Necessity, Not Nicety: What We’ve Learned About District-Charter Alliances

Robin Lake:

In some of the cities known as ground zero for noisy fights about charter schools, quiet partnerships are underway between district and charter leaders. In New York City and Newark, district educators are meeting with their charter school counterparts to share successful teaching strategies. In Chicago, charter and district leaders have worked out ways to use the same performance standards and to share facilities. In Philadelphia, charter schools are actively engaged with the district to turn around low-performing schools in specific neighborhoods. To help the financially strapped district manage debilitating legacy costs, Philadelphia charter schools assume the debt burden of the buildings they occupy and are lobbying the state for a more rational district funding model.

Why is this going on? The superintendents and school boards in these cities do not score points with teachers unions by working directly with charters. Charter schools are usually wary of losing their autonomy or wasting time when they get too close to districts. The reason is simple: the payoff of well-chosen cooperation, though slow and time consuming, is worth the effort. District-charter collaboration is a necessity, not a nicety.