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Policy Brief

First Lessons: Charter Schools as Learning Communities

Twenty-eight states, over the past six years, have authorized the creation of charter schools as an alternative form of public education. Charter schools are seen as opportunities to create highperforming learning communities, with improved student performance and other positive results as the goals of these new institutions.

The creation of high-performing learning communities is central to the success of charter schools, but we need to know if these schools, as currently constituted under their enabling legislation, are capable of creating such learning communities. We want to know what elements help to build or to obstruct these learning communities. To answer these questions, Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) researchers became acquainted with the founders, teachers and administrators in 17 charter schools in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Charter schools provide, within the public education system, a new governance structure that is freed from most district and state regulations. Charter schools are intended to increase consumer choice within the public education system. And, most importantly, charter schools are meant to encourage innovation in teaching and learning practices in order to improve student performance. A 1995 survey of charter school founders, conducted by the Education Commission of the States, reported that “better teaching and learning for all kids,” “running a school according to certain principles and/or philosophy,” and “innovation” were the top three reasons for starting a charter school.

Authors: Priscilla Wohlstetter, Noelle Griffin

Publication Date

September 1997

Publisher

CPRE

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