Who Moved My Charter School?
The president of United Teachers of New Orleans comments on charters:
“There’s no replication of programs that are successful,” Carter said. “I don’t want to see schools closing year after year because their business models don’t work.”
At first glance, it’s hard to tell what he’s referring to when he says there’s no replication. Many of the most successful charter programs, like KIPP, are national networks. They replicate their best ideas in multiple schools.
I think he’s talking about different charters within the same city, which are not joined by common policies the way schools in a traditional public district are. If one charter does a good job, other nearby charters are free to deviate from its methods — and possibly fail, as a result.
That’s not such a bad thing. Allowing some charters to stagnate is the flip side of giving charters the freedom to innovate. Sponsors can dismantle their charter schools if expectations are unmet, so there’s no need to worry that a poor performer will be around for decades. The same can’t be said of traditional public schools; they lack a mechanism by which they can be shut down, and at best the state can step in after a protracted accreditation battle. The potential to close, far from being the disadvantage implied by the above quote, is actually a plus for charters when compared with traditional districts.
And the uniformity within districts doesn’t always mean that they replicate the best practices, either. For example, KIPP started out in a traditional district, but its success wasn’t replicated there because of bureaucracy. Only when KIPP’s founders switched to the charter model were they able to expand their program to help thousands of kids.
Not all charter schools are coordinated through networks, but they all can learn from other schools. The language-immersion charters opening this year in St. Louis were able to gain inspiration from the French-immersion charter in Kansas City, as well as from language-immersion schools in other states. They didn’t have to invent an immersion approach from scratch. And countless charters adopt long school days, even ones that are not affiliated with KIPP. No school board orders them to do it; they do it because it works.