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Charter Schools Aren't Innovative Enough, Says Report From Pro-Charter Group

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Charter schools—by definition meant to be experimental and unbeholden to traditional ways of schooling—need to be more innovative. That's the primary finding of a report released Tuesday by the Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based pro-charter organization.

Although the report says charters, specifically those serving low-income minority students in urban areas, outperform their district counterparts in many cities, the sector hasn't done enough to push the envelope in the nearly 25 years since the first charter law was passed.

The result:

"Though a small subset of charter schools has pioneered school designs that radically innovate in the use of time, talent, space, and technology, most public charter schools resemble traditional district schools," write the report's authors.

Education policy management and consulting firm Public Impact analyzed data, reviewed literature, and conducted interviews and focus groups for the report, which was commissioned by The Mind Trust, a nonprofit that helps incubate new schools in Indianapolis.

Furthermore, achievement gaps remain and charters have struggled to better serve English-language learners and students with disabilities—issues, the report says, that persist because of a lack of innovation.  

So, what's been holding back innovation in charter schools? Among the major reasons the report cites are risk-averse authorizers and philanthropists opting to back well-established models over untested ideas. The number of schools belonging to charter networks has doubled from 2000 to 2012 from 10 percent to 20 percent.

The report goes on to recommend that authorizers and funders set up special teams within their organizations to focus specifically on approving and investing in unique school ideas. It also calls on established charter school operators to host small, pilot schools on their campuses to help incubate new models.

Those are among only a few of the issues and recommendations laid out in the 52-page report titled "Raising the Bar: Why Public Charter Schools Must Become Even More Innovative." You can dig into the full report here.

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