We can and must do better

Improving public schools

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Improving public schools


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BY GREGORY MCGINITY AND BECCA BRACY KNIGHT

In our nearly 15 years working with The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and The Broad Center to improve urban public education in America, we’ve witnessed a remarkable amount of positive change.

Across the country, educators, leaders, families and communities are embracing what’s possible in American public schools. Our public schools are striving for new, higher standards for all students. States and districts are working together to lift chronically low-performing schools. Teachers and school leaders are increasingly aware of the unconscionable opportunity gaps students of color and low-income students face—and they are doing more about it. There is a growing urgency to keep all students in school through graduation by ensuring disciplinary policies are supportive rather than punitive. More and more families are demanding access to strong public schools of all kinds, including high-performing charters and magnets, for their children.

A handful of cities and states exemplify the commitment to school improvement and collaboration. In Denver, district and charter schools are both authorized and held accountable by the district, and enrollment is unified across the system. In New Orleans, the district is comprised almost entirely of public charters. Not only has the new composition raised the academic bar for students across the city but—after at first struggling to successfully engage with families and communities—it has also pioneered restorative justice and unified enrollment policies that could serve as an inspiration for all districts. In Washington, D.C., public school enrollment in both district and charter schools has increased because both types of schools are working collaboratively to raise academic achievement.

These changes didn’t happen overnight. It took tremendous commitment, investment and leadership—and much work remains to be done. The Broad Center is continuing to play an important role in the work in all three of these places—and in cities and states around the country. Over the next three years the center will double its leadership development programs by expanding both The Broad Academy and The Broad Residency.

New Orleans in particular has seen the most dramatic changes, begun in the wake of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The city has become a model for educators around the country who believe that public school improvement can only occur when educators are empowered, families can access a range of great public school options and equity is a topmost priority. More than three dozen members of The Broad Center networks have joined thousands of other educators in working tirelessly to continue improving the city’s schools.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation is supporting districts that look to New Orleans for lessons—and the foundation is hopeful that other states will consider creating innovative governance models that give families high-quality public school options and empower teachers and school leaders to do what’s best for their students. States most often pursue these portfolio districts—also called opportunity, achievement or recovery districts—to dramatically improve their lowest-performing schools. These districts give schools more power over their budgets, their teams and their classrooms—amounting to a deeper level of local empowerment that is especially supportive of teachers in the classroom. They set rules about equity and access, and they inspire improvement and innovation in neighboring traditional schools.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has worked to grow the most effective public charter schools for more than a decade. As hundreds of thousands of parents are demanding high-quality charters, the foundation is working to ensure that new and expanding charters are indeed providing students and families with a great education. To do that, the foundation is supporting stronger authorization of charter schools so that underperforming campuses are closed. We want to showcase the charter organizations that are proving that every child—especially those from low-income families and communities of color—can achieve at high levels.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation also works to support policies that provide equitable funding for public charter schools and equal access to facilities. In New York City, when the mayor threatened to take away Success Academy’s classroom space, CEO Eva Moskowitz mobilized 17,000 parents to march across the Brooklyn Bridge and organized 20,000 to descend on the capitol steps in Albany.

The demand for great public schools is also evident in the long wait lists when high-quality schools open. Success Academy attracts 10 times as many students as there are seats available—their schools are ranked in the top 1 percent of all schools in New York in math and the top 3 percent in English. Nationally, there are more than a million students waiting to attend a public charter school. Demand for high-quality schools isn’t limited to charters. In downtown Los Angeles, one high-performing magnet school run by USC drew 15 applications for every open seat as parents seek better options for their children.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation is working with other funders to meet that demand, while The Broad Center is preparing leaders to take on the challenge of serving students in the highest-need communities. Since 2003, the foundation has invested $144 million in growing high-performing public charter schools across the country and especially in our hometown of Los Angeles. Students in these schools receive more hours of high-quality learning time in a joyful, rigorous school environment that prepares them for a successful life after high school.

Indeed, there is a recognition—from schoolhouses to courthouses, from state capitals to communities across the country—that we can and must do better improving our public schools and supporting America’s students. Our students deserve access to excellent public schools and great teachers. They deserve the opportunity to achieve at high levels and graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge to have a successful life.

Positive change like we’ve seen in the past several years isn’t possible without the incredible dedication of the great leaders, teachers, staff, families and communities working to support public schools today. Making progress in public schools is a complex and constant struggle. But there are thousands of committed individuals who work tirelessly on behalf of our nation’s school children.

That’s why, in this year’s report, we want to share their stories, in their own words. In the following pages you’ll meet superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, students and instructional and operations staff. Every one of them has an inspiring story to share—and together, their efforts are improving America’s public schools.

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Gregory McGinity is the executive director of The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Becca Bracy Knight is the executive director of The Broad Center.