Posts by Nora Kern


Nora Kern


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Parents’ Perspective on School Choice

This month, the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) released a report, How Parents Experience Public School Choice, which contains survey findings from 4,000 parents of K-12 students living in eight “high-choice” U.S. cities, defined as those with many non-neighborhood-based schools and with a range of oversight structures. The 500 parents from each location—Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—answered questions about their ability to access other school options, their impression of the trajectory of their school district, their priorities for selecting a school, and their ability to find a school that fits their student’s needs.

Some key findings include:

  • In districts that offer parents an alternative to their assigned school, parents are utilizing their ability to choose. On the high end, 87 percent of New Orleans parents choose an alternative to their neighborhood school, while 35 percent of Indianapolis parents choose public charter schools.
  • School choice experiences vary for parents in different cities. Sixty percent of Denver parents said they had another good public school option in addition to their child’s current school. Just 40 percent of Philadelphia parents reported another quality option.
  • Navigating school choice options is more challenging for parents with less education, minority parents, and those whose children have special needs.
  • There have been uneven investments in school choice supports—namely, centralized information, enrollment, and transportation systems—among the high-choice cities.

In these eight cities, CPRE found that at least half of the city’s parents were choosing a school other than their assigned district school. This corresponds with the data in our latest A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities report, in which Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. rank among the top ten school districts in the nation for the highest charter school enrollment share, and Baltimore and Denver are both in the top 25.

It’s no surprise that parents in Denver, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. reported more positive results. These cities have been actively investing in developing high-quality school options, closing low performers, developing transportation systems, creating accessible information on school features and performance, and implementing a common enrollment system. CRPE notes “more than half of the parents in these cities reported that their cities’ schools are getting better, compared to less than a third of parents in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Philadelphia.” Further, 80 percent of D.C. parents and 79 percent of those in New Orleans reported that academics are the most important factor in choosing a school—over safety and location. This is a testament that families in these cities have access to safe schools.

The report concludes that “all cities have work to do to ensure choice works for all families.” To improve access to high-quality schools, CRPE recommends expanding the supply of high-quality schools, providing for specialized student needs, providing free and safe transportation to schools, and investing in information systems to help parents make informed choices.

Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern


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21 Public Charter Schools Recognized as 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program, as described by the U.S. Department of Education, “recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups.” This year, the 21 charter schools were among the 287 public schools throughout the nation named 2014 National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

In order to be eligible for the National Blue Ribbon award, the school must have made Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) or Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for three consecutive years, including the year the school is nominated. Additionally, one-third of all the nominated schools in a state must serve at least 40 percent of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This year there are nine more public charter schools that earned the National Blue Ribbon School—up from twelve charter school award winners in 2013. Congratulations to the 2014 National Blue Ribbon public charter schools for their outstanding educational programs and accomplishments!

Charter School State
Mesquite Elementary School Arizona
Reid Traditional Schools’ Valley Academy Arizona
Bullis Purissima Charter School California
KIPP Summit Academy California
Academy of Dover Charter School Delaware
Crossroad Academy Florida
Doral Performing Arts & Entertainment Academy Florida
Mater Gardens Academy Florida
Terrace Community Middle School Florida
Elite Scholars Academy Charter School Georgia
Lake Oconee Academy Georgia
Signature School Indiana
Pace Charter School of Hamilton New Jersey
Genesee Community Charter School New York
South Bronx Classical Charter School New York
Raleigh Charter High School North Carolina
Columbus Preparatory Academy Ohio
Franklin Towne Charter High School Pennsylvania
Houston Academy for International Studies Texas
KIPP Houston High School Texas
KIPP Sharp College Prep Texas

Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern


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Public Charter Schools Top All Best High School Ranking Lists

U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Post, and Newsweek all have annual rankings of the best public high schools in the nation. Despite public charter schools making up only 6 percent of public high schools nationwide, they have been a continuous presence on national ranking lists

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 Doing the Most with the Least” list. BASIS Tuscon North, Signature School, and Archmedean Upper Conservatory were listed in the top 100 on all three major lists. Fourteen public charter schools were among the top 100 on two national high school rankings.

The U.S. News & World Report’s Best High Schools list had 24 public charter schools in the top 100. The report also ranked three public charters in the top 10. The Washington Post’s Most Challenging High Schools ranked 31 public charter schools in their top 100—up from 28 charters in 2013—and comprised half of the top 10. In Newsweek’s Top High Schools list, there were 17 public charter schools in the top 100, four more charters than in 2013, with three reaching their top 10.

Newsweek also came out with their “25 Doing the Most with the Least” list, which takes students’ socioeconomic status into account. Ten public charter schools were on the list, making up 40 percent of the nation’s top high schools that are closing the achievement gap. 

