Districts and charter schools, working together: Sarah Yatsko, podcastED

Travis Pillow

The four Florida school districts planning unprecedented collaborations with high-impact charter schools can look around the country for models of what to do – and what not to do.

SarahIt’s not unheard of for districts and charter schools – often thought to be competitors – to find ways to work together.

Dozens of school districts around the country are doing it now, and about 20 of them have entered formal “compacts” with charter operators in their jurisdictions. Sarah Yatsko, a senior research analyst at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, has studied many of those collaborations.

“These sectors – by their very nature, there is a competitive element to them, and that just simply can’t be ignored,” she says. podcastED-logo

The collaborations that succeed tend to be the ones where both sides recognize their “mutual self-interest.” One aspect of a collaborative effort that seems to be going well, she points out, is Philadelphia, where districts and charters are working together on a joint mentoring program aimed at preparing top educators for administrative positions.

Other aspects of district-charter collaboration in that city have fizzled, but that initiative survived, in part because of three virtues: “Tight goals, solid funding and an ability to avoid hot politics.”

Florida’s grant funding program is helping with some of those issues, providing a source of start-up funding and pushing districts to set clear goals. But the applications, which we posted here, reveal the districts are taking different approaches to reaching them.

Duval plans on forming a “joint district-charter learning community” for teachers employed by the district and an expanding KIPP Jacksonville operation. The state’s three largest districts, meanwhile, are planning competitive processes to bring in high-impact charter schools aimed at serving students with the greatest needs.

It’s possible this initiative could sow seeds of other collaborations with charter schools, including some of those already operating in their cities. For large urban school systems and high-profile out-of-town charter networks to work well together, it helps when both sides help themselves to a slice of humble pie, and realize educators on both sides can learn from one another.

“It’s critical that this be framed the right way , so that people feel like they have something to get, but also, really, something to give,” Yatsko said. “And that is, frankly, the truth. We know from our work around the country that the knowledge transfer goes both ways.”

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