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Message to charter school advocates on 25th anniversary: Celebrate the good, but own the bad

I heard education reformer and Civil Rights activist Howard Fuller speak a few years ago. He is memorable.

You can judge for yourself in the speech he gave at this summer's National Charter Schools Conference in Nashville, which marked the 25th anniversary of the charter idea. An early advocate of vouchers and former  superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, Fuller is a distinguished professor of education and director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University.

His speech created a stir.  While charters ought to celebrate the good, they have to "own the bad," Fuller told the assemblage. Warning the crowd to "buckle their seatbelts," he said the ongoing sustainability of the charter idea depends on "a huge room with a place for those who are warriors for Black Lives Matter...for those who focus on personal responsibility...for those of us who see this as a social justice issue...for those who see it as a market strategy...for Republicans and Democrats and people like me who don't believe in either one of them. If we care about kids, even when it is uncomfortable we must stay in the room. It is supposed to be uncomfortable. I will stand next to you when you fight to lift the cap on charter school growth, but I will fight you when you support voter ID. I will stand next to you when you fight for more funding for charters, but I will fight you when you oppose the minimum wage."

It's a heck of a speech.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.