Tuning out the political debates between charter school opponents and supporters is the first step to adapting to a growing charter sector, Arun Ramanathan, the CEO of Pivot Learning, an Oakland, CA consulting organization, writes in a pair of commentaries for Education Next.
Knowing what makes parents “tick” is the second step, he says, adding that if parents are leaving district schools because they want smaller classes or more personalized instruction, administrators should find ways to offer these features.
Financial mismanagement or instability among top district officials can also drive families away, Ramanathan writes, calling out two California districts — the Long Beach Unified School District and the Garden Grove Unified School District — as examples of stability.
In addition to thinking of the “end users,” meaning parents, Ramanathan also recommends that districts avoid constantly adding new programs because they might be politically popular or grant funded. He suggests identifying which programs are benefiting the most students and focusing on how to sustain those programs.
While Ramanathan’s comments focus on largely on California, others have also looked at how the growth of charter schools is affecting district schools. In a 2015 Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) report comparing District of Columbia Public Schools with those authorized by the Public Charter School Board, David Osborne, director of the Reinventing America’s Schools project at PPI, writes that “the competition between the two sectors has pushed both to improve, which has helped the city of Washington immensely. Families are no longer leaving DC in droves when their children approach school age.” His new book on the topic comes out this week.
Perspectives on whether competition from charter schools helps district schools improve, however, also depend on the local context. In New York City, where researchers recently highlighted funding differences between the two sectors, Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, an advocacy group co-founded by Diane Ravitch, takes issue with a study concluding that district schools improve when they are located near charter schools or are co-located in the same facilities. In a post for The Washington Post, Burris argues with some of the researcher’s conclusions.