In light of the recent court decision about charter school funding, the old dichotomy about charter schools versus “traditional” public schools comes alive. The dichotomy is false. Charter schools can be neighborhood schools, if the outreach is to a neighborhood and a community. And traditional neighborhood schools can be like charters, if we trust them enough to provide them with the autonomy they need to be as innovative as charters, while also holding them accountable for outcomes. Moreover, charters, private schools and traditional public schools should be part of a supportive, connected ecology that embraces innovation and a rethinking of what cities, neighborhoods and schools offer a citizenship in need of a reinvention of teaching and learning in our schools, and of the relationship of schools to their communities.
What is often missing from the discussion is a vision of what that reinvention should look like. Our imagination seems stuck in the bureaucratic factory model, pushing students from grade to grade accumulating credits, that has defined our schools for roughly a century. When looking forward to a different model, perhaps we can look to earlier ways of teaching and learning, to the apprenticeship models that have served us since time immemorial, to structuring the reality that the learning that most of our students do, especially those we lose, happens as much outside the classroom as within. Why not reengage the old relationship between the family, the work places and the city, earlier rather than later, so that students see what matters in the real world, and build relationships with adults in career paths they want to pursue? I have no doubt we will keep more students in school and the community will have a new army of critical thinkers and creative problem solvers—now.
I see promising examples of this work in models such as Citizen Schools which run apprenticeship programs for middle grade students in some cities across the country. Baltimore has groups like the Baltimore Workforce Investment Board, Safe and Sound, the Greater Baltimore Committee, Business Volunteers Unlimited, the Family League and others to tap into to begin to build a coordinated, community approach that can redefine how our children can help build the city they will inherit.