To the Editor:
Regardless of which version of Education Sector’s “Growing Pains” report you read, the final text released in late November or the earlier June draft, the study makes one message abundantly clear: Scaling up charter schools is not an easy business (“Report Details Hurdles Facing Charter Groups,” Dec. 9, 2009).
Highly effective charter-management organizations have the school design and operational know-how to succeed, but their expansion is often subject to toxic political conditions and financial constraints. So while the role of taking on school turnarounds doesn’t eradicate all complexity in CMOs’ growth, it does offer them an opportunity to scale up with quality, and with fewer headaches. In effective turnaround environments, such as the one proposed in the Mass Insight Education and Research Institute’s Partnership Zone framework, CMOs that chose to take over failing schools would be afforded the freedom required to design and manage schools effectively, while leveraging conditions more conducive to scaling.
Because turnaround schools are in-district, they mitigate the major, but by no means only, barrier to CMO expansion: money. As part of the district, turnaround schools receive district per-pupil funding, and under federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act guidelines will also be infused with enhanced school improvement grants.
In addition to receiving greater public funding, turnaround schools can be less expensive to operate than charters. They can elect to use certain central-office services, thus achieving efficiencies of scale. Furthermore, turnaround schools are freed from renting or owning facilities, which are not only the biggest line items in most charter budgets, but also the biggest source of operational headaches.
Serving disadvantaged students will still not be easy, but in the turnaround environment, the burdens of facilities and fundraising are diminished. Schools are thus able to focus on what really matters: helping students learn. While the charter space may be enduring growing pains, CMOs need not. The turnaround space leaves plenty of room to run.
School Turnaround Strategy Group
Mass Insight Education and Research Institute
A version of this article appeared in the January 06, 2010 edition of Education Week as Turnaround Movement Is Fertile Ground for Charters