Book Review

Keeping the Promise? The Debate Over Charter Schools

edited by Leigh Dingerson, Barbara Miner, Bob Peterson and Stephanie Walters, Rethinking Schools, Milwaukee, Wis., 2008, 144 pp. with index, $16.95 softcover

The question underpinning the eight essays in Keeping the Promise? The Debate Over Charter Schools, a comprehensive book on the charter school movement, is whether the movement has fulfilled its founding promise of a reform that empowers the powerless or whether it will become a vehicle to further enrich the powerful and stratify our schools.

Keeping the Promise

Editors Leigh Dingerson, Barbara Miner, Bob Peterson and Stephanie Walter open the book with an introductory essay by Ted Sizer and George Wood that is, not surprisingly, thought-provoking, as the authors question the definition of “innovation” in relation to charter school development, specifically citing the current situation in New Orleans. This is taken up in a later essay about the issues facing parents in New Orleans as they seek neighborhood schools for their children.

Other essays include in-depth analyses of charter school development in Ohio, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C., in which the challenges and dilemmas facing charter schools are outlined with specific reference to schools controlled by business and development interests. Another essay describes the Boston Pilot Schools, which are autonomous, charter-like schools that function within the Boston public school district.

Though this book emanates from an advocacy group (the Open Society Institute), the writings are well-balanced, offering a mixed picture of the charter school movement to date.

The final essay by Linda Darling-Hammond and Kenneth Montgomery examines the role of policy in determining whether the charter movement will live up to its promise.

Reviewed by Valerie A. Storey, assistant professor of educational leadership, Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.