Charters growing in your city? You have 5 options.

Charters schools continue to scale in urban areas. In many cities, charters serve over 30% of students.

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In 44 cities charters serve over 20% of students.

These 44 cities, as well as many others in the future, will have to evolve their educational systems to govern a mixed portfolio of school types.

What options are available to these cities? Here’s five, some of which will be much better for children than others.

1. Implode (Detroit) 

In Detroit, the school district responded to charter growth by bankrupting itself. It lost enrollment, took on debt, and continued its academic and operational dysfunction.

In failing to respond productively to charter growth, the district hurt students and cost taxpayers nearly a billion dollars.

2. Compete (Washington D.C.)

In Washington D.C., charters now serve nearly 50% of the students. During the past decade of charter growth, the district responded by becoming perhaps the highest performing urban school district in the nation.

The district lost nearly half its students and radically increased its performance.

The district didn’t really partner with charters, it just stepped up its game.

3. Coordinate and Collaborate (Denver)

Denver Public Schools responded to charter growth by coordinating with the charter sector.

For much of the past decade, it gave charters facilities to grow in neighborhoods where more good schools were needed. The district also set-up a unified enrollment system that made it easy for families to choose easily between district and charter schools.

While there have been some bumps along the way, for the most part the district has supported the best charters to expand and has closed the worst charters.

4. Blur the Lines (Indianapolis, Camden) 

A few years ago, the Indiana legislature passed a law that allows for Innovation Schools, which are authorized by the district, have many of the autonomies of charters, are governed by non-profit boards, but still sit within the district’s enrollment and accountability reporting.

With its Renaissance Schools, Camden has done something similar: Renaissance Schools are more tightly managed by the district, but still retain most of the autonomies of charters schools.

In both Indianapolis and Camden, the district has co-opted the best of the charter model while still maintaining a tighter form of local oversight and control.

5. Govern (New Orleans)

In New Orleans, the district responded to increasing charter growth by relinquishing its operational duties and transforming into a regulator.

Rather than operate schools, the district sets performance targets, monitors for equity, and annually opens great schools and orchestrates the transformation of failing schools.

This has led to unprecedented student achievement gains.

Which Way to Go? 

While I think the last option (govern) is the best way to go, cities have also seen academic growth by competing, coordinating, and blurring the lines.

These cities are the reason I’m skeptical of people who argue that charter growth will hurt traditional public schools.

There’s an emerging group of cities who are proving this clearly doesn’t need to be the case.

I’m hopeful that their successes will be replicated much more often than not.

4 thoughts on “Charters growing in your city? You have 5 options.

  1. Howard Dean

    In Fairness, the quality of the Detroit charters which I understand are mostly for profit, is worse than the public school system and unaccountable so I would argue that little can be learned from Detroit. I agree with your thoughts on DC, Camden, New Orleans. Did you consider Memphis? Howard Dean


  2. nkingsl

    Howard, great to hear from you. I don’t think the Detroit charter sector is that bad, but it’s not great either. You can read more here on Detroit:

    Overall, I agree with you that it’s not an exemplar.

    I think the story of Memphis is probably somewhere between “compete” and “coordinate,” and the next 5 years will be extremely important in terms of getting to a good end game. I’m hopeful they city will get there, but still has a ways to go in getting quality up. It feels a little like New Orleans 2010 or so: progress is being made, but not over the hump yet.

    Big picture, I think it would be great for the country if in the next ~5 years we have 10-15 cities that have all demonstrated, in some fashion or another, that there’s a better way to do public education. Fortunately, the list of cities is trending in the right direction.

  3. Pingback: Which way Kansas City? – Set the Schools Free

  4. Pingback: More on option #4: “Blurring the lines” in Indianapolis – Set the Schools Free

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