Hug It Out: Public Charter and District Schools Given $25 Million to Get Along

If you need a loan, ask Bill and Melinda Gates. Or better yet, ask one of the seven cities that are splitting a new $25 million grant courtesy of the couple’s philanthropic foundation.

The funds are going to promote cross collaboration between charter and district schools, which have previously operated in a strict and contentious independence from one another.

The foundation announced the award this week, and the cities benefiting are Boston, Denver, Hartford (CT), New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia and Spring Branch (TX).

How did they get so lucky? They’re among a group of 16 communities that signed the Gates-sponsored “District-Charter Collaboration Compacts” pledging for an open-source collaboration between public charter and district public schools.

Communication between these two models is unusual to say the least; they’ve had a long and illustrious history of battling each other over tax dollars, students and even building space.

But when charter schools first opened 20 years ago, their original purpose was to create an experimental educational space which would then share its best methods with public district schools. Instead, the two grew into rivals and critics of each are vehemently opposed to the other.

Among the complaints, charter schools are seen as selfishly siphoning off the most motivated students from the district while upholding a rich-poor educational divide and failing to live up to the promise of a better education. Others say its district schools that are the issue for their unionized teacher complacency and a consistent inability to keep a large margin of students from falling through the cracks.

In truth, neither system is a slam-dunk, and both are experiencing closures nationwide due to underperformance.

The goal of the District-Charter Collaboration Compacts is to restore the original relationship of the two camps, effectively establishing a regular protocol of sharing their best practices, innovations and resources.

Don Shalvey, the deputy director at teh Gates Foundation told The New York Times, “It took Microsoft and Apple 10 years to learn to talk. So it’s not surprising that it took a little bit longer for charters and other public schools. It’s pretty clear there is more common ground than battleground.”

But what will this grand collaboration yield? If all goes according to plan, students from both camps will benefit from new teacher effectiveness practices, college-ready tools and supports, and innovative instructional delivery systems.

According to the Gates Foundation, only one-third of students meet the criteria of college ready by the time they graduate. And most of the kids who don’t are often minority students from lower income areas. By creating collaborative aims with charter and district, kids from all over can have access to a wider swath of teaching frameworks and curriculums. 

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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a webeditor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for Email Andri | @andritweets |