Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2006

Edited by Robin J. Lake and Paul T. Hill
Center on Reinventing Public Education's National Charter Research Project
December 2006

This set of essays on the state of U.S. charter schools is
the second in a series from Paul Hill's Center on Reinventing Public
Education. The first essay, by researchers Paul Teske and Robert
Reichardt, combats the stereotype of charter parents as "ill-informed
consumers who are led unwittingly to charter schools." Teske and
Reichardt found that charter parents were in fact more likely than their
non-charter counterparts to choose a school based on academic factors
and that they were ultimately more satisfied with their chosen schools.
The next essay presents lessons from Dayton, Ohio (where 1 in 4 students
attends a charter school), for school districts struggling with
competition from charters. Christine Campbell and Deborah Warnock
suggest that threatened districts should offer parents "new options
within the traditional district system," such as magnet schools; reach
out to parents through advertising; and take oversight and
accountability more seriously. Essay three, a slightly too-optimistic
look at the age-old battle between charter advocates and teacher unions,
essentially reproduces this paper by Hill, Lydia Rainey, and Andrew Rotherham, which, incidentally, was lovingly lampooned
in a recent podcast interview. The final four essays all consider "how
government institutions responsible for judging the performance of
charter schools can do their jobs fairly and effectively." Among the
suggestions is that we "move beyond the current single-minded
preoccupation with test scores" to assess charters on other merits, such
as safety, teacher quality, and exposure to content, to name a few.
Essay five also offers suggestions for districts to better manage
charter authorization. On balance, the collection is balanced, even if
no single piece is. But in the world of charter school research, balance
tends to rest in the beholder's eye. Read the report here.

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