Hopes, Fears and Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2009

Eric Ulas

This fifth edition of the annual National Charter Research Project
series wants to know if charter schools will go mainstream. (Find 2008’s
here.)
Its six chapters (including one from Fordham Ohio’s Terry Ryan) look at
how far charters have come (boosted in part by the current
administration’s attention), how further they must go, and the “critical
tests” that must be passed to get them there. For example, Ryan’s
chapter focuses on the need for strong leadership in turnaround efforts,
based in Fordham’s experience turning around a failing charter school
it then-authorized; this is a particularly pertinent issue in light of
the current administration’s call to turnaround the country’s 5,000
lowest-performing schools. Such leaders, cautions Ryan, can make or
break the attempt. Other chapters consider how to create effective
charter school governing boards and predict how the relationship between
charters and teachers’ unions will develop in the future. (The AFT
represents eighty charters nationwide.) But this report is known, in
particular, for its yearly update on the charter landscape. Most
noteworthy is the fact that charter enrollment increased 55 percent from
2004 to 2009, from approximately 900,000 to more than 1.4 million. But
that growth has been geographically uneven; most charter schools are in
cities, and some states still don’t even have charter school laws. And
many states are nearing their charter caps; according to CRPE’s
calculations, there is currently room for 955 more schools, 517 of which
are in California. With such a broad range of topics, the report is a
one-stop shop if you want to see how charters have matured in the last
year. You can find the study here.

Robin Lake, Ed.
Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington at Bothell
January 2010

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