Institute Forum

This is Not Your Mom and Pop's Charter School June 10, 2009

This is Not Your Mom and Pop's Charter School

As the number of students attending charter schools across the U.S. continues to grow, leaders of these independent public schools are drawing important lessons that will be key to addressing lingering challenges, according to experts who spoke at a Rockefeller Institute of Government Public Policy Forum on June 10.

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Audio (Full)

Video of Chester Finn's presentation

Video of Douglas Lemov's presentation
Douglas Lemov's slide presentation

Video of Question-and-Answer session

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The forum, the fourth in a series held at the Institute, featured Chester E. Finn Jr. of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and Douglas Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools — a New York-based non-profit charter management organization (CMO) that launched and manages 16 charters schools throughout New York. (A third invited guest, Michele Bodden of the United Federation of Teachers Charter School in Brooklyn, was unable to attend.)

Finn described eight “sobering” developments that concern him as he considers the future of charter schools nationally:

Lemov presented statistics showing that, overall, New York charter schools posted higher student proficiency rates on the 2009 fourth-grade English test than traditional public schools serving the same percentage of poor students.

“The New York picture is considerably brighter than the national picture,” Finn said. “Still, I remain a charter school enthusiast.”

He noted five positive developments:

Lemov offered insights as to why CMOs — as opposed to individual "mom and pop" charter schools that are not part of a network —have been particularly effective at raising student achievement.

“CMOs foster a culture of internal competition and internal accountability,” he said, which spurs school leaders to constantly look for ways to improve and outperform other schools in the network.  A well-known CMO brand can also help attract talented teachers and school leaders, he added. CMOs provide teacher training and shoulder many of the business tasks that district offices typically perform for traditional public school, leaving schools to focus on educating students.

“A great idea is not sufficient,” Lemov said. “Your obsession with the details of everyday management is what makes the difference.  Top schools recognize that schools are first and foremost cultures, and that you need cultural solutions along with academic solutions.”


The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. It works closely with federal, state, and local government agencies nationally and in New York, and draws on the State University’s rich intellectual resources and on networks of public policy academic experts throughout the country.