WORK WITH PARENTS & THE COMMUNITY
Innovations in Education: Successful Charter Schools
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Implications

Taken as a group, successful charter schools clearly illustrate two things: (1) key elements that enable success, such as mission-driven programming, are shared by all of them, and (2) the forms those elements take vary widely from one school to another.

One theory of charter schooling is that freedom from regulation will stimulate innovation and experimentation. This is not to say that each charter school, even each successful charter school, is entirely original or ground-breaking. But as illustrated by the eight schools in this guide, each reflects the particular vision of its founding educators and community members-whether for classical education, schooling infused with character education, approaches aligned with research on learning and instruction, or programs that have been designed by educational management organizations, for example. What does make each of these schools unique is the combination of ideas that have been brought together, made the centerpiece of each school's educational approach, and then assessed to make sure the approach works in practice to accomplish the intended goals.

Success comes not only from the ideas themselves but also from the focused and energized school culture that thrives in a mission-driven school. School communities become internally accountable-dedicated to working together to accomplish their shared goals, adjusting their approach based on results, and responding flexibly and quickly when needed.

  • Implications for charter school educators. Charter school educators may gain some confirmation and encouragement from these schools. Only eight schools could be included in this guide, but each represents a whole class of other, similar schools. Charter schools around the country are experimenting with new ideas, mobilizing communities, and meeting the learning needs of children and families. This guide may help support their cause.

  • Implications for other school leaders. Within this guide, school leaders will find ideas that can be applied in any public school. Many of the specific practices in these schools can be put in place anywhere. Perhaps more importantly, the core organizational features, such as vision and internal accountability, are also transferable. The concept of internal accountability, for example, was first identified in research on public schools that were restructuring.8 As a stimulus to all educators, the guide provides concrete visions of what is possible. Readers might ask themselves, "How can I replicate these conditions and practices in my setting?"

Schools looking to meet the accountability requirements of NCLB should especially take note. These eight schools were selected in part because they have increased their scores on state assessments over a three-year period and made "Adequate Yearly Progress" this past year. They have improved over time. It's not that they found a magic solution so much as they became organizations mobilized to achieve their goals. Other schools can do that, too.

If local constraints set up what seem to be insurmountable barriers, educators and community members may want to consider chartering as a route to pursuing their vision more fully. The local district or another authorizing agency may provide support. (The resources section of this guide identifies additional sources of support.)

  • Implications for district or state administrators. For those charged with the task of creating the institutional supports schools need to succeed, the key question to ask is, "How can we get more schools like the ones in this guide?" District and state administrators may see here the opportunity to "reinvent public education" in meaningful ways.9 Districts, like some mentioned here, can see chartering as one way to encourage innovation and better meet the needs of children and families. States may reexamine chartering policies in light of their understanding of school conditions that promote success.

The first part of this guide has laid out what appear to be the cross-cutting design elements of successful charter schools. Brief illustrations of how these elements take shape in the eight features schools demonstrate that they can be accomplished in a variety of ways. In the following part of the guide, snapshots of each of the schools are intended to help readers envision full charter school programs-eight different ways, just for starters.


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Last Modified: 06/23/2009