Posts by Chris Rue



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Public Charter Schools Rank Among Top Public High Schools in the Nation

The rankings are in!  Every year, U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post, and Newsweek rank public high schools across the nation. Despite public charter schools making up only 6 percent of public high schools nationwide, they have been historically well represented on these lists, and 2013 is no exception.

The table below presents the public charter schools that were ranked in the top 100 on at least one of the lists, as well as the public charter schools ranked in Newsweek’s top 25 Transformative Schools list. Five public charter schools were listed in the top 100 on the three major lists: Peak to Peak Charter School, Signature School Incorporated, Uplift Education – North Hills Preparatory High School, Westlake Academy, and the American Indian Public High School, which was also ranked as the second best Transformative School in the nation.

The U.S. News & World Report’s Best High Schools list had 28 public charter schools in the top 100, up from 17 last year. The report also ranked three public charters in the top 10. The Washington Post’s Most Challenging High Schools list also put 28 public charter schools in their top 100, and four in their top 10. In Newsweek’s America’s Best high Schools list, there were 13 public charter schools in the top 100, with two BASIS charter schools reaching their top 10.

Newsweek also came out with their Transformative High Schools list, which takes students’ socioeconomic status into account by looking at schools that serve a high percentage of students who receive free- or reduced-price lunches. Sixteen public charter schools were on the list, making up 64 percent of the nation’s top 25 Transformative schools. All top five schools were public charter schools.

School Name State U.S. News & World Report, Best High Schools Washington Post, High School Challenge Index Newsweek, America’s Best High Schools Newsweek, 25 Transformative High Schools
Haas Hall Academy AR 83
BASIS Scottsdale AZ 5 3
BASIS Tucson AZ 2
BASIS Tucson North AZ 7
Northland Preparatory Academy AZ 77
Sonoran Science Academy – Davis Monthan AZ 53
Sonoran Science Academy – Tucson AZ 96
Alliance Dr. Olga Mohan High CA 95 4
Alliance Gertz-Ressler High CA 6
Alliance Huntington Park College-Ready Academy High CA 10
Alliance Marc & Eva Stern Math and Science CA 23
American Indian Public High CA 38 1 11 2
Animo Jackie Robinson High CA 21
Animo Leadership High CA 13
Animo Oscar De La Hoya Charter High CA 11
Animo Pat Brown CA 18
Hawthorne Math and Science Academy CA 89
Lennox Mathematics, Science and Technology Academy CA 39
Magnolia Science Academy CA 45
Northcoast Preparatory and Performing Arts Academy CA 72 25
Pacific Collegiate Charter CA 11 56
Preuss School UCSD CA 30 29 1
Summit Preparatory Charter High CA 82
University High CA 42
Peak to Peak Charter School CO 58 70 49
Charter School of Wilmington DE 62
Archimedean Upper Conservatory Charter School FL 26 54
Doral Performing Arts and Entertainment Academy FL 86
International Studies Charter High School FL 15
Somerset Academy Charter High School FL 7
Gwinnett Charter School of Advanced Mathematics, Science, & Technology GA 3 10
Coeur D’Alene Charter Academy ID 59 89
Noble Network of Charter Schools – Noble Street College Prep IL 15
Signature School Inc IN 23 8 12
Benjamin Franklin High School LA 55
Sturgis Charter Public MA 31 64
Raleigh Charter High School NC 77 40
Albuquerque Institute of Math & Science NM 42
Harding Charter Preparatory High School OK 75
Corbett Charter School OR 70 4
Early College H S TX 97
Eastwood Academy TX 56 50
Harmony Science Acad (El Paso) TX 71
Harmony Science Academy – North Austin TX 46
IDEA Frontier College Preparatory TX 60
IDEA Quest College Preparatory TX 83
KIPP Houston H S TX 65
Uplift Education – North Hills Preparatory High School TX 51 82 41
Uplift Education – Peak Preparatory High School TX 24 5
Uplift Education – Summit International Preparatory TX 23 51 14
Uplift Education – Williams Preparatory High School TX 28 3
Westlake Academy TX 41 20 52
YES Prep – East End Campus TX 18
YES Prep – North Central Campus TX 46 89 17
YES Prep – Southwest Campus TX 66 83



The U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools list evaluates over 21,000 public high schools in the country. Their ranking is based on students’ performance on state-mandated assessments, minority and economically disadvantaged student performance, and Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exam results to determine preparedness for college-level work.

The Washington Post’s Challenge Index is calculated by the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) tests given at a school in 2012, divided by the number of graduates that year. Also included are the percentage of students who come from families that qualify for lunch subsidies and the percentage of graduates who passed at least one college-level test during their high school career, indicators called equity and excellence for the Challenge Index.

