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Marc Sternberg Remarks for National Charter Schools Conference 2017

June 14, 2017

It’s amazing to stand here and look out at this group of thousands of people and reflect on how far we have come together. When this was all getting started, this conversation could have taken place in one of the breakout rooms.

This is a movement that’s come a long way. Not just in the sense of getting bigger, but in the sense of growing up, too. And I want to talk for a moment about what it means to be a grown-up movement.

As parents or teachers, we know from our own students and families what it means to grow up and what the stages look like. At the beginning of this movement, in our infancy, just existing was a triumph. We celebrated every school approved, door opened and student enrolled.

Then came our adolescence and period of tremendous growth. It was thrilling, and I can look around and see the faces of people who proved to this country that kids and teachers and schools could do things that many people thought were impossible. Thousands of families were touched and changed in the process.

But after that, comes adulthood. Now, it’s no longer about singular achievements.

That’s the thing about maturity – you accomplish more, because you learn to work in deeper ways. It is now about what we can do together, how we prepare ourselves to endure and sustain and what we do after the inevitable hard moments.

Like you, I’m all too familiar with the headline-grabbing setbacks this year. We all know, some of us the hard way, that change doesn’t always move at the pace some of us might wish. However, these headlines, and the two steps forward, one step back nature of our work, obscures the narrative of fundamental progress.

Despite challenges, I can say this without hesitation: I am more optimistic today about what we can accomplish together than any other time in our history. This, to me, is the moment for celebration.

We’ve seen incredible support for charters from a broad range of stakeholders, with more poised to happen this year – and it’s the nature of these victories that matters so much. They reflect a willingness to learn lessons, and an understanding of the vital importance of partnership. They are happening in red states and blue states and purple states. And they manifest something not often seen these days – bipartisanship.

In Colorado, a first-of-its-kind bill to equalize charter and traditional funding passed on a resounding bipartisan vote of 49 to 16. And it’s not just that it happened, it’s how it happened. Not the appearance of partnership, but the real thing. Folks who took the time to go out and make clear why this was a good thing for kids and families who’ve gotten the short end of the stick. Why it’s good for the economic health of the state, for jobs, for employers. Right and left. Business and community. And charter advocates made it clear they were willing to be held to the same standards of transparency as any other public school, at deeper levels than had been true before.

That’s the kind of victory that produces lasting coalitions and sustainable support for good schools. It takes persistence and patience and commitment.

And we’re seeing the benefits of persistence in an extraordinary range of places. In the bluest of blue cities like Los Angeles, where the voices of parents tipped the school board toward positive change for the first time in a long time.

In bright red Arizona, where the legislature and the governor unlocked millions of dollars of funding for high-quality charter schools.

There is more to celebrate in places like Florida and New York and right here in Washington, D.C.

These aren’t one-off victories. These wins are the fruit of unbelievably hard work to change the lives of children and families – the work that you and your colleagues do day after day.

Today, the results of your work were clearer than ever.

Why? Because CREDO at Stanford once again reaffirmed that thousands of students across the country are beating the odds thanks to so many of you in this room. To all of the charter management organizations recognized today for their impact in places like Oakland and Phoenix and Denver and New York and so many more, congratulations. Keep up the good work.

Here’s the thing about being a mature movement – even at a moment of celebration, we recognize that we have to think long-term to sustain progress. Which means recalibrating and rethinking when we face setbacks. Reaching out to build wider and stronger coalitions, including advocates for those with disabilities, for the poor, for the business world, for all sorts of children who haven’t been served well in traditional schools.

And, most fundamentally, it will take measuring our success not by the number of schools we open, but by the number of lives we change for the better. Scale, by itself, is not the goal. What matters is the number of children we help set on a path to success, to fulfillment, to a good job, to security and comfort in life.

School choice is a means, not an end. It’s a means to a better education and a better life. That’s what you’re working for, every day, in ways that become deeper and more sophisticated as our movement grows up.

That matters. Regardless of the headlines and the inevitable setbacks.

More than ever, thank you for what you do for America’s children.