Charter Schools: Hope or Hype?
Jack Buckley and Mark Schneider
Princeton University Press
This thoughtful, scholarly volume probes the District of Columbia's charter-school experience (through 2005-6). It's not a study of school performance as gauged by test scores but, rather, of parental behavior: why families choose the schools they choose, how satisfied are they, why they're more content with some schools than others, how social capital gets built by and around schools, and much more. The findings are mixed--sobering, too--and the authors' comments on education markets are insightful indeed. Quoting from the last page: "While parents must exercise their expanded power to hold charter schools accountable from the bottom, these schools must also be held accountable from the top, by serious efforts to gather evidence about what works and for whom.... If simply unleashing choice and market forces was all that was required, then the results we observe for charter schools should be uniformly better. The problems facing charter schools (which all too often mirror the problems of traditional public schools serving the same communities) suggest that more is at work than simply too much bureaucracy and not enough market competition. Yes, markets are beautiful things, but they don't work without lots of information, without a developed infrastructure, and without an adjudicating and enforcement authority. And charter schools won't work without the corresponding mechanisms necessary to support school choice in an ever-expanding market for education." Indeed. This book (the authors of which currently head the National Center for Education Statistics in Washington) is a welcome contribution to the expanding literature on charter schools. For more information, go here.