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This paper is based on a study of four newly created charter schools in North Carolina. It explores the purpose and values that prompted and guided the initial formation of these schools. It opens with a review of the conflicting claims and ambivalent purposes that characterize the policy environment as it pertains to charter-school reform. This overview is followed by an examination of the challenges such schools face in remaining faithful to democratic ideals. For the study, two founders, the principal, and four teachers were observed and interviewed in each of the four schools to learn what they brought into these alternative learning environments in the way of knowledge, beliefs, experiences, and dispositions. The article describes the three dimensions of the schools that proved central to their establishing a distinctive community identity: social vision, inclusive leadership, and congruent pedagogy. The findings contradict the popular perception of charter schools as normatively coherent learning communities whose members are unified around a set of implicitly shared values and goals. The paper concludes that reductionist notions of charter unity ignore the harder truth that achieving authentic community schools entails much more than filtering out potentially dissonant elements. (Contains 91 references.) (RJM)

Descriptors: Charter Schools, Educational Change, Educational Environment, Educational Philosophy, Elementary Secondary Education, Program Descriptions, School Choice, School Community Relationship

Autor: Freeman, Eric


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