School & District Management

Regular Public Schools Start to Mimic Charters

By Mary Ann Zehr — November 08, 2010 5 min read
A student in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., solves a math problem. The school’s Lincoln Center program is modeled after charter schools.

Collaborations popping up across the country between charter and traditional public schools show promise that charter schools could fulfill their original purpose of becoming research-and-development hothouses for public education, champions of charters say.

But both supporters and skeptics of charter schools agree that so far the cooperative efforts are not widespread nor are most of them very deep.

The U.S. Department of Education spent $6.7 million in fiscal 2009 on grants to states for charters to share what they’ve learned with other schools. It is now conducting a feasibility study on ways to support the spread of promising charter school practices, said Scott D. Pearson, the department’s acting director of the charter schools program.

One idea being explored, he said, is to establish a prize for exemplary collaborations.

“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,” Mr. Pearson said. “The collaboration is not as widespread as we would hope.”

Nathan Bowling, center, teaches history in the school within a school at Lincoln. Of the school's 1,500 students, 350 are enrolled in Lincoln Center.

Examples of sharing “are limited in scope or there aren’t that many of them,” said Robin Lake, the associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Some skeptics of charter schools contend that some of the “innovations” they are credited with, such as extended time for learning or small school size, originated in traditional public schools.

“There’s not a lot to share. Charter schools are a lot like [regular] public schools,” said Joan Devlin, the senior associate director of the educational issues department at the American Federation of Teachers.

But others, such as the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools, believe charter schools do have some distinctive practices that should be shared with traditional public schools. The alliance hosted a conference in September that featured 26 “promising cooperative practices” between the two kinds of schools. Examples included a Minnesota Spanish-immersion charter school working with a local district to create a Spanish-language-maintenance program, and California charter school and districts teaming up on a teacher-induction program.

“We were trying to move past the whole charter-war debates and move to a more productive place,” said Stephanie Klupinski, the alliance’s vice president of government and public affairs.

One of the more substantive collaborations highlighted by the alliance is a partnership between the 3,400-student Central Falls district and the Learning Community charter K-7 school, both in Central Falls, R.I. The long troubled district drew national attention last year for a protracted dispute between school system officials and the teachers’ union.

The charter school has a contract from the district to provide professional development in teaching reading for K-2 teachers. Ann M. Lynch, the district’s lead elementary administrator, credits the implementation of the reading units from the charter school with helping boost reading scores in Central Falls. The units systematically teach students the same reading skills each year but increase depth with each grade.

Borrowing Best Practices

Lincoln High School, in the 29,000-student Tacoma district in Washington state, is also seeing test scores rise after borrowing some practices from charter schools, according to Patrick Erwin, a co-principal with Greg Eisnaugle of the high school.

About 350 of the 1,500 students in the high school attend the Lincoln Center, a school-within-a-school started more than two years ago that implements practices Mr. Erwin says were picked up from the well-known Harlem Children’s Zone, Green Dot, and Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools. The Lincoln Center operates from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is in session for two Saturdays each month. It also uses standards that are more rigorous than the state’s 10th grade standards, for example, and requires teachers to apply for jobs, selecting only those who have shown success in the classroom, according to Mr. Erwin.

He said the school has an agreement with its 15 teachers, in addition to their union contract, to work extra hours, for which they receive extra compensation.

Meanwhile, the 202,000-student Houston Independent School District has begun an initiative to bring some of the practices of high-performing charter and regular schools—with an emphasis on charter school practices—to regular public schools, according to Jeremy Beard, the school improvement officer for that effort. Called Apollo 20, the program began in nine schools this year and will expand to 20 next year.

Five Tenets

The district is working with Harvard University economist Roland Fryer to carry out five tenets he’s identified in researching successful schools: investing in human capital, providing intensive tutoring, extending time for learning, fostering a culture of high expectations, and using data-driven instruction, Mr. Beard said.

But the initiative is being implemented competitively and not collaboratively with charters, said Chris Barbic, the founder and chief executive officer of Yes Prep Public Schools, which runs eight Houston charters. He predicts the district won’t have the same success with the practices his network uses because it is making too many decisions at the district level rather than giving autonomy to school leaders. “We don’t run our schools that way, nor do I think other high-performing charter schools do,” Mr. Barbic said.

Ted Kolderie, the founding partner of Education/Evolving, a nonprofit organization in St. Paul, Minn., and a pioneer in the charter school movement, said early supporters of the idea talked about a “ripple effect,” where charter schools would spur other schools to pick up on their innovations.

But Mr. Kolderie added that he’s learned the conditions in the public schools have to be right for that to happen. “Whether there is a ripple effect depends on the pond and not on the stone,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 10, 2010 edition of Education Week as Public Schools Taking Lessons From Charters

Events

School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Wanted: Superintendents to Lead Districts Through the End of a Pandemic
Former superintendents say there are signs when it's time to move on. Their replacements are more likely to be greenhorns, experts say.
4 min read
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner speaks at a news conference at the school district headquarters in Los Angeles on March 13, 2020. Beutner will step down as superintendent after his contract ends in June, he announced Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
Austin Beutner, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, will step down after his contract ends in June.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
School & District Management Has COVID-19 Led to a Mass Exodus of Superintendents?
This year has been exhausting for superintendents. Some experts say they're seeing an unusually high number of resignations this spring.
5 min read
Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Janice K. Jackson, right, speaks on Feb. 11, 2021, during a news conference at the William H. Brown Elementary School in Chicago. In-person learning for students in pre-k and cluster programs began Thursday, since the district's agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union was reached.
Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Janice K. Jackson, right, announced earlier this week that she would depart the school system. Jackson, who assumed the superintendency in 2018, has worked for more than 20 years in CPS.
Shafkat Anowar
School & District Management Most Schools Offer at Least Some In-Person Classes, According to Feds' Latest Count
A majority of 4th and 8th graders had at least some in-person schooling by March, but inequities persisted.
3 min read
Image shows empty desks in a classroom.
Chris Ryan/OJO Images
School & District Management Opinion Education Researchers Should Think More About Educators: Notes From AERA
Steve Rees, founder of School Wise Press, posits AERA reflects a community of researchers too focused on what they find interesting.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty