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Volume 18, Number 1
January/February 2002

Using Charters to Improve Urban Schools

Two university-run programs are taking advantage of flexible charter school laws in an effort to raise minority achievement


Charter schools were originally intended as pilot sites, laboratories where educators could try to solve the most vexing problems facing U.S. education. Critics of charters say that experiment has failed—that the schools have, on the whole, yet to produce the successful innovations promised by charter boosters.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle: both charter schools and traditional schools offer examples of the best and worst of public education. However, in certain cases charter laws have given university researchers the opportunity to develop experimental schools that offer examples of how the resources of higher education in research, teaching, and management can be marshaled to promote effective K-12 reform.

This article profiles two such programs—in San Diego and Chicago—where researchers have used charter schools to wage one of the most persistent battles U.S. schools must face: the relatively low achievement of poor and minority students. Programs used in both schools are showing positive results and are providing models for other public schools in those cities. The promise shown by these schools is worth noting, both for charter school advocates and their critics alike: given the right support, even children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds may be able to succeed academically.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

Center for Education Reform, 1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 204, Washington, DC 20036; 202-822-9000; fax: 202-822-5077; e-mail:

Center for School Improvement
, University of Chicago, 1313 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637; 773-702-3645; fax: 773-702-2010.

S. Choy. "Students Whose Parents Did Not Go to College: Postsecondary Access, Persistence, and Attainment." Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, NCES, 2001.

D. Kerbow, J. Gwynne, and B. Jacob. "Implementation of a Balanced Literacy Framework and Student Learning: Implications for Program Development." Chicago: University of Chicago Center for School Improvement, 2001.

H. Mehan. "Tracking Untracking: The Consequences of Placing Low-Track Students in High-Track Classes," in Race, Ethnicity, and Multiculturalism: Policy and Practice, ed. P. Hall. New York: Garland, 1997.

North Kenwood Oakland Professional Development Charter School, 4611 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60653; 773-753-9906; fax: 773-753-9935.

Preuss School UCSD, 9500 Gilman Dr. #0536, La Jolla, CA 92092-0536; 858-658-7400; Fax: 858-658-0988; e-mail: