This paper was prepared for the Program on Education Policy and Governance conference: Mobilizing the Private Sector for Public Education. The conference, held on October 5 and 6, 2005 at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, was co-sponsored by the World Bank.
Public charter schools offer today's most dramatic example of mobilizing the private sector on behalf of public education in the United States. The charter movement is a dynamic example of how an essential government function that has been recycled with few fundamental changes for well over a century can be reconceived to accommodate entrepreneurial initiative, private-sector investment, competitive forces, the profit motive, performance contracting, franchising, and more--all within the context of public funding, standards, and oversight. More than that, the practice of "chartering schools" provides a compelling example of how the entire U.S. education enterprise can be redesigned. In this essay, we review the background of charter schooling, examine how charter schools are doing in 2005, and draw a series of lessons about the nexus of public and private forces in chartering.