The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Comments on the Ed. Reform Review Commission Report on Charter Schools
January 25, 2000
Recent news stories implied that the Education Reform Review Commission has concluded that charter schools are unsuccessful because they have not stimulated widespread program replication in district schools. While some critics may have interpreted the Commission's December report on charter schools in this way, the report itself says nothing of the kind.
The Commission's report does state that districts have not adopted many reforms based on charter school experiences. This, however, is more a failing of districts than of charter schools. Many charter schools have actively sought collaboration with their neighboring districts. What's more, all charter schools are open to first-hand, on-site observations and evaluation. Indeed, these are among the most open and frequently prodded and poked schools in the country.
The report rightly notes that the most significant reform modeled by charter schools involves school-based governance and the flexibility it implies. While there are some programmatic or classroom innovations, they pale in comparison to the structural innovation inherent in charter schools. While Boston has taken steps in this direction through the establishment of Pilot Schools, few other districts have followed the charter lead.
The report specifically states that the limitations on the number of charter schools and charter school students, combined with the various state-funded reimbursement mechanisms, have insulated districts from meaningful competitive effects, thereby dampening incentives for districts to change, restructure, and improve. In other words, the report implies that more charter schools would increase the chances for broader, systemic reform.
Once again, I urge the House of Representatives to take up the bill already passed by the Senate that would raise the caps on charter schools.