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Districts Respond to Charter Competition With Collaboration

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An investigation by Education Next into the reaction of traditional public school districts to the spread of charter schools has found that districts are increasingly pursuing collaborative, rather than obstructive, approaches to working with charters.

The article examines traditional public school districts' reactions to charter schools in 12 cities around the country, grouped into four regions. The article's authors combed through more than 8,000 articles about traditional school districts' responses to charter school competition as well as school board meeting minutes, school district websites, and other sources of information.

The 12 cities in the article include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, District of Columbia, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Newark, N.J., New Orleans, New York City, and Phoenix. All of the chosen cities had a minimum of six percent of the student population in charter schools.

The authors of the article found at least one piece of evidence—op-eds, press releases, and other pieces of media from each city—that suggests district officials there were aware of competition from charter schools.

Of the 12 cities, eight responded to the competition from charter schools in what the article describes as a "constructive" approach. In Atlanta, for instance, district officials there embraced a collaborative grant between a traditional middle school and a charter middle school. Education officials in Detroit called on charter management organizations to step in to take over dozens of the city's most academically struggling schools.

However, some districts responded to competition from charters with an "obstructive response," said the article. Such responses included a refusal to grant charter schools access to school facilities, denying charter school applications, creating legal barriers for charters to operate, freezing or delaying payments to charters, withholding information from charters, and using regulations to restrict the availability of school choice.

This article raises an important question: Is collaboration between school districts and charters the new norm? Or does this article paint a more positive picture about such relationships than what is really happening?

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