Congratulations to these public charter schools that are providing their students with the best education in the nation.

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 Schools Doing the Most with the Least
Haas Hall Academy AR 25
Accelerated Elementary and Secondary AZ 24
BASIS Oro Valley AZ 7
BASIS Scottsdale AZ 2 2
BASIS Tuscon North AZ 5 10 29
Northland Preparatory Academy AZ 44
American Indian Public Charter CA 44 1
Animo Jackie Robinson Charter High School CA 9
Hawthorne Math and Science Academy CA 55
KIPP King Collegiate High CA 67
KIPP San Jose Collegiate CA 41
Lennox Mathematics, Science & Technology Academy CA 59
Northcoast Prep and Performing Arts Academy CA 21
Orange County School of the Arts CA 52
Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High School CA 25
Pacific Collegiate School CA 25 83
Stockton Collegiate International CA 44
The Preuss School UCSD CA 42 40 1
University High School CA 53 98
Peak to Peak Charter School CO 66 28
The Charter School of Wilmington DE 30
Archimedean Upper Conservatory FL 100 19 67
City of Hialeah Educational Academy FL 13
Doral Academy Performing Arts and Entertainment FL 86
International Studies Charter high School FL 24
Mater Academy Charter High FL 22
Gwinnett School of Math, Science & Tech GA 3 17
Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy ID 47 66
Noble Street College Prep IL 4
Signature School IN 21 6 5
Mystic Valley Regional Charter School MA 92
Sturgis Charter MA 88
Nova Classical MN 86
St. Croix Prep MN 80
Raleigh Charter High School NC 55 33
Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science at UNM NM 64 48
Coral Academy of Science Las Vegas NV 73
Dove Science Academy Tulsa OK 8
Harding Charter Preparatory High School OK 89
Corbett Charter OR 3
Challenge Early College TX 97
Energized for STEM TX 32
Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts TX 91
Harmony School of Innovation – Fort Worth TX 59
Harmony Science Academy – North Austin TX 25
Harmony Science Academy Brownsville TX 30
Harmony Science Academy Houston TX 51
Harmony Science Academy-Waco TX 42
IDEA Academy and Collegy Preparatory School TX 30
IDEA Frontier College Preparatory TX 85
KIPP Austin Col TX 63
NYOS Charter School TX 93
Uplift North Hills Preparatory TX 2 40
Uplift Peak Preparatory TX 2
Uplift Summit International Preparatory TX 16 99 19
Uplift Williams Prepatory TX 29 3
YES Prep East End Campus TX 81 74
YES Prep North Central TX 28 57
YES Prep Southeast TX 95

Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Nora Kern


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Public Charter Schools Once Again Top Newsweek Best High School Rankings

Last week, Newsweek/The Daily Beast released their rankings of the top U.S. high schools—with 17 public charter schools in the top 100. Like in last year’s Newsweek rankings, two BASIS schools were in the top 10, along with the Signature School as the other public charter school in the top 10.

In an accompanying The Daily Beast article titled “What Charter Schools Are Getting Right and Why They Top Our High School Rankings,” the authors point out that, “Even though charters educate just five percent of American students, they represent 30 percent of the top ten schools in this year’s rankings. What’s more—and this is really the kicker—they’re the only ones in the top ten that do not use selective admissions.” The article further looks at key charter autonomies that make a difference: their ability to hire (and fire) staff, set their own schedule, and choose curricula.

For the top 100 schools, charters held 17 spots. This number is up from 13 charter schools in the top 100 last year. 

The Newsweek/Daily Beast ranking methodology tweaked some components and their weighting compared to last year, but the overarching goal to identify the schools that best prepare their students for college remains the same. This year’s four ranking components are: four-year cohort graduation rate (30 percent weight); college acceptance rate (30 percent weight); rigor/college preparedness (30 percent weight)—measured by the student participation in AP, IB, or AICE courses and passage rates for those exams; and college entrance exams (10 percent weight)—meaning average SAT or ACT scores.

Another change was that the former “Transformative High Schools” list is now titled “25 Doing the Most with the Least.” However, the methodology is still the same; the best high schools list is additionally filtered for schools serving the highest number of free and reduced price eligible students—a key indicator of socioeconomic status. Ten of the 25 schools on the list are public charter schools, including those in the top 4 spots. 

Congratulations to these public charter schools that are seeing amazing results for their students and closing the achievement gap!

Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 

Nora Kern


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From Ghana to America to College: Matilda’s Story

matildaDuring a recent visit to the Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), I had the opportunity to talk with 12th grade student Matilda Patterson. In the interview excerpt below, Matilda discusses her favorite opportunities she’s had at CMSA and her plans after graduation.   Q: What do you like about attending your school? I like the fact that the teachers here are so welcoming. That wasn’t necessarily the case in other schools I’ve attended. They know your name, your strengths and weaknesses, and how to work with you on things you need to improve. Q: What is your school culture like? The school culture is diverse. It’s very family-like. I’ve discovered so many cultures being here. I used to be in the Ivy League Mentoring Program (IMP)—a mentoring club that helped with extra ACT practice. We got partnered with a teacher, and after school and ACT practice, we would go with our mentor to reflect on stuff we learned in class. Even though participating in IMP meant giving up my Saturdays, I feel really lucky to be part of IMP. Q: How did your family find out about CMSA? My family is from Ghana, and we first came to America in Boston, and then we transferred to Chicago. My dad wanted me in any school because we had had a three month lag in our schooling during the move. Then we started hearing about charter schools. Family friends talked about CMSA. We were very lucky because CMSA had a mid-year spot open and we’ve been here ever since (Matilda has younger siblings who also attend CMSA). Q: Who is your favorite teacher and why? The band director; she is like a second mom to me…beyond just a teacher. To be honest, she knows me to the brink. She knows when to be strict like a teacher, and when to be there for her students. The band family is very strong. Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve learned this year? It has a lot to do with self-discovery: don’t care what others think and be yourself. Everything is easier said than done. When I came to America, from Ghana…my accent was hard to get over. My replies were slow and I had a hard time understanding other people. This made it hard for me to fit in…I participated in a ton of clubs to interact with people and learn American slang. I kept myself busy every day before I’d go home to do homework.  Junior year, I took college classes, and I took a speech class just to practice speaking…Senior year so much has happened that has affected me so much, looking back, I could have believed in myself more. Q: What are your plans after graduation? I will attend Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio) this fall, and I want to major in health science or engineering and minor in business.   This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad. Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools 
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A Home and a Family at School: Daniel’s Story

NYOSDaniel Langford, a 12th grade student at NYOS Charter School in Austin, Texas tells us what he enjoyed about his high school experience–especially the many teachers who have influenced him–and how he feels prepared to achieve his future goals. Q: What do you like about attending your school? There’s so much! It was a big contrast from my old school. I got bullied in 4th grade, so my mom put me on the waitlist for NYOS. I got in in 5th grade. One of the main things I’ve seen that is different at NYOS is because it is so small, you get to know your teachers better. Because of the small student teacher ratio, you can go to them whenever you need to—which really helps your academics. I would stay after school in physics and the teacher would work out problems with me. Q: What is your school culture like? I love the school…I almost don’t want to go to college and leave. This is my second home. No matter what your home situation is, [NYOS] is a home for you. NYOS is a family, and we all know each other. That is very powerful. I can walk through the high school building, and I can turn to any person and they are there for me. Whatever it is, everyone is there for each other…We all respect each other. We can all graduate as friends. Q: Who is your favorite teacher and why? My freshman year, Mr. Thompson started band class. His personality and discipline is great for band. Our second band concert had so much energy. You can see that he really enjoys what he does, and students can see that. It’s obvious if you don’t enjoy teaching, and that impacts student learning. Ms. Hill was one of the hardest English teachers I’ve ever had, but I learned so much. You aren’t babysat in college and she helped prepare me for that. Mr. Pfaff had a quote, “never stop trying and never quit.” He’s an avid runner and I am too, so we connected through that. He chose to make a difference through teaching here. Mr. Sinkar – I had him for physics, and I was so blessed to have him. We had great projects and he cares so much. I had Mr. Perrmann for 11-12 grade band. He enjoys what he does. He’s really young, but that is nice because he can connect with the students. There’s a good mix of teacher experience levels here. Q: What are your plans after graduation? I want to go to ACC (Austin Community College) and get the basics out of the way and figure out what I want to do…maybe music. High school is an important time in your life because the choices you make mold you for later in life. If you’re stressed or make bad choices, your life could be different. Being at NYOS has prepared me for life. I’ll walk across the stage to get my diploma. There have been bumps and bruises along the way, but I’m standing. Enjoy life! This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.   Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. 
Nora Kern


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Charter School Presence on “Challenge Index” High School Rankings Continues to Grow

