Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2006
Edited by Robin J. Lake and Paul T. Hill
Center on Reinventing Public Education's National Charter Research Project
This set of essays on the state of U.S. charter schools is the second in a series from Paul Hill's Center on Reinventing Public Education. The first essay, by researchers Paul Teske and Robert Reichardt, combats the stereotype of charter parents as "ill-informed consumers who are led unwittingly to charter schools." Teske and Reichardt found that charter parents were in fact more likely than their non-charter counterparts to choose a school based on academic factors and that they were ultimately more satisfied with their chosen schools. The next essay presents lessons from Dayton, Ohio (where 1 in 4 students attends a charter school), for school districts struggling with competition from charters. Christine Campbell and Deborah Warnock suggest that threatened districts should offer parents "new options within the traditional district system," such as magnet schools; reach out to parents through advertising; and take oversight and accountability more seriously. Essay three, a slightly too-optimistic look at the age-old battle between charter advocates and teacher unions, essentially reproduces this paper by Hill, Lydia Rainey, and Andrew Rotherham, which, incidentally, was lovingly lampooned in a recent podcast interview. The final four essays all consider "how government institutions responsible for judging the performance of charter schools can do their jobs fairly and effectively." Among the suggestions is that we "move beyond the current single-minded preoccupation with test scores" to assess charters on other merits, such as safety, teacher quality, and exposure to content, to name a few. Essay five also offers suggestions for districts to better manage charter authorization. On balance, the collection is balanced, even if no single piece is. But in the world of charter school research, balance tends to rest in the beholder's eye. Read the report here.
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