NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Charters Prompting Public-School Change?

August 31, 1999

Although there are still only about 1,200 charter schools operating around the country, some education observers say that by offering competition they are forcing traditional public schools to shape up.

Not only are charters influencing how traditional public schools teach, they are prompting them to view and treat parents as partners and customers, rather than as adversaries.

Here are some examples of the charters' salutary impact on local education, from a recent report by the Center for Education Reform:

  • After nearly one-third of its students transferred to a charter school using phonics to teach children to read, Arizona's Queen Creek School District began offering teachers training and classroom instruction in phonics.
  • In Minnesota, competition spurred school boards in Duluth and Rochester to start schools which offer the Core Knowledge curriculum -- and the school board in Forest Lake started a Montessori school.
  • In several states, charter schools offering full-day kindergarten pushed traditional schools to do so, too.
  • When the principal of a California charter school publicized her ability to get her classrooms equipped with computers in six days, the Los Angeles Unified School District revamped its purchasing system -- which had previously caused delays of up to a year in getting new computers installed.

At various locations around the country, charters have pushed traditional schools to enrich their curricula, open magnet schools focusing on a specialty, reduce classroom sizes and start marketing themselves.

Education professor Eric Rofes, at California's Humboldt State University, studied 25 randomly-selected school districts for the CER report and found that charters had sparked substantive change in one quarter. "Urban districts responded hardly at all," he reports. "It's like an elephant that is so cumbersome that it's hard to turn around."

Source: Anna Bray Duff, "Charter Schools' Ripple Effect," Investor's Business Daily, August 31, 1999.


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