Effective Charter Schools and Charter School Systems

By Lawton, Stephen B. | Planning and Changing, Spring/Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Effective Charter Schools and Charter School Systems


Lawton, Stephen B., Planning and Changing


The purpose of this synthesis of the literature on charter school effectiveness is to develop a research agenda on the topic and to propose action that will lead to improved performance of charter schools.1 To accomplish these goals, background information is first provided including: a definition of charter schools; statistics on charter schools; charter school legislation in six sample jurisdictions; arrangements for the creation, governance and management of charter schools; and the new roles and relationships that have developed over the past fifteen years as the charter school concept has matured. Then, the meaning of charter school effectiveness and factors that are associated with varying degrees of charter school effectiveness are explored. Finally, tentative conclusions are reached as to the focus of future research incorporating selected interventions designed to improve charter school performance.

Background

Charter Schools

What is a charter school? This review adopts the definition from the federal document, No Child Left Behind - Charter Schools Program Title V, Part B Non-Regulatory Guidance (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). The term 'charter school' means a public school that:

1. In accordance with a specific State statute authorizing the granting of charters to schools, is exempt from significant State or local rules that inhibit the flexible operation and management of public schools, but not from any rules relating to the other requirements of this paragraph [the paragraph that sets forth the Federal definition]

2. Is created by a developer as a public school, or is adapted by a developer from an existing public school, and is operated under public supervision and direction

3. Operates in pursuit of a specific set of educational objectives determined by the school's developer and agreed to by the authorized public chartering agency

4. Provides a program of elementary or secondary education, or both

5. Is nonsectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and is not affiliated with a sectarian school or religious institution

6. Does not charge tuition

7. CompUes with the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title LX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the RehabiUtation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

8. Is a school to which parents choose to send their children, and that admits students on the basis of a lottery, if more students apply for admission than can be accommodated

9. Agrees to comply with the same Federal and State audit requirements as do other elementary schools and secondary schools in the State, unless such requirements are specifically waived for the purpose of this program [the PSCP]

10. Meets all applicable Federal, State, and local health and safety requirements

11. Operates in accordance with State law

12. Has a written performance contract with the authorized pubUc chartering agency in the State that includes a description ofhow student performance will be measured in charter schools pursuant to State assessments that are required of other schools and pursuant to any other assessments mutuaUy agreeable to the authorizedpublic chartering agency and the charter school (pp. 6-7)

Although the notion of "charter school" emphasizes the vision of an educational institution relatively free of regulation and able to chart its own course, as this definition makes clear, charter schools are pubUc schools that must comply with most of the federal and state regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Nevertheless, some states do regulate charter schools with a 'lighter hand" than they do traditional public schools.

Charter School Statistics

Since the first charter school legislation was passed in Minnesota in 1991, 39 other states, Washington, D. …

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