Incentives Needed for Schools to Improve

Published May 1, 2000

If competition from charter schools is to force greater reform in public schools, there must be a clearer link between enrollment and dollars, according to a recent study of charter schools by SUNY/Stony Brook researchers. Traditional public schools and districts must feel the pressure to improve that comes with losing money.

The SUNY/Stony Brook study, “Does Competition from Charter Schools Leverage Change in Traditional School Systems?” reported that charter schools generally do affect how traditional public schools operate. “Principals who face competition for student enrollments are responding,” write the report’s authors, “and . . . they want more freedom to respond.” However, they also found the potential impact of charter schools to be severely limited by the following factors:

  • policies that hold public schools and school districts financially harmless;
  • increases in public school enrollments that lessen the effects of losing students to charter schools;
  • hostility to charter schools by the leadership of public schools; and
  • lack of true innovation in many charter schools.

The authors conclude that policies should ensure not only that principals and other school administrators have the freedom to respond to competition, but also that they are “rewarded for success and penalized for failure.”