From 2010 to 2015, Tennessee’s charter sector grew from 29 schools serving 5,500 students to 98 schools and 29,000 students, including 24 multi-school networks operating in the state. This report describes how the convergence of favorable policy conditions, political leadership, and public-private grants accelerated the growth of high-quality charter schools committed to underserved communities in Memphis and Nashville. The report also examines strategies that the Tennessee Charter School Incubator and the Charter School Growth Fund used to identify and develop promising new school leaders and to start and expand high-performing charter organizations. The Tennessee story provides a lesson for education leaders in how to create the conditions conducive to growing a high-quality charter sector.
State and Federal Charter School Policy
Charter schools identified for closure do not always shut their doors. Instead, some charter schools identify and “hop” to a new authorizer willing to work with them to avoid accountability and remain open. This brief for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers explores how and why authorizer hopping happens and offers recommendations to stop it.
Breakthroughs in Time, Talent, and Technology: Next Generation Learning Models in Public Charter Schools
Several new schools are breaking with tradition so that they can deliver a more personalized experience to students. But in order to do this, they need certain autonomies, especially with respect to the ways they can use time, talent, and technology. Since the public charter sector is uniquely positioned to provide many of these autonomies, it may offer a particularly welcoming space for these “next generation” learning models. This issue brief, written for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, explores the ways that next generation learning models use time, talent, and technology, the autonomies they require, and how the autonomies in the public charter movement can align with what next generation models need to be successful. It also includes brief case studies of four promising next generation models in public charter schools.
Charter schools are well positioned to serve the needs of English Learner (EL) students, but need to be aware of the legal parameters governing public education of ELs. The greater flexibility afforded to charter schools offers opportunity to develop innovative approaches to providing ELs, one of the fastest growing demographic groups among students in the United States, with a quality education. But as charter schools are still subject to all federal and some state education laws, charter schools must understand their legal obligations to EL students. This report, co-authored by Safal Partners and Public Impact for the National Charter School Resource Center, examines federal requirements under civil rights laws and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and state laws governing charter school recruitment, retention, enrollment of EL students and their accountability for EL student performance; requirements and current challenges related to EL data reporting; and whether existing laws are adequate to address the needs of this growing population of ELs in charter schools.
More than 40 North Carolina education leaders convened in January 2014 to consider the challenges and opportunities of an expanding charter sector since the cap was lifted in 2011, and ways that district and charter leaders can work collaboratively to improve how charter schools serve North Carolina students. This report, from Self-Help, The A. J. Fletcher Foundation, and Public Impact, reflects their thoughts on policies, practices, and outcomes related to the state’s charter application and approval process, and the oversight and measurement of charter school performance. It details recommendations to improve charter authorizing practices and increase accountability. The report also addresses equity and funding issues that exacerbate distrust between districts and charter schools, and examines ways in which the two sectors may work together to improve opportunities for all students to attend charter schools and to increase charter schools’ access to district resources that would enhance their ability to serve all types of students.
Recommendations include convening district and charter leaders regularly to discuss district-charter collaboration; bringing North Carolina charter authorizing and performance legislation, policy, and practices in closer alignment with national standards to improve charter school quality; and using charter-district pilots to explore mechanisms such as common enrollment and sharing of resources that would give all students equal access to all public schools.
All schools present significant challenges for states and other entities charged with holding them accountable for their effects on student learning outcomes. However, virtual schools—full-time schools that provide most, if not all, instruction online—raise unique challenges and opportunities for accountability. This report, written for the National Charter School Resource Center, presents five recommendations, with multiple means to implement each, for facing the challenges of adequately assessing virtual schools.
Replicating Quality: Policy Recommendations to Support the Replication and Growth of High-Performing Charter Schools and Networks
Could adoption of judicious policies and practices in the charter sector create a million more excellent opportunities for students over the next decade? This report, prepared by Public Impact for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the Charter School Growth Fund, makes recommendations that legislators, authorizers, and state education agencies can use to build a policy environment that will substantially increase the prevalence and impact of high-quality charter schools. The recommendations support four strategies to promote quality in the sector: differentiating charter operators based on performance, building system capacity to cultivate and support high-performing schools and networks, facilitating replication of high performers and accelerating closure of low performers.
