Bruce Baker has distilled the qualities of successful charter schools. In this post, Baker looks at the reasons that some NYC charter schools succeed.

The reason for creating charters in the late 1980s was that they would have the freedom to try new ideas and thereby to help public schools improve.

As the charters tried new things, public schools would learn from their experience and would improve.

The charters were supposed to gain freedom from most state regulation in exchange for their willingness to be held accountable.

After twenty years of charter school experimentation, we now have a pretty solid idea of “what works.”

The same things that “work” in charter schools should also work in public schools.

We should not waste time. Let’s learn from the charters so all schools can be successful schools.

First, the best charters spend considerably more money so that they can provide additional services and tutoring. Some spend thousands more per student.

That is an important lesson. Every public school that wants to see dramatic improvement should get extra funding.

Second, the charters are free of burdensome regulation by the states and districts.

That’s an important finding. The states and districts should immediately give public schools the same regulatory relief now available to charters.

Third, the charters do not accept the same proportion of students with special needs or students who are English language learners.

Uh-oh. That’s a hard one. Public schools are required by state and federal laws to have their doors open to all students. I don’t think that public schools can follow the charter model here. If public schools didn’t take these students, where would they go?

Fourth, the charters have even more money to spend because of the small proportion of children with disabilities and English language learners; this is a budget plus. But again, I don’t think public schools can maximize their dollars by excluding the most expensive-to-educate kids. So that’s another no-go.

Fifth, the charters make their own disciplinary rules and can toss out kids who misbehave by their rules, like bringing chips to school or not looking in the eyes of the teacher, or speaking up when they are supposed to walk in silence.  But if public schools kicked out kids for minor infractions, where would they go? To another public school.

Sixth, the charters have longer school days, longer school weeks, and a longer school year. More time to teach, more time to get ready for state tests. Public schools can do that too, unless those pesky unions insist on being paid more for working longer hours.

Seventh, charters keep their costs low by  encouraging or tolerating or not minding constant turnover among the teachers. That way, the bulk of teachers are in year one or two, at the bottom of the salary scale, and they are more malleable. Senior teachers cost more, and have ideas of their own.  But public schools will have a hard time learning this lesson because senior teachers have job rights. Of course, with the current move on to eliminate seniority and tenure, even public schools will soon be dealing mainly with inexperienced and malleable teachers in their first year. Who will train the new teachers if the senior teachers have left? Well, that’a a problem we will deal with some other time. No one has time to think about that now.

But one thing seems clear: If public schools get more money; if they can be freed of regulations, if they can exclude the most challenging students, if they have longer hours, if they have constant teacher turnover to save money, if they can keep out or push out the students who don’t obey or who can’t pass the tests, then they too will get fabulous results.

Now that we have the secrets of charter success, what should we do? And what arrangements should be made for the children who are unwanted by the new schools of success? The children who don’t speak English, the children with disabilities, the children who don’t obey the rules, the children who get low scores. What should we do with them?

The charters show us how to Race to the Top. What they don’t show us how to achieve equality of educational opportunity.