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Charter Schools, Districts Continue to Forge Partnerships

As the number of charter schools increase and the sector matures, these institutions that were created to be free from seemingly burdensome district rules are finding themselves collaborating more often with those same districts, says a report released this month from the Center for Reinventing Public Education, associated with the University of Washington Bothell.

Hopes, Fears and Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2011 says these connections come from the realization on the part of school districts that a "centrally delivered, one-size-fits-all approach simply is not viable," and that charter schools can play a role in providing quality options for students at risk of academic failure.

CRPE, which has produced five previous editions of this report, supports what it calls a "portfolio" approach to district management. Portfolio districts include schools operated in the traditional way as well as schools that have new education models and follow different rules.

Some examples of partnerships mentioned in the report include a collaboration involving the IDEA Public Schools charter network. the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, and Teach for America to recruit and train high-quality teachers. As another example, the report notes that the Denver district used bond funds to build a facility and lease it to the Omar D. Blair Charter School, which serves K-8 students.

The report also talks about how districts and charters have worked together on fair enrollment systems, systems that ensure special education students are served equitably, and methods of sharing facilities and finances.

"Together, districts and charter schools are working on some of the most difficult problems that choice creates in order to reap the deepest and most widespread promise that choice offers," the report states.

The report also notes that for the 2010-11 school year, 5,275 charter schools enrolled 1.8 million students, or about 4 percent of all public school students. Charter schools, though still primarily located in urban areas, are enrolling a larger percentage of students in small towns and rural locations, according to the report. Those students now make up about 20 percent of charter school enrollment. The percentage of Hispanic students enrolled in charter schools is also increasing, from 19 percent in 2000 to 26 percent in 2009, the report states. And the number of freestanding charter schools is increasing faster than the number of charter schools run by charter-management organizations.

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