Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2011

Like the Hatfields and McCoys or the Montagues and Capulets,
charter and district schools have a tradition of feuding. Districts have been
known to waylay charters’ funding; charter leaders to wage legal battles
against their local districts. Yet this sixth edition of Hopes, Fears & Reality (which depicts the status of the charter
movement annually, with a pause in 2010) argues that a truce may be near. These
nine chapters offer examples of districts and charters that have already begun
to collaborate through the “portfolio management model” (PMM) of schooling—and
explains how to tackle the philosophical and technical issues that stand in the
way of further implementation of this new (and radically different) model of
organizing districts. (In the PMM set-up, a central district office oversees a
diverse portfolio of schools, instead of a group of cookie-cutter neighborhood
schools; more
background on PMM here
). One chapter, for example, details how Baltimore enacted its city-wide choice
program, which allows students to choose one of about thirty district or
charter schools in their area. Another discusses how charters and the district
came to share facilities in Denver.
The authors note mutual benefits for strategic collaboration: Districts can
exploit charters’ flexibility to leverage
greater equity
and higher student achievement; charters can partner with
districts to (finally) ensure equitable funding. Portfolio districts are a
fresh and intriguing prospect to be sure, but it will be some time before we
see a general accord between the two disputers. Of our 14,000 or so school
districts, fewer than thirty are currently experimenting with PMM. And we’re
not the only one with doubts about this détente

Robin Lake and Betheny Gross, eds., Hopes, Fears,
& Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2011
(Seattle, WA:
Center on Reinventing Public Education, January 2012.)

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