In a decade and a half, the charter school movement has gone from a glimmer in the eyes of a few Minnesota reformers to a maturing sector of America’s public education system. Now, like all 15-year-olds, chartering must find its own place in the world.
First, advocates must answer a fundamental question: What type of relationship should the nascent charter sector have with the long-dominant district sector? The tension between the two is at the heart of every political, policy, and philosophical tangle faced by the charter movement.
But charter supporters lack a consistent vision. This motley crew includes civil rights activists, free market economists, career public-school educators, and voucher proponents. They have varied aspirations for the movement and feelings toward the traditional system. Such differences are part of the movement’s DNA: a National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) study found that the nation’s charter laws cite at least 18 different goals, including spurring competition, increasing professional opportunities for teachers, and encouraging greater use of technology.
Because of its uniqueness, chartering is unable to look to previous reform efforts for guidance. No K–12 reform has so fundamentally questioned the basic assumptions—school assignments based on residence, centralized administrative control, schools lasting in perpetuity—underlying the district model of public education. Even the sweeping standards and assessments movement of the last 20 years, culminating in No Child Left Behind, takes for granted and makes use of the district sector.
Rotherham has more.