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A Guide to Charter Schools: Research and Practical Advice for Educators


reviewed by Nina Buchanan - October 02, 2006

coverTitle: A Guide to Charter Schools: Research and Practical Advice for Educators
Author(s): Myron S. Kayes & Robert Maranto (Eds)
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 9781578864058, Pages: 228, Year: 2006
Search for book at Amazon.com


Myron Kayes and Robert Maranto’s edited volume, “A Guide to Charter Schools,” is designed to provide “information in an understandable form to help [stakeholders] face the challenge of running, working in or using a charter“ (p. 4). Given the purpose of the book, how might “good” be defined? Edited volumes have some distinct advantages over single-authored books such as the opportunity to include authors with specialized expertise in a variety of areas together in a single book. Another is to provide reviewed, cutting edge work to consumers more quickly than might be the case with one or two authors. The challenges, however, are to maintain a clear purpose, monitor each chapter to reduce overlap and redundancy, and carefully edit each chapter in order to ensure consistent depth and quality. Additionally, editors of “good” books organize the content in a way that assists the reader in understanding the big picture and how the pieces fit together. Finally, when considering the quality or goodness of any book, it must either provide new perspectives of older knowledge or add new knowledge.


“A Guide to Charter Schools” consists of 21 chapters. In the first chapter, “Charter Schools and School Reform: What We Know and Where We’ll Go,” the editors, along with April Maranto, situate the book in the ongoing discussion of reinventing public education. They provide an organizational scheme for the chapters that follow: macro politics of educational reform (Chapters 2–8), research on charter schools (Chapters 9–14), and “tips and horror stories from charter operators and consultants” (p. 8) (Chapters15–21). The stated reason for this volume is that books for “busy charter school operators, state policy makers, school board members, and interested parents…along with …administrators and teachers simply do not exist” (p. 4).


Even a cursory search for books about charter schools that target lay audiences or educators provides ample evidence that such books do, in fact, exist in abundance. For example, an Amazon.com search resulted in 3429 titles of which at least 70 are books that are currently available in print. Among them are titles for charter operators (Deal, 2004), state policy makers (National Conference of State Legislature and Education Commission of the States ,1998), school board members (Green & Mead, 2003), interested parents (Birkett & Tabin, 2000), teachers (Nehring, 2002) and others. Unfortunately, this misstatement starts the book off on the wrong foot.


There are some excellent chapters that will be helpful for charter operators or those contemplating entering the chartered world. Jim Spencer, a charter operator who converted a private Montessori school into a thriving public charter school, provides a personal, vivid account of the conversion process in Chapter 16. The description is lively and the information refreshingly new. In an evenhanded but passionate way, Spencer describes the differences between operation as a private and as a public school, what is gained by becoming public, and what is lost. He concludes by answering the question: Would I do it again? You will enjoy the journey as well as the destination.


“Whose Idea was This Anyway” is followed by an equally helpful chapter, “If You Build It, They Will Come” (Chapter 17) by John Buck. Mr. Buck tells charter school stakeholders what they need to consider related to facilities management, a hot topic nationwide. The content is at just the right level for lay readers and provides just enough information without overloading the reader with financial jargon or too many details. As a local school board member, I found the tips extremely helpful, although the humor, while meant to lighten a heavy subject, was at times distracting.


Even though Brian Carpenter’s short chapter (18) on charter school marketing was reprinted from the National Charter School Clearinghouse (2002), the information was excellent, coherent, and concise. It is another chapter appropriate for local school board members, charter school personnel, and parents. I have already recommended it to several charter school leaders in my area.


In the well-written Chapter 14, “Does Mission Matter?” Jeffrey Henig, Natalie Lacireno-Paquet, Thomas Holyoke, and Heath Brown provide useful distinctions between charter schools based on organizational origins and a thoughtful analysis of the differences between charter school types. They used survey data from charter schools in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. This is an important chapter because it reminds us that we cannot lump all charter schools together as if they represent one kind of school. I hope that this chapter will be an impetus for practitioners and researchers to begin to define the differences between charter schools and not just focus on charter schools versus other public schools.


I must admit that I skipped parts of the school reform chapters because there was a great deal of overlap and redundancy between the chapters with little insightful new information. The educational reform issues cited, such as class size, teacher quality, teacher certification, and personnel policies, have been extensively researched and reported in the mainstream media as well as scholarly journals since the publication of A Nation at Risk. Charter schools have been legislated as a potential school reform strategy that should test innovative ways to organize schools and deliver curriculum.  Other more pressing issues, such as those discussed by Spencer, Buck and Carpenter, seem more relevant to charter school stakeholders.


