Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New Frontiers: An Overview of Charter Schools in 2012

by Robin Lake The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has been producing Hopes, Fears, & Reality since 2005, after a set of major studies showed conflicting results about charter school performance and caused quite a dustup. CRPE created this annual report and its overall research program on charter schools with two goals in mind: (1) to provide an even-handed assessment of charter school outcomes to date so that people involved in policy and practice can make sense of the research without having to rely on simplistic headlines or read complex and conflicting journal articles, and (2) to create a forum for leading thinkers to push charter sector leaders to look to the future and improve on the past. We at CRPE are quite proud of the data and essays that have appeared in Hopes, Fears, & Reality across the years. With support from the National Charter School Resource Center at American Institutes for Research, we are excited that the report can continue to reach new audiences through this venue. If you are new to this series, please look at the past editions. I hope you will find them useful—even surprising and provocative. As a research organization, CRPE is committed to following the evidence wherever it leads. For that reason, our work points out both the beauty marks and the warts of the charter sector. Because we believe that students urgently need better public school options, CRPE commissions essays that push policymakers and charter leaders to anticipate issues that few people are thinking about now but that could greatly enhance the sector’s effectiveness and reach. Past editions of Hopes, Fears, & Reality covered a lot of important topics, including the following:

This year, in the seventh edition of Hopes, Fears, & Reality, we at CRPE continue to look around the corner at issues that we believe will be important for the charter school community and policymakers to think about in the coming months and years. We focus on growth and innovation and push charter leaders to consider whether they are fully using their flexibility and autonomy on behalf of their students. Innovation is a core promise of charter schooling, yet relatively few charter schools are adopting new technologies and experimenting with new classroom and staffing structures. Will the movement miss out on important opportunities to expand more quickly, use resources more productively, and—most importantly—improve student success? More cities come to view charter schools as a tool for reform, but many are finding that there is a shortage of high-quality charter providers. Recent stories of expansion into suburban areas raise the question of whether charter schools are beginning to serve more advantaged communities. Where will the next generation of quality charter schools come from? Who will they serve? I asked leading thinkers in some of these areas to assess these new frontier questions and provide possible guidance to the field in light of the demand for better schools, the Common Core State Standards, and highly constrained fiscal realities. First, Jeffrey Henig of Columbia University explores the growth of charters in the suburbs. He looks at why charter schools are popping up in suburban and affluent neighborhoods and whether that growth portends a trend for the charter movement. Henig urges charter authorizers and advocates to be conscious of the demand for suburban charter schools and deliberate about a response. Next, Ethan Gray of the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust argues that cities and communities need to more proactively build a local supply of schools rather than hope for national nonprofits to arrive on a white horse. Gray describes how many cities are incubating high-performing charters with an eye toward schools of the future and blended-learning models. Then Michael Horn of the Christensen Institute writes about how and why many charter schools in California have innovated through technology and asks what it will take for more to follow nationwide. Finally, Suzanne Simburg and Marguerite Roza of CRPE and Georgetown University push school systems to embrace innovations pioneered in the charter sector to better serve students in tough fiscal times. Specifically, Simburg and Roza explain how the widespread adoption of a learning lab rotation model in schools could fundamentally change staffing needs and thus costs. Each author has written a short topical piece as a preview of what is to come in this year’s edition. I hope you find the pieces relevant and thought provoking and that they compel you to stay tuned for the main event.