Charter schools build on a decade of experimentation
Ten years later, what have we learned?
(Page 3 of 3)
And a Connecticut district, also threatened by new charters, began writing to parents, asking for feedback on how to better meet their needs.Skip to next paragraph
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This new eagerness to please may be limited so far, but its potential to change the system in broader ways, says Christie, "is huge."
Perhaps the most positive contribution charters have made so far has been to offer up a handful of success stories that hint at what innovation can produce (See examples below).
"We've proven schools can do it," says Ms. Jordan of Bronx Prep. Every time a charter school accepts students who lag behind the average academically, and then turns their performances around, that school "makes the case that the problem is not the kids," she says.
Such successes "boost morale [and] introduce hope," says Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Educational Policy in Washington.
Yet many perils still lie ahead for charter schools.
As they receive more scrutiny, overregulation may push them back into the same bureaucratic maze from which they were designed to be liberated.
There's also the question of scale. Their numbers need to grow more quickly if they're to have a larger impact.
But innovative schools are so difficult to start that they're unlikely to multiply with much speed. Charters that follow a more traditional model - usually conversions from regular public schools - grow faster, but are less likely to foster change in the system.
Money for facilities is not easy to come by. Some charters are eligible for federal start-up grants, but few are able to survive without extensive fundraising. Bronx Prep, for instance, put together a multimillion-dollar package of grants and low-interest loans, but still falls $5.5 million short of what it needs to complete its new $18 million facility.
All such challenges are to be expected, Jordan says, as a movement this new struggles to find its place in a field not exactly noted for openness to change.
Of course the first decade was hard, she says, and the second decade will be challenging, too, although in different fashion.
"We've all been running the marathon; we've all been sprinting to reach certain milestones," she says of the charter-school movement as a whole. "Now we need to figure out how to sustain it as we go the distance."
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A challenging curriculum that seeks to combine the best of Eastern education and tradition (discipline and character education) with the best of Western learning and culture (individualism and creativity). All students must study Mandarin Chinese and Tai Chi and read a play by Shakespeare every year. The school's test scores are among the highest in the Boston public schools.
New School for the Arts
The combination of a college-preparatory curriculum with serious arts training. Despite the school's early days when it was squeezed into storefront space in a strip mall, NSA grads have gone on to some of the country's most prestigious arts schools, as well as Ivy League colleges.
Minnesota New Country School Henderson, Minn.
There are no courses. Learning is self-directed, with a heavy emphasis on communication, technology, and service learning. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was so impressed by this school, its students, and its learning philosophy that it has offered a $4.5 million grant to help create 15 similar schools.
North Star Academy
A school with a challenging curriculum that incorporates an eclectic mix of educational philosophies. The school year lasts 11 months: In July, students attend school in the mornings, and teachers spend the afternoons sharpening their own skills. The school selects students randomly by lottery. On state tests, North Star students score twice the district average in language arts, and almost triple the average in math.