Choices and Challenges

Choices and Challenges Charter School Performance in Perspective

Priscilla Wohlstetter, Joanna Smith, and Caitlin C. Farrell, foreword by Michael W. Kirst
Pub. Date: March 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-543-5
paper, 232 Pages
Pub. Date: March 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1-61250-541-1
Price: $32.00

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As charter schools enter their third decade, research in this key sector remains overwhelmingly contradictory and confused. Many studies are narrowly focused; some do not meet the standards for high-quality academic research. In this definitive work, Wohlstetter and her colleagues isolate and distill the high-quality research on charter schools to identify the contextual and operational factors that influence these schools’ performances.


Choices and Challenges serves a broad audience—scholars, practitioners, and the general public—that follows education issues. It offers valuable guidance for policy makers concerning charter issues, but does not presume to recommend what decisions should be made. I know I will find it an invaluable resource in my role as a state official. — From the foreword by Michael W. Kirst, president, California State Board of Education, and professor emeritus, education and business administration, Stanford University

A thoughtful and concise overview of the critical issues facing the charter sector. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in research on charters, while raising the right set of questions for taking the research to the next level. — Nina Rees, president and CEO, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Unlike the partial and partisan literature that dominates this field, Wohlstetter and her colleagues take a dispassionate look at what we do and don’t know about the nature and performance of charter schools. They point to the complexity and diversity of charter schools and stress the need to take this into account when evaluating the sector’s successes and failures. We urgently need similarly nonpartisan reviews of the research evidence on other recent reforms in the U.S. and other countries. — Geoff Whitty, professor, director emeritus, Institute of Education, University of London

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About the Authors

Priscilla Wohlstetter is Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis at Teachers College, Columbia University, and a senior research fellow with the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Prior to joining Teachers College, she was the Diane and MacDonald Becket Professor in Education Policy at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, where she also was founder and director of USC’s Center on Educational Governance.

Her research explores the policy and politics of K–12 urban education, as well as the relationship between school governance and improved school performance. She has served as principal investigator for numerous national and international studies focusing on urban reform. She directed a national study of charter schools and public-private partnerships, and served as co-director for the National Resource Center for Charter School Finance and Governance, both funded by the U.S. Department of Education. In partnership with the charter community, she developed a state accountability system for California charter schools (the USC School Performance Dashboard). Her publications include numerous articles on federal and state education policies, local governance, public-private partnerships, and the use of data-driven decisionmaking to improve school performance. Her books include Taking Account of Charter Schools (with Katrina E. Bulkley) and School-Based Management: Organizing for High Performance (with Susan A. Mohrman and associates).

Dr. Wohlstetter received her masters in education and social policy from Harvard Graduate School of Education, and her PhD in public policy from Northwestern University. She was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship at RAND upon completing her graduate education.

Joanna Smith is an assistant research professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and assistant director of the Center on Educational Governance. Dr. Smith received her PhD in educational policy and administration from Rossier in 2004; her dissertation examined partnerships between charter schools and community-based organizations.

Dr. Smith’s research utilizes qualitative approaches to study education policy, innovation, and reform. Her work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals including Education Finance and Policy, School Leadership and Management, Policy Studies Journal, and Educational Administration Quarterly. She regularly presents her work at national and state conferences and has coauthored numerous reports, issue briefs, and practitioner-focused guidebooks. Dr. Smith began her career in education as a high school English and ESL teacher at an Islamic school in Melbourne, Australia. She has taught in Rossier’s online MAT-TESOL program as well as the EdD program.

Caitlin C. Farrell is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, where she researches effective partnerships between school districts and research organizations. She holds a PhD in urban education policy from the University of Southern California, where her dissertation focused on comparative analysis of data-use strategies in traditional school districts and charter management organizations.

Dr. Farrell specializes in research on policy implementation, K–12 urban educational reform, and accountability, and her research blends perspectives in education, public policy, and organizational theory. Her prior work on educational governance has been published in Educational Policy, Journal of Education Finance, and Journal of School Choice. She began her career in education as an elementary school teacher after attending Dartmouth College for her BA and Pace University for a masters in childhood education.

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Table of Contents

Other books in Charter Schools

The Strategic Management of Charter Schools

Peter Frumkin, Bruno V. Manno, and Nell Edgington, foreword by Frederick M. Hess

Other books in Charter Schools

School Choice and School Improvement

Edited by Mark Berends, Marisa Cannata, and Ellen B. Goldring

Other books in Charter Schools

The Charter School Experiment

Edited by Christopher A. Lubienski and Peter C. Weitzel, foreword by Jeffrey R. Henig

Books From This Author