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.

Featured Charter School Resources


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.

Incubating High-Quality Charter Schools: Innovations in City-Based Organizations

1043-NCS-WtPaper Incubating[pdf] Charter incubation is the process of intentionally building the supply of high-quality schools and charter management organizations by recruiting, selecting, training, and supporting promising leaders as they launch new charter schools. This white paper identifies and analyzes four critical focus areas for charter incubators: attracting and developing effective school or CMO leaders; partnering strategically to help leaders open and operate high-quality charter schools and CMOs; championing school leaders in the community; and coordinating advocacy to support new charter leaders. The authors distilled these four areas from research and discussions with members of the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust), an initiative of Indianapolis-based education reform organization The Mind Trust . The white paper discusses these focus areas and presents innovative responses by CEE-Trust members to the challenges of charter incubation in each area. This white paper is part of a three-piece series continuing the discussion from a National Charter School Resource Center / U.S. Department of Education conference exploring emerging city-based movements that embrace high-quality charters as an integral component of their reform strategy. On September 21, 2011, Joe Ableidinger joined Ethan Gray, vice president of The Mind Trust and director of CEE-Trust, to offer a webinar based on the white paper, Expanding the Supply of High-Quality Charter Schools: Innovations in Incubation, available through the National Charter School Resource Center at

Expanding the Supply of High-Quality Charter Schools: Innovations in Incubation

This webinar explores charter school incubation, a promising strategy for intentionally accelerating the growth of high-quality charter schools by recruiting, selecting, training, and supporting promising leaders as they launch new schools. Presenters discuss the need for incubation, the promise of incubation, and some of the early evidence from established incubators. They introduce Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust), an initiative of Indianapolis-based education reform organization The Mind Trust, and discuss the work that CEE-Trust members have been doing to incubate new high-quality charter schools. The webinar then details four critical focus areas for charter incubators as described in the companion white paper, Incubating High-Quality Charter Schools: Innovations in City-Based Organizations, and innovative approaches taken by CEE-Trust members in each focus area. Finally, presenters discuss five major policies that policymakers can address to support charter incubation, and how changes in these areas would help incubators.

Developing Education Talent Pipelines for Charter Schools: A Citywide Approach

1044-NCS-WtPaper DevEdTalenThis white paper highlights six indicators of a robust talent pipeline so that charter supporters of all kinds—including charter school leaders, talent providers, charter support organizations, philanthropies, and politicians—can evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their own efforts. It also shows through the examples of Indianapolis and New Orleans how charter supporters have been able to grow the supply of effective charter school teachers and leaders by focusing on these indicators. This white paper is part of a three-piece series continuing the discussion from a National Charter School Resource Center / U.S. Department of Education conference exploring emerging city-based movements that embrace high-quality charters as an integral component of their reform strategy.

Developing City-Based Funding Strategies: Investments to Create a Robust Charter Sector

1042-NCS-WtPaper Philanthro[pdf] Drawing on lessons learned from cities trying to kick-start a new charter market, as well as from some of the most developed markets in the country, this white paper offers guidance for philanthropies on how to invest wisely as part of a city-based strategy. It also identifies potentially high-yield investments in the charter sector. This white paper is part of a three-piece series continuing the discussion from a National Charter School Resource Center / U.S. Department of Education conference exploring emerging city-based movements that embrace high-quality charters as an integral component of their reform strategy.

four city scanLeading Approaches to Philanthropic Investment in the Charter Sector: A Scan of Four Cities

Commissioned by Baptist Community Ministries (BCM) in 2010, this report examines how philanthropic organizations in four American cities—Albany, N.Y.; Denver, Colo.; Harlem, N.Y.; and Houston, Tex.—have affected the charter sector. This scan includes information about how a select number of philanthropic organizations in each city developed their investment strategies, made investment decisions, and evaluated the impact their investments are having on public education. Read more…

New Orleans-Style Education Reform: A Guide for Cities

NSNO coverPublic 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.

Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise

Charte rAutonomy Report [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.

Free to Lead: Autonomy in Highly Successful Charter Schools

Free-to-Lead[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.

NACSA Charter School Authorizing Policy Guides for State Leaders

Policy Guide States create the environment in which charter school authorizing happens. As a result, state policymakers are in a strong position to influence charter school quality by laying the groundwork for good authorizing. Public Impact organized and edited this series of brief “policy guides” for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers designed to help state policymakers meet this challenge.

Each installment tackles a different policy issue facing states, including: multiple charter authorizers, authorizer funding, the charter application process, appeals, contracts, performance accountability, replicating successful schools, and “starting fresh” in previously failing schools. The briefs provide background, walk policymakers through key questions and consideration, and conclude with a set of recommendations. Beyond Public Impact’s organizing and editing role, Senior Consultant Lauren Morando Rhim also authored two of the briefs, on replicating successful charter schools and “starting fresh.”

Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists

charterschfundingcoverIn 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.

Turning Loss into Renewal: Catholic Schools, Charter Schools, and the Miami Experience

Seton-Miami-Case-Study-FINAL-1[pdf] Case study, conducted for Seton Education Partners, explores the 2009 effort by Miami Archdiocesan leaders, parish priests, charter school operators, and charter support organizations to open eight charter schools in former Catholic school facilities. Quick, coordinated action created public charter options for the former Catholic school students and others seeking alternatives to traditional district schools while preventing the closure of several Catholic parishes. Report provides several early lessons for other dioceses considering this option.

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