Bridging K-12 Schooling and Higher Education
Over the last three decades, public charter schools have grown increasingly common. Since the first charter school law was signed in Minnesota in 1991, about 7,000 charters have opened in 43 states serving over 3 million students. Local educational agencies have authorized the vast majority of the nation’s charter schools, though higher education institutions can legally authorize charter schools in 17 states and are increasingly taking on that role. The University of West Alabama opened the first rural charter school last year to create more diverse learning environments in Alabama, a state that remains largely segregated. Purdue University recently opened a charter school for students aiming to pursue careers in STEM, and The University of Texas operates two public charter school districts that continue to expand.
Why It Matters
While the number of higher education institutions operating charter schools remains small, more are joining the space in an effort to “advance education reform, connect research to practice, and better serve the communities in which they are located.” Universities can bring a wealth of interdisciplinary knowledge to bear on K-12 schooling, as well as valuable enrichment opportunities to K-12 students, while K-12 schools can inspire and inform higher education institutions’ work to prepare teachers and conduct research that informs education policy and practice in meaningful ways. The University of Chicago Charter School (UChicago Charter School) provides one example of the positive impact a partnership can have between a university and a public, preK-12 school. Operated by the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute, the UChicago Charter School serves approximately 1,700 students on Chicago’s South Side and has supported the development of important innovations in research and practice for the education field. It has served as a pilot site for research-based tools and practices, including the Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress (STEP) literacy assessment system now utilized by schools across the country and the Early Education Essentials Measurement System developed by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and The Ounce of Prevention Fund. UChicago Charter School students, in turn, benefit from their proximity to world-class resources and enrichment opportunities at the University of Chicago, including free tutoring from UChicago’s Office of Civic Engagement and access to health and wellness programs through the UChicago Medical Center. All of this has contributed to UChicago Charter School students’ success: the UChicago Charter School holds one of the highest college persistence rates of all non-selective high schools in Chicago, with alumni attending selective colleges across the country. It also points to the role that collaboration between University-based researchers and K-12 practitioners can play in clarifying, improving, and disseminating “powerful approaches to schooling for the nation’s most disadvantaged children.”