Charter incubation as a strategy for improving the charter school sector
Today, Fordham-Ohio and CEE-Trust are co-releasing a policy brief on charter incubation, “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector.” In this post, Terry Ryan and Ethan Gray, vice-president of The Mind Trust and director of CEE-Trust, explain the potential of the model and the characteristics of successful charter incubators.
There are a small but growing number of organizations across the country dedicated to creating better schools and attracting more talent to public education through a strategic process called “charter school incubation.” Charter incubators are organizations that intentionally build the supply of high-quality schools and charter management organizations (CMOs) in cities or specific geographic regions by recruiting, selecting, and training promising leaders, and supporting those leaders as they launch new schools.
Groups leading this innovative effort include New Schools for New Orleans, The Tennessee Charter School Incubator, Get Smart Schools in Colorado, Charter School Partners in Minnesota, The Mind Trust’s Charter School Incubator in Indianapolis, and 4.0 Schools in several southeastern states.
These organizations are united in their belief that the development of great charter schools can be accelerated through the recruitment, selection, and development of talented school leaders and the support of those leaders as they open and operate charter schools. Incubators are a potential game-changer; by providing an up-front quality screen for new leaders and intensive support on the ground, incubators are increasing the likelihood that new schools will succeed.
Public Impact’s crackerjack researchers Joe Ableidinger and Julie Kowal explain in their new policy brief “Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector” that incubators are an important tool to help meet the demands of parents and students for more high quality schools of choice. There is an estimated 420,000 students on charter school waiting lists. There are hundreds of thousands more students stuck in failing schools without quality options available to them.
Yet, despite this demand, high quality charters are growing too slowly. Ableidinger and Kowal cite statistics from 2011-12 that show the country’s top five Charter Management Organizations – Uncommon Schools., KIPP, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot and Achievement First – together serve just 61,000 pupils.
How to grow better schools faster? Ableidinger and Kowal build on the emerging lessons from current city-based incubators to show that successful charter incubators share five main characteristics:
- Selective screening for high-potential school leaders. Incubators place an emphasis on the recruitment and selection of top-talent, restricting their services to a small group vetted for strong leadership potential.
- Strategic focus on leadership development. Incubators identify and develop promising leaders or leadership teams and help them open and operate schools.
- Expertise in new starts. While some charter support organizations provide ongoing services to charter schools no matter their age, incubators primary focus is on recruiting and supporting new charter start-ups or new school leaders, including by providing financial resources to talented leaders to develop and build new schools.
- Public accountability for leaders’ success or failure. As a result of their intense, direct relationships with school leaders, incubators, their funders, and the public tend to judge their success by the performance of the schools incubated.
- A focus on a specific geographic region. Local ties help incubators provide powerful support to school leaders as they open and operate new schools. Local assistance can include access to funding, introductions to other local leaders, technical expertise (e.g. financial, academic or organizational), or direct support to allow and encourage things like a school planning year, intensive fellowship programs and training activities.
Ableidinger and Kowal also highlight strategies that federal, state and local policymakers can implement to launch, strengthen and expand the work of charter incubators. The authors note, “targeted funding and changes to key policies can help incubators thrive in their target cities or regions, boosting the supply of promising leaders who start high-performing charter schools and ensuring that these leaders are adequately supported as they open and operate their schools.”
Both CEE-Trust and the Fordham Institute are excited about the work of incubators and believe this is an important reform strategy for states and communities to learn more about. As “Better Choices” points out, the cost of incubation is far lower than the costs of other reform options and slight compared to the social and economic costs of continued school failure.
Category: Charters & Choice
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About the Editor
Director, Program on Parental Choice
Adam Emerson is the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s school choice czar, directing the Institute’s policy program on parental choice and editing the Choice Words blog. He coordinates the Institute’s school choice-related research projects, policy analyses and commentaries on issues that include charter schools and public school choice along with school vouchers, homeschooling and digital learning.
May 23, 2013
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