Of all the proposals put forth by the new administration, the commitment to increase the number of charter schools perhaps rankles the rank and file in the public education system the most. Many states are actually passing legislation to change caps on the number of charter schools allowed in order to be in competition for federal Race to the Top money. While few can deny the results that many charter schools achieve – several of those with the most difficult students – some argue that charter schools are bound by a different set of rules and so comparisons are unfair.
When one studies the success of charter schools, one sees a significant parallel with Student Aspirations and the 8 Conditions. Charter schools thrive by creating an environment in which all participants feel valued, where all members of the learning community are actively engaged, and where learning is focused on purposeful action and future success. In many ways, when successful, charter schools are models of the very definition of Aspirations – providing students with the ability to dream and set goals for the future, while being inspired in the present to reach those dreams.
They accomplish this by being free of more traditional norms and ways of doing things. Unfettered by convention and working toward a common vision, each charter school community is free to create the policies, schedules, curricula, and professional development that will lead to the most positive results. In addition, charter schools seem more adept at using formative assessments, as well as summative evaluations of students. Perhaps their governing structures make them more agile and able to respond to uncovered needs. As the number of charter schools increases, we will have to be alert to the way they influence more traditional forms of schooling.