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ERIC Number: EJ764585
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 20
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 22
ISSN: ISSN-0022-0574
Charter Schools and No Child Left Behind: Sacrificing Autonomy for Accountability
Stillings, Cara
Journal of Education, v186 n2 p51-70 2005
Amid concerns about standards, testing, and accountability, talk of the impact of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) on another recent education reform, charter schooling, is conspicuously absent. As public schools, charter schools across the country are subject to NCLB's testing requirements. At first blush, it seems only fair that charter schools nationwide are subject to the same requirements as their traditional public counterparts. When one considers the purpose and design of charter schools generally, however, important philosophical tensions between the charter school movement and NCLB come to light. For one, NCLB's requirements for standards and testing strip charters of some degree of autonomy. Specifically, under NCLB, charter schools may be less able to offer innovative curricula and types of student assessments than they were in the pre-NCLB era. In addition, while it is important to note that many of the charter schools that existed at the advent of NCLB did employ some form of standardized testing per the terms of their charters, it is equally notable that many charters employed norm-referenced tests, not the state-designed, criterion-referenced tests that NCLB requires. Because criterion-referenced tests, by definition, come with a set of prescribed standards for teachers to teach to and students to meet, it is possible that NCLB prevents new and old charter schools alike from designing curricula and forms of assessment that set them apart from their traditional public counterparts. In doing so, is NCLB forcing charter schools to look more and more like the traditional public schools they were built to compete with, not only in terms of curricular offerings, but also in terms of the autonomy they exercise at local levels? Is the form of top-down accountability to which charter schools are now subject incompatible with the philosophical premises of charter schooling? This article explores these important questions and their ramifications by looking at the history and philosophy of the charter schooling movement and how it is impacted by the NCLB. It goes on to discuss why both NCLB and charter schooling matter for education reform in this country and makes some suggestions for alleviating the tension between the two. Focusing very closely on the concepts of accountability and autonomy, this article asserts that a necessary balance between charter schooling and NCLB is integral not only to maintaining the successful charter school movement in the U.S., but also to ensuring that NCLB continues to insist upon accountability for outcomes and equal educational opportunity for all students. (Contains 16 notes.)
Boston University School of Education. 621 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215. Tel: 617-353-3230; Fax: 617-353-3924; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: No Child Left Behind Act 2001