Date: 
Monday, July 1, 2013

New Report Details Progress and Challenges in District-Charter School Collaboration Efforts

Seattle, WA - In 2010 and 2011, district and charter school leaders in 16 U.S. cities signed agreements to foster collaboration. These “Compact cities” each received $100,000 in grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work together across sectors to accelerate student achievement for all students. After an initial phase of work, the 16 cities were eligible to compete for larger, multimillion-dollar grants.

In a study released today, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) details the first two years of Compact work and finds evidence that these 16 cities “…have made inroads toward a relationship focused more on problem solving than on posturing.” It remains to be seen, however, whether educational options and outcomes will improve as a result of these Compacts, and whether changes enacted will survive the pressures of the status quo.

The Gates Foundation commissioned CRPE to both support and monitor implementation on these district-charter collaboration Compacts. Based on site visits as well as data and documents obtained through interviews, CRPE’s report spells out early lessons, opportunities, and challenges. The report also includes key Compact agreements and measurements of progress for each of the cities.

CRPE’s measure of these ventures suggests that progress to date is mixed, affected by a variety of factors. Those Compact cities where some dialogue had already been in place, such as New York and Denver, have introduced several new policies and practices for working across sectors. In others with no history of collaboration, the Compacts have resulted in the opening of conversations among groups that had not occurred before.

“For some cities, the Compact has helped strengthen and further already-established relationships, while in others it has represented a shift from all-out war to mutually self-interested cooperation,” said lead author Sarah Yatsko.

Nearly every Compact called for—and progress has been made in some cities on—facilities sharing, equitable funding for charter schools, more high-performing schools, and improved access to high-quality special education. Many “wins” in compact cities represent concrete improvements that may, ultimately, translate into better school and student performance. For example, selected cities have used the Compact to increase focus on effective teaching strategies and reduce tension and political squabbling around education reform issues; create more predictable and equitable enrollment systems; build common accountability systems; and share professional development and leadership training programs.

But challenges such as leadership transitions, local anti-charter politics, and key leaders’ unwillingness to prioritize time and resources for implementation have thwarted efforts in some cities. Only four of eleven Compact cities that agreed to close persistently low-performing schools followed through, and many have struggled to build common accountability systems and share the benefits of economies of scale with their charter schools.

“Compacts are an important shift in the debate, as they spell out something most district and charter leaders didn’t believe existed: shared interests,” according to CRPE Director Robin Lake, an author on the report and a national expert on charter schools. “Our analysis shows that how the documents are crafted matters: they are most effective when the language is specific, they assign responsibilities, and they push tangible results.”

Lake cautions, however, that, “…ultimately, this initiative will have failed if all it produces is more civil conversations.”

The report is available at crpe.org, and all 16 Compacts can be found there as well.