Staff Reporter of the Sun
August 6, 2007

To some, one of the main reasons charter schools are appealing is their autonomy. With no central district to report to, teachers and principals say they can get straight to the business of helping children learn.

But a funny thing is happening with some anti-bureaucrats: They are bureaucratizing, building central offices that function like miniature school districts overseeing between four and 40 schools.
Some of the city's most successful schools espouse the central office model, called a charter management organization. The four schools under the KIPP umbrella and four run by the group Achievement First are managed this way. So is the Harlem school President Bush visited this spring, part of a CMO called Village Academies.

School leaders say centralization is key to their expansion.
"It's the wave of the future," the CEO of a management organization called the Success Charter Network,

Eva Moskowitz, said. Ms. Moskowitz's staff, about 15 employees who have shifted their headquarters between donated office spaces in two Midtown hedge funds, is divided into five departments: human resources; finance and operations; external affairs; instructional development, and data and accountability. Their oversight of behind-the-scenes details, she said, is the only way her brand, now comprising a single Harlem elementary school, will reach its goal of a network of 40. Foundations, some of the main financiers of charter schools, have encouraged the trend, pouring money into projects such as an initiative of the NewSchools Venture Fund, the Charter Accelerator Fund, whose goal is to create enough CMOs to start 470 schools by 2015.

"It's rationalizing an industry, and that's a good thing," Chuck Hamilton, executive director of the Clark Foundation, which supports two city-based CMOs, said. Others are skeptical. The editor of an educational industry publication, Marc Dean Millot, said centralization undercuts the key advantages charter schools have over traditional school districts. "I would call it a fool's errand," he said."You really can't control quality. This isn't like hamburgers."

Ms. Moskowitz said she understands how a CMO might look like a retreat. "It's got an office, and there are a lot of people in it. Aren't we back to where we started?" she said. But she said her organization is far different from the Department of Education; her staff, she said, can pursue a strong teacher's resume in 30 seconds and fire a disappointing principal in under a month.

The KIPP schools went beyond the CMO model's centralization when they first decided to expand in 2000, the KIPP Foundation's director of public affairs, Steve Mancini, said. But Mr. Mancini said managers quickly realized tasks such as navigating local real estate were difficult to micromanage from the national headquarters in San Francisco.

The CMO model, he said, is a perfect compromise. Regional managers make decisions -- while still enjoying the benefits of a national network. At a palm tree-studded luxury resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., last week, 1,200 KIPP teachers mingled, vying for 10 awards worth $10,000 each. The San Francisco staff organized the conference.

Anti-Bureaucrat Charter Schools Get Centralized - August 6, 2007 - The New York Sun

I'm all for this. Obviously, Bush's "No Child Left Behind" is not working.