IN THIS CHAPTER, we briefly survey the charter landscape and then visit five real schools in four states. Nationally, we can spot about 1,700 charter schools in September 1999, located in 32 states and the District of Columbia. Approximately 350,000 children attend them—and all these numbers are rising fast. By mid-1999, 36 states and the District of Columbia had enabling legislation for charter schools. Two and a half times as many such schools were operating in September 1998 than just two years earlier. While the country will not reach President Clinton's ambitious target of 3,000 schools by century's end, it is likely to do so within the first few years of the next decade.
Today, charter schools are distributed widely but unevenly (see Table 2‐ 1). Arizona is the Grand Canyon of charter states, with 348 in 1999, but we also find 234 in California, 175 in Michigan, and 168 in Texas. Florida, Colorado, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania also have a healthy crop of charter schools. New states are climbing aboard the charter-mobile, too. New York passed charter legislation late in 1998, Oklahoma and Oregon did so early in 1999, and that year's legislative session saw several other states come close. Today, charter schools are found in all kinds of communities: cities, suburbs, and rural areas; industrial towns, deserts, and Indian reservations; ethnic neighborhoods, commuter towns, even in cyberspace.
A complete tour of the charter landscape does not stop at the U.S. border. Charter schools or charter-like developments can be found in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Chile, and Pakistan. (See chapter 4.) And there are signs of interest in Japan and Argentina.
However, while the idea now crosses national boundaries, this book is concerned with charter schools in the United States. Who starts them? Who attends them? Why do people seek them? How do they work? How are they different from other schools? How are they doing?
Generalizations are difficult, for these schools are breathtakingly diverse. There is no "typical" example. Accordingly, the best way to begin to answer all these questions is to tour several actual (and in one case "virtual")