Book Review

Charter Schools: Another Flawed Educational Reform?

Reviewed by Lew Rhodes
Educational Consultant, Silver Spring, Md.



From the title, one might think that this book was an anti-charter school treatise. It isn't because Seymour Sarason sees charter schools as different from "so many educational fads and fashions that have had their 15 minutes of celebrity status and then deservedly disappeared." He wants them to succeed as a means for creating sustained changes in American education, but he can already see how and why they will fail.

Sarason’s background as a social psychologist provides him with a lens that can simultaneously see people and the ways they interact. For this reason, he has a unique ability to describe the critical connections between the content and context of change efforts. Sarason’s frame of reference makes it easier to spot commonalities and predictable problems that occur, he says, "when the original vision and purpose collide with reality" caused by pressures of time and resources.

One might assume the important knowledge in Charter Schools: Another Flawed Educational Reform? might be best applied by those working with charter schools. However, superintendents and policymakers can take advantage of his observations and address the problems he raises from their wider scope of understanding of the school district as the sustainable support system for change. They might find clues here for answering new questions:

How can we turn charters from a zero-sum game into settings that add value to the work of others in the district?

How can we turn charters into sources of continual learnings that might help the surrounding school system address the predictable problems?

(Charter Schools: Another Flawed Educational Reform?, by Seymour B. Sarason, Teachers College Press, New York, N.Y., 1998, 128 pp., $17.95 softcover)