Report says charters must grow and innovate if America is to succeed in global economy

January 29, 2016 • John Kostouros

A new research report concludes that while chartered public schools have become a significant force for improvement in public education since their beginning in Minnesota in 1991, the charter sector needs to grow and become more innovative if it is to to help the country raise student achievement to levels demanded by the global economy. Chartered schools now number over 6,700 nationwide, with 2.9 million students in 43 states and the District of Columbia; with waiting lists totaling more than one million.

“Simply put, the sector needs to be better, broader, and bigger, which will require innovation that breaks the mold of most schools today,” conclude the authors of the report Raising the Bar: Why Public Charter Schools Must Become Even More Innovative. The study was conducted by The Mind Trust and Public Impact, an education policy and management consulting organization based in North Carolina.

The report notes that the impact of chartered schools in helping raise achievement levels has mostly been limited to low-income, urban students and urges expansion to involve more rural, ELL students, students with disabilities and disaffected students.

The authors give the charter sector low marks for innovation, writing that, “Though some charter schools have rethought how to use time, talent, space, and technology, most resemble traditional district schools. A better, broader, and bigger public charter sector will require innovations that go well beyond the current basic model.”

“It may be tempting to think that the charter sector can meet the challenges of ‘better, broader, and bigger’ simply by intensifying its efforts, but that seems unlikely. Intensifying efforts might give the sector results that are incrementally ‘better,’ but the leap needed in performance is quantum, not incremental.”

Several schools are highlighted for their innovative approach to teaching and learning.

The Mind Trust said it completed the study in an effort to promote “conversation and action to improve and expand the U.S. charter school sector in order to serve more students.”

The organization will also use the report to guide a Charter School Design Challenge, a national search for four transformative, break-the-mold charter school models that will receive $250,000 each to launch in Indianapolis.