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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.

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.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article. Click here to become a subscriber.

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For Further Information

For Further Information

Center for Education Reform (a leading advocacy organization for charter schools), 1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 204, Washington, DC 20036.

C.E. Finn, Jr., B.V. Manno, and G. Vanourek. Charter Schools in Action. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS); Robert Cane, Director; 1530 16th St. NW, Suite 001, Washington, DC 20036.

J. Henig, M. Moser, T. Holyoke, N. Lacireno-Paquet. "Making a Choice, Making a Difference? An Evaluation of Charter Schools in the District of Columbia." Washington, DC: Center for Washington Area Studies, George Washington University, November 1999.

T. Loveless and C. Jasin. "Starting from Scratch: Political and Organizational Challenges Facing Charter Schools." Educational Administration Quarterly 34, no.1 (February 1998): 9-30.

M. Mintrom. "Leveraging Local Innovation: The Case of Michigan’s Charter Schools" (Policy Report). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University, 2000. Free of charge from the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, Michigan State University. Call 517-355-6672.

E. Rofes. "A Study of Eight States and the District of Columbia." Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), 3653 Tolman Hall, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1670.

P. Teske. "Does Charter School Competition Improve Traditional Public Schools?" Civic Report 10 (June 2000).