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Under the Microscope: Gary Sykes & David N. Plank

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Charter schools aren't the only reform idea promoted as a way to spread innovative ideas throughout public education.

In Michigan, charters compete for money and public support with professional-development schools--the laboratory schools set up by universities and school districts as sort of a proving ground for new teachers and new ideas.

In a three-year study, two Michigan State University researchers plan to learn more about both approaches by comparing and contrasting them. Education professors Gary Sykes and David N. Plank will use a $360,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for their study.

Supporters believe that both reforms "are strategies for improving American education overall," Mr. Sykes said.

Charters emphasize greater choice and freedom for parents and teachers as a way to breed innovation. Professional-development schools create relationships between university faculty members and K-12 teachers, giving teachers better access to research and training.

Proponents of each believe that ideas hatched in the fertile, less restrictive climate of their schools will spread to more traditional public schools. As part of their research, the two professors plan to explore how well each type of school lives up to that promise.

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