America’s devotion to local control of schools is dying, but it is also being reborn as a new faith in charter schools. These independently operated public schools—nearly 7,000 across the country, and counting—provide a much-needed option for almost three million youngsters in 43 states.
The charter phenomenon is also reinventing the school district. Instead of geographically bounded municipal units run in top-down fashion, “charter management organizations” comprise virtual networks—confederations, really—of similar schools that may be located hundreds of miles apart, that mostly run themselves, but that can draw on the organization for expertise and services that individual schools may not be able to muster for themselves. The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) started as a single classroom in Houston and now boasts 200 schools in 20 states. Eva Moskowitz’s high-performing Success Academy began in Harlem and now has 41 schools in four boroughs of New York City.
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