Is it the best of times or end times for public charter schools? Four thousand charter-school leaders, teachers, advocates and policymakers will gather in Atlanta this month at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference. The gathering of upstarts is larger than what many long-standing traditional-education groups can muster, but in states and cities across the country, charter schools are facing increased political pressure and scrutiny. In Georgia, the state’s supreme court just ruled that the arrangements for charter schools are unconstitutional. Welcome to town!
Charter schools, the first of which was created in 1992, are public schools that are open to all students but run independently of local school districts. There are now more than 5,000 of them educating more than a million students. Charter schools range in quality from among the best public schools in the country to among the worst. That variance is proving to be a political Achilles’ heel for charter schools, fueling a serious backlash.
Most people in the charter movement thought that some of these issues would be more settled by 2011 — especially the importance of opening new schools and giving parents more choices as well as the need to better police quality. That things are instead so unsettled and fragile should occasion at least as much soul searching as celebration.