The charter school movement emerged in the 1990s from the frustrations of parents, teachers and politicians with the low performance of students in traditional public schools. Applying free market ideas to education, proponents of charter schools promised innovative curriculums, improvements on standardized tests, and a host of benefits for both targeted students and school systems as a whole. With the active encouragement of officials at national, state and local levels, charter school programs have expanded rapidly. From approximately 1,100 schools in 1998 with 250,000 students, the number has now grown to more than 4,600 schools with more than 1.5 million students enrolled. However, more than a decade of experience now tempers the glowing expectations for charter schools. The politics of public choice and school vouchers has reopened age-old questions of equity, elitism and racial discrimination. Experiments with privatization have raised serious questions about the efficacy of for-profit approaches to primary and secondary education.
This guide to charter schools is a much revised and expanded version of the author’s Charter Schools: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO, 2000). The basic features of the original work remain: an overview of the movement’s history; a chronology of American education reform; careful examinations of legal, curriculum, economic, administrative and staffing issues surrounding charter schools; substantial lists of related resources, including organizations, print publications and internet tools; and a selection of primary source documents on the beginnings of the movement. For this edition, Weil supplements his analyses of critical issues with extensive quotations from reports of charter school programs. The latter include professional assessments of education programs as well as annual reports of school systems and managing agencies. However, most of the reports are taken from print news media sources, which tend to reflect public perceptions of the success or failures of these very public experiments. Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Miami and especially New Orleans serve as case studies of the innovations of charter schools. Weil presents substantial coverage of numerous issues giving particular attention to starting a charter school, curriculum design, equity concerns, the development of educational maintenance organizations, and teacher support and resistance to charter programs. Appendices examine accountability, qualifications and certification for charter school teachers, as well as summary statistics on programs by state. The result is an up-to-date survey of both the charter school movement and the continuing debate over its effectiveness. This guide is recommended for school, public and academic libraries.