Come Home, Lt. Onoda

Come Home, Lt. Onoda
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In this March, 1974 photo, Hiroo Onoda, center, salutes after handing over his military sword on Lubang Island, Philippines, when he comes out of hiding in the jungle. Onoda, the last Japanese imperial soldier to emerge from hiding and surrender after World War II, has died. He was 91. Onoda died Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 at a Tokyo hospital. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

RCEd Commentary

In 1974, Hiroo Onoda – a Second Lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army – finally surrendered his arms in the Philippines. It had been nearly 30 years since his country’s surrender had ended World War II. Lt. Onoda had spent the intervening years hiding in the jungles of Lubang, refusing to believe his country had surrendered.

Ohio’s latest charter school scandal has revealed that Lt. Onodas remain fighting the old Ohio Charter School War – a war that brought the state scorn while embodying the most destructive of our nation’s charter school debates. Despite historic cooperation here between charter and traditional school advocates that has brought an uneasy cease fire, Onodas remain – jeopardizing historic collaborations that, if successful, could serve as national blueprints for charter school peace and student success.

As I’ve said before in this space, given my state’s charter school struggles, if Ohio can get its charter school act together, any state can. Which is why our state’s success is so important. If there’s one thing that can be learned from the recent Washington Supreme Court case – it behooves charter schools to act like public schools at least on transparency and accountability.

Yet in Ohio, a few remaining charter school advocates resist the move toward district partnership, transparency and accountability that are second nature in other states.

This stubbornness is best exemplified by the chief charter school official at the Ohio Department of Education David Hansen, who resigned recently. In his emails, Hansen’s deep distrust of traditional public schools clouded his judgement and understanding of even basic facts.

Here are some examples:

-- Hansen was obsessed with maintaining charter school autonomy from what he called the “EduBlob.” He said in one email that he had a “personal goal of protecting, if not growing, the autonomy to which charters are entitled and need in order to succeed.” He also told some charter people that he wanted overseers to “leave charters alone.”

-- Hansen’s distrust of the “EduBlob” extended to even the most exemplary charter school group in the state – the Breakthrough Schools. Hansen wrote that “[Breakthrough co-founder John] Zitzner undermines steep incentive curve for authorizing. And the portfolio concept of charter schools … We also just saw CMSD [Cleveland Metropolitan School District] in action regarding school approval and despite their bluster, they are politically controlled (surprise!) and even ignoring that, a ways away from responsible oversight of state dollars for charter facilities (surprise again!) If needed, I advocate for some specific, embarrassing carve out for CMSD/Zitzner (one [that] signals weakness so that it doesn't get expanded).”

Breakthrough and Cleveland are national leaders in the very portfolio structure Hansen lauds – so much so that the Gates Foundation is investing in them. Yet Hansen’s distrust for Cleveland schools was so great that he thought the partnership undermined the portfolio when it is the very definition. He didn’t understand that Breakthrough’s partnership with CMSD is about quality and choice, not choice’s subversion.

Lt. Onoda indeed.

Ohio has made huge strides on building charter-traditional school collaboration. Both sides agreed on a series of charter school reforms that have a real chance of improving my state’s status as a charter school backwater. While those reforms have stalled, there is hope they will be revived this fall.

The collaborative effort I’ve helped lead has taught me that charters and traditional schools work best together, not isolated – a realization more observers and researchers around the country are noticing.

At a recent luncheon with about 450 people, Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon explained how both charters and the district have stopped trying to claim kids. What matters to them is quality, not whether it’s delivered by a district or charter school.

Don Shalvey – the Deputy Director of the College Ready Team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – singled out Cleveland as a national beacon, which is why Gates invests there.

Yet the Charter School War’s Lt. Onodas seem bent on refighting a fruitless war.

Ohio can lead the country down this new collaborative path – an impressive feat considering its currently ridiculed status. But the state can only instruct the country if the new guard on both sides of the old battle lines chooses to wipe those lines clean, get serious about providing the world-class education our kids deserve and stop worrying about how.

The war is over. It’s time to build a new world. Together. With disagreement, but without hostility.

It’s time for all Lt. Onodas to leave the cave.

It’s time to come home.

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