Volume 17, Number 1
Charters and Districts
Three Stages in an Often Rocky Relationship
For years, life in the Worcester, MA, public school district was relatively calm—not much turnover in the administration and not much change in the schools. Then came the charters. The Edison Project got there first, in 1996, with its Seven Hills Charter School. The Advantage Schools opened a K–7 school of its own. By 2000, more than 1,100 students had left district schools for charters—and $7,500 of state funding followed each of them, for a total of more than $8 million.This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article. Click here to become a subscriber.
Worcester school superintendent James Caradonio still seethes at the development, treating the influx of charters like the coming of a plague. "These are snake oil salesmen," he remembers thinking when he first met Edison representatives. "They went across the country, stole things developed by public schools, and put them in a Whitman sampler box. They’re good businesspeople, but even the Bible says you can’t serve both God and mammon—and they prove it every damn day."
Caradonio’s reaction is not unusual among school district administrators who see their enrollments and bud gets reduced by these newcomers. In the nearly 40 states where charter schools have opened, administrators’ responses have ranged from open hostility to quiet obstruction to cautious welcome. Convinced that charters undermine the mission of public education, many district leaders have attacked them in the media, used legal action to stop their progress, and even threatened to discipline teachers who make contact with charters.