Recently, the Washington Post released the results of its annual Challenge Index rankings that looks at college-level tests given at a high school and the number of graduates that year.  This year, the number of charter schools ranked in the top 100 reached an all-time high. Thirty-one public charter schools are among the 2013-2014 Challenge Index top 100 schools. Charter schools also make up half of the top ten—including #1, American Indian Public Charter (Oakland, CA); #2, Uplift Education North Hills Preparatory (Irving, TX); #3, Corbett Charter (Corbett, OR); #6, Signature (Evansville, IN); and #10, BASIS Tucson North (Tucson, AZ). The Challenge Index is calculated by dividing the number of college-level tests given at a school in 2013, by the number of graduates that year (education columnist Jay Mathews answers Challenge Index FAQs here). The Index also notes 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. Public charter schools have consistently grown among the top 100 of the Challenge Index.  Over the past four years, charter schools have comprised:
  • 2013-2014: 31 of the top 100
  • 2012-2013: 28 of the top 100
  • 2011-2012: 25 of the top 100
  • 2010-2011: 17 of the top 100
Public charter schools are over-represented on this ranking list compared to the percentage of charter high schools within the U.S. public high school system (only about 6 percent of all public schools). Congratulations to these public charter schools being recognized for providing a rigorous academic experience for their students. Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern


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New study shows Los Angeles charter schools students are beating the odds

A new report released last week by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that public charter schools in Los Angeles, which serve the largest number of students in the country, are outperforming traditional public schools. Following the methodology of CREDO’s 2013 National Charter School study, which found charter schools are outperforming their district peers across the country, the report translates the impact of attending a charter school into additional days of learning. This study finds that the typical student in a Los Angeles public charter school gains about 50 more days of learning in reading and an additional 79 days of learning in math. Credo Graphic Source: CREDO, pg. 37, The study also found public charter schools are greatly impacting Hispanic students living in poverty— with these students gaining an additional half year of learning in math by being enrolled in a charter school. Below are the positive study results by different demographic groups, grade levels, type of charter school, and years enrolled.  In each of these cases, “additional days of learning” is compared to traditional public school students.  
  Reading Math
Charter Student Characteristics

Additional Days of Learning

Poverty (overall) 14 43
Black 14 14
Black in Poverty 36 58
Hispanic 43 72
Hispanic in Poverty 58 115
White 14 N/A
Asian 14 N/A
ELL 36 N/A
Grade Levels
Elementary 58 50
Middle 36 158
High 50 58
Multi-Level 36 65
Charter School Characteristics
CMO affiliated 65 122
Non-CMO affiliated 36 43
Urban 50 79
Suburban 65 101
Years of Charter Enrollment
1 Year 50 101
2 Years 58 72
3 Years 58 187

The report concludes with a strong endorsement of these results across student groups and  over time: “…The typical student in a Los Angeles charter school gains more learning in a year than her [traditional public school] counterpart…These positive patterns emerge in a student’s first year of charter attendance and persist over time. Black and Hispanic students in poverty especially benefit from attendance at charter schools. A substantial share of Los Angeles charter schools appear to outpace [traditional public schools] in how well they support academic learning gains in their students in both reading and math.” The findings of this report show yet again that when public charter schools are allowed to thrive, so do our students. Click here to read the full Charter School Performance in Los Angeles report. Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern


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What is De Blasio thinking?

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told four charter schools they would lose their school buildings, leaving at least 700 children without a school this coming school year. One of the schools is already open and serving children—with achievement scores that make it one of the highest performers in the city and state. Three others were scheduled to open this fall, one of which may still be allowed to do so, but only with reduced enrollment. Mayor de Blasio’s decision has left many scratching their heads, especially when we look at how well public charter schools are serving the Big Apple’s students: This research confirms what many parents and students on the ground already know–that charter schools work. It’s time that Mayor de Blasio takes a look at the research himself, maybe then he would reconsider his approach to helping the city’s most vulnerable youth. Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
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Charter school growth continues, but it’s quality that matters most

Earlier this month, the National Alliance released our annual estimates on the number of new public charter schools and studentsfor the 2013-2014 school year. These numbers are always eagerly anticipated and this year was no exception. The report notes:
  • More than 600 new public charter schools opened their doors for the 2013-14 school year.
  • There are now approximately 6,400 public charter schools, a 7 percent growth from last year.
  • Roughly 2.5 million students are enrolled in public charter schools across the country (13 percent growth). In fact, we saw 288,000 additional students enroll in public charter this year.
The report includes tables that show which states saw the greatest increase in the number of new public charter schools and students served. Below are the states that saw more than 10,000 additional public charter school students enrolled from the previous school year.




Additional Students Served






















While growth is great, it’s only good for students and families if it is high-quality growth. From that perspective, this pattern is good news. All of these states are in the top half of our model charter law rankings, so they are in the best position to serve their students’ needs. Furthermore, Arizona, California, Florida, and Michigan are also among the states with the largest number of school closures—which occurred for a variety of reasons, including low enrollment, financial concerns, and low academic performance. The closures provide evidence that the charter school community is serious about quality, since schools that do not meet the needs of their students are being closed.
Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.