Newsweek’s America’s Best High Schools ranks schools based on six components: graduation rate (25 percent), college acceptance rate (25 percent), AP/IB/AICE tests taken per student (25 percent), average SAT/ACT scores (10 percent), average AP/IB/AICE scores (10 percent), and percent of students enrolled in at least one AP/IB/AICE course (5 percent). Their ranking system focuses on high schools that have proven to be the most effective in turning out college-ready grads.

Newsweek’s Transformative Schools ranking used the Newsweek’s America’s Best High Schools score and multiplied it by the percentage of students who are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches, a leading indicator of socioeconomic status. The overall ranking for each school is based on the graduation rate, college-bound rate of grads, AP participation, and test scores.


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Research Shows Presence of Public Charter Schools Leads to Improvements in Traditional Public Schools

When a public charter school opens in a neighborhood, there are several impacts that are worth consideration: Will the charter school create pressure on neighboring traditional public schools (TPS) to make changes in their organization, instructional strategies, or outreach to families that may lead to improvements in student achievement? New research presented at the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) 38th Annual Conference suggests that traditional public schools do in fact respond to the presence of public charter schools. Yusuke Jinnai, a Ph.D candidate in Economics at the University of Rochester, examined the impact of opening public charter schools on achievement levels for students at a neighboring traditional public school in North Carolina. A few interesting findings from the study:

  • Public charter schools generated “a positive and significant direct impact on student achievement” in math and reading at nearby traditional public schools.
  • About 25 percent of this direct impact can be explained by low-achieving students switching from traditional public schools to charter schools, leaving higher-performing students at traditional schools.
  • The larger portion of the impact was due to direct competitive effects. In other words, the presence of public charter schools encouraged TPS to make improvements for remaining students that lead to increases in student performance.

Using student-level North Carolina panel data from 1997 to 2005, the study is innovative because it focuses on gaps in grades between charter schools and TPS in North Carolina. Oftentimes, a charter school will open with a single grade level and expand their grade range in subsequent years. Jinnai uses this gap to tease out the direct impact charter schools have on TPS students in overlapping grades and indirect impact on non-overlapping grades. Previous research estimated the impact of charter schools on TPS for all grade levels, regardless of whether charter schools served students in all grade levels.

Jinnai shows that the introduction of charter schools generates a positive and significant direct impact on student achievement: an increase of 0.033 standard deviations in math and 0.017 in reading for neighboring TPS students. While these gains are small in comparison to the impact of experienced teachers or per-pupil expenditure on achievement, they are larger and more accurate than previous competitive-effects studies due to the distinction between direct and indirect impact.

Public charter schools in North Carolina attract lower performing students, but they are showing academic success. In 2010, 77 percent of public charter schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). In contrast, 57 percent of traditional public schools made AYP in 2010. With North Carolina lifting their 100-charter school cap in 2011 and receiving 70 new charter applications for the 2014-2015 school year, there is potential for significant learning gains for all public school students.

Jinnai’s new paper debunks the myth that the success of public charter schools comes at the detriment of neighboring traditional public schools. In North Carolina, public charter schools contribute to education reform by serving low-performing students and encouraging high standards of performance for nearby traditional public schools.

Boston Collegiate


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Interview with CRPE’s Betheny Gross on Blended Learning Model Innovations

Blended learning is an innovative education model that combines online and traditional instruction. The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study the financial implications of a range of blended learning models. I caught up with Dr. Betheny Gross, CRPE’s senior research analyst and research director, to talk about the study.

Q: What is the framework of the study?
 There are two parts to the study.  One is to continue to develop a classification of blended [learning]. People take different approaches to blended learning. Many of the approaches are similar, but with their own take depending on different theories of action about teaching and learning.

Some people go into blended thinking they need to radically personalize [education] for each student, and the best way we can do that is to harness technology. There are others that think about how best to optimize teachers by maximizing opportunities for kids to have in-depth discussions with teachers who are addressing their specific needs and goals. A way to do that is to have some of the instruction and curriculum happen over technology.

Part of the work we’re doing is thinking through theories of action…what type of school do they imply in terms of teachers and technology, and then costing it out. In our observation of schools that are implementing these models, we’re asking and commenting on questions such as: What does the resource allocation look like? What resources are needed for start-up and for continuation [schools]? How are resources distributed throughout the building? Do traditional revenue structures correspond or not to the way these schools need to structure their resources?

