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Publication Date: Wednesday, May 30, 2001

Charter schools: Linda Darling-Hammond in her own words -- an intellect at the heart of school reform Charter schools: Linda Darling-Hammond in her own words -- an intellect at the heart of school reform (May 30, 2001)

Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond is known as a powerful influence on educators at both charter and non-charter schools.

A teacher for seven years, she has written a book called "Right to Learn," and has spent decades researching high school redesign. Among her most important ideas is that small schools make better learning environments because they allow teachers to get to know their students and help them feel more connected to the school.

She works a great deal with local schools, and is formally advising the Ravenswood charter high school, being operated by the Aspire group. She has also been consulted a few times by the Community High School group in Portola Valley, and in early May she spoke at the Sequoia Union High School District's community forum about school redesign principles.

The following are ideas she expressed during a recent interview with the Almanac.
On high school reform:

"The need for high school reform is pretty acute across the country, and it hasn't happened too much in California. Some kids can survive comprehensive high school if they are well-supported in all other aspects of their lives. But the reason we need small schools is that they are especially supportive to kids who may not always have all of the resources at home, or may experience other challenges that require them to have people who know them at school."
On whether she is an advocate of charter schools:

"I'm an advocate for good schools, and I think some charter schools allow us to do some things to create those schools. Some charters don't. The movement is very diverse. I don't think the issue is charter versus non-charter, it's how do we get schools to change in ways that are going to be more supportive to kids? I'd like to see regular public school districts taking charge of the issue the way charters are."
On the notion of competition:

"Competition does not always breed quality. All you have to do is sit up one night and try to find a station on cable TV. The same thing is true in schools. The studies about charter schools across the country have shown that in many states the charter schools are doing less well than the regular public schools. So they're not a whole lot of competition in some ways. On the other hand I do think that creating good school models does show people that it is possible to break out of the mold. So the provision of high-quality modeling for schooling, whether charter or non-charter, is a good thing and in a sense may be what the proponents of competition have in mind."
On school bureaucracy:

"All new schools have a certain amount of stress, and even more so if you're a lone charter with no central office. There is a function for central offices. We tend to 'bad mouth' the central office, but the bureaucracy has a purpose."
On the advantages and disadvantages of starting from scratch:

"The nice thing about starting a school is that you can re-imagine all the pieces and how they ought to fit together at once, and you can start with a vision and build a school, a faculty and parents around that vision. Those things allow more purposefullness in the design of small schools. There's also a downside, which is that you can end up with people with very different populations and visions going off in different directions and not finding ways to integrate across communities. You have to work against people's tendency to segregate themselves."


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