choice in 2014 with additional pilot programs and increased emphasis on advanced academics. These [fully public --eds. note] schools provide many of the benefits and innovation that parents had previously turned to charter schools and private schools to access. The GPISD schools of choice model offers parents the same focused curriculum of charter schools and private schools, but with the accountability structure and access to state of Texas-certified/highly qualified educators required of public school districts.
Students with an artistic bent can elect to attend a public school that emphasizes arts instruction. Students more suited to STEM subjects still get art in their public school, but have opportunities to delve more deeply into STEM subjects with teachers who are prepared and trained to push these motivated kids farther. And so on, with a range of interests and “multiple intelligences” accounted for. As a parent, doesn’t this make your heart sing?
Why is this a model of success? Because GPISD is customizing its approach and offering differentiation in theme and style of instruction so that parents can better tailor a school to a child’s interests and learning styles. And most importantly, this flexibility on the part of the school district ensures that families can get their needs met if they have special ed, ELL, or are of low-SES backgrounds in the ways that are clearly within decades of law guaranteeing educational equity in public schools. Families don’t set out to flee the public schools for charters — like this particular parent, they struggle along until they can’t and need a new solution for their particular child.
But wise public school districts, ones not ready to cede all innovation to private schools, flex to accommodate the reality that a one-size-fits-all education is increasingly irrelevant to our diverse and multiply-intelligenced, many-abled children.