Book Review

The Charter School Challenge: Avoiding the Pitfalls, Fulfilling the Promise

Reviewed by William J. Leary
Professor and Director of Doctoral Programs,
Lynn University,
Boca Raton, Fla.


Bryan C. Hassel, author of The Charter School Challenge and director of Public Impact, an education and policy consulting firm, takes on the assignment of sorting out the history and present status of charter schools across the country in this well-researched book.

Hassel points out that in early 1991, no state had passed charter school legislation. But by the end of 1998, 34 states and the District of Columbia had done so. Thus, public and political attention to the movement is relatively new.

The author reviews charter school operations in Colorado, Georgia, Michigan and Massachusetts, relating various political battles in these states and concluding that charter school laws that developed after much political compromise now suffer from higher costs and delayed innovation, which limit their impact.

In his analysis of charter school programs, Hassel contends that without autonomy charters are limited in the number of creative programs and options they can provide for children. The ability of a team of people to organize an innovative design enables many charter schools to provide a "coherent focus" for students, staff and parents and thus establish a unique program and character for the school.

Hassel believes that funding, autonomy and the realization that a vast commitment of time must be devoted to details can create major diversions. Concerns such as transportation and purchasing of supplies, which are easily done by public school personnel, require increased attention by charter school planners.

The author concludes that charter schools have forged ahead under many difficulties and will have to continue to do so if they are to grow and succeed.

(The Charter School Challenge: Avoiding the Pitfalls, Fulfilling the Promise, by Bryan C. Hassel, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 1999, 224 pp. with index, $16.95 softcover)