Charter schools have become a national phenomenon, garnering praise from both Democrats and Republicans. Because they appear to sidestep both political stalemate and the practical difficulty of implementing widespread change–the traditional barriers to improvement in American public education–charter schools hold great promise as an educational reform. Now, with charter laws on the books in more than thirty states, Bryan Hassel investigates whether charter schools have been able to avoid the pitfalls that have tripped up so many other “revolutionary” school reforms. After a broad overview of how charter laws have been adopted nationwide, this book focuses in depth on charter schools in Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, and Michigan. Hassel reviews the four states’ implementation of charter laws and whether their programs are providing sufficient autonomy, resources, and potential to influence the broader education system–all essential components for charter schools’ success. He concludes that if states want to give charter schools a full test, they should empower nonlocal entities to approve charter schools, establish the schools as distinct local entities, allow full per-pupil funding to go with students to the charter schools, and impose minimal constraints on the source and number of charter schools. The schools themselves will need to improve their infrastructure, and charter-granting agencies will have to rebuild the systems for monitoring schools’ academic results and compliance with regulations. These policies are vital if charter schools are to realize their potential as a significant educational reform.
Bryan C. Hassel is director of Public Impact, an education and policy consulting firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is coeditor of Learning from School Choice (Brookings, 1998).