Faith Versus Reason
in Educational Reform
The idea of the charter school—the inspiration of a handful of educational visionaries—has, in less than fifteen years, become a reform movement of educational and political importance. Classically American, the charter idea emphasizes individualism and promotes a maverick sensibility that suggests that a handful of pioneers can create an imaginative, effective educational system through small‐ scale local reform. This idea has inspired efforts to redefine accountability, enabled the creation of thousands of new schools, created entirely new private industries (and possibly new fortunes), and catalyzed the passion of thousands of people who had previously been frustrated and dissatisfied with public schools. It is a movement that has many faces and has attracted an eclectic group of proponents and propagandists—justifying a wide range of seemingly contradictory strategies. Laws that support the creation of charter schools have been passed by thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia—and as of September 2001, charter schools were operating in all but three states with charter laws. Despite the charter movement's national reach, however, the geographic distribution of charter schools remains somewhat localized, with just under half of all charter schools currently in operation located in just four states: Arizona, California, Texas, and Michigan. Yet the idea of charter schools—and the promise that they will transform American public education—has captured the nation's imagination.