Charter Schools

Charter schools are tuition-free, independently run public schools that operate free from many regulations imposed on district schools. In exchange, charter schools are held accountable for results. If executed well, the charter school sector has enormous potential, as illustrated by the growing number of charter schools achieving phenomenal results with disadvantaged students. If executed poorly, chartering can reproduce the same patterns of mediocrity and failure rampant in public education.

Public Impact has deep experience informing charter school policy, strengthening charter authorizing practices, and devising practices and supports to help the charter sector fulfill its promise. Use the menu on the left to access our charter school work or see below for featured reports.

  • Ten Years in New Orleans: Public School Resurgence and the Path Ahead

    NSNO 10 Year cover thumbnailMarking the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, this report describes the transformation of public education in New Orleans and considers needed improvements for the next decade to create an excellent system of public schools in New Orleans. The report highlights how the shift to a decentralized system of public charter schools combined with a relentless effort to replace failing schools has produced remarkable gains in student academic achievement and fundamentally changed the role of government in education, the local labor market for educators, and the relationship between New Orleans communities and schools. The report also considers how the pace and magnitude of change presented many challenges to parents, educators, and community members, and discusses what needs to happen next to propel the city to even higher levels of achievement.

  • Early Lessons from Newark’s Experience with Charter Schools

    Newark cover thumbnailWith its charter school market share expected to reach nearly 40 percent by 2018–19, Newark, N.J., is approaching the point where the effects of charter sector growth on traditional schools are impossible to overlook. This case study, commissioned by Startup:Education, examines the forces that helped grow the charter sector in Newark, and the opportunities and issues that arise for both charters and the district when the charter sector grows large. In Newark, philanthropic and bipartisan political leaders have teamed up to increase high-quality education options for all Newark students by both growing the charter sector and transforming the district into a financially sustainable model of effective reform. This case study explores what happens when a rapidly growing, high-quality charter sector pushes district reform, and the lessons other cities and districts with a growing charter presence can take from Newark.

  • Authorizer Hopping: Motivations, Causes, and Ways to Stop It

    Authorizer Hopping cover thumbnailCharter 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

    Next Gen Cover thumbnailSeveral 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.

  • Engaging English Learner Families in Charter Schools

    ELL Families cover thumbnailThough English learners (EL) are the fastest growing student demographic in the United States, public schools, including charter schools, are challenged to effectively engage EL families in a way that ensures the academic success of EL students. Research suggests that EL families’ socioeconomic status, lack of social connectivity, language barriers, differing cultural perspectives about family engagement in education, and lack of familiarity with U.S. school procedures are all factors that constrain EL families’ awareness of school options and opportunities. Given the flexibility afforded to charter schools, they are well-positioned to develop new strategies to counterbalance these challenges. This paper, co-authored by Safal Partners and Public Impact for the National Charter School Resource Center, examines practices used by some charter schools to engage EL families during recruitment, communicate with EL families with limited English proficiency, and meet the special needs of enrolled EL students and their families, and also highlights the funding mechanisms that support these strategies. Based on the approaches and practices presented, the paper identifies program, support, resource and policy issues for charter school leaders, developers, and policymakers to consider when planning strategies to enhance EL family engagement.

  • Legal Guidelines for Educating English Learners in Charter Schools

    ELL Guidelines cover thumbnailCharter 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.

  • North Carolina Charter Schools: Excellence and Equity through Collaboration

    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.

  • Indiana Charter School Board 2012-2013 Annual Report

    ICSB AR cover thumbnail

    The Indiana Charter School Board (ICSB) released its first annual report on March 20, 2014, highlighting the ICSB’s five-year strategic plan, focus on innovation, processes for applicant evaluation and accountability, and school performance. The annual report includes a history of the ICSB, an overview of the Indiana charter landscape, and biographies of current and former board members and staff. It also provides detailed “Authorized School Reports” for all of the ICSB’s authorized schools.


