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Given the desperate plight of urban schooling and the disheartening track record of conventional reform, dynamic new ventures like the KIPP Academies, Edison or Green Dot Public Schools are increasingly being asked to stand in for failing district schools.
While promising, these ventures have thus far typically been characterized by "one-off" examples of success that are extraordinarily reliant on talent and passion, philanthropic funding and exhausting work schedules. Many of the most frequently cited brands (such as Green Dot, High Tech High, Aspire, Uncommon Schools, St. HOPE, and Achievement First) run fewer than one or two dozen schools nationally. These pockets of excellence have produced tangible benefits, but the challenge of bringing them to scale has remained elusive. Former Harvard Business School lecturer Stig Leschly has estimated that only about 250 of the nation’s 4,000 charter schools deliver impressive results--there is little evidence that the rest are demonstrably superior to existing alternatives.
Monica Higgins is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at AEI.