The Birth of a Movement
The charter school movement is one part of a more than twohundred-year push in the United States for expanded educational opportunity. It complements the efforts to expand voting rights, to earn a fair wage, to gain respect. As one insightful union official pointed out to me, “The people who start charter schools in the 1990s are the kind of people who started unions in the 1930s.” Just as expansion of voting and workers rights was opposed by people who had power and did not want to share it, so the charter school movement has been opposed by a broad array of powerful education groups.
Ideas and people change history. The story of passing the first charter school legislation in the country includes advocates with a vision of a new way of educating our children, politicians who decided to give promising ideas a chance despite intense organized opposition, and teachers who believe in themselves and the power of education. Indeed, the dedication of charter school advocates across the country explains how, despite well-financed opposition from major educational groups, the idea has spread from a small group of Minnesotans to half the states in the country. This chapter chronicles the charter school movement through the birth of the first charter school legislation. It outlines how the charter movement built on the successes and frustrations of innovative public schools created in the 1960s and 1970s. Above all, it illustrates the importance of ongoing advocacy: educating the public and politicians about the functions, goals, and practical workings of charter schools and building a coalition of interests to support strong charter school legislation.