Brookings report: What failing public schools can learn from charters?

10 Nov

Mary Ann Zehr wrote a 2010 article in Education Week about the sharing of “best practices” between charters and public schools. In the article, Regular Public Schools Start to Mimic Charters Zehr reported:

Collaborations popping up across the country between charter and traditional public schools show promise that charter schools could fulfill their original purpose of becoming research-and-development hothouses for public education, champions of charters say….

“There’s not a lot to share. Charter schools are a lot like [regular] public schools,” said Joan Devlin, the senior associate director of the educational issues department at the American Federation of Teachers.

But others, such as the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, believe charter schools do have some distinctive practices that should be shared with traditional public schools. The alliance hosted a conference in September that featured 26 “promising cooperative practices” between the two kinds of schools. Examples included a Minnesota Spanish-immersion charter school working with a local district to create a Spanish-language-maintenance program, and California charter school and districts teaming up on a teacher-induction program.

“We were trying to move past the whole charter-war debates and move to a more productive place,” said Stephanie Klupinski, the alliance’s vice president of government and public affairs.

If the goal is that ALL children receive a good basic education, then ALL options must be available.

Kristin Kloberdanz has written an incisive critique for TakePart of the Brookings Institute report, Learning from the Successes and Failure of Charter Schools:

What makes a charter school succeed and how exactly can we transfer these ideas to failing public schools?

These questions are examined in Roland G. Fryer’s widely talked about report, “Learning From the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools.” Fryer is the CEO of EdLabs and an economics professor at Harvard University, the report was published as part of The Hamilton Project (the Brookings Institution).

The report has been touted as a great way for modeled successful charters to “cross-pollinate” with failing public schools. Critics, however, have said charters are being favored as education policy over reforms that might be more cohesive with the traditional public school system.

Fryer studied data from 35 charter schools of varying success levels in New York City to determine what separated the high achievers from those that failed. What he discovered was intriguing. The usual measurements, such as class size and amount spent per student, were not as important to reading and math scores as other school-wide implemented practices. In fact, Roland determined that the charter schools with evidence of the highest achievement consistently maintained these five factors:

Focus on human capital: “Effective teachers and quality principals are the bedrock of public schools.” Using student data to drive instruction: Set up an assessment system where students themselves help establish year-long goals. High-dosage tutoring: Intensive tutoring on site. Extended time on task: More days and hours for class time. Culture of high expectations: School-wide and individual goals clearly established for achievement, plus plenty of visible college materials.

According to The Hamilton Project brief which accompanies this report, this kind of research is important not only for lifting charter schools to greater levels, but also to help failing traditional public schools: “Notwithstanding the difficulties and uncertainties surrounding charter schools, two things are certain. First, some charter schools drastically improve student achievement. Second, the practices that distinguish these high-performing charters from their low-performing counterparts can be implemented in traditional public schools. While some of the factors require more restructuring than others, all of them hold the potential to help turn around America’s flagging education system….”

O’Brien says Fryer’s research is important and that charter schools provide a wonderful opportunity to study education reforms. But she says she—and other scholars—do not think all lessons learned from a charter school can be so easily transferred as Fryer (who does state in his report that the goal is not “to replace public schools with charter schools”) suggests.

You cannot simply import something that has been learned in a specific context, and high performing charters and networks studied in a report like this do have a particular context,” she says. “They are filled with seats by lotteries, parents must sign them up and win a spot and they must commit to volunteer. It’s not the same type of environment as in typical public schools. Plus there are [different] government issues, charters might not be unionized, teachers might receive higher or lower pay, the calendars can be set differently and charter can be funded with more flexibility.”

O’Brien says too often people get excited by successes in charter schools, but neglect to understand that these differences can hinder making a transferable leap. She says she wishes more people were studying high performing typical public schools and coming up with a similar list as Fryer did….;_ylt=Ao_pKpjxXl3mUIe5VAXIwHBPXs8F;_ylu=X3oDMTQ0MXFrdXNlBG1pdANUb3BTdG9yeSBVU1NGIEVkdWNhdGlvblNTRgRwa2cDYWU1NzFlMzEtYzNiMC0zNDVmLTljZjEtNjM5NzRlZjZhYmY3BHBvcwMyBHNlYwN0b3Bfc3RvcnkEdmVyA2E1YTRlYzkwLTI5ZmQtMTFlMi04ZmZmLTZmMTFjYjQ2OWIyMA–;_ylg=X3oDMTFzcXM5ajBmBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANob21lfGVkdWNhdGlvbgRwdANzZWN0aW9ucw–;_ylv=3


Learning from the Successes and Failures of Charter Schools

Our education system is in desperate need of innovation. Despite radical advances in nearly every other sector, public school students continue to attend school in the same buildings and according to the same schedule as students did more than a hundred years ago, and performance is either stagnant or worsening. One of the most important innovations in the past halfcentury is the emergence of charter schools, which, when first introduced in 1991, came with two distinct promises: to serve as an escape hatch for students in failing schools, and to create and incubate new educational practices. We examine charter schools across the quality spectrum in order to learn which practices separate high-achieving from low-achieving schools. An expansive data collection and analysis project in New York City charter schools yielded an index of five educational practices that explains nearly half of the difference between high- and low-performing schools. We then draw on preliminary evidence from demonstration projects in Houston and Denver and find the effects on student achievement to be strikingly similar to those of many high-performing charter schools and networks. The magnitude of the problems in our education system is enormous, but this preliminary evidence points to a path forward to save the 3 million students in our nation’s worst-performing schools, for a price of about $6 billion, or less than $2,000 per student.


In Focus on charter schools: There must be accountability, moi said:

Moi supports neighborhood schools which cater to the needs of the children and families in that neighborhood. A one-size-fits-all approach does not work in education. It is for this reason that moi supports charter schools which are regulated by strong charter school legislation with accountability. Accountability means different things to different people. In 2005 Sheila A. Arens wrote Examining the Meaning of Accountability: Reframing the Construct for Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning which emphasizes the involvement of parents and community members. One of the goals of the charter movement is to involve parents and communities.

There is no one approach that works in every situation, there is only what works to address the needs of a particular population of children.


1.      YouTube Link of Professor Carolyn Hoxby Discussing Charters

2.      PBS Frontline – The Battle Over School Choice

3.      The Center for Education Reform’s FAQs About Charter Schools

4.      WSJ’s opinion piece about charters and student performance

5.      Charter School Students More Likely to Graduate and Attend College

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