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.
Although no one ever recommended it be so, charter schools have become a cottage industry. Charter schools are small, serving less than 200 students on average--about a third the size of the typical public school. Charter schools number nearly 3200 nationwide, with concentrations of nearly a hundred or more schools in ten states. But few of these sizable numbers have joined forces in larger entities to exploit economies of scale. No more than 15 percent of all charter schools are run or supported by management organizations, which work with multiple charter schools. Contrast this with regular public schools, where the average school is part of a system of six schools, and a third of all schools are part of systems twice to many times that size. In the fifteen years since the first one was authorized, charter schools have shown a powerful tendency toward small size and total independence.