For the past five years, he says, he's worked with schools across the country as his center has provided technical assistance to the U.S. Department of Education's charter school office.
Still, he says, "I'm optimistic that charter schools can do some very different things."
By the numbers
Recently, the public debate has centered on studies about charter schools. There have been lots of them. Advocates and opponents of charter schools each point to numbers to back up their own arguments.
The latest study came out this month from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, scoring a point for charter schools. It found that student performance grew just as much or more at the charter schools than at public schools in Indiana.
By contrast, a study by The Indianapolis Star this month found poorer results for Indiana's charter schools on the ISTEP tests and in high school reading and math scores. But the Stanford study used different methods, closely comparing students by their demographics.
The Stanford study took 8,959 fourth- through ninth-graders at 42 charter schools in Indiana and looked at the results of their state achievement tests from 2004 to 2008.
Overall, 43 percent of charter school students showed significantly better gains in reading and 26 percent in math.
There wasn't much difference for 55 percent of charter school students in reading and 74 percent in math.
Hispanic students in charter schools didn't improve much differently than Hispanic kids in public schools.
But black kids in charter schools did better. Their math scores improved at about the same rate as white kids in traditional public schools. Math scores for students in poverty also improved more than their counterparts in public schools.
Out of 20 states that the Stanford center has studied, Indiana is among five that showed more gains by charter schools in both math and reading. There were some other states where charter schools showed more gains just in math or just in reading.
How many more charter schools could or would appear in Indiana?
Ohio flung its doors wide open to charter schools. The first one opened in 1998, and then the state was flooded with them. It became a "cautionary tale" because the state's quality controls were weak, leading to problems early on with the schools, says Terry Ryan.
He's vice president for Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which was deeply involved in Ohio's charter school movement. Ryan says he's observed a much different approach in Indianapolis, where the mayor's office sponsored schools with a go-slow approach.
"An explosion of growth isn't good if it's a lot of bad schools," agrees Russ Simnick, president of the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association, whose website states that more than 3,500 students sit on waiting lists for Indiana's charter schools.
Before allowing a school to open, Simnick says, you have to make sure there's a solid plan, community and financial support, a strong board and know-how. He says Indiana does scrutinize for that, particularly in its charter schools bill.
The bill also would add sanctions for charter schools that fail to perform on the ISTEP test -- with even the option of shutting a school down. State schools Superintendent Tony Bennett sees that as a way of adding accountability and ensuring quality.
The national KIPP Network gained attention for its charter schools in the documentary film "Waiting for Superman," which makes a big argument for school reforms.
EDUCATION: CRUCIAL CHOICES