Posts by Nora Kern


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.
Nora Kern


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New survey from 50CAN says majority of Americans favor more charter schools

Today 50CAN released the results of a national poll that used a random sample of 6,400 registered voters to gauge Americans’ views on education. The heartening news? A strong majority of respondents felt that improving local schools would be “very helpful” in bettering the U.S. than any other strategy. For the survey’s findings related to public charter schools, more than half of the respondents favored allowing more charter schools to open. Nearly 75 percent of Americans favored two tenants of charter schooling: providing more school options and giving schools the ability to make changes with less red tape, although they were not stated as features of public charter schools. A staggering 79 percent of Americans favored using technology to individualize learning, something many charter schools are across the country are incorporating into their curriculum. If there was one disappointing finding in the poll, it’s that the results show that charter schools are still combatting the misconception that they aren’t public. Far too many Americans still operate under the false assumption that charter schools are not public schools. In addition to national findings, results were also broken out across eight regions. When respondents were asked to rank the states in their regions, seven of the eight the gold medal recipients (Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington) also ranked in the top 25 on our charter school model state law. To view the 50CAN survey results, click here. Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern


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Some Federal Implications of NACSA Quality Recommendations

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) released Replicating Quality: Policy Recommendations to Support the Replication and Growth of High-Performing Charter Schools and Networks in collaboration with the Charter School Growth Fund last week. This report lays out key policies and practices for legislators, authorizers, and state education agencies that have the greatest potential to accelerate the growth of high-performing charter schools. Although the report is focused on state policies, there are implications for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) and how it prioritizes funds to states. As we outline in our guiding principles for ESEA reauthorization, Free to Succeed, the National Alliance supports prioritizing federal funds for charter schools for states with laws that are best positioned to encourage quality charter schools. Unless ESEA is reauthorized and includes our recommendations before the next round of five year state CSP grants are awarded in FY 2015, the department should set priorities for the next competition that are effective in directing funds to states with strong charter school laws.  Several of NACSA’s policy recommendations are well-aligned with our recommendations for state law priorities for the Charter Schools Program including:
  • Independent Charter Boards:  To ensure authorizers are committed to quality (NACSA Policy Recommendation #2), NACSA advocates that states adopt  the National Alliance’s Model Law recommendation for creating at least one statewide authorizing entity.  Federal law already encourages states to create a statewide authorizer, so this would be a plus for applicants in the grant competition process.
  • Remove caps on growth: To allow quality charters to grow, states should remove caps from their laws (NACSA Policy Recommendation #3). Charter caps limit replication of proven, quality charter schools. In Free to Succeed we call for a funding priority to be given to states with charter laws that allow for high-quality school growth without artificial caps.
  • Differentiated renewal processes:  NACSA recommends differentiating and streamlining the renewal process for high-performing charters (NACSA Policy Recommendation #5). For example, Texas and Delaware offer ten-year reviews for their highest-performing charter schools. Federal law, however, prioritizes states that review all charters at least every five years. The next grant competition should not penalize states that have developed a more nuanced renewal process that supports high-quality charters.
NACSA’s report also underscores that creating high-quality charter schools is not as simple as coming up with a federal definition of quality. It takes a comprehensive effort to develop the essential policies and practices at the state, authorizer, and school level.  Federal priorities for state grants should recognize state, authorizer, and school-driven efforts to implement these important strategies. Christy Wolfe is senior policy advisor for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nora Kern, senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, also contributed to this blog post.