20 years of chartered schools

On this date in 1992, City Academy High School in Saint Paul, Minnesota, opened its doors to students as the first chartered school in the United States. The school is still operating, and serves at-risk students in Saint Paul’s East Side just as it had two decades ago.

Of course, passing the law that made possible City Academy, and all the chartered schools that followed, was an ordeal in itself.

The detailed story of the events which led up to Minnesota’s passage of the first chartering law in the county is told in vigorous prose by Ember Reichgott Junge in her new book, Zero Chance of Passage. Reichgott Junge was the chief author of the enabling legislation in the Minnesota Senate, and gives great credit to Ted Kolderie and other Education Evolving associates for their work leading up to enactment of that landmark bill in 1991.

Over the past 20 years, it has been heartening to see the successes being achieved by many teacher-centered, innovative charter schools. After all, that was the purpose of the original chartering law: to create “different and innovative” schools. Charlie Kyte’s recent report to the Hewlett Foundation -- published by EE -- examines two schools which are high performing on several dimensions.

Of course, an anniversary like today’s offers an occasion not just to reflect on the historical event of City Academy’s opening. It gives us also a suitable chance to take stock of what has happened in the intervening years with chartering, and to consider its future. We at Education Evolving have been thinking about these topics a lot, and will be circulating our observations and ideas in the very near future. Please stay tuned.


Here's what I think. Speaking from the trenches of the charter school movement, I think in Minnesota the trends toward more bureaucracy and increasing emphasis on "accountability" are making innovation significantly more difficult for charters. If this core problem doesn't somehow get resolved, "negotiated", then chartered schools will not be able to fulfill their funded purpose. They are caught between a rock and a hard place, expected to innovate with increasingly less freedom. There's more fear, more legal fees, more focus on "compliance" and therefore, in a way, I think charters should be given more credit for being more "successful" as defined by MDE (which should mirror the laws that policymakers help construct, correct?). I think these trends toward increased accountability arise from a system that inherently believes there should be a one-size-fits-all model that can be followed (and measured) for success. But this is contrary to real innovation. If there was a simple one-size-fits all solution someone could just write a book. (After all, if we couldn't write such a book, how would we know we're doing it right?)

Successful systems are open to innovation; to new/different models and methods. A wise business person in Minnesota used to ask: "Is improvement something you do, or something that happens if you do the fundamentals right?" We very much need governors and legislators to focus on 'getting the fundamentals right'. Their commissioners will always think improvement is something they do.

In NZ we are about to start getting these chartered schools? Has their been research that shows these schools work and do the teachers have to be qualified teachers to work in a charter school?

I agree with Keith's comment. The legislation on compliance and grant eligibility is going to stifle progress. My advice is to become a different leader. More of the same is not going to change anything. We need leaders with robust leadership when it comes to championing results in a dynamic compliance environment. Decisions made with best practices in mind and demonstrating resilience in securing support from the stakeholders. This can be accomplished by a decision process incorporating confident execution of an action plan and successfully overcoming challenges, and unknown obstacles. More details on this blog: http://leaderineducationalreform.wordpress.com

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