As it turns out, Meg O’Leary and Sarah Friedman, the co-founders of The Learning Community, had gotten there a whole lot earlier. Before starting The Learning Community in 2004, they spent three years working with the Providence school system on a pilot program designed to come up with ways to “transform teaching practices and improve outcomes,” says Friedman. During a time of upheaval in the school system, a small corps of great teachers were the real anchors in the schools. In setting up The Learning Community, O’Leary and Friedman wanted to apply the best practices they had learned during the Providence project — and, eventually, to use their knowledge to help public school districts in Rhode Island.
For those wondering about The Learning Community's basic model, it is a fairly progressive, constructivist school. At least as much as you can manage under the post-NCLB regime. It isn't a "no excuses" CMO-led charter.
As Nocera points out, O’Leary and Friedman's work is based on their experiences working as part of reform initiatives within the Providence Public Schools (when Gallow was an Assistant Superintendent there). Reforms that were halted and dismantled by subsequent "reformers" in Providence. The only reason we're talking about the "innovation" of migrating practices from The Learning Community to district schools is because "reformers" drove them out of district schools in the first place.
I suppose the proof of the pudding would be if a PPSD turnaround school could submit The Learning Community's model as their plan and get it approved by the PPSD and RIDE. I doubt it.
Also, given the serious headwinds Central Falls faces -- bankruptcy, continuing erosion of funding, no real reason for existing as a municipality other than being so screwed up nobody wants to merge with them -- it is kind of baffling that neutral observers like Nocera would continue to go along with promoting them as a model of reform. It is unlikely to end well. For reformers, the best outcome is that the district is small enough to collapse completely and be replaced by higher-performing charters, but in the meantime, these charter/district collaboration stories don't help much with that storyline.