THE GREAT ISSUES
THE CHARTER MOVEMENT, as we have seen, is spreading fast. Yet for all the attention showered on them, charter schools are dwarfed by the behemoth of American public education. They educate fewer than one percent of U.S. schoolchildren. Today they are more like scattered specialty shops than ubiquitous convenience stores. Still, they are mostly doing well by those who attend them and are beginning to influence the broader education system that surrounds them. This leads us to wonder about the millions of families whose children are not yet being well educated by the "regular" schools. Will charters evolve into options for them, too? The answer to that question hinges in part on the political battles we reported in chapter 8. But it depends also on how the charter movement addresses the great dilemmas that it faces. We have spotted eight of these long-term issues that will shape the future of charter schools in America.
It is easier to spot them, of course, than to forecast their outcome with confidence. Since our crystal ball is not especially clear, we also sought the views of three of the country's keenest observers (and most influential shapers) of the charter scene. To each, we posed the eight issues and asked for a prediction or recommendation: "Tell us how you think this issue is apt to unfold or what you think is most apt to yield a happy result."
Louann Bierlein is education policy advisor to Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, in which capacity she has played a lead role in upgrading that state's charter law. Bierlein is considered one of the earliest and keenest policy players in the national charter movement; her initial work depicting key components of a strong charter law was used as a bible by many charter proponents as their statutes were being crafted.
Gary K. Hart is now Secretary of Education in the administration of California Governor Grey Davis. At the time he responded to our questions, he was codirector of the California State University Institute for Education Reform. From 1974 to 1994, he served in the state legislature, including twelve years chairing the Senate Education Committee. In that capacity, he was principal author of California's charter law. He has also been a high school history teacher. He is a Democrat.