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.
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.
As charter school authorizers and states have increased performance expectations and grown less hesitant to close failing schools, “authorizer shopping” has emerged as a growing threat to overall charter school quality. Authorizer shopping happens when a charter school chooses or changes its authorizer specifically to avoid accountability. A low-performing school may shop for a new authorizer to avoid closure, or reopen under a new authorizer after closure. This report considers five examples of authorizer shopping in action and provides specific guidance to authorizers, policymakers, and advocates to address authorizer shopping.
Charter schools have grown in the past 25 years from a ragtag insurgency into a serious force in American K–12 education. This report examines how districts work with the charters in their midst—in Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, and Washington, D.C.—through three questions: How are districts engaging charters? Why do districts choose to engage charters? And has engagement resulted in improvement? Engagement presents potential benefits and risks—for charters, districts, and the public. This study found markedly different forms of engagement reminiscent of international relations. From Washington’s “superpower summit” through Boston’s “protectionism under pressure,” the shifting district-charter interplay highlighted in this report may begin to point the way to a new world order in public education.
A better, bigger, broader charter school sector—that’s what the U.S. needs to meet students’ needs in a competitive and interconnected world, this report says. Twenty-five years after the first charter law was enacted in Minnesota, the public charter school sector has helped spark significant public education improvements, particularly for urban students and students of color. But the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in student achievement, about 1 million students are on charter school waiting lists nationwide, and many student groups are still underserved by all public schools, traditional and charter. This report, co-authored by The Mind Trust and Public Impact, calls on all involved in charter schools to make the sector better, broader, and bigger in order to expand its reach and meet the students’ needs—which will require innovation that breaks the mold of most schools today. The report recommends various steps charter school operators, policymakers, city-based education organizations, and philanthropic funders may take to spur more innovation in the sector.
Tennessee’s Achievement School District (ASD) was modeled on Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) but has forged its own path that offers useful insights for other states. The ASD has focused its effort on Memphis, which has the state’s highest concentration of low-performing schools. The ASD has collaborated with high-performing charter operators to conduct school turnarounds in neighborhood schools; collaborated with philanthropic leaders to build a sustainable educator talent pipeline for the bottom 5 percent of the state’s schools; engaged neighborhood communities in the process of matching charter operators to schools selected into the ASD; and influenced district-led turnaround efforts. This case study, commissioned by New Schools for New Orleans and the Achievement School District, examines how these and other ASD’s strategies have resulted in a state turnaround school district distinct from the RSD.
Marking 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.
With 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.
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.
Though 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.
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.
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
Case 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.
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.
The Role of Charter Restarts in School Reform: Honoring our Commitments to Students and Public Accountability
The 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 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 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.