The Challenges of Charter Schools
Finn, Chester E., Jr., Reason
Charter schools are now ten years old, and the movement is still spreading. About 2,400 charter schools have been operating in 2001-2002. A handful of cities now find 15-20 percent of their kids enrolled in charters. Yet some of the wind is going out of the charter schools' sails. Six challenges are paramount.
First, we see too little leadership in the charter movement. The concept of charter schools was dismissed at the last national education summit an October 9-10, 2001, in New York. The Bush White House rarely mentions charters. Few governors tarry long on this subject--and many admit to frustration over "bad apples' in the charter barrel. There's no coherent national voice explaining this reform idea to Congress, the media, or other educators.
Second, although not large, the bad-apple problem is easily exploited by critics. Most states have a few charters that never should have been allowed to start and a few more that cannot sustain the pace. What to do? Too many states--instead of promptly replacing hapless schools with better ones--are slowing the whole charter enterprise and putting bureaucrats in charge of it. Because the top concern of bureaucrats is to fend off future problems, the red tape piles up.
Third, even without added rules and regulations, it is hard to start a charter school. The New York limes recently recounted an unsuccessful three-year effort by would-be charter school founders in the South Bronx, whose dream of starting an arts-oriented charter was stymied by state and city bureaucrats, facility woes, and a lack of start-up funds.
Fourth, charter enemies are relentless. Their favorite strategies are to keep numerical caps in place on the grounds that this risky experiment hasn't proven itself" while persuading policymakers (in the name of "ensuring accountability" or "leveling the playing field) that charters must be subject to ever more of the same requirements as regular public schools. …