Book Review

Back to October 2012 Ed Reporter

Book Review

Charter Schools in Action, Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno V. Manno, Gregg Vanourek, Princeton University Press, 2001, $37.50.

Charter Schools in Action is an overview of the charter school movement and what it offers: to students and parents, to the public school system and to communities. The book’s purpose is to educate on the topic, not to help parents decide if a charter school is right for their child.

The authors boldly state their position on the need for reform of public school systems, calling for a “top-to-bottom makeover of its ground rules and institutional practices.” They hope to see public schools adopt the best strategies of charters on a broad scale, leading to widespread improvement and revitalization.

Part One of the book focuses on charter schools, offering case studies, interviews and profiles of prime players at charter schools, along with tables analyzing all manner of pertinent data. The title of Part Two of the book is “Renewing Public Education,” and although it describes a number of successful charter schools specifically, each description points the way toward larger-scale improvements to the public system.

Successful charter schools “engage parents,” have the freedom to be different, and are “a community unto themselves” as well as a “source of neighborhood stability.” They are intended to be “autonomous and idiosyncratic.” They can serve as idea incubators for the district where they are located.

Charter schools are run rather like a business, with children and parents as customers who must be kept satisfied or they will go elsewhere, as opposed to the public school assumption that power is vested in the producers, not the consumers.

States require charter schools to participate in assessment tests, but it is the stories of individual charter schools that define their successes and failures. One successful attribute of many charter schools is “accountability-via-transparency” versus the public school axiom of “accountability-via-regulation.” The transfer of this attitude to the public schools would be epic, even if nothing else were gained from the charter school experiment.

Student success at charter schools is seen across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines.

Both amusing and profound, the imaginary school district the authors create in “New Pensylina” shows great promise

The authors are “betting on charter schools,” whether they are an end in and of themselves or a means of innovation and renewal of the public school system.