CPRE : Consortium for Policy Research in Education

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Policy Bulletins

Creating and Sustaining Learning Communities: Early Lessons from Charter Schools

There has been a rapid increase over the past six years in the number of charter schools in the United States and in the enthusiasm for the concept among legislators, educators, and the general public. Although high-quality teaching and learning have always been key goals of those who design and support charter schools, little charter school research has addressed how charter schools create and sustain high-quality learning communities.

For this paper, the authors investigated how learning communities were created and likely to be sustained in 17 charter schools, focusing on: how school missions were developed and translated into classroom practice; how charter schools learned from what they were doing; and what factors seemed to produce high-quality teaching and learning. The authors identified four critical building blocks that charter schools used, with varying success, to create and sustain learning communities: the school mission, the school instructional program, the accountability system and school leadership. With each building block, charter schools displayed strengths that supported their development as learning communities and traits that seemed to impede their progress. The authors identified three enabling conditions that helped to explain variations in the success of the charter schools studied: school power and autonomy; the presence of supportive networks and organizations; and the presence of supportive parents. The authors conclude with some tentative recommendations for charter school founders and sponsors, including the need for more detailed, concrete information from schools during the charter application process, and for clarification of the roles and responsibilities of charter schools within the state public education system, particularly with respect to accountability and technical assistance.


Publication Date

February 1998