Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise
Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Dana Brinson and Jacob Rosch
April 2010


From the report’s Executive Summary
“For nearly two decades, charter founders have opened schools across the land on the basis of a distinctive education bargain: operational autonomy—freedom from restrictions typically placed on public schools—in exchange for strong results-based accountability. During that time, many have studied the “results” and “accountability” side of this arrangement, yet to our knowledge there has never before been a systematic national appraisal of the autonomy side. Despite the importance of autonomy to the charter concept—and notwithstanding innumerable anecdotes about various infringements on these freedoms—amazingly little is known about how free (or hamstrung) charter schools really are. Yet such information is fundamental to examining the state of the charter school movement in America and to appraising its value and its potential to advance American education. . .

This study begins to fill that vexing information gap via a national review of charter school autonomy. In the fall of 2009, The Thomas B. Fordham Institute teamed up with Public Impact to grade the autonomy extended by charter laws in twenty-six states that are home to more than 90 percent of America’s charter schools. Analysts also examined 100 individual charter contracts in those states to uncover further restrictions imposed by fifty of the country’s most active charter authorizers, entities that collectively oversee nearly half of the country’s current crop of charter schools.”

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