Charter schools, publicly funded institutions that are given autonomy to experiment, have become a major part of the public school reform agenda in recent years. First proposed by teacher union leader Albert Shanker in 1988 as a way to give creative teachers a forum to try new ideas, the charter school model has morphed over the years, as charters have grown to educate 1.6 million students by the 2009–10 school year. Enthusiastically embraced by conservatives, in part because most charters have non-unionized teachers, the charter school model also has received major backing from the Obama administration, most notably as a solution to the problem of persistently failing, high-poverty public schools. With so much emphasis being placed on the potential of charter schools, it is important to have an accurate assessment of their performance. How well are charter schools working? And how might they be restructured to work better? Download PDF.