Promise and Peril: Charter Schools, Urban School Reform, and the Obama Administration

Summer 2009

Source: Harvard Educational Review. Vol. 79, Iss. 2; pg. 227-242 (Summer 2009).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors argue that given President Obama's support of charter schools, it is time for educators and policymakers to closely consider both the possibilities and the limitations of these schools in the context of urban school reform.

The Promise

In their view, the promise of charter schools lies in three main domains. First, effective charter schools provide new schooling options for children and families who have had, historically, far too few. Second, charter schools create the possibility for new institutional partners to increase their stake in the educational outcomes of children.
Third, charter schools create significant flexibility within the schoolhouse - flexibility that is often missing from the way we organize and operate urban public schools and systems.

The authors discuss the unique flexibility of charter schools-namely in staffing, time, budgetary autonomy, governance, and protection from district policies-as a significant source of their potential effectiveness. However, they also note the major challenges these schools face, as evidenced by variability in achievement results, sustainability, and quality of instruction.

Capitalizing on the Promise

The authors suggest that these strengths and challenges must be considered together. They also recommend that the administration must focus on the elements of effective schooling for all children, such as effective human capital strategies, more time, and new accountability methods; by identifying and propagating school models and instructional practices that appear to be most effective at serving all children at high levels; and by ensuring that all schools are carefully scrutinized and rewarded for serving all children, not just students who equip for challenging work. The authors conclude that drawing upon this kind of evidence will lead to a more grounded and less partisan debate about urban education.


Updated: Sep. 08, 2009