The Strategic Management of Charter Schools: Frameworks and Tools for Educational Entrepreneurs
reviewed by Sandra Vergari - November 29, 2011
Title: The Strategic Management of Charter Schools: Frameworks and Tools for Educational Entrepreneurs
Author(s): Peter Frumkin, Bruno V. Manno and Nell Edgington
Publisher: The Harvard Educational Publishing Group, Cambridge
ISBN: 1612500986, Pages: 286, Year: 2011
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According to Frumkin, Manno, and Edgington, two decades after the first charter school opened its doors in Minnesota, charter schools still have to overcome several critical challenges. They assert that the foremost critical challenge is focusing more intensively on strategy and management (p. xviii). The authors propose a management framework for charter school leaders. This framework focuses on managing and aligning dynamics across three core elements: mission, internal operations, and stakeholder support.
Charter school founders and leaders often focus enthusiastically on their ideas about education matters while neglecting key managerial functions that are also essential for school success. Thus, the book offers a management how-to manual for aspiring and current charter school leaders. The volume might also be useful for workshops and courses on education leadership more generally. Many of the tools and frameworks discussed in the book are relevant for both traditional public schools and charter schools. For example, contemporary leaders of both types of schools face incentives to maintain legitimacy among stakeholders.
The authors purpose is not to critique or examine in-depth the charter school phenomenon, and the overall tone of the book is decidedly pro-charter schools. In the Preface, Frumkin et al. assert that charter schools create the possibility of new cooperative communities of shared vision, shared interest, shared results, and ultimately shared citizenship (p. xviii). The authors do not consider that the existence of charter schools might also encourage social segregation, promoting greater fragmentation in society rather than advancing social coherence.
The book is organized into three sections focusing on mission management, operations management, and stakeholder management. Chapters 2-10 each include a case study intended to illustrate application of a given tool or framework advocated by the authors. The chapter endnotes indicate that the cases were originally researched and developed by different people under Frumkins guidance yet do not provide information on the case study time frames or research methodology. The quality of the case presentations is uneven and some run long on minute details that are not essential for supporting the authors points. The cases are often introduced as if the reader already has background knowledge on a given school. Nevertheless, the cases offer useful real world examples that demonstrate why the principles and tools advanced by the authors are important.
The first section on mission management focuses on strategic alignment, logic models, and performance measurement. In Chapter 2, strategic alignment refers to aligning the schools mission with its operational capacity and levels of stakeholder support. Elements of the logic model discussed in Chapter 3 are inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and impact.
Chapter 4, on performance measurement, focuses on developing a Balanced Scorecard whereby a school can measure and monitor factors relevant to success. Frumkin et al. emphasize that the Balanced Scorecard should be created by senior management and not by constituents: To create a Balanced Scorecard by committee reduces it to a negotiated and overly political communication tool (p. 83). This assertion raises questions about the parameters of the aforementioned community aspect of charter schooling advanced by the authors in the Preface of the book.
The second section on operations management focuses on charter school leadership, financial sustainability, and scaling success. In Chapter 5, on leadership, the authors note that charter school leaders must manage three tasks that differ from those of traditional public school leaders. Charter school leaders must concern themselves with marketing to attract students, locate and finance their own facilities, and engage in substantial fundraising.
In Chapter 6, on finance, Frumkin et al. indicate that charter school expenses tend to be higher than those of traditional public schools. They note that charter schools lack shared costs, have higher fixed costs as typically small schools, must provide necessary services for the disadvantaged populations they tend to serve, and have increased legal costs due to political battles, legislative fights, public relations skirmishes, and lawsuits that are impossible to calculate (p. 116). On the last point, it is not clear how many charter schools have been engaged in legally costly battles, fights, skirmishes, and lawsuits.
In Chapter 7, on scaling success, Frumkin et al. declare: For the charter school movement to really be successful, it has to scale. To transform American public education, the old schools and old models need to be replaced, throughout the country, with these new schools (p. 139). They suggest that if charter school leaders consider the model of for-profit franchising and adapt it to education, they can define a path toward successful replication (p. 139).
The final section of the book is about stakeholder management and the three chapters here focus on the charter school authorizing environment, working with stakeholders, and customer service. In Chapter 8 on authorizing, the authors emphasize the imperative for charter school leaders to keep the authorizing body happy in order to keep a given school open. Here, the authors suggest that charter school leaders engage in SWOT analysis whereby they assess internal strengths and weaknesses and external opportunities and threats.
In Chapter 9, on working with stakeholders, Frumkin et al. advise charter school leaders to analyze stakeholder groups and decide how best to manage and balance constituencies with potentially diverging interests and preferences. In Chapter 10, on customer service, the authors advise charter school leaders to gather and analyze data from charter school families (referred to as customers) and act upon the findings to help ensure school success. The chapter emphasizes the use of survey research.
In the concluding paragraph of the book, Frumkin et al. avow that school leaders must focus not only on curriculum and teaching but also on management. A well-run school is one that understands and applies modern management tools to create the most educational value possible to children (p. 245). Their book offers a timely guide to strategic management tools and practices for aspiring and current charter school founders, leaders, and board members. Leaders and board members of traditional public schools might also find much of the management advice relevant to their objectives and responsibilities.