Posts by Nora Kern


Nora Kern


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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.
Nora Kern


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Research shows NYC public charter schools have lower student transfer rates

The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) released a study last month that examined whether students transfer out of charter schools at higher rates than traditional public schools. This issue is important because researchers have found that changing schools can affect student achievement, and it may be a contributor to the achievement gap for minority and disadvantaged students who change schools frequently. For the study, IBO monitored a cohort of students starting kindergarten in 2008 at 53 charter schools and 116 traditional public schools, and followed these students through their third grade year. The study found that on average, students attending public charter schools stay enrolled in the same school at a higher rate than students at nearby traditional public schools. Specifically:
  • About 70 percent of students attending charter schools in school year 2008-2009 remained in the same school three years later.
  • 61 percent of the traditional school student cohort attended the same school three years later.
  • Charter schools continued to show a higher retention rate when students are compared by gender, race/ethnicity, poverty level, and English language learner status.
The one exception is special education students, who transfer from charter schools at a higher rate than either general education students in charter schools or special education students in traditional public schools. While we don’t know why these students are leaving charter schools and there were very few special needs students in the study, we are concerned by this finding. To continue work on this issue, the National Alliance is working closely with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools to help charter schools better serve students with special needs. The study further found that—regardless of school type—students who remained in the same school from kindergarten through third grade scored higher on standardized math and reading tests in third grade than their peers who switched schools. This is an important policy issue for New York City as Mayor de Blasio considers ending co-location and facility funding for public charter schools. If charter schools are financially forced out of operation and students have to transfer to a different school, research shows that their students, especially those who are most disadvantaged, will suffer. Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  
Nora Kern


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Can attending a charter high school help you go to college and earn more money?

A new working paper released by Mathematica Policy Research and sponsored by the Joyce Foundation finds that public charter schools in Florida and Chicago are helping more students get into college and earn higher incomes once they graduate. Compared to their traditional school peers, the study found:
  • Enrolling in a charter high school increases a student’s probability of graduating from high school and entering college by 11 percentage points in Florida and by seven in Chicago.
  • Enrollment in a Florida charter high school leads to a 10 percentage point increase in the probability of attending college.
  • Chicago charter schools boost their students’ chances of attending college by 11 percentage points.
  • Florida charter high school graduates have a 13 percentage point advantage for completing at least two consecutive years of college.
  • Florida charter high schools may raise their students’ earnings in their mid-20s by as much as 12.7 percent. 

College Attendance Graph

Source: Kevin Booker, Brian Gill, Tim Sass, and Ron Zimmre,Charter High Schools’ Effects on Educational Attainment and Earnings, Mathematica Policy Research, January 2014. This report is particularly compelling when you consider the methodology. Most charter school studies use a lottery admission strategy, one that compares students who enrolled in an oversubscribed charter school lottery and either won admission to the charter or enrolled in a traditional public school. This Mathematica study, however, looks at students who were enrolled in charter schools in 8th grade, and either enrolled in a charter or switched to a traditional public school for high school. Therefore all the students had previously shown the disposition to enroll in a charter school. The study further controlled for student characteristics such as test scores, race/ethnicity, poverty, mobility, and special education status. While this report’s methodology is rigorous, it still doesn’t answer the “secret sauce” question of what these public charter schools are doing to achieve these great results for their students’ long-term outcomes and acknowledged the need for further research. But regardless of further research, it’s clear that public charter school students in Chicago and Florida are seeing significant academic results that are helping them well beyond their K-12 years.   Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern


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Reason #5: Charter schools are innovating to improve student achievement

