Ch. 5 - Achieving the Ripple Effect: How Can Charters Prompt District Improvement? (HFR '09)

January 2010

In this chapter, Robin Lake takes up the questions of whether and how charter schools can prompt school districts to become more innovative and performance-oriented. Do charters create a within-district ripple effect prompting districts to improve all of their public schools? In some cases yes; in others, no.

Districts with expanding enrollment may be happy to have charter schools take some of the growth pressure off their hands. Other districts consider their hands to be tied by state regulation or are protected from the competitive effects of charters by state support. A small but apparently growing number of districts are coming to see charter schools as a source of innovation and school improvement, as well as offering new options for children in low-performing schools. But those examples are far too rare. Lake argues that policymakers and philanthropists could do much more to encourage districts to compete or cooperate with the charter sector, and thereby expand the impact of the nation’s high-performing charter schools.