Joe Nathan: Proving strong options through the state, Minnesota’s charter law ranked #1

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Joe Nathan Column — Minnesota educators, students, parents and policy-makers received another honor last week: the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked our state’s charter law as number one in the country.

Thanks to a strong law, suburban and rural, as well as urban Minnesota families have high quality options, including district and charter schools.

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

Most Minnesota families continue using district public schools. But research
by our Center found that over the last decade, the number of Minnesota
students enrolled in charters increased by almost 30,000, while the number
of students attending district schools declined by more than 40,000

Whether their preference is a Montessori elementary, or junior-senior high,
a classical academy that teaches Latin, an arts-focused high school, a
project based school promoting “hands-on” learning, Chinese immersion, or an online school, Minnesota’s charter law has helped create new options for
families throughout the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius have wisely recommended that district and charters spend more time learning from each other, and less time debating which is better, district or charter public schools.  Both kinds of public schools vary widely.

Here are examples of what Minnesota’s charter law has helped produce:
Minnesota New Country in Henderson offers a “project-based” hands-on
approach that attracts 7th-12th graders from more than 30 miles.
Ridgeway in southeastern Minnesota offers elementary families with
elementary students the opportunity to keep students with the same teacher
for two years.

Eagle Ridge Academy, a K-12 charter in Eden Prairie, isn’t necessarily
“better” or “worse” than the district schools.  It provides a “classical”
education for families, as well as a single building to which families can
send all their children, if they choose to do so.

The Main Street School of Performing Arts in Hopkins offers a smaller, more
arts-focused option to larger suburban high schools. Some students and
families prefer the larger high school, some prefer a small, more focused

Partnership Academy in Richfield works with mostly Spanish-speaking students and families, once again, in a smaller setting than area public schools.

Trio/Wolf Creek, Edvisions Off Campus, and Minnesota Virtual High School
provide  online learning programs for families throughout the state.

Northern Lake Academy and Lakes International Charters in Forest Lake are
different from Forest Lake Public Schools.   The district has
received an award from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School for its collaboration with charters.

Minnesota is learning that district and charter public schools, like
colleges and universities, can simultaneously compete and cooperate.  It’s
not one or the other.  It can be both.    Our Center runs several programs
in which district and charter leaders and teachers are learning with and
from each other.

While “pleased” that Minnesota’s ranked number one, Al Fan, director of the
Minnesota based Charter School Partners, commented, “We must do a better job of utilizing the charter model to create great schools for all Minnesota
kids.” Eugene Piccolo, executive director of the Minnesota Association of
Charter Schools, said: “Our law is a dynamic document that we work to refine as the charter school movement evolves, and strives to achieve the purposes and goals of public charter schools.”    His organization provides a list and map, plus other information about charters at

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions welcome, [email protected]


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