Quantity Counts: The Growth of Charter School Management Organizations
August 29, 2007
National Charter School Research Project, University of Washington
This short report from the National Charter School Research Project (part of Paul Hill's Center on Reinventing Public Education) looks at charter school management organizations, both nonprofit and for-profit. It's not a systematic analysis but rather a discussion of challenges that these entities face and the strategies they pursue as they manage (and attempt to grow) their networks of charter schools--perhaps shedding light on why fewer than 10 percent of charter schools are associated with management organizations (as of 2005). The analysts interviewed ten such organizations, including Aspire, High Tech High, KIPP, and Edison, and identified a handful of common problems. One such: Because charter schools face political uncertainty in many states, and navigating this consumes a great deal of time and resources, a management organization might be forced to narrow its geographic focus. Perhaps the most distressing problem they cite is "the tyranny of business plans." Their interviews suggested that even non-profit outfits are often pressured by funders to grow too quickly. A related question is whether charter management groups should enforce uniformity across their schools (as franchises typically do) or allow local variation. Both approaches exist. The Big Picture Company, for example, gives "each local site...encouragement to innovate around the design," while White Hat Management reports that it has "a very specific education model." The authors don't take sides, but they help the reader understand the tradeoffs. This report is by no means the last word (or the first; see here) on CMOs, EMOs, and their strategies, but it raises important issues for charter supporters to ponder. You can find it online here.