This review of 25 school quality rating systems, written by Public Impact for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, reveals clear trends that may help rating system designers and users think about optimal system designs. The rating systems inventoried include some from state departments of education, large public school districts, charter associations and authorizers, and private news and advocacy organizations. Among the trends found were: the inclusion of student growth; the expansion of college- and career-readiness measures; an exploration of new ways to focus attention on the lowest-performing students; an interest in valid measures of student engagement; simplified reporting formats to categorize school quality; and an increase in data transparency and public accessibility. The review foresees a stronger system for evaluating quality across states following the adoption of Common Core-aligned assessments.
This report from Public Impact for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools evaluates the charter school sector’s progress on the goals of growth and quality since the 2005 release of Renewing the Compact, a position statement for the charter school sector. The report recommends bold actions to capitalize on the sector’s successes while confronting persistent challenges. By acting on the report’s recommendations now, critical stakeholders can build a breakthrough sector and create a results-driven culture, which will improve the impact of charter schools on student outcomes and the education system.
The supply of seats in the nation’s best charter schools is not growing rapidly enough to serve the millions of low-income children who need better schools. Based on lessons from the fastest growing organizations in other sectors, this report for the Progressive Policy Institute provides breakthrough solutions for growing the best charter schools and charter management organizations. With specific advice for charter sector leaders, policymakers and philanthropists, Going Exponential offers strategies that could enable every child living in poverty to have access to schools as good as today’s top ten percent charter schools by 2025. Recommendations address the major barriers limiting growth of the sector’s best, such as scarcity of excellent school leaders, funding for growth, and motivation of charter leaders to grow while maintaining excellence.
High-performing charter schools have shown that disadvantaged students can achieve at high levels. Unfortunately, too few of these schools exist today, severely limiting access among the highest-need students. Charter school incubation – recruiting, selecting, training, and supporting promising leaders as they launch new schools – is a crucial strategy for increasing the number of high-performing charter schools in cities across the country. This policy brief, released by the organization now known as Education Cities and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, explores current experience with charter incubation and the local policies and funding needed to create and sustain healthy markets for successful incubators.
In this report, Nelson Smith of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, examines the development and status of Missouri’s charter schools and provides policy and practice recommendations to move these schools toward becoming a vibrant sector of high-performing options for students and families. With funding from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and research support from Public Impact’s Bryan Hassel, Dana Brinson, and Lyria Boast, Mr. Smith recommends: closing chronically low-performing charter schools, strengthening the authorizing environment, prioritizing the state’s role in authorizer oversight and charter school support, building a pipeline of strong school leaders and charter operators from within and outside the state, and serving all students—including English learners and students with disabilities—equitably.
Public Impact teamed up with New Schools for New Orleans to develop a guide for cities interested in dramatically growing their charter school sectors as part of an effort to turn around persistently low-performing urban school systems. This Guide builds on dozens of interviews with education and community leaders in New Orleans, insights from national experts who have supported the rebuilding efforts, and research and reporting on New Orleans’ education reforms. Centered around three key strategies: 1) strong governance and accountability, 2) building human capital pipelines to fuel the growth of schools and 3) incubating new schools and growing proven schools into networks, the Guide illustrates recommendations with vignettes of work done by bold school leaders and reformers.
The Guide also looks toward long-term sustainability of this new system, exploring topics such as building community demand and support for school reforms, developing a fiscally-balanced system that doesn’t rely long-term on philanthropy, and planning ahead for the new types of challenges that face a decentralized system of schools in areas such as transportation, equitable access, and transparent system oversight.
[pdf] A small number of highly-successful entrepreneurial ventures in education have begun to transform schools with innovative solutions that have extraordinary potential to serve students more efficiently and effectively. Yet federal, state and local policies often hinder these types of innovations. This report, written by Julie Kowal and Bryan C. Hassel and jointly released by Public Impact, the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for American Progress, and New Profit Inc., offers politically viable solutions to address these barriers. Read more…
[pdf] Charter schools across the country, on average, are not enjoying the full autonomy from regulations that apply to typical district schools, autonomy that policymakers and education reformers promised as part of the charter school “bargain” of greater autonomy for strong accountability. This report, conducted for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute by Dana Brinson and Jacob Rosch, examined 100 charter contracts and 26 state charter laws to measure how much freedom charter schools have in fourteen critical areas of operations such as establishing curricula or teacher work rules.
