When it comes to charter schools, Albany, New York is one heck of a role model. It's not just that that small city (not quite 100,000 people) has eight top notch charters; it's also that those schools serve about a quarter of the city's students and serve them well-earning top marks on state assessments, far superior to those of district schools enrolling similar youngsters. But none of this was accidental. Unlike other cities (e.g., Dayton and Washington D.C.) with large fractions of their pupils enrolled in charters, many of which are mediocre or worse, Albany's grew slowly and deliberately. One charter organization led the charge: the Brighter Choice Foundation. It founded schools that were exact replicas of existing high-quality charters, like New Haven's Amistad Academy. It turned grant money into a revolving line of credit, whereby schools could get a mortgage on their nice new facility. It made sure the schools started small and grew slowly. Then it cajoled successful charter operators such as KIPP to open up shop in Albany. Above all, the growth of charters in New York's capital city was marked by what writer Peter Meyer calls "constant vigilance" and "constant adaptability." Albany should serve as a lesson: Charter quality control should be at the front and back ends of the chartering process--and everywhere in between.
"Brighter Choices in Albany," by Peter Meyer, Education Next, September 4, 2009