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In the Eye of the Beholder: Charter Schools and Innovation

Many expect that charter schools will produce innovations, but it is unclear what kinds and how much innovation is desirable. This paper summarizes the research evidence on charter school innovation to date and suggests ways to more productively pursue future research and development in the charter sector. The paper addresses three main questions: In what ways are charters being innovative? How can we assess the value of charter school innovations? And, how might we encourage and enable charter schools to innovate more aggressively regarding instructional methods and uses of technology?

Existing research shows that charter schools are doing many things differently than other public schools. While charter schools do not appear more likely to adopt entirely new instructional designs than other public schools, research shows that charters are more likely to adopt and sustain best practices, experiment with new uses of funding and governance, and repackage existing practices in new combinations. If states and the federal government wish to encourage greater innovation around charter school instructional techniques and technology use they should invest in strategies that specify clear and attainable goals for charter school experimentation, reduce financial and regulatory barriers to innovation, and evaluate whether charters are meeting those innovation goals.

This is a pre-print of an article whose final and definitive form has been published in the Journal of School Choice, Volume 2, Issue 2, 2008, by Taylor & Francis; the Journal of School Choice is available online here.


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