Charter Schools: Another Flawed Education Reform

By Self, Tucker L. | American Secondary Education, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Charter Schools: Another Flawed Education Reform


Self, Tucker L., American Secondary Education


CHARTER SCHOOLS: ANOTHER FLAWED EDUCATION REFORM SEYMOUR BERNARD SARASON TEACHERS COLLEGE PRESS, NEW YORK, NY 1998 $18.95 ISBN: 0-80773987-1

Charter schools are prone to failure for several reasons according to the author. In his opinion lack of funding is a major contributor to failure. Charter school applications usually are submitted by self-- appointed leaders who lack leadership skills and experience. These applications are approved by people in state departments who have little knowledge and experience in establishing charter schools and after approval never follow through to assess the schools. The charter school concept is flawed and will generally not succeed in the opinion of the author.

The creation of settings related to charter schools is the main topic of this book. It is logically written and takes the reader through the reasons for charter school failures. The author cites several works by himself and others, which are worthwhile reading for those involved in the charter school movement.

The beginning chapter is an overview of the book. This book is based, in part, as a follow-up to a book the author wrote on creating programs in 1972. He discusses several failures of programs such as charter schools which were reported to him. The problem with new programs, such as the charter school concept, is that we have not studied past failures.

Chapter Two gives the reader a historical perspective on charter schools. The author notes that states have contributed to schools by their ability to make policies and oversee education. He notes that today's charter school movement is testimony to the states' power to exempt public schools from burdensome regulations. President Nixon's Experimental Schools Program was a precursor of charter schools and was a disaster. The charter school movement must be careful not to follow the same path to disaster.

The author begins Chapter Three by stating his 1972 definition of a setting as one in which "two or more people get together in new and sustained relationships." He discusses professional positions which he held where struggles of those involved in the settings caused failure. Sarason concludes these personal experience stories by indicating that settings create predictable problems or "glimpses of the barriers." If not confronted, these problems keep organizations from reaching their goals.

Sarason uses Chapter Four to prove the point that the fate of a new setting is largely determined prior to its becoming operational. The first operational year determines it's success. This is when the original vision and purpose meet reality. The leader has the vision for the new setting and seeks to find individuals to make up the core group to plan for the organization. Just because someone has a vision and assumes the leadership role in the formation of the setting does not mean the person is a leader. He discuses a core group of individuals and the core's relationship with the leader. The author emphasizes external concerns, such as individuals or agencies who are a source of constraint, that we fail to consider in new settings. We are too concerned with the internal problems, such as leaders who may not accept reality. This leads to failure. We also fail because we never budget enough for new settings.

In Chapter Five Sarason describes the merger of two hospitals as the creation of a setting. where they have some common characteristics, but each has a distinctive feel or culture. This merger was successful and a new setting was created due to the planning and leadership of the hospitals. Each was different in how the leadership went about organizing for the merger even in the way employees were informed of the merger. In one hospital the employees were told in a group at the same time. In the other hospital the goal was achieved by letting the word out through the "rumor mill." Sarason compares this merger to the creation of charter schools.

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