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Underlying Policy Assumptions of Charter School Reform: The Multiple Meanings of a Movement


by Amy Stuart Wells, Cynthia Grutzik, Sibyll Carnochan, Julie Slayton & Ash Vasudeva — 1999

Based on interviews with more than 50 policy makers in six states, this article examines the politics of charter school reform and argues that the bi-partisan support for these more autonomous schools masks often opposing viewpoints regarding the purpose of this reform. The authors identify three salient and conflicting themes that emerge from policy makers?explanations of their support for charter schools. The first theme was voiced by policy makers who see charter schools as the beginning of the end of government-run public education and the forefront of a move toward vouchers. The second theme was articulated by policy makers who are committed to a system of public education, but who see charter school reform as a “last chance?to save that system. And the third theme arose in interviews with policy makers who see charter schools as one of many, but not necessarily the central, reform that could strengthen the public schools. Thus, the authors write that charter school reform embodies less of a consensus of views about the future of public education than a fragile bargain between political adversaries who all seek to prove they favor educational reform, but for different reasons and toward different ends.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 100 Number 3, 1999, p. 513-535
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10321, Date Accessed: 10/23/2017 3:05:17 PM

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About the Author
  • Amy Stuart Wells
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    Amy Stuart Wells is an associate professor of educational policy at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Her research and writing focuses on the impact of educational policies such as school desegregation, school choice, and tracking on access, equity, and social justice for low-income students and students of color. She was the principal investigator the UCLA Charter School Study and co-author with Robert L. Crain of Stepping Over the Color Line: African American Students in White Suburban Schools.
  • Cynthia Grutzik
    University of California, Los Angeles
    Cynthia Grutzik is on the faculty at Pacific Oaks College, coordinating the Intern Program in Teacher Education. Her interest in education policy as it affects teachers has played out in her research in charter schools and continues in her work with novice teachers and school-university partnerships. She is a graduate of the Urban Schooling Division of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies and a former research associate on the UCLA Charter school study
  • Sibyll Carnochan
    University of California, Los Angeles
    Sibyll Carnochan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Urban Schooling Division of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. She has interests in educational equity, policy, and school reform. She was a research associate on the UCLA Charter School Study, and her experience includes working on education policy for various educational associations and for Congress. She is co-author of “Globalization and Educational Change” in the International Handbook of Educational Change.
  • Julie Slayton
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    Julie Slayton is a lawyer and Ph.D. candidate in the Urban Schooling Division of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. She has interests in education policy, education law, access to education, and equity and adequacy issues in the school finance system in California. She was a research associate on the UCLA Charter School Study.
  • Ash Vasudeva
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    Ash Vasudeva is a Ph.D. candidate in Policy Studies at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. His research examines the relationship between decentralization and accountability, particularly in the context of urban schooling. He was a research associate on the UCLA Charter School Study.
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