Innovation GraphicCharter schools are public schools that are given the freedom to innovate while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. They create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are allowed to innovate in the classroom, and students are provided the structure they need to learn. Across the country, public charter schools are leading in innovation by:
  • Transforming teacher development. California charter school network High Tech High has created a one-year hybrid program designed to support teams of educators from around the world in transforming their schools. This type of collaboration allows teachers to learn and share best practices with others.  High Tech High also runs a certified Master’s Programs in Teacher Leadership and School Leadership. Through these efforts, High Tech High is working to ensure every student in their schools has the opportunity to learn from a highly-effective teacher.
  • Piloting blended learning educational models. Like many charter schools across the country, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a charter management organization based in Los Angeles, California, has implemented a blended learning model to help integrate technology in the classroom. Their program, called Blended Learning for Alliance School Transformation (BLAST) makes learning more relevant, personalized, and dynamic. The model was piloted in 2010-11 at two Alliance high schools and has since expanded to five high schools and five middle schools.
  • Partnering with community groups to provide needed health services. Students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, may not always have access to the health services they need to help them succeed in school. Codman Academy Charter Public School in Massachusetts shares facilities with Codman Square Health Center, allowing not just sharing of space, but also of resources. The charter school and health center formed a partnership program to holistically address students’ physical and mental health needs along with academics.
Members of the charter school community—including parents, teachers, and school leaders—know firsthand the importance of flexibility for schools to make decisions about curriculum, staffing, and other issues. This freedom allows these educators to lead their schools and students to even greater levels of academic achievement. This blog is the fifth in a series called “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools are Great” to celebrate School Choice Week. To read the other posts in the series, visit The Charter Blog here. Nora Kern is senior manager of research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  
Nora Kern


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Reason #1: Public charter schools are closing the achievement gap

The start of School Choice Week is a great time to reflect on the National Alliance’s core belief: that all families deserve access to high-quality public school options. National demographic data show that public charter schools enroll more students of color and from low-income backgrounds than traditional public schools. On average, these students don’t perform as well as white and more affluent students. But public charter schools are starting to change that. A 2013 national CREDO study looked at charter schools in 27 states through the 2010-2011 school year, covering 95 percent of students attending charter schools across the country. The study found that students in public charter schools are outperformingtheir traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average seven days of learning per year, and performing as well as students in traditional public schools in math. The results were particularly impressive for students from specific demographic backgrounds—such as English Language Learners and minority students. These results are a great start to closing the achievement gap; however, there are still families that don’t have access to a great public school. The National Alliance will continue our work to grow the number of high-quality charter schools available to all families, especially those who do not have access to high-quality public schools. This blog is post is the first in a five part series, “5 Reasons Public Charter Schools Are Great” to help celebrate School Choice Week.  Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern


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A Busy Month for School Choice and New Reports

Later this month, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and other organizations across the country will celebrateNational School Choice Week (SCW). Leading up to the event, several organizations are releasing analyses of policies impacting the growth and quality of public charter schools. Last week, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released its Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI) for 2013, which looks at more than 100 U.S. school districts and ranks the policies and practices that impact the quality of choices and level of competition created by school choice. Not surprisingly, nine of the top ten districts on the ECCI are also featured on our recently released top charter school communities report, showing the integral role public charter schools play in school choice. Today Students First is releasing  its state policy report card. Public charter schools play a prominent role in the scores related to parent empowerment. In order to receive a high rating, states must:
  • Promote charter establishment & expansion. Several states received higher scores for not having a cap on charter school growth, having non-district authorizers, a fast track authorization process for proven charter operators, and a high bar for replication/expansion for all schools.
  • Establish accountability for charters. States were recognized for requiring a performance-based contract and clear protocols for closing low-performing charter schools. Authorizers are required to submit an annual report to an oversight body for each school they oversee, and are in turn required to undergo an annual review by an outside entity—and low-performing authorizers will be suspended or sanctioned.
  • Enable equitable access to facilities; and
  • Finance charter facilities.
Finally the National Alliance will be releasing our fifth annual model law ranking that scores each state’s charter school law based on 20 essential components, including measures of quality and accountability, equitable access to funding and facilities, and whether or not they cap charter school growth. Follow @charteralliance for the latest in charter school news and breaking reports and keep an eye on @schoolchoicewk to receive even more information on the contributions charter schools are making toward providing every family with a quality public school option. Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern


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Academic Performance in Charter Schools: A Year in Review