Q: What is the motivation of the study?
A: A lot of people are looking to blended as something that’s a new and a vital piece of our progress in education. They’re seeing it as an opportunity to expand the capacity and productivity of teachers in schools. There’s a lot of energy behind it right now, and a lot of development going on in the field to make sure that there’s good research to support that development.

Q: What do you hope to find out?
A: What we want to understand is how resources are used, and the extent that we see a new distribution of labor and technology for the delivery of instruction. We also want to understand how schools pursuing this work can do it in a sustainable way. This is a challenging question because so many of the schools engaging in blended learning received substantial start-up grants. And we know that there are and can be rather substantial startup or transition costs, especially if it requires a big investment in network and fiber.

Q: What role do public charter schools play in blended learning?
A: Public charter schools are called on to be our innovators, to be our incubators. They have both the incentive and opportunity to really explore these models because of their ability to optimize resources in schools.

I think there are a lot of incentives for charters. It’s not lost on anybody in the charter sector that they have to be very careful with budgets, which tend to be very tight. This is an opportunity to think through how technology can optimize their resources.

With the freedom public charter schools have around resource allocation, they really do have the opportunity to go out and rethink the whole school from top to bottom. They don’t need to have 15 classrooms with a teacher and 30 kids in them. They don’t need to think about [getting] into spend-it-or-lose-it arrangements. They can think about how to structure their spending; how to reconfigure their revenue and expenditure flows; and different ways to structure pay for teachers.

This is all within their reach–they don’t have many of the traditional revenue or expenditure constraints that district schools are now slowly unpacking. Charters can move very quickly. It’s not a surprise that a lot of the schools in our study are public charter schools.

Q: What role do you see blended learning playing in the future of public education?
 I think it depends on what we find in these early studies, and there are also impact studies going on. I anticipate, although I don’t have any particular evidence to back this up, that we are going to see it more and more. I think that it’s an approach that addresses a lot of resource challenges that we are facing.

I think it’s also an approach that’s very respecting of the fact that kids are brought up interacting with information differently than we did when we were kids. It tries to take advantage of that, and meet kids where they are with how they work with and think through information. And in that sense, it has a lot of great potential.

Q: What is the timeline of the study?
A: The study is a 19 month study starting from last December. An interim report will come out sometime in the fall, and then the final will be out the following summer.





Photo: Dr. Betheny Gross, Senior Research Analyst and Research Director at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE)


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Public Charter Schools with True Autonomy and Accountability Positively Impact Student Achievement

A recent thread in studies about public charter schools and student achievement is that broad analyses often mask the key features that explain why some charter schools outperform traditional public schools (TPS). A paper by Hiren Nisar from Abt Associates follows this idea by highlighting the impact of school autonomy on student performance. He finds that students in Milwaukee public charter schools that operate with more autonomy from traditional public school regulation (called non-instrumentality charter schools) outperform their counterparts in less-autonomous public charter schools (instrumentality charter schools) and traditional public schools.

In Milwaukee, both instrumentality and non-instrumentality schools have more budget and curricular flexibility than traditional public schools. However, there are key differences in operational autonomy:  instrumentality public charter schools operate as a part of traditional school districts, they face little risk of closure, and they hire unionized teachers. When looking at achievement over all charter school students compared to TPS students, Nisar found little significant difference in performance. However, not all public charter schools are subject to the same policies, and those differences have significant impacts on student achievement levels.

Nisar breaks down these differences by examining how a school’s instrumentality status relates to students’ reading proficiency. He finds that “students at a non-instrumentality charter school would be reading at a grade higher from their counterparts in an instrumentality charter school in two years, and their counterparts in a TPS in three years.” He also finds that African-American students perform better in non-instrumentality charter schools than any other type of public school. When looking at low achieving students, he estimates that attending a public charter school of any type would eliminate the reading achievement gap in two years.

Aside from the encouraging empirical findings, there is a broader takeaway from Nisar’s paper – as he puts it, “the details of charter school policies matter.” In Milwaukee, public charter schools that operate autonomously from traditional school districts, and therefore face a greater risk of closure, perform better. As NAPCS President & CEO Nina Rees said, “The charter school idea is predicated on the notion that in exchange for autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic rules, schools would face closure if they fail to meet their academic goals.” The tradeoff of enjoying more autonomy for greater accountability in the form of school closures is a basic tenet of charter schools, as well as a keystone of the NACSA’s One Million Lives campaign. This paper offers a strong suggestion that autonomy and accountability for public charter schools are essential policies that go hand in hand with learning gains for students.

Milwaukee students






Image by Mike Di Sisti originally published in the Journal-Sentinel online Nov. 18, 2012