School of Education conference looks at future of charter schools

The Johns Hopkins School of Education this summer hosted a two-day conference called Charter School Policies and Leadership: Shaping the Next 20 Years, recognizing the 20th anniversary of the charter school movement. A distinguished group of national and local charter school representatives discussed the impact and future directions of these increasingly popular nontraditional public schools. Since the first school opened in Minnesota in 1992, the number of charter schools has grown to more than 5,000 in 41 states. Nationwide, more than 2 million students attend charter schools, and another 600,000 are on waiting lists.

The conference moderator was Peter Goff, a visiting fellow at the School of Education and former president and CEO of the National Alliance for Charter Schools.

Among the more than 50 participants in the conference were Bill Toomey, deputy superintendent of Options for Youth Charter Schools, in California; Michael Connelly, CEO of Mosaica, one of the largest private charter school operators in the country; Ember Reichgott Junge, the Minnesota Senate author of the legislation setting up the country's first charter school; Mark Berends, a sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame; Robert Crane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, in Washington, D.C.; Michael Sharpe, president of the Connecticut Charter School Network; and Daniel Cruce, deputy secretary of the Delaware Department of Education.

Since the charter school movement has focused for the first 20 years on its growth, participants felt that the future should focus on developing quality schools with high standards. Charter schools are public schools with a governing board and generally are free of the bureaucratic requirements of traditional schools. A national study by Stanford University three years ago concluded that there was a wide variance in the performance of charter schools and that overall they didn't perform as well as traditional schools.

In his keynote luncheon address, School of Education Dean David Andrews discussed the unique needs of those who lead charter schools as being broader than the needs of a traditional-school principal, as the charter school leaders do more fundraising, public relations, facilities management, and board development. He also said that he would like to see schools of education take a more active role in addressing the concerns of charter schools, including helping to assess the quality of teachers and school leaders, assisting charters in coping with increasing measures of accountability, and dealing with how the latest technology and innovation affect the classroom.

Conference leaders and Andrews agreed to work together to explore creating professional development opportunities targeting charter schools.

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