As 2013 comes to a close, here is a look at a few studies released this year on the academic performance in charter schools. From major multi-year reports to working papers, these are a few findings that are worth keeping on your radar:
  • Overall Academic Achievement. The 2013 national CREDO study looked at charter schools in 27 states through the 2010-2011 school year, covering 95 percent of students attending charter schools across the country. Overall, the study found that students in public charter schools are outperforming their traditional public school peers in reading, adding an average seven days of learning per year, and performing as well as students in traditional public schools in math. The results were particularly impressive for students from certain demographic backgrounds—such as English Language Learners and minority students.
  • Raising the Bar for All Schools. Yusuke Jinnai, a Ph.D candidate in Economics at the University of Rochester, examinedthe impact of opening public charter schools on achievement levels for students at neighboring district schools in North Carolina. He found that traditional public schools do in fact respond to the presence of public charter schools; further, the 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.
  • Measuring Results. A Mathematica study  found that KIPP middle schools have a strong and meaningful impact on student performance. For example, KIPP schools reduced the achievement gap in math between white and black students by 40 percent. The study also examined the characteristics of students attending KIPP middle schools and found little evidence that KIPP schools only succeed by taking high performing students out of district schools. And similar to results from the KIPP study on attrition, this study finds that attrition rates for KIPP schools are the same as traditional public schools.
  • Making Sure All Students Succeed. A working paper by Ron Zimmer and Cassandra Guarino provides additional evidence that public charter schools are not pushing out low-performing students. The study examined patterns of student transfers in an anonymous school district with more than 60 charter schools. The study found no evidence that public charter schools were more likely to push out low-performing students. Conversely, the study finds that below-average students were five percent more likely to leave traditional public schools than below-average students in charter schools.
  • Predicting Future Success. The CREDO two volume study, Charter School Growth and Expansion, tackled a range of research questions including a ranking of charter school networks based on student achievement in math and reading. It also introduced a paradigm shift in terms of thinking about charter school quality: namely, that early performance of charter schools almost entirely predicts future performance. In other words, if a charter school starts out low-performing, it has a very slim chance of making improvements. This is sobering but important information about what we can expect from charter school performance and for shaping how we think about ensuring all charters are high-quality schools.
This year proved, yet again, that charter schools continue to offer high-quality options to parents and families. For more information on other studies of charter school performance, check out our compilation of studies that have been conducted on public charter school student performance since 2010. Nora Kern is the senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Nora Kern


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Report Shows Continued Growth of Charter School Management Organizations

Last week, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder released their greatly anticipatedreport profiling nonprofit and for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) using 2011-2012 school year data. In that school year, approximately 44 percent of public charter students attended a school managed by a nonprofit or for-profit EMO. Here are some key findings for each type of management organization in 2011-2012: Nonprofit management organizations
  • A total of 1,206 public schools (charter schools and a few district schools) were managed by nonprofit EMOs.
  • Nonprofit management companies operated in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
  • The number of students in nonprofit EMO-managed schools increased dramatically, from 237,591 students in 2009-2010 to 445,052 students during 2011-2012.
  • KIPP is the largest nonprofit network, running 98 schools serving more than 35,000 students.
  • The states with the largest numbers of nonprofit management organizations, by number of operators, include California, Texas, Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, and New York.
For-profit management organizations
  • For-profit EMOs are contracted by district and charter school boards to operate and manage schools. In total, 94.6 percent of EMO-managed schools are charter schools, and 5.4 percent are district schools.
  • For-profit EMOs operated in 35 states.
  • More than 800 public schools across the country, serving more than 460,000 students are run by for-profit EMOs.
  • The growth of the for-profit sector has been focused online—10.8 percent of all for-profit-managed schools are virtual.
    • K12 Inc.’s enrollment vastly exceeds any other management organization’s (both nonprofit and for-profit) total enrollment.
  • Nearly 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit EMOs; at least 30 percent of charter schools in Florida, Ohio, and Arizona are run by for-profit EMOs.
The full NEPC report contains further breakouts by management organization size, number of schools, student enrollment, state-based trends, and profiles of each operator. While both nonprofit and for-profit management organizations have seen rapid growth, especially within the charter school community, it is important to note that the majority of public charter schools are still freestanding, nonprofits. Nora Kern is senior manager for research and analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.