A 'State of the Art' Resource about Charter Schools

Article excerpt


By Joe Nathan

Jossey-Bass, 249 pp., $25 Joe Nathan has written a thoughtful, plain-English explanation of many of the key issues that surround charter schools, perhaps the most vibrant force for genuine reform in public education today. These independent public schools of choice - now numbering around 500 in 25 states and the District of Columbia - are open to all, paid for with tax dollars, and accountable to the public. They are based on a simple but powerful concept: Public schools need not be run in uniform fashion by government bureaucracies. Both Republicans and Democrats hail these schools as a promising reform strategy, with President Clinton making them a prominent part of his education focus in the State of the Union message. As Nathan notes in "Charter Schools: Creating Hope and Opportunity for American Education," being directly accountable for one's results, and free to achieve them as one sees fit, is a combination rarely seen in conventional public schools. The schools, to the surprise of many, are not havens for the "best and brightest" students but serve large numbers of needy, troubled, and minority children - square peg kids who don't fit into the round holes of conventional public schools. Nathan's perspective in "Charter Schools" is particularly persuasive and insightful because he was "present at the creation" of this country's first charter-school law in Minnesota in 1991. He is a former public school teacher and administrator and now serves as director of the University of Minnesota Center for School Change at the Hubert Humphrey Institute. In addition to introducing the reader to the key ideas that underlie the charter-school movement, Nathan offers many practical suggestions on how to start a charter school. He also provides a state-by-state summary of charter laws and a list of contacts along with model charter-school legislation. Within the charter context, a public school is one that serves the public, meets fundamental health, safety, and nondiscrimination requirements, is financed by and accountable to the public for results. …


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