Exponentially Flimsy
April 21, 2011

Report presents no evidence to support its call to grow the charter school sector like a mold or cancer

Teri Battaglieri: (517) 203-2940,
David R. Garcia: (480) 727-7413

EAST LANSING, MI (April 21, 2011) –The new report called Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector's Best, from Progressive Policy Institute, calls for the implementation of policies that encourage charter schools to grow like a mold, virus or cancer. A new review of the report finds that it lacks any scientific evidence to support its advocacy.

The review was produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The Going Exponential report was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Arizona State University professor David Garcia. The report begins with the premise that charter schools and charter management organizations (CMOs, which are non-profit networks of charter schools) are key to improving urban public schools. The report asserts that "the number of children served by the best charter schools is far too low" and that "millions more children would benefit if they had access to the nation's best CMO's and charter schools."

The authors contend that this situation would be remedied if policy makers would encourage the rapid growth of good charter schools – growth resembling the "exponential" growth curve of corporations like Apple Computer and Starbucks. The bulk of the report consists of nine "lessons from research about exponential growth" for charter operators and policymakers to follow. Yet the report offers only minimal research evidence and provides no useful information about the research, which is taken from the business literature. The report also examines exponential growth observed in the natural world, specifically "mold, algae, cancer, crystals and viruses."

The problem is, according to Garcia, that the report's fundamental premise– that "high exponential growth" found in other kinds of organizations and organisms can be applied to charter schools – is unsubstantiated.  Garcia asks, for example, "How is the business transaction between a Starbucks barista and a customer applicable to the interaction between a teacher and student? How does the growth of viruses apply to the growth of charter schools?"

Going Exponential falls so far short of accepted academic standards that Garcia finds it is more properly compared to the popular business-advice book Good to Great, by Jim Collins, than to an academic policy report. He explains, however, that the report, "is executed with considerably less methodological rigor" than the Collins book, which includes an extensive discussion of how its companies were selected.

Garcia concludes that Going Exponential simply does not provide adequate evidence to justify the guidance it offers up to charter school operators and policymakers.

Find David Garcia's review and a link to Going Exponential on the Great Lakes Center website at:

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The Think Twice think tank review project, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review is also available on the National Education Policy Center website at:


The mission of the Great Lakes Center is to improve public education for all students in the Great Lakes region through the support and dissemination of high quality, academically sound research on education policy and practices.

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