Monday, May 22, 2006

Don't Think of a Charter School

In preparing to begin a dissertation with charter schools as part of the focus I welcome having to explain the most basic of questions to all kinds of people. People inevitably ask, "So what exactly is a charter school?" I've been honing my response, the answer, but I admit I don't have it perfectly. "It's a public school." A fine beginning, not entirely correct all the time, but reflective of an ideology at least. "They vary greatly from state to state." Ambiguity from the start; not so good. "The charter authority is responsible for the charter for the charter school." The what? "You know to grant a charter, hence the name charter school." Blank stares, or a supportive but vexed "ohhh." "And don't forget accountability." Right.

Basically I spend a lot of time telling people that charter schools look entirely different from school to school but they reflect a vision as stated in the contract or charter of the school upon founding.

Thanks to Andy for keeping some of these lower flying cessnas on the radar and for help in the title of this diddy. Ted Kolderie, Senior Associate at the Center for Policy Studies at Hamline University blogs today over at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools sorts some of this out nicely. He writes:

For these reasons, we have to stop treating "charter" as an adjective; a "charter school" is not a kind of school. A charter is a permission to start a school; is an empty organizational structure much as a building is an empty physical structure. Kids don't learn anything from charters: They learn from the teachers and the curriculum and the pedagogy and the books, materials and technology its organizers put into the school.

The idea can and should be further condensed. Charters describe a method for instantiating a school and a course for how the school will run. Everything else is perspiration, the building, the curriculum, the teaching, the learning, the values, the methods, the outcomes.


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