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Reason Foundation

The World's a Charter School

Lisa Snell
May 21, 2009, 4:43pm

Education Week reports on the world-wide growth of charter schools based on the writing of University of Southern California researchers, Dominic J. Brewer and Guilbert C. Hentschke, who studied the growth of these new-breed, hybrid schools in more than a dozen countries, including the United States.

Having opened its first charter school in 1992, the United States may be a pioneer of the modern charter concept, which allows selected schools to operate in the public sector with more autonomy than regular public schools. The authors point, however, to at least 14 other countries, spanning three continents, in which national and regional governments have taken recent steps to introduce some form of market-based schooling into their public education systems.

Besides the United Kingdom, which introduced its academies in 2003, other countries include: Argentina, Australia, parts of Canada, Chile, parts of China, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Qatar, Singapore, and Tanzania.

Consider the example of Qatar:

In Qatar, on the other hand, the goal is to convert all the country’s public schools to charter-like entities within a decade, and the wealthy Persian Gulf nation is well on its way. The country’s 87 publicly funded, independent schools already enroll 60 percent of its schoolchildren.

"The idea is that these would not be just a few interesting schools on the periphery of the system, but rather that this would be the model that would serve all kids," said Mr. Brewer, who was one of the consultants hired by Qatar to redesign its school system, a process that began in 2001.

The country set up a separate agency, independent of its education ministry, to oversee the system. Qatar chose that route, Mr. Brewer said, partly because the existing system was seen as too bureaucratic and resistant to change.

I often wonder at what point do charter schools in the United States reach a tipping point where people start to ask why don't we fund every individual school like a charter? Why do we continue passing money through school districts and school boards that set policy for large numbers of schools. Is this a middle man schools can live without?


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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