Great Hearts Academies, a 30-school network in Arizona and Texas, grounds itself in two audacious premises. First, it believes that a Great Books education— based on the intense and close reading of the classics of the Western intellectual tradition—should be open to everyone. Second, it contends that such an education produces not only scholars, but better people. In this second installment of R Street’s series on character education, Lindsey M. Burke offers ample evidence that Great Hearts is actually realizing these premises.

In its network of open-admission charter schools, Great Hearts produces students who do not only perform well on standardized tests, but also display a deep familiarity with challenging texts ranging from Paradise Lost to The Federalist Papers. Additionally, it accomplishes this while explicitly centering its curriculum around virtue ethics.

Perhaps most impressive of all, Great Hearts has proven that such an education is in high demand. Consider this: the country’s largest Great Hearts school, St. John’s College, educates slightly under 1,000 students between its two campuses, while Great Hearts has 30 sites with 19,000 currently enrolled students and 14,000 more on waiting lists. Not only is Great Hearts providing a highly intellectual curriculum to everyone, but it is also proving that there is real market demand for the type of product it offers.

— Eli Lehrer, President, R Street Institute


Great Hearts Academies—a network of classical charter schools operating in Arizona and Texas—is democratizing access to a rigorous, liberal arts education. Character and virtue are not simply a portion of the network’s model; they are the foundation upon which the schools are built. Today, some 19,000 students attend a Great Hearts Academy and 14,000 more remain on the waitlist, eager to learn from exemplary classical texts and to immerse themselves in a tradition of philosophy and rhetoric.1 A combination of friendly, regulatory environments and philanthropic support can bring this model of building “great minds in great-hearted leaders” to students across the country.

Image credit: panitanphoto