by Justin Kwasa
A recent study shows that Hartford, CT is home to one of the nation's strongest district-charter collaborations.
In 2010 and 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation chose 16 school districts to receive a $100,000 grant in order to better promote district/charter school relations. Each district signed compacts promising to work with its local charter schools. The compacts then collaborated in a variety of ways, including the sharing of resources, data and ideas, in order to find “common ground rather than a battleground.”
In June, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released its interim report on how well these 16 compacts performed after receiving Gates funding. While increased discussion and collaboration between the two sectors was achieved in all cities, the effectiveness of the individual compacts varied greatly. Some cities had already established previous partnerships between the two, while other cities were bringing together to feuding parties for the first time.
Among the most successful collaborations created was in Hartford. Working together, Hartford Public Schools and Achievement First Hartford and Jumoke charter schools became one of only six compact cities described as having a sustainable partnership. Some key wins for the partnership include:
- Opening up Achievement First’s leadership training program to district teachers
- Allowing Jumoke’s FUSE 180 to take over a falling district school in 2012
- Having the district superintendent publicly advocate for an increase in charter school funding
All of this was accomplished despite switching superintendents during the process.
The Foundation was so impressed with how well the charter schools and district worked together that in December 2012, Hartford was announced as one of only seven compact cities that would receive part of an additional $25 million in grants to continue the outstanding work started by the original compact. Of these seven cities, Hartford received the biggest share – almost $5 million.
The collaboration also had an impact at a state level. In June 2013, as a result of this success, Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy and the State General Assembly passed Public Act 13-206. This allows charters in 30 of the lowest-performing school districts to form collaborations with their host districts in exchange for sharing the charter's test scores. Many, including NECSN, see great potential in this law because it is entirely voluntary and there are a number of ways districts and charters can creatively design mutually beneficial arrangements.
Looking forward, Hartford’s district and charter sectors are still hoping to build on their successes. With the additional funds, the city’s schools will work to ensure more transparency and accountability regarding student data and better leverage the benefits of economies of scale. It is clear that Hartford is on its way to building the strongest district/charter partnerships in the nation.