Bridging the District-Charter Divide to Help More Students Succeed

Related Content
Lake, Robin; Yatsko, Sarah; Gill, Sean; Opalka, Alice
Institutional Author
Center on Reinventing Public Education
Resource Type
Acquisition Number
Published Date
12-05-2017 2:53 PM
Published Year
Number of Pages
Subscription Only
In cities where public charter schools serve a large share of students, the costs of ongoing sector divisions and hostility across district and charter lines fall squarely on students and families. Exercising choice and accessing good schools in "high-choice cities" can be difficult for many families, especially some of the most vulnerable, like parents of children who have special needs or are English language learners. Families often find that, despite a rise in the number of high-quality charter schools in a given city, they face: (1) Inconsistent approaches to suspension or expulsion; (2) Neighborhood "quality deserts" where there is no alternative to unsafe and ineffective neighborhood schools; (3) Hostility between district and charter schools that prevents educators from learning from one another and improving; and (4) Barriers to accessing and judging all the different types of public schools in the city. In a rising number of cities with these kinds of challenges, cooperative action between districts and charter schools is a necessity. While animosity among education competitors remains the norm in too many communities, a growing number of districts and charter schools are realizing that they must work together for the benefit of students and families. In at least 35 urban school districts with significant numbers of charter schools, efforts are underway to jointly improve instruction, align policies, address inequities, or find operational efficiencies. About a dozen of these districts are working even more actively with charter schools to share resources, ideas, strategies, and responsibilities. For leaders genuinely committed to meeting children's educational needs across a city, the question is not whether to cooperate, but how. This report helps explain why and offers concrete recommendations on the how. Based on research by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), this report dives deeply to answer leaders' critical questions about district-charter cooperation, or collaboration. What is the payback that makes it worthwhile? What are the tangible impacts and results? For charter school or district leaders considering anything from coordinated activities to shared resources and responsibilities, what types of partnerships are most effective? For state policy and philanthropic leaders, are partnerships worth supporting? Key Findings include: (1) In cities with sizeable charter school student populations, cross-sector policy coordination is a necessity, not a nicety; (2) Despite the urgent need, cooperation is too often treated as a time-limited, forced marriage rather than a sustained effort and long-term relationship; (3) Some cooperation efforts are simply not worth the effort; (4) The cities logging serious progress are addressing chronic challenges and common goals for improving quality and equity, rather than getting mired in a litany of short-term tasks; and (5) Top officials must commit to cooperation and ensure that their entire organization follows suit. The report includes recommendations for district and charter leaders, State Education Agencies, and funders to better support the often difficult, politically divisive work of cooperation.
Family and Community Involvement
English Learners
English Learners
Charter Schools