Peter Groff: Examining the next steps in the charter school evolution

Charter Schools

By Peter Groff, Johns Hopkins School of Education Visiting Fellow

American education changed dramatically in 1991 when two Democratic state legislators and a Republican Governor teamed to create a new process to educate Minnesota’s K-12 students. The process, which allowed public schools to receive charters to operate autonomous and innovative schools free from many bureaucratic regulations and rules in exchange for increased student achievement, has transformed public education.

Since the first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1992, the number nationwide has grown to almost 6,000, serving over 2 million students in 41 states plus the District of Columbia. Another 600,000 students are on waiting lists. At the present pace, it is estimated that the number of students will increase to 5 million by 2020, requiring 2,000 more schools.

Peter Groff

Peter Groff

For the past year, the Johns Hopkins School of Education, under Dean David Andrews, has been examining the impact of charter schools in a series of lectures that culminated with a July conference for stakeholders from around the country on “Charter School Policies and Leadership: Shaping the Next 20 Years”. As an SOE Visiting Fellow and former president and CEO of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), I felt the conference provided an opportunity to review the strengths and weaknesses of the sector and introduce a new topic to the national conversation which is the role and impact that colleges and schools of education should have in the growing charter school sector.

From my experience, the role of soe’s in preparing and developing charter school leaders and teachers is a conversation that has not been part of the national dialogue. With its steady growth, the movement faces a number of challenges in the years ahead with the most significant being finding qualified teachers and school leaders. Andrews has said soe’s need a better understanding of schools of choice and that it’s time to redesign the relationship with the charter school sector. He proposed establishing an ongoing dialog with school leaders to better understand their concerns.

The conference, which I chaired, provided an opportunity to gather information first-hand from practitioners, operators, and policy makers on some of the significant issues facing charter schools. While teacher preparation and ongoing professional development were stated as important concerns, preparing the next generation of school leaders was the dominant interest.

“As we look to the next twenty years for the public charter school sector, the ability of public charter schools to recruit, retain, and develop teachers into school leaders must be addressed. ” says Stuart Miles, North Carolina Charter School Teacher of the Year.

Echoing the same theme was Indiana Superintendent of Instruction Tony Bennett. “Better charter leaders, trained to be school CEO’s , in addition to instructional leaders, would go a long way to ensure higher quality schools”.

Noting that charter school leaders are responsible for significant operational oversight in addition to academic oversight, Eric Paisner of NAPCS said that aspiring charter school leaders need training that looks different than the traditional leadership preparation offers by soe’s and that few of these programs now exist.

Conference participants presented Andrews with a number of suggestions for creating an executive leadership program for charter school leaders including a specialized master’s program combining business and education, a combination Doctor of Education and Public Policy, programs offering in-depth apprenticeships, and improving collaboration and sharing of best practices. Andrews pledged to look into these various suggestions and develop professional development opportunities to address some of the concerns.

As the sector enters its third decade the phenomenal growth and growing acceptance within the public system offers a tremendous opportunity for both charter leaders and schools of education to work together in developing the next generation of school leaders and molding that generation to positively exploit the autonomy that comes from charter schools. With universities such as Johns Hopkins School of Education taking a leading role, all students – in charter and traditional schools – will benefit.

Charter Schools – Brown Bag Lunch Series

Peter Groff

Part 1

Part 2

Makisha Boothe: The Charter School and Diversity

Renita Thukral: The Legal Challenges Facing Charter Schools

Todd Ziebarth: The Policy Questions around Charter Schools

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