How to Make Charter Schools Fail

Published January 1, 1998

Although the advocates of charter schools see them as a way to foster competition and improvement in the public education system, those goals are threatened by the compromises reached by state legislators in getting charter school laws approved, according to a new Harvard University study. In a recently completed doctoral thesis as part of the Program on Education Policy and Governance, researcher Bryan Hassel argues that the adoption of less-compromised laws is necessary for the promise of charter schools to be realized.

In the process of passing charter school laws, many states have placed restrictions on charter schools that significantly hamper their effectiveness. For example, charter school legislation often restricts the number of schools that can open, gives veto power and often sole authority for charter approval to local school boards, imposes regulatory constraints, and establishes funding formulas that place charter schools at a disadvantage.

After examining the effects of such legislative compromises in four states with charter laws, Hassel concludes that they have made it difficult for charter schools to exert any pressure for improvement on the existing public education system. The result is often charter schools that are designed to fail. For charter schools to succeed in changing the system, less compromised laws must be adopted.