Incubate to promulgate
Since 2005, Fordham has been working in Ohio to recruit high-quality charter schools to neighborhoods badly in need of better schools. During our six-plus years of effort we have managed to recruit just two high-performing models to Columbus (KIPP and a Building Excellent Schools venture). Tougher still, we have been unable to recruit any to our home town of Dayton. We know first-hand just how hard it is to help recruit and launch great schools, especially to a Rust Belt state like Ohio. It is for this reason that we are excited about the work of organizations across the country to accelerate the growth of great new schools through a strategic process called charter incubation.
Charter incubators are entities that intentionally build the supply of high-quality schools and charter-management organizations (CMOs) in cities or 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 these initiatives to bring in and support great leaders as they open and operate charter schools. Incubators provide an up-front quality screen for new leaders, and with intensive support on the ground, they boost the odds 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 quality schools of choice. An estimated 420,000 students linger on charter waiting lists. Hundreds of thousands more are stuck in failing schools without quality options available.
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 CMOs—Uncommon Schools, KIPP, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot, and Achievement First—together serve just 61,000 pupils.
How to grow better schools faster? The authors distill five main characteristics of successful charter incubators:
- Selective screening for high-potential school leaders. Incubators focus on the recruitment and selection of top talent, restricting their services to a small group vetted for its leadership promise.
- Strategic focus on leadership development. Incubators develop promising leaders or leadership teams through months-long rigorous fellowships and training that help them open and operate successful schools.
- Expertise in new starts. While some charter-support organizations provide ongoing services to charter schools, incubators' primary focus is on recruiting and supporting new charter start-ups or new school leaders, including the provision of financial resources to talented leaders to develop and build new schools.
- Public accountability. 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 they incubated.
- Regional focus. Local ties help incubators provide powerful support to school leaders as they open and operate new schools. Such targeted assistance can include access to funding, introductions to other local leaders, technical expertise (e.g. financial, academic, or organizational), or direct support to encourage things like a 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.”
The emerging work of charter incubators across the country is an important reform strategy that states and communities should learn more about. As Better Choices points out, the cost of incubation is far lower than the costs of other reform options and slighter still compared to the social and economic costs of continued school failure.
Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter Sector was co-commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust.
|Click to listen to commentary on Better Choices from the Education Gadfly Show podcast.|
Category: Charters & Choice
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