The Road Not Taken: Horace Mann Charter Schools in Massachusetts

April 2006

Drawing on research with legislators, leaders at the Massachusetts Department of Education, heads of the major education associations, and charter school experts, this policy analysis seeks to identify reasons for the lack of interest in Horace Mann charter schools. Once touted as a potentially revolutionary new school alternative, Horace Mann charter schools now are an almost totally abandoned education reform option. In stark contrast to the popularity of Commonwealth charter schools, not a single application for a Horace Mann charter has been filed in the past two years. The report finds that some of the challenges to the creation of Horace Mann charters include: political challenges, financial disincentives, and a general lack of information.

Commonwealth charter schools, which operate as independent of mainstream school districts, are highly popular among educators, parents and the students who attend them. Yet, they have consistently generated remarkable acrimony and controversy within the education community. By contrast, Horace Mann charter schools, which operate as part of mainstream districts, hold political promise for diminishing the damaging controversies surrounding Commonwealth charter schools. This political promise has not, however, increased the appeal of Horace Mann charter schools. Even with more than twice as many Horace Mann charters available and a higher approval rate than Commonwealth charters, Horace Mann charter schools have remained grossly underutilized.

This analysis offers considerations that legislators and policy makers create a sense of urgency about resurrecting the Horace Mann charter school option. Policy considerations include:

  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities for the leadership constituencies of Horace Mann charters;
  • Extending the outreach efforts to promote Horace Mann charters as a model for addressing specific educational challenges, such as converting low performing schools; and,
  • Establishing support mechanisms for prospective Horace Mann leaders.

In order to adequately address these considerations, the Rennie Center report calls for policy makers to take a more active interest in cultivating the Horace Mann model.