Book Reviews

Charter Schools and Accountability in Public Education

Reviewed by
William G. Keane
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership,
Oakland University,
Rochester, Mich.


Practically everyone has an opinion about the values and purposes of the charter school movement, and these views tend to be spread across the political spectrum. These divergent opinions can be traced to the fact charter schools exist in 37 states and the District of Columbia and are subject to substantially different laws and rules.

In Arizona, schools may be chartered by several entities, including local school districts, and they can provide charters to schools outside their own service area. Other states, such as Massachusetts, have taken a slow-growth approach to chartering to ensure quality.

Given the diversity of this movement, developing public policy requires information about how and whether these “public" schools are being held accountable for proper use of public funds and achieving the purposes for which they were originally chartered.

Paul T. Hill, a professor at the University of Washington, and Robin Lake, an associate director of the university’s Center for Reinventing Public Education, attempt to answer these complex questions in Charter Schools and Accountability in Education.

They explore the thesis that charter schools have multiple forms of accountability: political bodies that legislate their existence, entities that issue charters, parents, teachers and various partnering agencies that support and sustain them.

Hill and Lake assert that the very nature of chartering promotes school accountability by (1) identifying all adults involved with the schools as accountable parties; (2) creating freedom of action in the use of time and money; and (3) encouraging public and private investments in school capacity. Further, they contend, intense news attention on charter schools actually has driven most of them to "conservative, proven approaches."

(Charter Schools and Accountability in Public Education by Paul T. Hill and Robin J. Lake, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2002, 124 pp. with index, $15.95 softcover)