Success’s meticulously planned classes and sustained expectations for students’ work will come as a relief to many parents.
The Future of Charter Schooling May Mean a Return to Its Roots
Robin Lake and Steven Wilson disagree on some things, but both are right that chartering has a future. I’d suggest that this future looks more like the origins of the charter movement than its recent past.
In the mid-1990s, the argument for chartering was that it provided the mix of autonomy and accountability that could make any school more effective.
Public schools that could control their own hiring could recruit like-minded teachers. Control of professional development could let a school focus on its most important problems. Allowing families to choose schools on the basis of fit would give them leverage in holding their school to its promises.
Chartering as a mechanism of public oversight meant that school boards or other authorizers would focus on whether a school was fulfilling its mission, and avoid piling regulations on all schools to solve a problem that had occurred in only a few.
This argument did not contemplate the emergence of different sectors, one comprised of schools run at scale by industrialized providers and the other by vertically integrated school districts. It envisioned all schools becoming independent entities, and called for districts to provide schools by contracting out for their operation.
The focus on chartering as a superior arrangement for any school got lost as school districts resisted giving up micro-regulation of their schools, and states enabled other entities to charter new schools. Major philanthropies’ decision to identify the most effective independent charter schools and create new organizations to replicate them at scale also helped make chartering into a sector set apart.
Aside from school boards’ refusal to consider chartering their own schools, all these actions were taken for good reasons. Any of them would have made chartering into a separate sector rivaling district-run schools.
Independent authorizers and CMOs are here to stay, but there is a future for chartering among schools—existing and new—affiliated with school districts. Districts face new challenges that will force them to change: declining enrollments, changes in the skills students need to be employable, and technologies supporting personalization. All these will require degrees of flexibility not possible in schools that don’t control their spending and staffing and can’t recruit families who want what the school does well.
This degree of flexibility and specialization is not possible if teachers are assigned to schools via impersonal formulas, or if schools can’t trade spending on salaries for externally provided courses and placements. Districts that can’t flex with the times will fail their communities, lose more enrollment, and suffer local political upheavals and state takeovers.
Districts that want to empower their principals to improve their schools and hold them accountable for student learning outcomes might prefer not to use the term “chartering,” but that’s what they will be doing. As district schools change, some won’t be able to get the help they need from their central offices, and will need to partner with local or national support networks and CMOs. The once-sharp line between the charter schools and districts will blur, consistent with the early arguments for chartering.
This week has been a crucial period of preparation in states from Washington to Florida, where distance learning is expected to begin in earnest by the end of March.
Three much-admired school networks in Indianapolis didn’t skip a beat in going virtual.