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Herding Cats: Managing Diverse Charter School Interests in Collaboration Efforts

More than 23 cities have signed District-Charter Collaboration Compacts— formal agreements between school districts and charter schools that aim to share resources and responsibility and build trust and collegiality to ensure equal access to high-quality schools for all students. Yet, within the charter sector itself there are highly varied perspectives on and motivations for collaboration. Based on dozens of interviews and observations over four years, we look at why many cities have missed opportunities to create more lasting relationships between their district and charter sectors, and offer suggestions for fostering stronger partnerships that could help improve outcomes for all of the students in their cities.

Key Findings:

  • Many well-intentioned partnership efforts fall short of their full potential because districts see and treat the charter sector as a monolith, rather than a group of distinct, independent actors with diverse motivations, interests, and perspectives.
  • Creating a unified coalition of charter schools led by independent-minded individuals is difficult but not impossible.
  • Moving forward requires more nuanced strategies tailored to the needs of the players on the ground. For that reason, collaboration agreements and approaches will necessarily vary from city to city.

Suggestions for mayors, district leaders, and charter association heads to create more sophisticated collaboration strategies:

  • Look for unifying citywide “bread and butter” issues such as funding or enrollment caps that can involve all charter schools.
  • Create school or network collaborations when a citywide approach is not possible.
  • Create opt-in opportunities for highly contentious issues.
  • Cultivate effective leadership to build coalitions.

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