Press Releases | October 20, 2015

The Mind Trust issues call to action to spur next wave of innovation in U.S. public charter schools

INDIANAPOLIS – The Mind Trust released a report today issuing a national call to action for more innovation in U.S. charter schools and recommending steps various charter sector stakeholders could take to foster more creative and innovative thinking to make the charter school sector better, broader and bigger.

The report – Raising the Bar: Why Public Charter Schools Must Become Even More Innovative – is a joint effort between The Mind Trust and Public Impact, a national education policy and management consulting organization based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The Mind Trust will release the report and lead a discussion on innovation today at the annual conference of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers in Denver.

The report found that while charter schools have dramatically improved public school opportunities for American families over the last quarter century – particularly for urban students and students of color – most charters continue to look fairly similar to the schools Americans have attended for generations. Moreover about 1 million students are on waiting lists nationwide, and too many students, including students with disabilities, English language learners, rural students and at-risk youth, remain underserved by traditional and charter schools.

The report calls on school operators, funders, policymakers and city-based organizations such as The Mind Trust to create conditions that promote innovative thinking and ideas that can keep charter schools on the cutting edge of public education and allow them to serve more kids.

Concluding that the move toward more innovation must be dramatic, not incremental, to meet the needs of students and families in a growing, competitive global economy, the report notes:

“In their first 24 years, public charter schools have demonstrated that they can be a significant force for improvement in U.S. public education. Despite successful growth in numbers and quality, the charter sector faces future challenges public charter schools will not meet these challenges by doing more of the same.

“Instead, the sector needs a new wave of innovation to capitalize on the enormous potential that charter schools have to improve public education substantially for U.S. students. Simply put, the sector needs to be better, broader, and bigger…[which] will require innovation that breaks the mold of most schools today.”

Specifically, the report calls on:

School operators to explore entirely new models of schooling, particularly those challenging traditional models in use of time, space, technology and staff in school; reconsider how students experience learning in schools, creating new models that provide personalized and authentic learning experiences; and improve existing models by reconsidering how facilities are used and funded, how to reach full enrollment capacity more quickly and how to maintain steady revenues by “backfilling” (filling vacant seats each year).

Policymakers to invest public dollars in innovation-seeking entrepreneurs, deliberately authorizing for innovation and enabling more rapid innovation via “micro-charters.”

City-based education organizations, or “harbormasters” and others who coordinate efforts to improve education within a city to incubate new school models; work to attract talented entrepreneurs to develop break-the-mold innovations; and build an infrastructure of charter school supports that allow operators to focus more energy spent on innovative educational approaches, not operations.

Funders to be willing to take much greater risks in supporting break-the-mold school models by creating innovation divisions within their grant-making operations; investing in intermediaries that are comfortable with risk; and investing in already successful operators to create breakthrough models.

“Public charter schools have been a driving force for innovation and improvement in public education for close to 25 years, but the charter movement should never be content to rest on its laurels,” said Nina Rees, president & CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “Through Raising the Bar, The Mind Trust has released a thoughtful analysis that identifies strategies to keep the charter movement on the cutting edge of education and can guide future discussions about the paths public charter schools can take to serve even more scholars across the country.”

The Mind Trust and Public Impact developed the report with the assistance of a panel of experts on education reform, charter and independent schools, philanthropic involvement in the charter sector and non-education sectors that have experienced dramatic innovation. They also analyzed the expenditures of 763 schools in four states and interviewed charter operators and school finance experts from across the country to gain insights into sustainability challenges at different stages of school development.

The Mind Trust is a nonprofit that strives to give every Indianapolis student access to an excellent, high quality public school. It recruits talented organizations and educators to work in and serve local public schools and launches new, innovative and high-quality public schools in Indianapolis. Now entering its 10th year, The Mind Trust has impacted more than 132,000 Indianapolis public school students and raised close to $47 million to bring innovative ideas into local classrooms.

The full report is available here.