The authors found that while, nationally, charter schools experience an average level of autonomy in the B- grade range, some states and charter school authorizers confer broad autonomy on charter schools—earning an A—while other state charter laws and authorizer contracts earned an F for the heavy restrictions they placed on schools. As education leaders across the country push for greater charter school accountability—urging rightly to close low-performing schools—this report asks, “Are charter schools enjoying the autonomy side of the bargain?” and finds the answer is ‘no’ in too many schools across the country.
[pdf] Joe Ableidinger and Bryan Hassel of Public Impact interviewed leaders of five highly successful charter schools to understand how autonomy has enabled the schools to achieve outstanding results. This issue brief, prepared for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, explores seven autonomies that have made a difference in the profiled schools and that hold promise as part of broader reform strategies: freedom to develop a great team; freedom to manage teachers as professionals; freedom to change (or not change) curriculum and classroom structures; autonomy in scheduling; financial freedom; freedom from an elected board of directors; and freedom to define a unique school culture.
Exploring Success in the Charter Sector: Case Studies of Six Charter Schools Engaged in Promising Practices for Children with Disabilities
[pdf] Ideally, charter developers use autonomy extended by state charter school laws to develop new robust educational options for all children, including children with disabilities. This report, written by Lauren Morando Rhim and Dana Brinson for the Center on Reinventing Public Education, presents findings from exploratory case studies of six charter schools identified due to their reported success educating children with disabilities. Collectively, they provide insight into practices that hold promise for educating children with disabilities in both traditional and charter public schools striving to develop high quality special education programs. Recurring school characteristics observed include a powerful school mission that incorporated a commitment to including children with disabilities, professional development that supported meaningful access to the general education curriculum for all students, highly individualized programs for all students that ‘normalized” special education, and easy transferability of the practices to traditional public schools.
[pdf] This brief helps state policymakers think through what kind of alternative authorizing structures may make sense for their states. The paper presents the advantages, disadvantages and policy considerations for each of the seven types of alternative authorizers. In addition, it discusses the critical design issues facing states interested in creating alternative authorizers.
In a follow-up to a 2005 report showing that charter schools are significantly under-funded compared to district schools, the authors find that little changed over four years, and charter schools receive nearly 20 percent less funding per pupil than district schools. The report, created in collaboration with researchers Meagan Batdorff, Larry Maloney, and Jay May, examines FY 2006-07 data from 24 states and Washington, DC in the most comprehensive analysis of charter funding to date. While Public Impact did not carry out the data-gathering for this edition, the firm’s Daniela Doyle led the writing of the cross-state analysis.
This book by Bryan C. Hassel examines the way state legislatures have crafted charter school legislation, how the legislation is playing out in practice, and what the future holds for charter schools. From The Brookings Institution, 1999.
This 1999 Charter Friends National Network report explores innovative state policies to address charter schools’ facilities needs.
This report, co-authored by Bryan Hassel and Michelle Godard Terrell, on the funding of charter schools in Dayton is in response to a mistaken public perception that charter schools receive higher public funding than traditional public schools. Prepared for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, this analysis makes clear that charter schools in Dayton receive considerably less operating money per student than schools within the Dayton Public School District. This discrepancy is primarily due to the charter schools’ lack of access to local tax dollars, a critical source of funds for the district.
Written for WestEd with funding from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement, this 2006 report examines the effectiveness of the federal dissemination grant program portion of the Charter Schools Program (CSP). While the majority of CSP funds go toward start-up and development grants for new charter schools, state grantees are allowed to set aside up to 10 percent of their funds to award as dissemination subgrants to established charter schools. These funds are designed to help successful charter schools disseminate promising practices to other charter and non-charter schools, but this analysis indicates that there is little evidence to suggest that these funds are having the desired level of impact on student performance. The report offers three separate recommendations for improvement: 1) the program should be revamped to provide more incentive for successful schools to participate; 2) the program should be redesigned so that funds are directed toward the replication of successful schools; or 3) Office of Innovation and Improvement should create a separate grant program for dissemination and allow a range of organizations to apply for funds through a national RFP process.
