Virtual School Meanderings

May 27, 2022

Revisiting the Promise and Potential of Charter Schools 30 Years Later

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 8:06 pm
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An item from a business professor with little direct experience in education, but who believes free market economic principles are the answer to education’s (and pretty much all other society’s social) problems.

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The evening of the tragedy in Texas, my daughters’ head of school wrote us and said, “As our children sleep, I know that we all feel more vulnerable and more raw as a result of such a violent, senseless act. We hold our children and each other closer.  May you be able to find some peace in that.”

Returning home that evening from a trip, the kisses I gave my children while they slept felt all the more precious.

* * *

Minnesota was the first in the nation to create public charter schools in 1991. California followed with its own law in 1992.

Thirty years later, charter schools, which are schools of choice, have grown to serve more than 3.4 million students out of the nation’s roughly 55 million K—12 students. They are also under threat from multiple quarters, including the Biden administration’s proposed regulations which would damage the formation of new charter schools by essentially limiting competition for districts.

In our latest episode of Class Disrupted, Diane Tavenner and I dug deep into the promise and potential of charter schools and lay out where we think they’ve delivered and where they’ve fallen short.

In the episode, I geeked out and offered a deep explanation of how disruptive innovation theory “views” charter schools. That exploration led me and Diane to both conclude that charters have done exactly what the theory would predict—counter to both the hopes and charges of charter advocates and detractors alike.

The episode defies easy headlines, as Diane—who runs a network of charter schools in California and Washington—and I try to stake a nuanced position. You can listen to the whole episode here or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

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Future U. Journeys to Westwood

On the campus of UCLA, Jeff Selingo and I interviewed UCLA Chancellor Gene Block; Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Monroe Gordon Jr.; Dean of Life Sciences Tracy Johnson; Sarah Wang, vice president of the student government at UCLA who is studying communications and entrepreneurship; and Jason Belland, a vice president at Salesforce on the second stop of our Future U. Campus Tour sponsored by Salesforce.org.


Our third stop will be in Atlanta on the campus of Georgia Tech on June 1st when we interview the presidents of Georgia Tech and Emory University. If you’re in town and interested in being in the live audience, you can RSVP here.


At UCLA, we talked about the future of access, the student experience, and the campus workforce amid the Great Resignation.

In contrast to our stop at Northeastern, Chancellor Block offered cautions around hybrid learning, which echoes my own concerns about a professor facilitating a class of both in-person and online students at the same time.

But the thing I took away the most from the conversation was our discussion of the importance of not just treating the faculty at a university as talent, but also the staff. That’s gone neglected at many institutions for too long.

But there are other reasons to prize the happiness and wellbeing of staff.

“Happy faculty, happy staff makes for happy students,” Wang told us.

That resonates.

Many places teach that enterprises ought to focus on customers first and foremost. But, as I’ve learned from my wife in the hospitality industry, chef Danny Meyer argues that employees should come first because if the staff is happy, then they’ll create a vibrant experience that will thrill your customers.

The whole conversation was fascinating, and you can listen or watch it here.

From Reopen to Reinvent

As July approaches rapidly—temperatures were in the mid-90s where I live in Massachusetts last weekend!—I’m starting to ramp up the conversations around my forthcoming book, From Reopen to Reinvent.

The intent of the book is to push us past being just happy to reopen our K–12 schools to rethinking what school does for each and every child—and to help map a path forward to getting there for school leaders given all the pressures bearing down on them from all directions.

In this conversation with JW Marshall at MarketScale, we walked through several of the concepts in the book, including the need to move to mastery-based learning and move past a zero-sum education system to a positive-sum one.

And in this conversation with Katherine Burd of R.E.A.L. Discussion, “Office Hours: 30 minutes with Michael Horn,” I spoke about the importance creating the conditions in schools so that all students can experience success and make real progress on a daily basis, as well as how creating separation for innovation to occur in schools may be necessary in many cases so that school leaders can innovate given all the contradictory desires and pressures that exist.

As a reminder, for those who pre-order my new book, I’m offering a limited-time special.

If you’re interested in having me speak to a group (virtually or in-person), get in touch, as I’m discounting my usual speaker fees for those who make larger pre-order purchases. You can pre-order the book from Amazonfrom Barnes & Noble, or from Indiebound.

As always, thank you for reading, writing, and listening.

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© 2022 Michael Horn
548 Market Street PMB 72296, San Francisco, CA 94104

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