  • Opening Blended Learning Charter Schools: Indiana Schools Aim for Success Through Innovation

    Carpe Dieme cover thumbnail Phalen cover thumbnailCase studies on two Indianapolis charter schools—Phalen Leadership Academy and Carpe Diem-Meridian—examine the schools’ approaches to blended learning in their first years. Commissioned by statewide charter authorizer the Indiana Charter School Board, the case studies provide lessons for potential school leaders considering similar schools.

  • Virtual Schools: Assessing Progress and Accountability

    Virtual Schools thumbnailAll 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

    Relicating Quality cover imageCould 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.

  • Quality School Ratings: Trends in Evaluating School Academic Quality

    School Quality Ratings cover thumbnailThis 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.

  • The Role of Charter Restarts in School Reform: Honoring our Commitments to Students and Public Accountability

    Charter Restarts coverThe report, prepared by Daniela Doyle and Tim Field for NewSchools Venture Fund, explores a variation on school closure where a charter school’s operator and governance (board) changes, while the school continues to serve the same students — charter school “restarts.” The report examines how charter restarts fit within the larger context of charter school quality and accountability and describes how restarts have played out at five charter schools. It concludes with a series of recommendations for board members and charter authorizers interested in pursuing a restart strategy.

  • Searching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality

    Fordham 5-City Charter ReportSearching for Excellence: A Five-City, Cross-State Comparison of Charter School Quality sheds light on charter performance in Albany, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, and Indianapolis. The study, conducted jointly by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Public Impact, found that charter schools in these five cities outperformed their home districts’ schools, which had similar levels of student poverty. Though schools statewide had significantly lower levels of poverty than the charters (and urban districts), the study also compared charter performance to the higher standard of average statewide performance.  Charters in all five cities trailed the state overall—often by a wide margin. Within each district, quality varied widely, with very high-performing charter schools and dismal ones. But a simulation shows how the charter sectors could improve under an aggressive charter closure and replication policy. In Cleveland, for example, if the bottom 10 percent of performers were closed while the top performers expanded by an equal percentage, citywide charter school performance would substantially outperform the home district, and perform on par with all statewide public schools in five years.

  • The Tennessee Charter School Incubator: Annual Report 2012

    TCSI CoverThe Tennessee Charter School Incubator aims to establish a solid foundation of college-prep charter schools in Memphis and Nashville, and spur education reforms across the state. This first annual report, prepared by Public Impact, looks at the three schools its first fellows launched—already among the highest-performing charters in the state—and the newest schools and fellows.


  • Blended Learning in Charter Schools: Reimagining Traditional Models

    This webinar, hosted by the National Charter School Resource Center, explores blended learning in charter schools, and explains how online and traditional teaching methods can be combined to improve student performance while making schools more efficient. Heather Staker of the Innosight Institute presents a variety of blended learning models, examining classrooms arrangements, schedules, student-teacher ratios, and the impact on school budgets. Lucy Steiner of Public Impact explains how blended learning, which is a key component of Public Impact’s Opportunity Culture initiative, can help excellent teachers reach more students, for more pay­ – within available budgets and without increasing class sizes.

  • Fulfilling the Compact: Building a Breakthrough, Results-Driven Public Charter School Sector

    Fulfilling the Compact coverThis 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.

  • Going Exponential: Growing the Charter School Sector’s Best

    Going-Exponential_2011-1The 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.

  • Successfully Authorizing Blended Charter Schools

    PI CyberIssueBrief Thumbnail smallThis issue brief for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers deals with the unique challenges of authorizing blended charter schools, which combine digital learning with instruction at supervised brick-and-mortar locations. Authorizing blended charter schools requires a mix of application review and oversight methods applicable to typical brick-and-mortar charter schools and full-time online charter schools. This brief begins with an explanation of the variety of blended charter school models, followed by a brief discussion of key issues for authorizer awareness and consideration in the blended school context, with attention to both initial approval and ongoing oversight. It then provides more specific guidance on evaluating proposals for blended charter schools. Finally, the brief provides general recommendations for overseeing and evaluating blended charter schools.

  • Better Choices: Charter Incubation as a Strategy for Improving the Charter School Sector

    Better ChoicesHigh-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 Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) 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.