What Works in U.S. Charter Schools Translates Across the Pond

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Former head of the New York City Charter Schools Office Michael T. Duffy, recently wrote an article comparing similarities between the models and challenges faced by British Free Schools and U.S. charter schools. Free Schools, a policy centerpiece of the Conservative-Liberal coalition in the UK, enable parents, teachers, charities and businesses to set up schools in England. The first free schools are slated to open in September 2011. These schools will be taxpayer funded, free to attend and have open enrollment, but are not administered by local authorities.

Sound familiar? The UK Department for Education has been doing its homework on U.S. charter schools, especially on the quality front. Its webpage about applying to open a free school states, “We want to ensure only high-quality applications are approved. We know from the United States that the best charter schools are in states with a rigorous approval process.”

Drawing upon his extensive experience as a charter school leader, Duffy offers lessons learned from the U.S. charter school movement that can apply to the Free Schools model.

He observes:

  1. Parental choice, properly harnessed, is a driver for change and better schools
  2. Given effective schools, children from poorer communities can succeed academically
  3. Those that benefit from the status-quo will be fierce in defending it
  4. Developing suitable premises is a challenge: be adaptive and recognize the spill-over effects
  5. Newly formed schools can be laboratories of innovation


As the free schools movement begins in the UK, time will tell if the U.S. charter model can be successfully adapted to the British context or gets lost in translation.

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