Are charter schools innovative? A new research brief, “School Innovation in District Context: Comparing Traditional Public and Charter Schools” by Courtney Preston, Ellen Goldring, Mark Berends, and Marisa Cannata examine whether the levels and types of innovation differ between charter and traditional public schools. Looking within a district context, the authors also explore the factors that predict a charter school’s propensity toward innovation.
Theoretical claims that charter schools spur innovation lie in two realms: the first stems from market theory and the second from the idea that charter schools have greater autonomy and are free from the bureaucracy that may prevent innovation in traditional public schools. In this analysis, the authors examine data on practices within schools and find that, overall, charter schools in the sample are not more innovative than traditional public schools. Charter school do appear somewhat more innovative, however, in student grouping structures and staffing policies. Parental involvement and the proportion of students who receive free and reduced-price lunch may be related to a charter school’s level of innovation.