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Charter Schools: The Good, the Bad, the...In-Between?

Guest post by Jaclyn Zubrzycki

Charters were meant to be a hotbed for innovation, so it's no surprise that they're one of the most-studied types of school (and school reform). I summarized some of the most recent research on charter schools for our business and innovation special report out this week.

It turns out that when it comes down to it, some charters perform exceptionally well, some perform exceptionally poorly, and some—many—don't actually look that different than traditional public schools or neighborhood Catholic schools. You can take a look at the article or at my colleague Christina Samuels' piece on Roland Fryers' work in Houston for some more detail on the types of reform that seem to be working.

Some other trends I unearthed, but didn't have room to discuss:


  • Though the lack of unions is one thing that often distinguishes charters from traditional public schools, about 12% of charter schools actually do have unions. Some were formed by dissatisfied staff, while some were initiated by school officials. The Center for Reinventing Public Education looked at charter unions here.

  • Privately-owned, for-profit charter chains don't seem to perform as well as nonprofit chains, according to Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University.

  • Since charter schools have the freedom to enforce different codes of conduct than traditional public schools, expulsion rates are often higher (I allude to how this kind of issue affects the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) schools in my article). Some researchers are starting to look into how this tendency plays out in districts with large numbers of charter schools, like New Orleans.

  • Several researchers talked about the importance of creating and retaining effective leaders and teachers for charter schools, which frequently have high turnover. Organizations like KIPP are putting some resources into developing leaders, but it's still a work in progress.

Seems there's a lot more to dig into here.

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