In response to a question about U.S. Secretary of Education's Arne Duncan's request for charter schools to work more closely with school districts and create more innovative options for students, Nelson Smith said,
Charter movement people have gotten a little skeptical about the big urge to cooperate more with districts and to share what we do with districts because the resistance, frankly, has usually come from the other side. I think the best quote I’ve ever heard about this is attributed to Yvonne Chan, the founder of the first conversion charter school in California, the Vaughn 21st-Century School, and she said, “I’m always asked, ‘When are we going to see ripples from your innovation?’” and she said, “‘You can’t see ripples if the lake is frozen.” I think that makes a very good point—that many districts, even those that have created charter schools, refuse to draw on any lessons learned there. And honestly, it has to work the other way too.
Nelson first pointed out that about half of the charter schools operating in the U.S. are authorized by the local school district. Many of these school districts have been adverse to acknowledging that they can learn from charter schools. While the charter schools are happy to share their lessons learned, school districts, even those that embrace the charter school philosophy, are reticent to acknowledge a change of programming due to the influence of charter schools.
This is also true for Colorado where school districts may change their philosophy about charter schools based on the beliefs espoused by the current Board of Education. For example, Denver Public Schools was anti-charter for many years, even taking an African-American educator, Cordia Booth, all the way to the State Supreme Court rather than letting her open a charter school. In the early part of this decade, DPS changed and is currently hailed as one of the best authorizers in the state. Moreover, DPS has embraced reforms used by charter schools and heartily acknowledges they've learned from the experiences of their charter schools.
Fundamental to charter school oversight and monitoring is the authorizer's philosophy about charter schools. In school districts, this comes from the top: the Board of Education. When board members turn over so can the district's philosophy about charter schools.
Another factor is quite simply, the people involved. In a pro-charter district, antagonist staff can make a charter school's existence miserable. Conversely, a helpful and responsive charter school liaison for the district can smooth even the most tense of relationships with the district board or superintendent.
Because Colorado is a "local control" state, there are all types of philosophies within the 52 districts that have charter schools. The Charter School Institute board was established to be a "model authorizer" for the state. However, even the philosophy of that board has changed since it was first established in 2004.