From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Steve Brandt, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Paul Levy and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Fan named school reformer to watch

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Charter schools Updated: October 24, 2013 - 5:43 PM

Keep an eye on Al Fan. That's what the Walton Family Foundation, one of the biggest funders of what's called education reform, said Thursday about the executive director of Charter School Partners.

The Waltonians cited Fan as one of four ed reformers to watch and gave him $10,000 that he plans to plow back into the Minneapolis-based group.

Fan attracted attention for CSP's efforts to get charter schools to raise their game in Minnesota. There's evidence that CSP is succeeding.  In 2009, charters were several weeks behind district schools on student performance for like sets of students, according to a Stanford University analysis. But in its latest measurements, charters had leaped ahead in reading by two weeks and were behind in math by a statistically insignificant amount.

CSP has lobbied for a package of charter changes at the state Capitol, including one that's yet to be adopted that would force the shutdown of subpar charters.But it helped reduce the state aid holdback to benefit charters, and supported the 2011 law allowing alternative licensing programs for teachers.

On the charter improvement front, the group helps link consultants to charters that want to improve their leadership. It also launched a two-year fellowship program for fledgling charter leaders.  The first year allows a handful of charter educators to plan their schools, and they put those plans in place during the second year, leading to the opening of three new charter schools this fall.

Fan worked at General Mills in sales and marketing for 16 years before joining a venture capital-like nonprofit that made grants to startup nonprofits. That led him to the boards of two local charters, and drove him to join CSP to try to replicate charter success.

“It’s humbling because I am not a traditional educator," Fan said. "I think the work we’re doing is beginning to be recognized nationally.”

The Walton foundation built on the Walmart business bills itself as the nation's largest funder of "parental choice and competition within education," and has been a major funder of CSP. The foundation is reviled by some unionized teachers for funding what they see as a concerted attempt to undermine district--based public education. 

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