Charting New Territory: Tapping Charter Schools to Turn Around the Nation's Dropout Factories

This report
begins with a Cinderella story: high school (the infamous Locke in Los Angeles)
meets charter management organization, is taken over, transforms from drop-out
factory to a high-performing charter. How widespread should the involvement of
charter management organizations be in turning around the nation’s lowest
performing high schools? CAP takes on this question in its latest report.

Low-performing district schools
opting to become charters are rare; only five percent of schools
awarded a federal School Improvement Grant have chosen to restart as charter
schools, and very few of those are high schools. But the report argues that the
use of Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) in school overhauls is an area
ripe with opportunity. This policy paper offers observations, largely based on
conversations from charter operators and district leaders in two cities, on how
district-charter partnerships are taking shape.

CMOs
attempting to turn around failing schools face different obstacles than those
working solely with start-ups. Money and resources are obviously a key
component in the district-charter relationship. The ability and willingness of school
districts to invest funding into facilities and maintenance, and to provide
human capital resources, can create a great support system for a failing
school. Administrative barriers and issues of autonomy are cited as the largest
hurdles for districts becoming charters under the CMO direction. CAP’s
anecdotal evidence confirms what we already knew: CMOs undertaking turnaround
projects are forced to grow in new directions.

These
are fine “first looks” at the role of CMOs in district schools turned to
charters. However, CAP’s paper shows little information on the advancement of
student performance in the schools studied, nor the likelihood that districts
will look to charter operators to turn around drop-out factories using School
Improvement Grant money.

Charting New Territory: Tapping Charter Schools to Turn
Around the Nation’s Dropout Factories

Center
for American Progress
Melissa Lazarín
June 2011

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