Chapter 20, “Horror Stories,” troubled me. I’m not sure why this chapter was included in a volume designed to assist charter school stakeholders and written by charter school proponents (p. 89). No charter school stakeholder I know, after reading the stories, would gain much new or insightful information, or feel inspired and empowered.  Instead, it reinforces an us vs. them mentality and encourages distrust and defeatism. I found the language and informal prose inappropriate for any book aimed at improving education. For example, Moranto writes about “political whores” (p. 211) and provides fictional quotations that include profanity (p. 212). As one of my graduate students who just completed a project on moral education proclaimed, “In America, we live in a ruder, cruder society every year.” Educators need to be a part of the civility solution, and not part of the problem.


Overall, I was disappointed in the uneven quality, varying depth and length of the chapters, inconsistent formatting, and the redundancy of the information. Ten of the chapters seem to be originally written for this book; six have already been published in other venues; and five are simplified reports of excellent, readable books and articles that are readily available elsewhere. Interested readers might be better off reading the sources, not the digest versions presented here.


References


Chubb, J., &, Terry M. (1990). Politics, markets, and America's schools. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.


Birkett, A., & Tabin, J. (2000). Charter schools : Everything you need to know to make the right decision for your child. Rocklin, CA: Prima Lifestyles Publishing.


Deal, T. (2004). Adventures of charter school creators: Leading from the ground up. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Education.


Dirkswager, E. J. (Ed.). (2002). Teachers as owners: A key to revitalizing public education. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.


Gill, B. P., Timpane, P. M., Ross, K. E. &, Brewer, D. J. (2001). Rhetoric versus reality: What we know and what we need to know about vouchers and charter schools. Santa Monica: Rand Education.


Green, P. C., & Mead, J. F. (2003). Charter schools and the law: Establishing new legal relationships. Norwood: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.


Ingersoll, R. M. (2003). Who controls teachers' work? Power and accountability in America's schools. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


Miron, G., & Nelson, C.  (2002). What's public about charter schools? Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


Murphy, J., & Shiffman, C. D. (2002). Understanding and assessing the charter school movement. New York: Teachers College Press.


National Conference of State Legislature and Education Commission of the States. (1998). The charter school roadmap. Retrieved August 20, 2006 from http://www.ed.gov/pubs/Roadmap/index.html


Nehring, J. (2002). Upstart startup: Creating and sustaining a public charter school. New York: Teachers College Press.


Norris, N. D. (2002). Perspectives on the mistreatment of American educators: Throwing water on a drowning man. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.


Schorr, J. (2002). Hard lessons: The promise of an inner city charter school. New York: Ballantine Books.


Tyack, D. & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Boston: Harvard University Press


Wells, A. S. (Ed.). (2002).Where charter school policy fails. New York: Teachers College Press.


Yancey, P. (2000). Parents founding charter schools: Dilemmas of empowerment and decentralization. New York: Peter Lang.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 02, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12754, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 9:52:17 PM

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About the Author
  • Nina Buchanan
    University of Hawaii Hilo
    E-mail Author
    NINA K. BUCHANAN (Ph.D) is an Educational Psychologist and Professor of Education at the University of Hawaii Hilo and Co-Director of the University of Hawaii Charter School Resource Center. Her areas of interest include charter schools, project-based learning, innovative secondary school reform and gifted and talented education. Recent publications include: “Gifted and Talented Programs in Charter Schools” co-authored with Robert Fox and Darlene Martin in the Journal of School Choice (in press); “Charter School Attitudes and Practices in States with Diverse Public Sector Bargaining Laws: Arizona, Hawai’i, and Minnesota” co-authored with Robert Fox in the Journal of School Choice, 1 (1), 67-84, 2005; “Aligning Practice to Theory: Attitudes of Students in Re-cultured and Comprehensive High Schools” that appeared in A. Maynard (ed.) (2005), The Psychology of Learning in Cultural Context, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publisher; and “Back to the Future: Ethnocentric Charter Schools in Hawaii” co-authored with Robert Fox that appeared in E. Rofes and L. M. Stulberg (Eds.) The Emancipatory Promise of Charter Schools: Towards a Progressive Politics of School Choice, SUNY Press, 2005. Currently Dr. Buchanan is conducting a study of graduates from the West Hawaii Explorations Academy Public Charter School (1996-2005).
 
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