[pdf] Ensuring the growth of successful charter schools requires special attention to a variety of challenges associated with providing high-quality specialized services to children with disabilities, such as lack of clarity about legal responsibilities, limited access to existing state support structures, and limited technical capacity to provide specialized services. This report, written by Lauren Morando Rhim for the Center on Reinventing Public Education, explores these challenges and examines potential opportunities to grow quality charter schools that have as a feature promising or innovative approaches to educating children with disabilities. Opportunities include advocacy to clarify existing laws and change laws that hinder charter schools’ efforts to develop quality special education programs, research to document how charter school operators are using their autonomy to craft potentially unique new instructional programs, and investments in building technical assistance networks and charter school infrastructures are essential. The multiple policy, research, and investment opportunities outlined can help pave the way for growing high-quality charter schools that successfully educate all children.
Replication of successful charter schools is a promising strategy to rapidly increase the number of new high-quality charter schools available to children. Replication strategies also hold significant potential for district reform agendas and, specifically, efforts to identify school operators to turn around persistently low-performing schools. This guide, written for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), outlines the critical considerations and makes recommendations to state policymakers who want not only to permit but to explicitly and vigorously promote replication of successful charter schools. Recommendations include clearly defining success worth replicating, removing or avoiding charter caps, allowing charter boards to govern multiple schools, and streamlining application procedures for potential replicators while maintaining rigor.
[pdf] This report, prepared by Dana Brinson and Bryan Hassel for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, highlights the accomplishments of and challenges facing the charter school sector nationwide. Outlining a vision in which charter schools provide high-quality educational options for students and families, the report calls for policy environments, charter support organizations, and authorizers that work toward improving the quality of all charters and closing those that do not live up to their promise of providing a high-quality educational choice. The briefing builds on the National Charter School Policy Forum held May 5, 2008 in Washington, D.C., which gathered more than 100 leaders from the charter sector including individuals from philanthropic foundations, charter and education management organizations, nonprofits, and other charter sector advocates.
A coalition of Rhode Island mayors, including Cumberland’s then-Mayor Daniel McKee (now RI’s Lt. Gov.), asked Public Impact and Martin West (then at Brown University) to analyze the state of public education in the Ocean State and in the five-town region surrounding Cumberland, which is north of Providence. The resulting report paints the picture of a state where performance lags the national average, despite very high per-pupil spending. Public Impact goes on to propose a new model of school governance–Mayoral Academies–in which a mayor-led board of trustees would contract with high-quality school providers to open new, regional public schools. RI’s general assembly passed legislation to enact the new model. Public Impact then helped McKee and Michael Magee found a nonprofit to put the model into action: Rhode Island Mayor Academies (RIMA).
[pdf] Public Impact prepared this report for the North Carolina Blue Ribbon Commission on Charter Schools to inform the Commission on the current performance of the state’s charter schools, identify challenges the sector is facing, and provide proposals for the future direction of the state’s charter school policies. Public Impact’s report outlined a course of action to promote a stronger charter sector—including lifting the state’s charter cap, closing low-performing charter schools, and providing better support along the charter school life cycle. The Blue Ribbon Commission developed a report of recommendations for the State Board of Education to consider and included some recommendations outlined in Public Impact’s “Working the Curve.”
Ohio Charter School Performance Reports
Every August Ohio releases its K-12 state achievement test data. For the last five years, The Thomas B.Fordham Institute has commissioned Public Impact to conduct a brief analysis of charter school performance. Using Ohio Department of Education data, the reports compare the performance of urban charter schools with that of non-charter public schools in the eight largest urban districts in the state (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo, and Youngstown). Separately, the reports compare the performance of different subsets of charter schools statewide.
At the request of Ohio’s top government and education leaders in the summer of 2006, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools commissioned Public Impact to help create a report recommending strategies to strengthen the state’s charter school program. The report breaks its 17 recommendations into four categories: Keep the Accountability/Autonomy Promise, Strengthen Ohio’s System of Charter School Sponsors, Fund Charter Schools Fairly, and Help Open Quality Charter Schools. Recommendations include closing low-performing charter schools and holding sponsors more accountable for oversight of the growing charter movement while also helping more high-performance schools to open and succeed in Ohio. In return for stepped-up accountability, the document calls for restrictions on the formation of high-quality charters to be removed and for charter schools to receive more equitable funding. In addition to Bryan Hassel and Michelle Godard Terrell, Louann Bierlein Palmer and Peter Svahn contributed to the report.