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Charter schools were originally intended to arise from the needs and initiatives of local parties. Because of this, most states empowered groups of parents, teachers, and community members to obtain charters to start schools, typically approved by the state department of education, a local school board, or a local university. While this new form of public schooling had the potential to foreground the role of publics and active, local participation, as I highlighted in my five elements of quality public schools, more recently, trends in charter school oversight have shifted away from that potential. Instead, most EMOs are private, for-profit companies that manage public charter schools through executive authority rather than mere vendor relationships. In other words, rather than turning over aspects of the school, such as food service, to private providers in the interest of efficiency, the running of the entire school is turned over to private operators, thereby insulating the schools from the more thoroughgoing sense of responsiveness to the public that my third element of good public schools describes. With the growth of charter schools, EMOs, which appeared in the early 1990s, have taken an increasing role in running them, although some also lead district schools.

For-profit EMOs are typically investor owned and seek profits for those investors. Being profit driven and market oriented distinguishes most EMOs from other charter schools, which are typically mission driven—perhaps a mission to serve the needs of struggling populations or to provide advanced training in particular fields like Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education. EMOs educate nearly 500,000 students in thirty-five states.29 EMOs have a particularly strong presence in Michigan, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Some of the largest EMO companies are K12 Inc., National Heritage Academies, Edison Learning, and White Hat Management. While based in the United States, many of these companies and their approaches have spread abroad. For example, K12 Inc. manages schools in thirty-six countries.

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