Published Online: June 24, 2008

New Programs for Training Charter Leaders Scrutinized

An emerging crop of programs tailored to preparing charter school principals shows promise when compared with traditional leadership-training programs, but those programs “miss or treat too lightly” certain issues that many leaders of such schools struggle with most, says a new report.

Also, the study warns that the specialty programs are too few and small in size relative to the need.

Issued this week, the study by the National Charter School Research Project, based at the University of Washington in Seattle, examined 13 training programs for charter leaders, including full-time, part-time, and summer enrichment programs.

Charter leaders face a unique set of challenges, the report says, and traditional training programs, where the majority of charter principals are prepared, often leave them lacking critical skills for the job.

As a result, programs have emerged from a variety of organizations to specifically serve charter leaders, including programs offered by Edison Schools Inc. and New Leaders for New Schools, both based in New York City; Building Excellent Schools of Boston; Arizona State University; and the Colorado League of Charter Schools, among others.

Distinct Approach

The new training options show promise in their responsiveness to students’ needs, course relevance, and methods of instruction, the report finds, and offer a distinct approach to leadership preparation that differs in important ways from traditional leadership programs.

“[M]ost charter school leadership programs reported that they are light on lecture, while heavy on field observations, project- and task-based learning, and discussion,” the report says. They are also more likely to cover issues such as personnel and labor relations, charter school law and legal issues, facilities management, and academic accountability.

But the report also raised concerns about the programs, even while emphasizing substantial diversity among them.

It said they tend to skip or not spend enough time on key issues charter leaders say they struggle with the most, especially engaging parents, raising funds, managing finances, and negotiating with local school districts.

The report says the programs need to collect and review more data on whether their graduates improve student achievement and school management, noting that only a few currently collect such data.

Also, the current programs fall far short of the need. The report notes that together, the full-time programs train only 100 new charter leaders each year. But each year, about 400 new charter schools open, and many others experience turnover in leadership.

“If the charter school movement is serious about growth, the question about how to create additional training options is crucial,” the study says.

Vol. 27, Issue 43

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