Where To Grow?

Charters are uneven in quality. Some are good. Some bad. If you're good, you get requests to open in other cities. Those opportunities are hard to sort out.

Pro: If you have a good model, you'd like to help reach more kids. So growth can sound like an idea that bolsters your mission.

Moreover, if you operate in more than one state, you may attract growth capital (because you're a "national" story and can hit up national foundations), and you can diversify your political risk. That is, if you operate charter schools in just one state, a newly elected Governor can quickly make your work tough. Example: Rhode Island.

Con: To grow in other states has 3 additional challenges versus growing locally -- different state academic standards, different operating rules, logistically much harder to visit all the schools. (The first issue may resolve itself if national standards indeed become reality).

Unclear: Does growth help quality (by allowing teachers/leaders in School A to learn from what seems to be working in School B)? Or hurt quality (by taking on too much, by diluting the talent level)?

Most good charter school operators worry most about this issue. They believe they need to improve their existing schools. Kids may be doing pretty good on state tests, but the teachers and leaders believe kids could do even better.

So if growth helps quality of existing schools, it's worth considering. If growth dilutes quality a tiny bit, maybe even that is tolerable. The idea would be better to help 5,000 kids at 95% efficacy than 1,000 kids at 100% efficacy. There's a utilitarian case for that. If growth dilutes quality a lot, though, it's obviously a bad idea.

In our case, we've declined the chance to grow in places like NJ, NYC, St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, etc. We've grown modestly in Boston.

Our growth instead tends to be with partnerships, whether districts or non-profits. We try to take our successes and failures (tend to be more of these, trial and error) -- then share them in a concrete way that drives real change for real kids.

But in the big picture, I do think we'll see more charter networks operate in multiple states. This raises a new question....

* * *

....If you're a state education leader, and you've decided you want more charters for poorer kids, do you try to get more Mom-and-Pop start-ups? Or do you try to pull in more proven providers from other states?

If the latter, what's your pitch?

Bryant Jones is a former Match Corps tutor. He now works for the RSD in Louisiana. It may be the only state in the nation systematically planning the charter sectors for its major metropolitan areas, not just New Orleans.

Here's his pitch (pdf) to charter school operators on why they should consider starting schools in his state.

My main advice is they should change their state abbreviation from LA to LU. Everyone else in the world thinks LA means Los Angeles.