NY Times Looks At Green Dot 'Maverick' Steve Barr

The Newspaper of Record's Sam Dillon spent some time with Steve Barr, who happens to be a member of the National Advisory Board for Democrats for Education Reform. In keeping with the newspaper's high standards, the phrase "pig fucker" does not appear anywhere in the piece. The set-up graphs:

In just seven years, Mr. Barr’s Green Dot Public Schools organization has founded 10 charter high schools and has won approval to open 10 more. Now, in his most aggressive challenge to the public school system, he is fighting to seize control of Locke Senior High, a gang-ridden school in Watts known as one of the city’s worst. A 15-year-old girl was killed by gunfire there in 2005.

In the process, Mr. Barr has fomented a teachers revolt against the Los Angeles Unified School District. He has driven a wedge through the city’s teachers union by welcoming organized labor — in contrast to other charter operators — and signing a contract with an upstart union. And he has mobilized thousands of black and Hispanic parents to demand better schools.

Educators and policy makers from Sacramento to Washington are watching closely because many believe Green Dot’s audacious tactics have the potential to strengthen and expand the charter school movement nationwide.

I like Steve a lot. When I wrote about his parents union last year I have to admit I enjoyed the time I spend talking shop with him in Los Angeles. When he is on panels at conferences they are never boring. He is a walking, talking soundbite machine who can walk the walk and who shares our collective desire to find a new heart and soul for the Democratic Party. But I diagree with Sam's storyline about Green Dot as a charter school force. One of the things I admire about Steve is that he understands the power dynamic that can allow him to be a PUBLIC SCHOOL FORCE by using the charter school mechanism to clear the way.

That has always been what I liked about the idea of charter schools. It's about envelope-pushing, myth-busting, and bar-setting. But if we aren't using charter schools to push foot-dragging union leaders and bureaucrats to shift their focus to providing a quality education within the public school system, I'm not sure why we put so much behind charters. What I mean is that if all we end up with from the charter school movement is a bunch of charter schools and school systems which continue to operate with their heads in the sand, I'm not sure any of us should feel particularly proud.

We all know that school districts aren't exactly going out and looking for ways to serve kids better. Sure, they say they do when they go on strategic planning retreats and they claim victory for the kids each time they hammer out a new contract extension for school labor groups, but everyone reading this blog knows that kind of talk is total bullshit.

Which is why I like Steve Barr's idea of the hostile takeover of crappy public schools. Don't wait for permission, just take the damned thing -- in the name of the public.

It is exciting stuff indeed.

Oh, and by the way, if you will be in the New York City area this Friday evening, feel free to join DFER and Steve Barr at a special happy hour in Chelsea.

UPDATE: Alexander Russo blogs on Barr here. (And if meeting Steve Barr isn't a big enough draw for you on Friday, come and meet Alexander, who has already RSVP'd for the drink fest.)

UPDATE II: At EdWize, Leo Casey seems to think that the right-wing is apoplectic about the waves Barr is causing. Could be, but the charter movement has always been more diverse in its thinking than some folks have believed. (Just like the unions, by the way.)

UPDATE III: Regarding Leo's post, if you read the Clint Bolick quote in the story that he is referencing and click on the Checker Finn Gadfly item that Leo links to, it is nearly impossible to conclude that anyone on the right is losing sleep over this. It won't stop Leo from wishing, but it just isn't there from the evidence he supplies.

UPDATE IV: Eduwonk (also a DFER governing board member) says when it is a battle between producers and consumers, bet on the consumers over the long run.