A Conversation with David Osborne


“I believe every family should have a choice in selecting a school. It is then up to schools to create the options.” David Osborne

Last night, I had the privilege to attend an event co-hosted by the Mind Trust and Progressive Policy Institute to hear David Osborne, author of the best-selling book, Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System. The book is about the charter school movement and he presents a theory that he believes needs to happen to fix America’s schools. This book is similar to his 1992 New York Times bestseller Reinventing Government.

In this book, Osborne uses compelling stories from cities like New Orleans and lays out the history and possible future of public education. It was in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans; the city got an unexpected opportunity to recreate their school system from scratch. The state's Recovery School District (RSD) was created to help turn around failing schools. What happened was all of New Orleans schools were transformed into charter schools. The results have turned the entire American education system on its head. New Orleans in the matter of ten years had tripled their effectiveness in their test scores, school performance scores, graduation and dropout rates, ACT scores, college-going rates. With the work done in New Orleans, other cities are using a similar blueprint to transform their schools. Cities such as: Newark, Camden, Memphis, Denver, Cleveland, Oakland, and even Indianapolis are transforming failing schools and giving families and children new hope for education.

Throughout the hour and half, he touched on numerous topics including answering two questions I asked him. The first question I asked was around the opening of new charter schools. Just the other day the Charter School Board approved a few brand new charters for seven years. I wanted to know if David Osborne thought the market is becoming saturated with too many schools popping up especially with the limited space? In a detailed answered he said something that struck a chord, “To do this work you must also be ok with closing schools.”  He was right you can open charter schools, but it is important that you also close schools that are underperforming. Close a bad school and open a new school. Seems easy, but it isn’t always that easy. Mr. Osborne went on to talk about the research behind the debate between taking a failing school and hiring a new principal or simply allowing another management company to take the school over. He said that his research found that allowing another management company to take the school over was more effective. He said the idea around innovation schools here in Indianapolis, which allows a charter management company to takeover a failing school will be more effective than simply just replacing the leadership in that school. He closed by saying it was up to the charter management authorizer to manage the situation between opening and closing schools. They must have their pulse on the issues in order to ensure the market does not become saturated. I just hope the authorizers in our city have a pulse.

My second question for David Osborne was if he thought the charter movement Indianapolis could move outside of IPS and impact other Indianapolis schools district such as Pike, Wayne, Warren, or Lawrence. He believes it could. “There is nothing stopping them from expanding to those schools.” The same effort and backing to convert failing schools in IPS is the same effort needed to convert schools in those districts as well.” If there is a charter school that decides to do it, they should do it.” I was really interested to get his side on this because this is something that I have been thinking about for a long time. We keep talking about this charter movement in Indianapolis and how it is similar to other cities. I always feel the need to push back because this movement seems more of a Indianapolis Public School movement not a Indianapolis movement. I say that because between Pike, Warren, Wayne, and Lawrence there are roughly 50,000 students. If the charter movement began to expand into those districts then I believe you can really say there is a charter movement in the city.

I truly enjoyed the conversation with David Osborne about his new book. I also bought a copy of the book and got it signed…



I can’t wait to dive in and read it. Commentary about the book and my thoughts will be posted to the blog as soon as I finish.



David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.