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Charter Schools Serving as Models for Other Public Schools
posted by: Alix | November 08, 2010, 04:40 PM   

Charter schools were designed as a "research and development" outlet for public schools. Operating on state funds, public charter schools have been able to implement new ideas for their students and teachers without having to follow the same rigid structures of some public schools. The U.S. Department of Education is now conducting a feasibility study on ways to support the spread of promising charter school practices across the country.

The Department of Education's Director of Charter Schools Programs Scott D. Pearson explains, "We do realize that one of the promises of charter schools was they were going to be a source of innovation and be a benefit not only for the children attending charter schools, but [for] all public schools. The collaboration is not as widespread as we would hope."

There is no question that there are some charter schools implementing new and exciting ideas that can be spread to a larger audience, but the question remains how to best share these ideas with other schools.

The U.S. Department of Education spent $6.7 million in 2009 on grants to states for charters to share what they've learned with other schools. For example, the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools hosted a conference in September that featured "promising cooperative practices," a program designed to share best practices with traditional public schools.

This seems like a perfect system, but sharing best practices is often difficult when union contracts prevent teachers from taking part in these innovations. For instance, in some successful charters, longer school days are proving to be effective as a means to help students meet new challenges. However, in traditional public schools, union contracts prohibit teachers from working additional hours.

Although difficult, there are schools borrowing ideas from highly successful charters all over the country. In Washington, Lincoln High School in Tacoma is seeing student test scores rise after the implementation of a new program borrowed from the well-known Harlem Children's Zone and Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter schools. The program runs from 7:30am to 5:30pm with two Saturdays a month. It also features the most elite teachers and higher standards than the average school system. The teachers must work around their union contract and as such are paid more for the extra hours.

Whatever programs are implemented in these schools systems, Harvard University economist, Roland Fryer, has identified five key tenets in the most successful schools:

  1. Invest in human capital;
  2. Provide intensive tutoring;
  3. Extend time for learning;
  4. Foster a culture of high expectations; and,
  5. Use data-driven instruction.

Hopefully with time and a focus on students first, charter schools can further collaborate with traditional public schools to leverage these gains into creating a system that can work for all students and teachers.

Would you like to see charter school ideas adopted in your school?
Comment below.

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