Charter schools sound good. They sound like places where serious students go, where class sizes are small and extra help is available when needed. They sound almost like private schools, only less institutionalized than established public or private schools. There is controversy about them so they sound cutting-edge. Since they are not subject to school boards or teacher’s unions they can, theoretically, hire the very best staff and easily get rid of any staff who are not highly motivated and effective. I assume students in charter schools have to pass the same tests as public school students and that they perform better on these tests than their public school counterparts. I assume this because of the hype about charter schools, but it may or may not be true. I also assume that parents must be involved with charter schools and that the school becomes a kind of community full of enriching experiences. I don’t know how many studies have been done to back up this assumption, but I think most of us assume this.
However idealistic this sounds charter schools may often start out with these advantages. As is always true with programs like this, it is likely that sometime after the ten year mark the innovation is starting to slow and some signs of institutionalization are setting in. The realities of frequent staff turnovers are too disruptive to be strategic. Teacher tend to create an effective body of classroom materials and to stick to them with slight alterations from time to time because it is too time-consuming and expensive to keep reinventing the wheel.
Charter schools that last may tend to remain small and this may be one of their more lasting advantages. But it is inevitable that enterprises like this get more concretized with time thus lessening the margin of effectiveness they once had over public schools. Charter schools begin and fail. Monies may not move back and forth between the public and private sectors as efficiently as we would like. Public schools may not be reimbursed right away when a nearby charter school fails. Students once pulled out of the system may get dumped back into it. Although you get some temporary advantages in terms of excitement, innovation, and energy, the financial issues and the frequent shifting of students in and out of the system my make charter schools untenable in the long run. Time will tell.