Though they are both relative latecomers to the charter school movement, New York City and Indianapolis show how municipal leaders can use the independently run public schools to spur inno vation and broaden educational options in their communities.
“Seeds of Change in the Big Apple: Chartering Schools in New York City,” and “Fast Break in Indianapolis: A New Approach to Charter Schooling,” are available online from The Progressive Policy Institute. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)
That’s the message of a pair of reports released last week by the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington think tank that is affiliated with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and is supportive of charter schools. In both places, the reports say, city leaders have championed charter schools, and their policies are yielding mixed but promising early results.
Nearly six years after New York state became the 36th state to allow charter schools, it has become home to 61 of the publicly financed but autonomous schools, 31 of them in New York City.
Last year, the head of the city’s mayorally controlled school system, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, unveiled a plan to start 50 new charter schools in five years while making the city the nation’s most “charter friendly.”
That effort is off to a slow start and faces tough challenges, including the task of reorienting the bureaucracy of the 1.1 million-student district to support autonomous schools, according to the report. Still, the city’s charter schools are accumulating a solid record of improving student achievement and are starting to exert pressure for changes in the district in areas such as labor negotiations and accountability, the report says.
“New York City’s record shows how urban school district leaders can take a sophisticated and thoughtful approach to a reform tool instead of responding defensively or antagonistically, as some have in other cities,” writes Robin J. Lake in “Seeds of Change: Chartering Schools in New York City.” Ms. Lake is the associate director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Indianapolis’ Unique Approach
Meanwhile, Mayor Bart Peterson of Indianapolis has used his status as the nation’s only mayor with the power to authorize charter schools to open 10 schools to date, with more in the works.
Since Indiana became the 38th state to allow charter schools in 2001, the mayor’s office has put in place “the groundwork for a high-quality initiative,” according to “Fast Break in Indianapolis: A New Approach to Charter Schooling.”
The approach, the report says, includes a push to recruit educators who want to copy successful charter models in the city; a program to train leaders to run the schools; a facilities-financing fund; a rigorous application process; and a comprehensive system of monitoring and reporting on schools’ results with students.
The report concludes that mayors bring unique advantages to authorizing and advocating charter schools, including skills in mobilizing resources, winning public confidence, and leveraging their knowledge of the community.
But chartering can make sizable demands on a mayor’s time and energy if it is to be done well, says the report, which was written by Bryan C. Hassel, the president of the Raleigh, N.C.-based consulting firm Public Impact. As the ppi notes in its preface to the report, Mr. Hassel has served as a consultant to the Indianapolis mayor’s office in developing its charter initiative.