The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Washington D.C., has released a new report analyzing the successes and challenges of high-quality charter school networks.
Since 2000, the charter school sector has quadrupled in size. In January 2016, there were more than 6,800 charter schools nationwide. Six years ago there were only 1,500, and twenty-five years ago there were zero. Thus, charter school operators have a range of experience in managing these schools. The American Enterprise Institute’s report hopes to offer pertinent information for the successful management of charter schools.
Despite the breakneck pace of growth, however, educators and policymakers struggle to keep up with the public demand for charter schools. The major impediments to the growth of charter schools are regulatory, financial, and human-capital constraints, the report says. To continue its robust growth, charter school networks must identify the factors that contribute to their expansion and potential deterrents.
The report is particularly useful because it provides first-hand accounts of specific charter schools’ experiences. Specifically, it focuses on Great Hearts Academies, Uncommon Schools, and Carpe Diem Learning Systems, three charter networks that began in the early 2000s. Each has experienced growth over this period but to varying degrees. Great Hearts has nearly 30 schools, Uncommon more than 40, and Carpe Diem only six. Moreover, the different networks represent different geographical locations and learning and pedagogical approaches.
The researchers personalized the report; it is not a report driven by data. Rather, it presents profiles of the three networks based on interviews with teachers, principles, executives, and administrators. The common challenge faced by all is human capital, meaning the availability of experience individuals able to manage a charter school.
Since charter schools are a relatively new phenomenon, teachers and administrators with little experience in charter school environments must be trained on the job. Finding teachers is not even necessarily the most difficult part; finding the best use of existing teachers is perhaps more difficult. One person interviewed in the report said, “Sometimes people are pulled away from positions they’re successful in to do something else before the school is ready and before they’re ready.”
The report concludes by offering some policy recommendations for education officials and lawmakers, including lifting the caps on charter schools at the state level, streamlining authorization of charter schools across state lies, and allowing charter school networks to function as credential-granting bodies. These moves, the researchers argue, will stimulate and sustain the growth of charter schools nationwide.
While the report refrains from propagandizing charter schools, conservative intellectuals, activists, and lawmakers have long viewed charter school networks as a viable alternative to public school education. AEI says that charter schools increase competition in the education sector, diminish the social and political clout of teachers unions, and increase the ability for families to choose how their children are educated. Some educators and policymakers harbor grievances and critiques against the very notion of charter schools.