Charter Schools Model the Future

The National Journal is discussing federal charter legislation today.  We know how to authorize and open very good new charter schools, so federal legislation supporting that activity would obviously be a good thing.  However, charter results have been disappointingly mixed, so there is actually some debate about whether performance contracting with nonprofit school operators is a good thing.  I think we can say with certainty that the current construct of American school governance is inefficient and ineffective.  Beyond providing a few more quality options for families, charters–and performance contracting more broadly–can play a much broader role in the future of American education.
—  —
Charter schools only serve about 4% of US kids but they are important models of:
1) small supportive gap-closing schools
2) mission-focused perpetual governance (rather than oscillating elected political leadership)
3) responsive and efficient management (in CMOs)
4) performance contracting as accountability.  As noted in this NACSA paper on differentiated authorizing, the big potential of charters is to extend the benefits of performance contracting to turnarounds, conversions, innovative schools and programs.
5) blended learning innovation–in the next 15 months (necessitated by the typically lower operating budgets than traditional public schools) most CMOs will introduce well design blended schools and pilot programs.
As charters adopt blended models and as virtual and blended networks expand, charter growth will accelerate.   Charters will serve 5 million students by the end of the decade (up from roughly 2 million now).
Where districts are open to collaboration, charter schools are an important part of a portfolio approach.  But online learning is redefining portfolio theory.  The new potential outlined by Digital Learning Now is to leap frog the school choice issue and create learning ecosystems with choice to the course with weighted and performance-based funding that follows the student to the best option.  Here’s what that looks like:

  • -Students with more risk factors get more funding
  • -Statewide providers operate under a performance contract
  • -Students/families can assemble courses from multiple providers
  • -A portion of funding is based on successful course completion
  • -A local school helps make sense of choice, manages transcripts, extends learning, and connects to services and extracurriculars

Performance contracting, nonprofit school governance, and blended learning have the potential to deliver quality at scale.
Much more to the point, Chiefs for Change sent a letter to Representative John Kline and Representative Duncan Hunter thanking them for their leadership in incentivizing states to provide all students and parents with access high quality charter schools.   Below is a copy of the letter.

Dear Chairman Kline and Subcommittee Chairman Hunter:
On behalf of more than 11 million students in our states, the Chiefs for Change commend you
for your leadership in promoting high quality public charter school options for students and their families.  We strongly support the approach of empowering states to tailor grant programs in a way that best meets our unique state and local needs.
The introduction of H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act, modernizes the current charter school program and provides incentives and critical support to help high-achieving charter schools grow, replicate, and expand to meet the rising demands of students across the country. We appreciate the effort made to streamline the programs as well as the emphasis placed on replicating high performing schools.
We strongly support the provisions in Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act that provide incentives for states to provide equitable funding to charter schools as well as support new models that use online, hybrid, or blended learning.  The legislation also provides needed grants for credit enhancement initiatives that assist charter operators with the cost of acquiring, constructing and renovating facilities.
We strongly support this effort to provide more viable options for students and lend our support for H.R. 2218, the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act.
Chiefs for Change
Visit for more information about Chiefs for Change.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

1 Comment

Shari Pobjecky

Would like to draw upon your earlier blogs about the systemic nature of Common Core, assessments and college readiness initiatives to discuss blended learning and electronic portfolios.  I've done some work around these products, many of which are still waiting in the wings for their chance to serve as  "performance management" tools.  

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.